Visiting Memphis, Tennessee for the first time? We’ve highlighted well-known attractions as well as other places you might not have thought to visit.
**A big thank you to Memphis Travel for helping us arrange a fun-filled itinerary. Although we were given complimentary passes to some attractions, as always, all opinions are our own.**
Visiting Memphis For The First Time
When we started house sitting, we were excited because we knew it’d give us the opportunity to see a lot of cities and states we’d never been to before. One such state was Tennessee. We were especially excited to be visiting Memphis for the first time as we traveled from one house sit to another. The city has so much history!
We were able to see a lot of Memphis in three days, and we put together this list of suggested things to do in the hopes that it would help others; a first timers guide to Memphis, if you will. We tried to include some obvious attractions as well as other places you might not have thought to visit.
So if you’ve been asking yourself, “Is Memphis worth visiting?” then check out the fun things to do in Memphis below and decide for yourself!
Pro Tip: Are you driving to Memphis? Make sure you read our article on Road Trip Essentials. It has accessories, safety tips, and a printable checklist!
When you’re visiting Memphis for the first time, you absolutely MUST include a trip to Graceland. Visitors can tour Graceland Mansion, Elvis Presley’s home, and visit other exhibits that house artifacts, memorabilia, and photos that showcase his incredible life and career.
Once you enter and get your tickets, we recommend going straight to the mansion. After you’re handed an iPad that will lead you through an interactive tour hosted by John Stamos, visitors board a shuttle that will take you to Elvis Presley’s Graceland. As we walked through various rooms, John told us a little about each one. Once outside, in the Meditation Garden, we saw the grave sites of Elvis and other members of his family.
It was cool to walk through the house, but we actually enjoyed the exhibits a lot as well. We realized how much we didn’t know about Elvis! “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” is over 200,000 square feet and has exhibits with some of his favorite cars and outfits. As someone who spent time in the Army, the section on Elvis’ military career was especially interesting.
Visitors can even take a look inside two of Elvis’ customized luxury airplanes. The Lisa Marie includes a living room, conference room, and private bedroom. It even has gold-plated seat belts and 24-karat gold-flecked sinks!
Graceland also has two themed restaurants and multiple souvenir shops. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to visit this top Memphis attraction.
Known as the “The Birthplace of Rock’n’roll,” Sun Studio is a legendary recording studio where icons like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Ike Turner created hit after hit. Tours are given throughout the day, but after hours, music is still being recorded there. Bruno Mars has even recorded at Sun Studio!
Tours last approximately 45 minutes and begin at the bottom half of every hour from 10:30am to 5:30pm. On the tour, visitors will learn about Sam Phillips, the creator of Sun Studio, and see incredible memorabilia. Visitors will also see the exact spot where Elvis recorded his first song and get to touch a microphone that he used.
Beale Street has been a popular hang out since the 1920s and if it’s your first time in Memphis, we highly recommend passing through. With theaters, night clubs, restaurants, and stores, there’s something here for everyone. There’s a lot packed into just a couple of blocks.
It’s fun to wander around during the day, but definitely check out Beale Street at night. We recommend taking a look at the Beale Street website to see what events might be going on during your Memphis visit.
Bass Pro Shops At The Pyramid
Whether you’re visiting Memphis for the first time or looking for romantic things to do in Memphis, you need to stop by the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. You might wonder why we’re suggesting going to a Bass Pro shop, but hear us out. This Bass Pro is inside one of the largest pyramids in the world!
Aside from the usual Bass Pro attractions, they also have “The Lookout” which is the main reason we stopped in. In the middle of the store, visitors will see the world’s tallest freestanding elevator. This elevator takes you up 28 stories to the top of the pyramid.
There are multiple observation decks that provide awesome views of the city and the Mississippi River. It’s a perfect spot to catch a sunset, which is why we think visiting with your honey would be perfect for a date night.
Besides the amazing views of the area, “The Lookout” also has it’s own restaurant with steampunk style decor. They have a great menu and a mesmerizing aquarium. It costs $10 to go up to “The Lookout” which we think is totally worth it.
If you’re traveling to Memphis with kids, we suggest visiting the Memphis Zoo. This zoo has been ranked America’s No.1 zoo by TripAdvisor.com and was rated the “top zoo in the country” in a national survey by Morey Associates. Inside, guests will find over 4,500 animals, representing more than 500 different species.
We personally loved the architecture throughout the zoo and felt like we were traveling around the world as we walked from one exhibit to another.
Memphis is home to many parks and green spaces, especially by the Mississippi River. Taking a stroll along the many paths and trails is a nice way to relax and take in the quiet side of the city. The Memphis parks we visited were all clean and very well maintained.
Big River Crossing
Another interesting place to see when you’re visiting Memphis for the first time is the Big River Crossing. This bridge is almost a mile long and is the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River. It’s also the country’s longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge.
Our favorite thing about the bridge is that there is a state line marker. So at one point we had one foot in Tennessee and one foot in Arkansas.
The bridge is free and open from sunrise to 10pm. Parking was a bit tricky at first, but after speaking to a local, we parked in the parking lot next to the Channel 3 studio and walked from there.
While we were at Big River Crossing, we saw people jogging, walking their dogs, and taking in the views of Memphis. It seemed like a pretty popular place to hang out.
Where To Eat In Memphis
You can’t visit Memphis without eating at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken! Their fried chicken has won multiple awards, and for good reason. It’s so delicious! No matter what time of day you go, there will always be a line. We were told it’d be worth the wait, however, and they were right!
We visited the downtown Memphis location and stood in line for about five minutes to get our name on the list to get a table. Once on the list, we waited about another 20 minutes to get our table. But again, it was totally worth it. The chicken was crispy on the outside, but juicy on the inside. And the mac & cheese and cole slaw we had to go with it were just as good!
Where To Stay In Memphis
There are many downtown Memphis hotel options. You’ll want to be near the action so hotels near Beale Street would be preferable, especially if you’d like to have some drinks. During our visit to Memphis, we stayed at the new La Quinta Inn & Suites in the heart of downtown (check rates here).
This La Quinta was unlike any we’ve stayed at before. It was modern, beautifully decorated, and just a couple of blocks away from many of the Memphis attractions we were there to see. And they served breakfast too, which we always appreciate when we’re trying to travel on a budget. If you’d like to learn more about the hotel, check out our full La Quinta Inn & Suites review.
Final Thoughts On Visiting Memphis For The First Time
So is Memphis worth visiting? Yes! There are a lot of things to do in Nashville, and it’s certainly a popular destination. But that doesn’t mean that Memphis should be ignored.
We thought three days in Memphis was the perfect amount of time for our first visit. We were able to do a lot, but realized there’s still enough more to do that we could easily go back and visit again.
Have you been to Memphis? What other places would you recommend for first timers? We’d love to read your comments below! 🙂