As the largest city in Tennessee, Memphis has a thriving downtown and exciting nightlife. But don’t forget one of Memphis’ best features – its history. Let’s look at some of the city’s best attractions and how they played a part in today’s music, civil rights, architecture and American history.
Local visitors and long-time residents alike can experience the city’s vibrant cultural heritage through these historic sites:
National Civil Rights Museum
Located south of downtown Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum is housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. This multimedia museum features interactive exhibits, video presentations, African-American art installations, historic collections and dynamic special events.
Chucalissa Archaeological Museum
The C.H. Nash Museum at the Prehistoric Chucalissa Archaeological Site celebrates a rich cultural history of Native Americans who first settled along the Mississippi River. See the prehistoric American Indian mound complex, believed to be constructed between 1000 and 1500 A.D. Other attractions include a hands-on archaeology lab, a nature trail and an arboretum.
Beale Street Historic District
Spanning three blocks in downtown Memphis, Beale Street features restaurants and nightclubs where you can experience the city as the musical melting pot that it is. Officially declared the Home of the Blues by Congress in 1977, Beale Street hosted performances by early blues and rock legends from around the country, including Louis Armstrong, Isaac Hayes, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. In May, you can attend the Beale Street Music Festival.
Elvis Presley was born in Mississippi and immortalized in Las Vegas, but he made Memphis his home. The second-most visited home in the U.S., Graceland welcomes more than 600,000 visitors each year to tour the King of Rock’s storied mansion. The building spans 10,266 square feet and still features original furnishings chosen by the Presley family.
Planning a trip to Memphis? Discover activities the whole family will enjoy.
Often called the birthplace of rock n’ roll, Sun Studio and its founder Sam Phillips helped launch the careers of numerous rock and blues legends — Elvis, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash among them. Tour the downtown Memphis studio to see where these performers recorded their first hits, and peruse Sun’s impressive collection of music memorabilia.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Located on the site of the original Stax Records studio, this museum celebrates the lives and careers of soul singers who got their start in Memphis: Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Booker T. Jones, Otis Redding and several others. In the 1960s, Stax was the fifth-largest African-American-owned business in the U.S., and Memphis’ most successful record label.
The Peabody Hotel was originally constructed in 1869, and is a treasured piece of architectural history. The four-star luxury hotel is known for its excellent service and beautiful decor, but its real claim to fame are the mallard ducks that march through the lobby each morning at 11 a.m., spend the day swimming in the Peabody Fountain and waddle back to their rooftop suite each evening at 5 p.m. Hotel guests and the general public are all invited to watch the procession, which is an 80-year tradition.
Where are the best places to take in history while visiting Memphis? Let us know in the comments.