24 hours is never enough time to full explore any city, however I always try to make the most of whatever time I have in a destination, whether it be 10 hours in Manchester, 10 hours in Brussels, or 14 hours in Dubai.
My short weekend trip to Memphis, Tennessee in reality was a day and a half, however for the first half-day, I spent the entire time attending a wedding of an old friend of mine, which only left me with one full day to explore the city.
Below is an itinerary of all of the things that I accomplished during my short stay in Memphis as I tried to get to know the city the best that I could within the short time frame I had to work with.
I hope that this guide will be beneficial for you as you plan a trip to Memphis. If you have tips and suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comment section below!
9:30 am – Breakfast at Arcade Restaurant
Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day and I definitely wanted to eat my most important meal at one of the best places in Memphis.
After doing some searching on Foursquare, I came across Arcade Restaurant, which has been named one of the top three places to eat breakfast in Memphis.
Founded in 1919, the Arcade Restaurant is the oldest cafe in the city of Memphis. It has gained a lot of fame over the years after being featured on The Food Network and The Travel Channel. Additionally, Arcade Restaurant has been featured in movies such as ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Walk the Line’. One of the most notable things that makes the restaurant famous is that it was one of Elvis Presley’s favorite places to eat. When visiting, don’t pass up the opportunity to try their Sweet Potato Pancakes (pictured below) or their Eggs Redneck.
One of the most notable things that makes the restaurant famous is that it was one of Elvis Presley’s favorite places to eat. When visiting, don’t pass up the opportunity to try their Sweet Potato Pancakes (pictured below) or their Eggs Redneck.
Looking for more breakfast options in Memphis? Check out this list of The Best Places to Eat Breakfast in Memphis, Tennessee by USA Today.
10:30 am – National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is one of the most historic sights in the city of Memphis.
As the location where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the motel now serves as a place where people can learn not only about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also where they can learn the history behind the movement and how thousands of people fought for equality and civil liberties across the United States of America.
The museum covers everything from the history of the Slave Trade when Africans were transported to the New World against their will, to the Civil Rights Era, to the day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his life.
Visiting this museum definitely should not be missed during a trip to Memphis!
12:00 pm – Snack Time at Central BBQ
There are two cities that are constantly ranking highly on lists that feature the best BBQ cities in the America: Austin, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee.
While Austin is known for making any kind of meat taste good after slow-cooking it for hours until the meat falls off of the bone, Memphis is known for their tender slow-cooked pork heated over hickory wood.
I was intent on trying the Memphis-style barbecue that the city is famous for, so I headed to a restaurant that is popular with locals: Central BBQ, and I ordered their Beef Brisket Sandwich.
I would later find out after leaving Memphis that the Memphis barbecue that I ate was really served Texas Style, which means that I will have to try to find Memphis style BBQ all over again on my next trip to the city.
Looking for places to get barbecue in Memphis? Check out this list of the 15 Best BBQ Restaurants in Memphis by Thrillist.
12:45 pm – “I Am A Man” Mural
Located right around the corner from both Central BBQ and the National Civil Rights Museum is the ‘I Am A Man’ mural painted by Afro Urban Indigenous folk artist Marcellous Lovelace.
As a huge lover of street art, I was particularly drawn to this piece which depicts the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, where over 5,000 men marched in the streets of Memphis with signs reading “I Am A Man” as they demanded higher wages, safer working conditions, and recognition of their union.
To read more about the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike, check out this informative piece by the Civil Rights Digital Library.
1:15 pm – Vance Park
After leaving the I Am A Man Mural, hop in your car and head over to Vance Park for beautiful views of the Mississippi River, Downtown Memphis, and the beautiful Hernando de Soto Bridge, which connects Memphis with Arkansas.
2:15 pm – Sun Studio
Hop in your car and head over to famous Sun Studio, which is known as being the birthplace of Rock and Roll.
Many well-known blues and rock-and-roll artists have recorded and produced music at this legendary studio including B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee.
Since I had limited time in Memphis, I opted to skip the 1.5 hour tour of Sun Studio, however if you are interested in what it is like to tour the studio, check out great article Sun Studio Tour – Why Is It the birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll? by A Brit & A Southerner.
3:15 pm – Peabody Hotel
After leaving Sun Studio, get back into your car, head back into downtown Memphis and over to the Peabody Hotel.
The Peabody Hotel is a luxury hotel located in downtown Memphis. Today, the hotel is most well-known for their Peabody Ducks, which waddle their way through the hotel twice a day (at 11 am and again at 5 pm) during their ‘March of the Ducks’. Between the hours of the ducks marching through the hotel, you can catch them hanging out in the fountain in the center of the hotel’s grand lobby.
If you are like me and you are not interested in spending your day watching ducks marching through the hotel, I still recommend paying a visit to the massive Peabody Hotel, which has a stunning interior. Additionally, you can head up to the roof of the hotel where you can witness sweeping views of the city of Memphis for free.
Interested in learning more about the Peabody Ducks? Check out this article about Duckmaster Donald and the Famous Peabody Ducks in this Forbes Travel Guide.
4:00 pm – Snack at Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken
When you visit the South, you must eat southern-style fried chicken (which you might remember reading a little bit about it in my article about Fried Chicken around the World).
I was told that Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken (or simply Gus’s) was the best place in the city to eat fried chicken and so I decided that I had to try it before leaving Memphis.
Over 60 years ago Gus’s opened its first location just outside of the city of Memphis and today the restaurant has a total of 13 locations spread across the South and the Midwest. Gus’s is listed as one of the Top 3 restaurants in Memphis by Trip Advisor, was named one of the top 5 restaurants in the country by GQ Magazine, and was named the best fried chicken spot in America by MSN, so you know that their chicken has to be good.
When I went to Gus’s I ordered the 2 piece dark piece meal and I was not disappointed. The chicken had the perfect blend of crunch, spice, and flavor that chicken is meant to have and it was served with two slices of white bread.
Know Before You Go: The lines at Gus’s are known for being long and reservations are not accepted. If you want to order out, your best bet is to call ahead and pick up your meal.
Looking for more fried chicken options in Memphis? Check out this list of the 11 Best Places for Fried Chicken in Memphis by Thrillist.
4:45 pm – Rock N’ Soul Museum
After getting your fill of fried chicken, head over to the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, where you can learn about the history of rock music and soul music, and how the two styles of music joined together to create rock-and-roll.
The museum has a number of artifacts on display from the soul, rock, and rock-and-roll eras, but my favorite thing at the museum was the video that was shown at the beginning of the museum experience which painted a picture of the music whose heart and soul belongs to Memphis.
If you are a music lover, you will definitely be interested in learning about how soul, rock, and rock-and-roll have shaped so much of the culture of Memphis.
6:00 pm – Beale Street & Blues City Cafe
Beale Street has always played a major role in the city of Memphis, Tennessee.
In the 19th century, Beale Street was a major thoroughfare that was home to Jewish, Italian, Greek, and Chinese immigrants. It also became a place where Black American freedman started their lives in the city. During the 1920s, Beale Street turned into an entertainment and business district in addition to holding the title of being the capital of Black Memphis.
Beale Street took a turn for the worst in the 1960s as Black Americans struggled to fight against equality in the South and Beale Street fell into disrepair. Between the 1980s and 1990s, the city turned their eyes back to Beale Street and began to revive it into the lively home of jazz and blues that it is today.
One of the most popular places to listen to live music while you put some South in your mouth is the Blues City Cafe.
Founded in 1991, the Blues City Cafe has hosted musical guests such as BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, R. Kelly, Queen Latifah, Earl the Pearl, and Al Green.
In addition to their music, the Blues City Cafe is also known for having some pretty good food. Their ribs are quite famous, however, I decided to try their tamales and gumbo cheese fries, per recommendations on Foursquare; while the tamales did not hit the spot, I found the gumbo cheese fries to be both filling and delicious.
Late Night Snack: Gibson’s Donuts
Two things that southerners are very good at making are fried chicken and donuts, and I definitely love a good donut!
Prior to traveling to Memphis, I heard that Gibson’s Donuts was known for having some of the best donuts in the city, so I knew that I had to include the donut shop on my list of food places to check out while I was in Memphis.
Keeping Memphis sweet since 1967, Gibson’s has amazing (and ridiculously affordable) donuts that will satisfy your sweet tooth and engrain itself in your memory for years and years to come – in fact, I think that their Red Velvet Doughnut may be the best doughnut I have ever had in my life.
Looking for something sweet to eat in Memphis? Check out Choose 901’s guide to 7 Places to Get Your Donut Fix.
Looking for additional things to do in Memphis? Consider checking out some of these options: