Memphis Weekend Getaway: Where to Eat, Play and Stay for an Unforgettable 48 Hours in Tennesssee

Cathy Bennett Kopf Avatar

A bridge at sunset in Memphis, one of the best places to visit in Tennessee.
Mississippi River in Memphis at sunset. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

Nestled on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, Memphis beckons as a captivating weekend getaway for all types of travelers. Located in southwestern Tennessee, this lively city holds legendary status in American music history as the birthplace of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll.

Beyond its musical roots, Memphis offers a delightful mix of attractions that cater to families, couples and friend groups alike. The educational experience of the National Civil Rights Museum mixed with fun-filled adventure at the Memphis Zoo makes the city a great destination for families. Couples can take romantic strolls along the Mississippi Riverfront after savoring Southern classics at famous eateries like The Arcade. Friend groups can revel in the lively atmosphere of Beale Street. Then bond over mouthwatering barbecue feasts at legendary spots like Central BBQ or Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.

With its rich cultural heritage, delicious cuisine and an array of attractions to suit diverse interests, Memphis promises an unforgettable weekend trip filled with soulful experiences.

Read More: Spend the Night in a Train Station! Central Station Memphis Hotel Review

Neon lights on Beale Street, the heart of the Memphis music scene
Catch at least one band during your Memphis weekend getaway. Photo credit: Craig Thompson

Exploring the Memphis Music Scene

Memphis holds a significant place in America’s musical heritage. With its rich history rooted in blues, gospel and soul, the city is forever linked to legendary musicians like Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Johnny Cash. The iconic Sun Studio and Stax Records contributed to the development of rock ‘n’ roll and soul, solidifying Memphis as a pivotal cultural hub and a source of inspiration for generations of artists.

Must-visit Memphis Music Venues

  • Beale Street: Known as the “Home of the Blues,” Beale Street is the heart of Memphis. The three city blocks are lined with iconic live music venues. It has hosted legendary musicians like B.B. King and is still a hub for local and touring acts.
  • Levitt Shell: This open-air amphitheater in Overton Park has a rich musical history, including the famous 1954 Elvis Presley concert recreated in the recent Baz Luhrmann biopic. It continues to host a variety of concerts and events, showcasing both local and national acts.
  • Sun Studio: Often referred to as the “Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Sun Studio is where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other greats recorded their earliest hits. It offers guided tours and occasional live performances.
  • Hi-Tone Cafe: A popular live music venue in Memphis that hosts a diverse range of bands and genres. It has been a platform for emerging and established artists alike.

The city continues to generate new music. Notable current bands with a Memphis connection include Lucero (alt-country/rock), Southern Avenue (blues/soul) and The Band CAMINO (indie/pop).

Like music festivals? Held annually during the first weekend of May as part of the Memphis in May International Festival, the Beale Street Music Festival features a diverse lineup of musicians across various genres, including rock, blues, soul and pop. The festival takes place in riverfront Tom Lee Park.

Exterior of Elvis Presley's Graceland a must visit in Tennessee
Touring Graceland is a must when visiting Tennessee. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Where History Happened

Memphis is home to a range of landmark buildings and districts that showcase the city’s rich history and cultural significance. The iconic Beale Street Historic District stands as a testament to the city’s musical heritage. Victorian Village captures the essence of the past with its beautifully restored Victorian-era homes. The National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the Lorraine Motel, serves as a powerful tribute to the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. And then there’s Elvis.

Graceland

Graceland, the legendary Memphis home of Elvis Presley, is a must-visit attraction for any Elvis fan. A weekend getaway offers the perfect opportunity to explore Graceland’s iconic rooms, Elvis’ car collection and his final resting place. Immerse yourself in the King’s life, music and legacy through guided tours, exhibits and interactive experiences at this historic estate.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Driving up, Graceland looks small compared to today’s suburban McMansions. It’s what’s inside that makes the trip a must-do. The gold records! The costumes! The Jungle Room!

Things to do with kids in Memphis include civil rights and music museums, parks, children's museums, and great food
Things to do with kids in Memphis include the National Civil Rights Museum. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is a profound educational experience that chronicles the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. It’s housed at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The museum features thought-provoking exhibits, interactive displays and powerful storytelling, offering visitors a deep understanding of the struggle for racial equality. It provides an opportunity to reflect, learn and gain a greater appreciation for the significance of the civil rights movement in shaping US society.

Victorian Village and South Main

Two historically significant districts in Memphis are Victorian Village and South Main. Victorian Village showcases beautifully restored Victorian-era homes, offering a glimpse into the city’s architectural heritage. Must-see attractions include the Mallory-Neely House and the Woodruff-Fontaine House. Love a ghost tour? The Memphis Haunted History Bus Tour is an option.

South Main, on the other hand, is a vibrant arts district with art galleries, boutiques and notable attractions like the Memphis Farmer’s Market. Both districts provide unique cultural experiences that highlight Memphis’ rich history and artistic vibrancy.

BBQ pitmaster shows off ribs at the World Famous Rendevous in Memphis
Give me some coleslaw and sweet tea and those ribs! Photo credit: Craig Thompson

BBQ and Beyond: Where to Eat in Memphis

The famous BBQ culture of Memphis is deeply rooted in tradition and has garnered a reputation as a must-try culinary experience. Memphis-style BBQ is known for its slow-cooked, tender meats and a distinct blend of sweet and tangy flavors.

Iconic barbecue joints to check out during your Memphis weekend getaway include:

  • Central BBQ: (multiple Memphis locations) Succulent ribs and pulled pork are smoked to perfection
  • Payne’s Bar-B-Q: (1762 Lamar Ave.) The white cinderblock building might not look inviting, but Payne’s is beloved for its mouthwatering chopped pork sandwich
  • Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous: (52 S. Second St.) A legendary spot known for its dry-rubbed ribs and cozy, old-world atmosphere. They’ve been serving slabs of ribs here since 1948.

In addition to world-famous BBQ, Memphis has a number of local delicacies you need to try. For brunch, head to the city’s oldest cafe, The Arcade to eat like Elvis. If your cholesterol can stand the spike, their Fried Peanut Butter N’Banana sandwich, one of Food Network’s best sandwiches in America, is a must-try. Wash it down with a spiked shake. Then plan to nap. Another must-eat is Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. A little sweet, a little spicy, it’s best accompanied by Southern sweet tea.

Other Memphis dishes to try include fluffy buttermilk biscuits, catfish po’ boy sandwiches and Mississippi delta tamales.

Aerial view of Bass Pro Shop pyramid, a Memphis attraction to visit during a weekend getaway
The observation deck at the top of the pyramid provides stunning Memphis views. Photo credit: Mr. Bootstraps/Memphis Tourism

Shop Downtown Memphis

Memphis offers unique shopping districts and boutiques that capture the city’s vibrant spirit. From the trendy Cooper-Young neighborhood with its eclectic shops, to Broad Avenue’s art galleries and artisanal boutiques and the vintage treasures of South Main, there’s something for every style and taste. Here are some of the most famous souvenir and specialty stores in Memphis:

  • Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid: A curious, yet intriguing landmark along the Memphis riverfront is the huge pyramid, home to a 535,000 square foot Bass Pro Shop. Practice your archery skills, check out the aquarium or take the 28-story elevator ride to the Sky High observation deck for panoramic views.
  • Memphis Drum Shop: Known for its extensive selection of drums, percussion instruments, and accessories. The store’s famous Gong Chamber hosts sound baths throughout the year.
  • Lansky Bros.: Located inside the historic Peabody Hotel, this iconic clothing store is famous for its association with Elvis Presley, offering stylish menswear and the “Clothier to the King” experience.
  • Five in One Social Club: A creative haven featuring a blend of art, vintage items, handmade crafts and locally designed clothing. Traveling to Memphis with a bunch of crafty girlfriends? Check out the full calendar of workshops and book one for your getaway.
  • A. Schwab: A century-old general store offering an eclectic mix of souvenirs, Memphis-themed merchandise, clothing and quirky curiosities. Fans of all things retro will love this place.
Woman producing art in a forge at The Metal Museum in Memphis.
The Metal Museum has exhibits and working artist studios. Photo credit: Alex Shansky

Memphis Cultural Attractions and Museums

Memphis is home to several notable art galleries and art museums that showcase a vibrant and diverse range of artistic expressions.

  • The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, located in a beautiful park-like setting, features an impressive collection of European and American artwork spanning from the 17th to the 20th century.
  • The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, situated in Overton Park, houses an extensive collection of African, American and European art, including works by renowned artists such as Monet, Renoir and O’Keeffe.
  • The Metal Museum, nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, offers a unique experience by showcasing the art of metalworking through captivating exhibitions and demonstrations.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

This iconic museum, located at the original site of Stax Records, provides an immersive experience into the rich legacy of soul music and its impact on American culture. Visitors explore exhibits showcasing memorabilia, interactive displays and audiovisual presentations. Featured artists include Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes. With its engaging exhibits and soul-stirring atmosphere, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music offers a journey through the vibrant history and enduring influence of American soul music.

Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

The Memphis Rock and Soul Museum traces the history and evolution of these two iconic music genres. With engaging exhibits, audiovisual presentations and immersive storytelling, the museum showcases the musical heritage that makes Memphis a mecca for music enthusiasts worldwide.

Young girl splashing in a Memphis spray pad.
Memphis can get steamy. The Shelby Farms Sprayground is one way to cool down. Photo credit: Allen Gillespie/ Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

Green Spaces and Places in Memphis

Memphis has a number of beautiful outdoor spaces worth exploring on a weekend getaway. Memphis Botanic Garden is known for its diverse plant collections and stunning seasonal displays. Expansive Shelby Farms Park with its tranquil lakes and trails is perfect for a picnic. These green spaces provide a relaxing retreat from the bustle of downtown Memphis.

Take Me to the River

Riverfront activities in Memphis offer a blend of entertainment and history along the mighty Mississippi River. Visitors can enjoy riverboat cruises, explore the Mississippi River Museum, walk or bike along the scenic riverfront promenade, indulge in waterfront dining and attend lively events and concerts at the famous Beale Street Landing.

The Wolf River Conservancy, located just east of the city, provides an ideal spot for canoeing and kayaking, allowing visitors to paddle through scenic waterways and observe the local wildlife.

Families should include a trip to Shelby Farms Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States, on their Memphis weekend getaway. Kids love the park’s Water Play Sprayground. Rent paddleboats or bikes or enjoy a peaceful fishing experience.

Another popular with the kids outdoor option is a trip to the Memphis Zoo. It’s home to more than 3,500 animals, including sloths and vampire bats and beloved big cats, plus an Endangered Species carousel.

Ducks march down a red carpet at The Peabody Hotel, a great place to stay during a Memphis weekend getaway
The iconic Peabody Hotel duck parade in Memphis is a must-see! Photo credit: The Peabody Hotel

Where to Stay in Memphis

Memphis offers diverse neighborhoods, each with its own charm and appeal for a weekend getaway:

Downtown Memphis

This is the beating heart of the city, featuring iconic attractions, live music venues, and bustling Beale Street.

  • The Peabody Hotel: A historic luxury hotel known for its elegant ambiance, ideal for couples seeking a romantic getaway or luxury experience. It’s also home to a twice daily duck parade. Resident fowl descend from their rooftop home via the hotel elevator and take a dip in the lobby fountain. It’s a not-to-be-missed delight for all ages.
  • Hotel Indigo Memphis Downtown: A boutique hotel with stylish rooms and a rooftop bar, perfect for a trendy couple or a group of friends looking for a vibrant downtown experience.
  • Big Cypress Lodge: This 103-room hotel is located inside the Memphis Pyramid. Some of the rooms are treehouse suites with balconies that overlook the Bass Pro Shop. There’s a full-service spa and aquarium-themed bowling alley.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The Peabody duck parade happens FAST! I was so busy fiddling with my camera that I missed it. Focus on the elevator doors.

Cooper-Young

A trendy district with eclectic shops, vibrant nightlife, and a lively dining scene, attracting a hip and artistic crowd.

  • The Central Station Hotel: Housed in a historic train station, this trendy hotel features modern design and a rooftop bar, attracting hip couples or friends looking for a vibrant neighborhood experience.

Midtown

Known for its historic homes, museums and Overton Park, providing a mix of cultural experiences and green spaces.

  • The Guest House at Graceland: Located near Graceland, this modern and comfortable hotel is a must for Elvis fans and families seeking convenience and a touch of nostalgia.
  • The James Lee House: A luxurious bed and breakfast in a beautifully restored Victorian mansion, offering a charming and intimate atmosphere for couples or small groups.

East Memphis

Home to upscale shopping areas like Poplar Avenue and the beautiful Dixon Gallery and Gardens, perfect for leisurely exploration.

  • Hyatt Place Memphis/Primacy Parkway: A contemporary hotel with spacious rooms and family-friendly amenities, suitable for travelers seeking a comfortable stay in a convenient location.

Day Trips from Memphis

If you can stretch your Memphis weekend getaway for a few days, here are suggestions for things to do nearby.

Road Trip Along the Music Highway

Tennessee’s I-40, dubbed the “Music Highway”, connects Nashville and Memphis. Nashville, known as the “Music City,” is renowned for its country music scene. It’s home to the historic Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. On the other hand, Memphis is considered the birthplace of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, home to legendary icons like Elvis Presley and B.B. King.

A road trip between the two cities during a weekend getaway offers the chance to explore the heart and soul of Tennessee’s musical legacies. While in Nashville be sure to visit the Ryman Auditorium and Honky Tonk Highway in downtown. And a stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort with its Soundwaves waterpark, is a popular choice for families.

SheBuysTravel Tip: I crammed both cities into a three-day weekend. If I could do it over again, I’d want five days to really get the most out of both.

Tennessee State Parks Near Memphis

Prefer to camp during your weekend getaway to Memphis? There are several Tennessee state parks nearby where you can stay and play.

  • Located about 20 miles north of downtown Memphis, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is a large park spanning over 13,000 acres. It offers activities such as hiking, boating, fishing, camping and wildlife viewing. The park, situated along the Mississippi River, is known for its Bald Cypress and Tupelo swamp. Tent camping and cabin rentals available.
  • Situated about eight miles southwest of downtown Memphis, T.O. Fuller State Park opened in 1938 as the first state park for African Americans in the segregated South. It offers outdoor recreational activities, including hiking trails and picnicking areas. The park also features the Chucalissa archaeological excavation of a prehistoric Native American village. Camping facilities include RV sites.
  • Approximately 60 miles northeast of Memphis, Fort Pillow State Historic Park is known for its Civil War history. Visitors can explore the reconstructed inner fort and learn about the 1864 Battle of Fort Pillow. In addition to 20 miles of hiking trails, the park offers fishing and no-wake boating on 27-acre Sullivan’s Pond.
People kayaking on the Mississippi River at dusk is a fun thing to do on a Memphis weekend getaway.
Work off the bbq by kayaking on the Mississippi River. Photo credit: Logan Young/Memphis Tourism

Getting To and Around Memphis

Memphis is a popular road trip destination. Having your own car provides flexibility for exploring the city and surrounding areas. Memphis International Airport offers connections to major US cities, making the city accessible to guests traveling longer distances.

Many of the most popular Memphis attractions are located in the very walkable downtown. Rideshare services are widely available throughout the city. A $1 per ride trolley service, operated by the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA), is an option for getting around too.

Cathy Bennett Kopf Avatar
Cathy Bennett Kopf serves as the Daily Editor of SheBuysTravel, reporting to Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards. She began travel writing after serving as the unofficial (and unpaid) vacation coordinator for hundreds of family and friend trips. She launched her blog, The Open Suitcase, in 2012 and joined the SBT (formerly TravelingMom) team in 2016. A lifelong resident of New York, Cathy currently resides in the scenic Hudson River Valley. She’s a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the International Travel Writers Alliance and TravMedia.
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