What to Do (and Where to Stay) When You’re in Memphis

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During my most recent trip to America I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days in Memphis, Tennessee and got to take in many of the highlights.

Memphis is a city soaked in history (especially for those interested in the civil rights movement), and is a place often overlooked by those traveling the U.S.

For those looking to visit Memphis, here’s a rough guide on where to stay and what to do in this great city of the south.

Where to Stay

The Peabody is perhaps the most famous hotel in Memphis (largely due to the Peabody Ducks that come down and swim in the fountain everyday) although the rooms are pretty expensive (expect to pay between $250.00 to $350.00 per night for a room) meaning it’s not suited to travelers on a budget.

I stayed at the AAE Vista Inn and Hostel located on 265 Union Ave. Although it has the world ‘hostel’ in the name, it was actually more of a motel.

A bed there cost $44.99 for the night, and considering I only booked it two days before arriving, and the fact that it’s located slap bang in the middle of downtown Memphis (next to the Redbirds baseball stadium) that didn’t seem too bad a deal.

The Peabody

What to Do

Memphis’ three major highlights (for me at least) were Beale Street (home to several great bars and blues joints), Gracelands (the home of Elvis) and Sun Studio. Additionally, if you’re a guitarist or a fan of guitars (as I am), getting a guided tour around the Gibson Factory should also be on your to-do list.

Beale Street
When I was planning my trip to Memphis, all people were telling me was “Make sure you go to Beale Street!”

This street is full of blues-related bars and restaurants and dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, and is where the great B.B. King (formerly known as ‘Beale Street Blues Boy King’) made his name.

Beale Street

If you’re spending the night in Memphis, a night bar hopping around Beale Street is a must. Pretty much every bar will have a band playing during the evening, and those of a legal age are even permitted to drink in the street.

Some of the bars I particularly enjoyed were WC Handy’s, Club 152 (which was more of an alternative/rock bar than a blues bar), Silky O’Sullivan’s (an Irish bar, if you hadn’t guessed!) and B.B. King’s Blues Club

BB King's

The Gibson Factory
Guided tours around the Gibson Factory (which last around 45 minutes will set you back $10) and run every hour and are well worth taking if you’ve got the time.

Handily, the Gibson Factory is located downtown just around the corner from Beale Street.

Gibson Factory

Gracelands – The Home of Elvis
For fans of Elvis, Gracelands is something of a spiritual home. Many visitors are surprised to see that Elvis did not by any means live in a ‘mansion’, but that his home was fairly modest (especially compared to the homes of the rich and famous today).

The main problem with Gracelands is that it’s located around 10 miles south of downtown Memphis, although it is possible to get a shuttle bus to and from the house from the downtown area if required.

A ticket for the house tour will set you back $27, and parking will cost you $8. It is also wise to book ahead, especially if you’re traveling there during August.

Gracelands

Sun Studio
In 1953 a shy, 18 year-old trucker from Tupelo turned up at Sun Studio (along with his guitar), claiming “I don’t sound like nobody”. That man, of course, was Elvis,

Located just east of Beale Street, Sun Studio is another must-see place for Elvis fans (along with Gracelands). 45 minute tours of the studio are conducted every hour and a half and cost $12.

Some of the highlights include Elvis’ high-school diploma (which is in one of the many display cases) and the original mic stand Elvis used to record with.

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