Photo credit: Carl Wycoff
Ah, Memphis. The city of cool. The home of blues. The birthplace of rock and roll. The king of barbecue…
Music aficionados and BBQ foodies will not be disappointed. Everything you heard about this city is true: the constant hum of blues guitar on Beale Street; the smell of pulled pork sandwiches and dry-rubbed ribs; rockabilly rock bands sounding from a decades-old side-street bar; shops filled floor-to-ceiling with vintage records.
But Memphis today offers much more than a music pilgrimage and BBQ feast. Pop-up galleries, daily cultural events, hipster breweries, and bold restaurants are officially putting this Southern gem back on the world-traveler map.
Welcome to the South’s new go-to destination for art, culture, and good times. With this guide, we’ll make sure you pack your 72 hours in Memphis with some of the best galleries, live-music venues, and restaurants that the city has to offer. Be warned, though: you may find yourself staying a little longer than planned.
It’s your first morning in Memphis, and there’s only one thing for it: a mouth-watering, heart attack-inducing Southern breakfast.
Serving hungry locals and visitors since 1919, the Arcade Restaurant is Memphis’ oldest diner; and one of the best places to get your most important meal of the day.
From bacon and sausage-loaded pancakes to gravy-covered grits and hashbrown plates, one thing’s for sure: you won’t be leaving this world-famous diner hungry.
Now that you’re fuelled up with Memphis’ best breakfast, it’s time to soak up some of that Southern Jazz, Blues, and Folk vibes.
Just a 15-minute walk from the Arcade Restaurant lies an Aladdin’s cave of vintage records, forgotten photographs, and locally-crafted souvenirs. Through art, music, and crafts, the Center for Southern Folklore showcases the people, history, and culture of its home city and the wider South.
The center also offers guided cultural tours, hosts live music events and serves up some mean Southern cooking. Check out their calendar here.
Continuing the theme of exploring Memphis’ rich musical and cultural history, your next stop is former record studio Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
An absolute must on every visitor’s itinerary, the 17,000-square-foot museum tells the story of American soul music through interactive exhibits, video screenings, and vintage memorabilia.
Highlights include Isaac Hayes’ peacock-blue 1972 Cadillac Eldorado, a circa-1906 Mississippi Delta church, and an authentic replica of the Stax recording studio.
Now that we’ve got you in the groove, it’s time to get your dancing shoes on! Next up, head to Ballet On Wheels Dance School & Company for an afternoon class in ballet, modern, jazz or pointe. If you don’t fancy getting your dance shoes on, this community-based dance school- being home to three youth performance companies including the Sr. Dance Company, the Pre -Performance Ensemble & the Demi Company – have a packed schedule of knock-out dance performances. Check out their class and show schedule here.
As the sun tinges the Mississippi River with hues of candy-pink and dusky orange, Memphis, too, undergoes a colorful transformation. Flashing neon signs start to flicker to life, the sound of live jazz rises from underground basements, and the scent of smoky barbecue ribs fills the air.
If the thought of barbecue ribs just made your mouth water, your first dinner stop in Memphis should be Charlie Vergos Rendezvous.
Serving their signature dry-rub pork ribs for over 60 years, this iconic basement restaurant has been a favorite among locals and star-studded visitors alike for longer than the city can remember.
Today they offer a range of barbecued meats such as chicken, lamb, and brisket served with a tasty selection of pickles, peppers, and salads. However, having perfected the dry-rub recipe since 1948, you’d be crazy not to try those world-famous ribs and slaw side.
You may be in a full-on rib-and-slaw coma, but the night is still young. Musicians are tuning up their instruments along Beale street, dancers are limbering up for their first set, and locals are pouring the whiskey at their local haunts.
Located just a 10-minute walk from Charlie Vergos, your next stop is the ever-popular Coyote Ugly Saloon. Yes, you thought right; this is the bar chain (there is also one in New York, New Orleans, and more) from which the 2000 movie “Coyote Ugly” took its inspiration from.
It’s everything you imagine it to be: shots by the tray-load, cheap beer, and cowboy-boot-wearing dancers strutting their stuff on sticky tabletops- all to the blaring backdrop of raunchy funk and rock.
Does it get any better than that?
When your danced-out feet can take no more, end your night at the homely Hostel Memphis. Located in the heart of the hip Cooper Young neighborhood, this is a great option for travelers wanting to be within walking distance of world-class restaurants, live music venues, and pop-up galleries at an affordable price. All lovingly-designed and spacious rooms include free wifi, lockers, and pancake breakfast!
It’s day 2, and it’s time to explore Memphis’ coolest neighborhood: the Cooper Young Historic District. Founded in 1899, Cooper Young is street after street of historic architecture, pop-up galleries, craft breweries, record studios, and chilled-out hangouts.
The best way to explore this neighborhood is to get stuck in! Get lost down the 19th-century home-dotted avenues, go along to one of their daily cultural events, or admire the urban street art as you tuck into garden-fresh food from the local farmer’s market.
If you’re planning your trip for mid-September, be sure to check out the event of the year: Cooper Young Festival.
If you’re looking for somewhere quiet after the hustle-and-bustle of the Cooper Young District, head to the serene Memphis Botanic Garden. Here you’ll spend the rest of your morning strolling through 31 specialty gardens filled with blooming flowers, water features, and beautiful sculptures.
With a strong focus on environmental protection and community projects, there are also daily art, music and gardening events. Expect anything from oil painting and food tasting, to planting and recycling workshops.
Just be warned: a quick visit here can easily turn into a full day of strolling, sitting, creating, and reflecting.
No visit to a bustling city is complete without a pitstop at the local market. The super cool Trolley Stop Market sells and cooks up some of the best farm-to-table ingredients the Mid South has to offer.
As well as serving delicious vegan, veggie, and kids meals along sharing-friendly tables, you can also buy local produce, crafts, and knick-knacks. This is a great place to stock up on some great (read, mouth-watering) gifts to take back home.
If you can’t resist the incredible smell coming from the kitchen, the Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza and Black Bleu burger are definite highlights.
It’s your second night in Memphis, so you know by now that the setting of the sun means three very special things: blues, brews, and great food.
That’s exactly the mantra Huey’s Midtown adopted in the March of 1970- and they never looked back.
Every Sunday the best of Memphis’ blues, jazz and rock bands play their sets as hungry visitors choose from 13 mouth-watering burgers and sip on locally-brewed craft beer. Make sure you leave your mark by signing the graffiti-covered wall- oh, and launching your toothpick up at the ceiling using your straw!
If you’re looking for somewhere extra special to stay the night, book yourself in for a sleep at the Big Cypress Lodge.
Located inside a 32-story pyramid, each rustic, chalet-like room offers uninterrupted views to the outside or to the Cypress Swamp swamp below; home to alligators, ponds and aquariums with many varieties of fish, and 100ft-tall replica Cypress trees.
If you dare, take a ride in America’s tallest free-standing elevator to dine at The Lookout, located at the very top of the pyramid. The reward is high: you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous view of the Mississippi River glittering around you- and an exquisite menu to boot.
It’s your last morning in Memphis, which calls for one thing only: a Southern-worthy brunch! Heritage Tavern and Kitchen is a great place to fill up whilst sampling the region’s freshest ingredients and rich creole culinary traditions.
With a beautifully simple, classic menu spanning America’s Midwest, North East, SouthWest and West coast, you could be eating anything from pulled pork drizzled with ranchero sauce to shrimp and grits in a seafood broth reduction.
Comfort-food, with a touch of luxury.
Now that you’ve fuelled up for the day, it’s time to hit up some galleries. First up is the intimate contemporary art space, David Lusk Memphis.
Displaying a wide range of styles and techniques, David Lusk aims to promote up-and-coming local and national artists. Previous artists include William Eggleston, Leslie Holt, and Dwayne Butcher. Check out the gallery’s past and upcoming exhibitions here.
Next, something a little different. Being the only organization in the US dedicated exclusively to the creation and display of fine metalwork, an afternoon at the Metal Museum is a truly unique experience.
In the museum’s whopping 3.2 acres of land, you’ll find sculpture gardens, a smithy and a foundry, permanent and rotating exhibitions, and hands-on creative workshops on metal casting, blacksmithing, and welding.
Check out their list of upcoming events and classes here.
You’ve had a full day of eating, art-gazing, and metalwork-crafting; our guess is you’re in need of a beer.
Take a pitstop at WISEACRE; the brewery with a difference. Not only can you learn the ins-and-outs of how your can is made on site, but you can also play outdoor games, chill in their super-cool taproom or watch live music on the open-air stage beneath twinkling fairy lights.
Oh, and did we mention their huge selection of specialty, aged and reserved craft beer list? Be warned, though: you may stay a little longer than planned.
It’s your last meal in Memphis, so we better make it count. If you’re looking for beautifully presented and tasting plates, head to locally-owned tapas bar Maximo’s on Broad.
Chef Julio has used his years’ experience working in 5-star hotel restaurants to bring the city an explosion of color and freshness. The result? Traditional Latin flavors, locally-sourced ingredients, and stunning contemporary-styled plates. Don’t miss the Peruvian ceviche and lemongrass scallops.
The night is young, and you’ve still got a good 12 hours left of your vacation. If you want to keep the good vibes going a little longer, pop in for a nightcap at the ever popular Celtic Crossing.
An Irish pub, restaurant, live music venue, and late-night dancefloor, this place certainly knows how to please its punters. The best bit? The kitchen continues to serve pub classics- think beer-battered cod with chunky chips and fried pickle spears- way into the early hours of the morning.
There’s no doubt you’ll leave Memphis feeling like 3 days just wasn’t enough. The key to making the most out of this vibrant city is to get lost amongst its artsy neighborhoods, eat its smokin’ food, drink its expertly-brewed craft beer and, well, party like it’s 1999. With this itinerary, I think we might just have you covered there.