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Elvis, Civil Rights, and Barbecue: All the Things to Do that Make Memphis the New “It” City

Written by Mandy Voisin

For decades, Memphis has been a hotbed for Elvis fans seeking to experience Graceland, the King’s mansion and epicenter for tourism in town. Beyond Elvis followers, many have counted out the city as a potential getaway destination, largely due to preconceived notions about Memphis that no longer hold true. However, thanks in large part to a number of positive changes for the city, more and more travelers are starting to go beyond Graceland and discover the other reasons why this Tennessee icon deserves to be known.

From adding more green space to focusing on community values, Memphis is quickly becoming the new “it” city. Many creative leaders have taken Memphis’ potential and slowly transformed it into a community that thrives on progress and betterment. The booming metropolis has become a breeding ground for innovative shop owners, chefs, and other creative thinkers who have completely transformed the city into a true Southern escape. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to Memphis (or if you’ve never made a trip to this iconic city) it’s time to do so. Here’s a list of cool things to do in Memphis!

See Why Elvis Is Still Great at Graceland

things to do in memphis - graceland

Whether you still jam out to Elvis or not, there’s no excuse not to visit Graceland on your visit to Memphis! The beautiful mansion is charming in its own right. However, a new visitors’ center has made it possible for fans to immerse themselves in the legend’s former home, providing even more insight into the rock ‘n’ roll icon’s lifestyle.

One of its new draws is the recent Guest House at Graceland. Inspired by a vision Presley had, the hotel is a place for musicians and creatives to collaborate during their time in Memphis. A full resort just steps away from Graceland Mansion, the hotel hosts music festivals, and boasts luxury suites and Southern restaurants featuring classic Elvis favorites. See his flashy jumpsuits on display, tour the automobile exhibit (make sure to stop for a picture with his iconic pink Cadillac!) and witness the luxury of the singer’s success. It might feel like a tourist trap, but there’s a reason this home is the second-most-visited private home in America after the White House. It’s glam. It’s fun. It’s so Elvis.

Breathe in Fresh Air at Shelby Farms Park

Shelby Farm

After braving the crowds at Graceland, fuel your body with a fresher scene and escape to the newly renovated Shelby Farms Park. Stretching 4,500 acres, it is one of the largest urban parks in the country. Shelby Farms Park sits at the center of Memphis, making it easy to access from virtually any location. With 40 miles of trails, locals and tourists escape here to walk, bike, run, and hike. The trail network also connects to a pedestrian trail via the Shelby Farms Greenline, making it possible to access the park from downtown.

Boat, bike, play in the water and bring the kids. Play a round of frisbee golf or paintball, ride a horse or go fishing. You can even watch buffalo herds! So bring a picnic, your friends, and your selfie stick because you’re going to have plenty of photo ops throughout the park!

You may also like: Check Out These Music-Things to Do in Memphis!

Dive Into Memphis’ Civil Rights Scene

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0 – Brad Montgomery

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0Brad Montgomery

The Civil Rights Trail is Memphis’s answer to Bean Town’s Freedom Trail. While the trail itself spans multiple states, most of the iconic sites are right in Memphis. Start on Beale Street, an absolute must-see for anyone visiting the city due to its role in the history of Blues music. This historic thoroughfare has been a hub for African-American culture for decades. It’s here where Memphis sanitation workers began protesting their deplorable job conditions and where Ida B. Wells’ anti-segregationist newspaper Free Speech was located, built by a congregation of freed slaves. While the city is popular now for its jazz and blues clubs and bars, Beale Street sparked a movement that would lead to a revolution.

Make a stop at the Clayborn Temple and the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, where Dr. King gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the evening before his assassination. Then head on to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The renovated museum includes sensory exhibits, videos, artifacts, events, and speakers. A truly immersive end to the Civil Rights Trail, this museum is an essential checkpoint for tourists, history buffs, and truth-seekers alike!

Feed Your Need For Memphis Barbecue


Thanks to Memphis’ location bridging the Southern and Northern states, its melting pot of cultures makes the food scene particularly diverse. The development of several areas of the city — including the South Main Arts District and the Broad Avenue Arts District — has introduced a new brand of Southern food with a unique twist on traditional barbecue. If you’re a foodie, you won’t regret booking some flights to Memphis to discover the unique culinary experience it offers!

One of the top hotspots is Jim’ N Nick’s, which serves classics like pulled pork and brisket alongside items like Karl’s fried catfish sandwich, barbecue nachos and a pimento grilled cheese. Central BBQ is another must-visit with a proprietary dry-rub that brings in locals in droves. Their home-cooked potato chips with chunky blue cheese dressing and homemade pork rinds should start you off right, along with slabs of ribs and brisket so tender you’ll want to cry. Finish your feast with the homemade peanut butter pie, and treat your stomach with the beauty of deep South cuisine! Catherine and Mary’s isn’t strictly BBQ per se, but it’s far too delicious to miss on this trip. The chefs are trained in Italy, and blend Italian cooking with southern ingredients for a true meld of flavor and innovation. While the dinner menu can’t be beat, we recommend you go in for brunch. Get the chicken over a homemade biscuit, along with housemade pickles, fresh honey and grits. The Brussels sprouts with burnt ends are also not to be missed!

Summing up an entire U.S. city into a few categories is problematic. The heart and soul of any place is, after all, its people. Memphis is a huge metropolis finding its footing by making changes that are inspiring the people who live, visit, and create in this city. It’s not all blues, grits and Graceland, but an entire community eager to create an authentic place to live. It’s a city that’s not trying to be anything it’s not. And that kind of authenticity, however quiet it may seem, is the spark that leads to a truly memorable trip. Such a place becomes somewhere you want to visit again and again, if only to bottle up some of that energy and bring it back home!

About the author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet.

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