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Memphis has many wonderful attractions for visitors. It is the birthplace of rock-n-roll and the blues, but it also has a very historic soul music history. It was a major factor in the civil rights movement and the home of the third-largest health-care charity facility in the world, St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Things To Do In Memphis
Memphis is home to championship sports teams and some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere. Memphians are very proud of their city and here are the top ten things to do and attractions you will find there:
Take a Riverboat Cruise
Memphis has long had a love affair with the Mississippi River. When you visit, you will want to allot time to take a Queen Line cruise. You can take the 90-minute sightseeing cruise or there is a 2 ½-hour evening music cruise with barbecue dinner and featuring local Memphis bands. The sandbar tour (from July to October only) lasts 2½ hours and allows you to play and enjoy the sandbars including a scavenger hunt.
If you want to make a day of it, take the cruise to Helena, Arkansas. It leaves at 9:00 am and returns at 7:00 pm. The day cruise includes a southern-style breakfast, soup and sandwich lunch and a tour of historic Helena. There are special events throughout the year such as the Elvis Moonlight cruise and the Valentine’s Day Sweethearts cruise. Prices range from $15 per person for the sightseeing tour up to $125 for the day cruise.
Take in a Baseball Game at Autozone Park
To give it an old-fashioned feel, Memphis had its new minor league stadium built in the heart of downtown. It is the home of the Redbirds, the AAA farm team for the Saint Louis Cardinals. The shape allows you to see the game no matter where you are in the concourse. While the stadium is spacious, it is designed to have a small, but comfortable baseball field feel. Concession stands offer great Memphis barbecue from the Rendezvous, pizza, corndogs plus the traditional baseball food: hotdogs and beer.
The baseball season runs from April through early September if you want to take in a game. Or you can tour the stadium for a behind-the-scenes look at the press box, control room and training facilities. Tour tickets are $4 and game tickets range from $5 for lawn seating to $15 for clubhouse seating.
Tour St. Jude Children’s Hospital
While it might not seem like a typical place to visit, a tour of the St. Jude Children’s Hospital will be both fascinating and humbling. St Jude’s is one of the premier research hospitals for children’s diseases, focusing primarily on cancer with one of its doctors receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1996. One of the most unique things about St. Jude is it doesn’t charge patients anything over what insurance will pay and turns away no children due to lack of insurance.
The hospital started as a promise when then-struggling actor Danny Thomas, with $7 to his name, asked St. Jude for help in finding his way. As he found success, he built the hospital as a shrine to St. Jude. Individual tours may be scheduled in advance by calling the hospital.
Tour the Memphis City Zoo
The Memphis Zoo is the largest in Tennessee, having over 3,000 different animals. In April 2003, two Giant Pandas were flown to Memphis from China. Since Memphis is the home hub of FedEx, it is only appropriate that they flew the pandas over. There are only 140 pandas in captivity today and less than one thousand in the wild, so Memphis is very excited and honoured to have Ya Ya and Le Le among their exhibits.
Other exhibits include Cat County, Primate Canyon and Tropical Bird House. It has animal shows, rides, a zoo shop and a discovery centre for kids. The Animals at Night exhibit, which allows kids to see nocturnal animals at play, is the only one of its kind in the Mid-South.
Take a Music Museum Tour
Memphis has such a great musical heritage, that this whole list could be filled with musical attractions. To appreciate the effect Memphis has had on music, you can tour some of the music museums. Sun Studios was once the recording home of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and most notably, Elvis Presley. You can tour the studio seven days a week from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm for $9.50. Memphis is also the home of the famed 70’s soul studio, Stax.
The original studio has been converted into a museum where you can view exhibits featuring performers such as Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Al Green and Aretha Franklin. Stax is open seven days a week and general admission is $9.00. As a blend of the two sounds, Memphis opened the Rock-n-Soul Museum. It explores how music from church choirs and juke joints came together to be the heart of both rock-n-roll and soul music. Among their exhibits are interviews with music heroes that cannot be heard elsewhere.
Visit the Historic Peabody Hotel
The Peabody Hotel is one of the grandest in the south. For over one hundred and thirty years, the Peabody has stood in downtown Memphis as a symbol of southern hospitality and grace. The famous Peabody ducks march to the main lobby to play in the fountain twice a day at 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.
The French restaurant, Chez Phillipe, is housed in the Peabody and a favourite of both Memphians and visitors. Recently Peabody has been involved in a renovation with the addition of Peabody Place. Upon completion, the hotel and Peabody Place (which offer shopping, restaurants, music and a movie theatre) will eventually cover eight city blocks.
Visit the Civil Rights Museum
The sixties brought with it what is Memphis’ darkest hour. Dr Martin Luther King Jr., a renowned Civil Rights leader, came to Memphis to help settle the city sanitation workers’ labour dispute. He was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. To honour him and his struggle for civil rights, the Civil Rights Museum was erected on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was killed. Exhibits on Nat Tucker, Dred Scott, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are among the few that will lead you along with the struggle from slavery to today.
Perhaps the most touching exhibit is rooms 306 and 307 of the Lorraine Motel which has been preserved just as they were when Dr King was killed.
Take a City Tour
There are many tours you can take that will show you all the highlights that this great city has to offer plus some you might not otherwise notice. The Greatest Hits driving tour takes you through the history of Memphis’ great musical heritage including Sun Studio, Stax Studio and Beale Street. If you are an Elvis Fan, you can take the Graceland Platinum Tour. You get to tour Elvis’ jets, the auto museum and the home where the King of Rock-n-Roll lived. Explore the legends of Blues by taking the Delta Day Trip through historic Mississippi towns where the blues were born.
The Juke Joint Tour (available only on Friday and Saturday nights) lets you ride around Memphis in style in a 1955 Cadillac from legendary to new clubs all around Memphis. The tour costs vary, but all from The Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.
If shopping is your bag, you need to check out the Shopping Tour of Memphis offered by Blues City Tours. It runs between three and five hours and takes you to the finest shopping in Memphis. Blues City Tours has a day tour of Memphis allowing you to see the historic homes of Victorian Village, Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the Pyramid and Cotton Row. If you are feeling lucky, take their Casino Tour and visit nine of the world’s nicest casinos nestled in the Mississippi Delta.
Graceland is the home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock-n-Roll. Each year, nearly 750,000 people visit Graceland, including a large number in August during Elvis Week – the week honouring his legacy. The Graceland tour includes rooms in the house (although the upstairs where Elvis died is off limits) preserved just as they were when Elvis died in 1977, a trophy building of Elvis’ gold records and awards, the racquetball court, business office and Meditation Garden. It is in Meditation Garden that Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are buried. There is also a plaque for Elvis’ twin brother that died at birth (the location of his body is unknown).
After you are through touring Graceland, you can cross the street and tour two of Elvis’ custom jets, an automobile museum containing several cars owned by Elvis or buy souvenirs in many of the Elvis memorabilia shops.
Walk Beale Street
Rivalling the number of people that visit Graceland is the number of people that visit Beale Street. It was here in 1909 that a young W. C. Handy wrote the first blues song. After the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, riots rampaged through the area with much of Beale Street being destroyed. In the early eighties, Beale Street was renovated and has been a crowd favourite since.
There are bars offering the best in blues such as B. B. King’s Blues Club where the master himself often plays. On any given night, you can hear musicians playing for free in Handy Park or any nook or cranny that can be found along the street. There are many shops including A. Schwab’s Dry Goods, the oldest continuous business on Beale. There are plenty of restaurants along with Beale including Hard Rock Cafe, Elvis Presley’s, Pig on Beale and Dyers. Dyers serves hamburgers that are famous for being deep-fried in the same grease for 100 years. It sounds weird, but they are some of the best burgers you will ever eat.
During the yearly Memphis In May celebration, Beale Street hosts the Beale Street Music Festival. Some of the past performers for the festival have been ZZ Top, Sammy Hagar, Lynard Skynard, The Offspring, James Brown and Cheap Trick. Beale Street is truly a sight worthy of the title home of the blues and therefore the number one attraction in Memphis.