Want to know the best things to do in Memphis if you only have 24 hours? Then read on!
Memphis, Tennessee. Rich with music history, delicious BBQ, Elvis’ Graceland, famous ducks… this city is home to all that and so much more.
At various times in the past, I had heard that Memphis was dangerous and run down. That it wasn’t worth visiting unless you are an Elvis fan – and I am certainly not that.
But it was on our route back to Denver from Charleston, so we added it to our itinerary. And as it turns out, Memphis is really, really cool! I went in with low expectations, only to have them blown out of the water.
We only had one day in Memphis as that is all our schedule would allow, but everything we did during that time was a highlight. Seriously, Memphis was one of my biggest travel highlights for 2018 and is so, so worth visiting.
If you want to know the best things to do in Memphis in a day, this was our itinerary. Obviously, it would be better to have more than 24 hours in Memphis, but if you only have one day to spare (or two half days, like us) then let this action-packed itinerary inspire you!
One Day in Memphis, Tennessee
Live Blues on Beale Street
We arrived in Memphis in the afternoon and headed straight to Beale Street to experience some Blues and do a little bit of bar hopping. It reminded me a lot of Broadway in Nashville with its neon signs and music spilling out of the bars and onto the street, but it was Blues music instead of Country, and I much prefer that.
Mostly, we just wandered this colorful street slowly, taking it all in. Ducking into bars that seemed interesting, or bars that had music we liked the sound of. We ended up in a couple of different bars that had free entry, and fantastic live blues.
Silky O’Sullivan’s is an Irish pub that is home to a tower… and tower climbing goats. Naturally, we had to check that out. They live in a large goat pen with the tower in the beer garden. It was raining when we were there so they weren’t very active, but I’m pretty sure it is the only bar I have ever been to that is home to goats, so that was something.
I loved taking photos as it got dark, of the neon lights reflecting on the rain-slicked street. After a couple of hours on Beale Street, we were getting hungry, so we left for dinner.
Eating World-Famous Memphis Style BBQ
It wouldn’t be a proper day in Memphis without at least sampling Memphis BBQ, so that was our plan for our first meal in the city.
I had heard about Central BBQ, pretty much everyone has that has done any BBQ research for Memphis. If we only had time for one BBQ dinner, I knew I wanted it be at Central BBQ.
They have a few different branches, and we went to the downtown one, just around the corner from Beale Street. On arrival, we found a bustling and very friendly restaurant that did indeed serve up some great BBQ. Although it was packed, it didn’t take long to get a table, and it was worth the wait.
I chose the smoked turkey with fries and mac and cheese – with all the delicious BBQ sauces that are made in-house. I was very happy with my choices.
A History Lesson at the National Civil Rights Museum
The next day we were up early to visit the National Civil Rights Museum just as it opened. The museum includes the Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King Jr was shot and killed in 1968, as well as very interesting and detailed displays chronicling the Civil Rights movement from the beginning.
One of the most memorable parts of the museum for me, were the recreated rooms of the Lorraine Motel, made up to look like the day that MLK was shot and killed. I also found reading more about the conspiracy around his death very illuminating.
It is one of the best museums I have ever been to, and I urge everyone visiting Memphis to visit, especially if you are American. This is your history, whatever color your skin is.
Aim to spend at least two hours here, although if you like reading EVERYTHING like I do – you will most likely need four hours or more.
See the Duck March at the Peabody Hotel
We left the museum for about an hour to see The Peabody Hotel Duck March. Every day at 11am at the Peabody Hotel, the resident ducks are escorted by the Duck Master from their Penthouse Suite on the roof, down the elevator, and on a red carpet to the hotel fountain, where they spend the day.
Ducks are one of my favorite birds, after living on a house boat for a year, and I loved this! The hotel is beautiful inside, so it was a bonus to get to see the lovely architecture and furnishings as well.
Lunch at a Historic Diner in a Historic District
The last stop for the day was for a late lunch at the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis’ oldest cafe, with a cool retro vibe and a classic diner menu.
It is located in the South Main Historic Arts District, a one square mile neighborhood that was the first suburb in Memphis, and the first Art District. There is lots of new development underway in South Main, with more residences, shops, restaurants and more in the works. Watch this space.
We crammed a lot into our one day in Memphis, but there was still so much that I would have loved to see and do if we had longer. I could have easily spent a month in Memphis just sampling all the amazing food – especially the Memphis BBQ and Soul Food. We didn’t even get to see the Mississippi River, and there are so many other neighborhoods I would have loved to explore.
But 24 hours in Memphis was better than nothing. A lot better. And I know that we will return again some day.
So, whatever you do – don’t write off Memphis like I nearly did!
Where to Stay in Memphis
There are lots of great options for accommodation in Memphis. If you have the means, you should definitely stay at the Peabody Hotel, you can even be an honorary Duck Master for the day!
For a cheap and fun option if you are traveling alone, stay at Hostel Memphis, which has fantastic reviews and is a great place to meet other travelers.
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your trip. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with – it also auto renews every month unless you turn it off so you don’t have to think about it.
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