In my opinion Memphis is one of the most unique, interesting, and under-rated cities in the US. It is a vibrant town that shouldn’t be ignored as a perfect getaway for those of us who live just across the river in Arkansas.
In Memphis you can experience the rhythm of the blues, mouthwatering barbecue, great outdoor activities and wonderful historic and musical sites.
Here are some of the hidden gems and must-visit spots for a perfect weekend getaway in Memphis!
A Weekend Getaway to Memphis
My daughter and son in law relocated to Memphis a few years ago which means that not only have I spent lots of time in the city, but I also have “inside” information!
In this post I am not going to try to give you a step-by-step or a day-by-day itinerary. Nor am I going to name every single thing that there is to do in Memphis.
Instead, I am going to give you a list of some of the BEST that Memphis has to offer so that you can create a highly personalized itinerary based on your own interests.
Some of the items on this list are places that everyone knows while others are hidden gems.
Places to Stay on Your Weekend Getaway to Memphis
Let’s start with one of the most important things when planning a weekend getaway…where are you going to stay.
Of course there are some great hotels in Memphis, but if you are looking for somewhere a little more like home then I highly recommend that you check out Pettigrew Adventures Airbnbs.
We stayed at the Pink Brick Rhode Airbnb during our most recent visit to Memphis and were so impressed with the location, the decor, and all the amenities in the house.
It was a perfect stay and they have many more houses to choose from all in great locations in Memphis.
Eating in Memphis
The food scene in Memphis is INCREDIBLE. Seriously, if all you do in Memphis is try a variety of restaurants…you will leave happy.
The two meals that I think are a MUST when you are in the city?
Barbecue and Brunch.
Let’s start with barbecue! Over the years my husband and I have eaten at all of the famous BBQ joints in Memphis and I have kept extensive notes about each one.
Best hobby EVER.
Two that I love and recommend are Central BBQ and Payne’s BBQ.
Central BBQ is perfect for visitors because they have an extensive menu and four easy to find locations. They also have delicious fall off the bone ribs.
However, for something a little different I also recommend the BBQ nachos. You should also be sure to save room for the banana pudding.
Payne’s has my favorite BBQ sandwich not just in Memphis, but in the world! I’m serious. This restaurant is in a plain little building, but don’t let that stop you from going in.
They serve simple, but stunning barbecue.
The sandwiches are big and messy, piled high with chopped pork, delicious sauce, and a golden mustardy coleslaw. Oh. My. Word.
There are so many good places to brunch in Memphis! I’m narrowing this list to just two, but there are so many options that it was a VERY tough choice.
Sunrise Memphis is a favorite. There may be a line out the door when you arrive but it usually moves pretty quickly. This is a casual place where you order at the counter and are given a number. You find your own table and they will bring your food to you.
All of the breakfast items are delicious, but I especially love the Dirty South Breakfast Sammie or the Bi Bim bowl.
Sunrise Memphis is known for their variety of Bloody Mary’s, but I always get the Frozen Irish Coffee. SO good.
The Beauty Shop restaurant
The Beauty Shop Restaurant has great food and the cutest ambiance.
It is located in the hip Cooper-Young neighborhood in what was once…surprise…an old beauty shop. It is supposedly where Priscilla Presley used to get her hair done.
You will even see some of the old-fashioned hooded hair dryers as part of the decor.
The Beauty Shop serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday and you will probably want to make a reservation. I happen to love their traditional eggs Benedict, but all of the breakfast dishes are yummy.
More Memphis Restaurants to try
Ok, I guess one can’t live on only barbecue and brunch food – although I’d be willing to give it a try – so here are a few more of my favorite restaurants for a decadent weekend getaway in Memphis.
If you are looking for a restaurant that leans toward fine dining with an ambiance that walks the perfect line between comfortable and sophisticated then ACRE restaurant is the place for you.
We loved this restaurant on our last visit to Memphis, the food was delicious, the service impeccable, and they have a great wine list as well.
Slider Inn is a fun, casual restaurant that serves, among other things, sliders! All different kinds of sliders from Angus beef to Buffalo chicken to Falefel and so much more.
Here’s a hint: If you want to have an adult beverage while you are there try the Jameson Slushie.
This casual and quirky spot has barbecue, but that’s not what I get when I eat at Elwood’s Shack. I highly suggest the Debris Po’ Boy or the tacos which are not only delicious but unlike any tacos I’ve ever had.
I absolutely don’t go to Memphis without getting at least a dozen donuts from Gibson’s. This place is a delight and the donuts are simply the best.
Drinking in Memphis
Of course you can have a drink at a restaurant, or at some of the bars on Beale Street, but here are a couple of other options.
Tiger and Peacock
Tiger and Peacock is a unique bar on the rooftop of The Memphian Hotel in Overton Square. The decor of this bar is amazing. Sumptuous and plush and pushing the line of “too much” without toppling over. I loved it.
Of course the cocktails are great, too. You will probably want to make a reservation.
Beck and Call
Go at sunset!
You might also be interested in: More great weekend getaways from Arkansas
Outdoor Activities in Memphis
If you want to add some outdoor activities to your weekend getaway in Memphis then you will find plenty of options!
Memphis is an “outdoorsy” city with excellent parks and so many things to do such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and more.
Canoe on the Mississippi River
On a recent trip to Memphis we participated in an incredible excursion. We took a canoe ride on the Mississippi River with Mississippi River Expeditions.
These are large, stable canoes that hold several people and are guided by experts.
We took a 1/2 day excursion which left from the north end of Mud Island and ended in a marina further south. In addition to canoeing the excursion included mimosas and charcuterie on a sand bar! It was amazing!
You will have to paddle so it is a bit of a workout, but it was so exciting to be out on the river. I can’t recommend this activity highly enough!
TOM Lee Park
Tom Lee Park is right on the river and has been recently renovated. It is super impressive and in my opinion is a must stop for visitors to Memphis. It is really an amazing addition to the Memphis riverfront.
They also have a great playground if you are traveling with children.
Shelby FARMS Park
Shelby Farms Park has over 4,500 acres of green space as well as miles and miles of walking and biking trails. It is one of the largest urban parks in the United States!
Children will love the award-winning Woodland Discovery Playground year round and in the summer they can enjoy the Water Play Sprayground.
But Shelby Farms Park isn’t just for kids, you can bike or ride horses, fish or hike and so much more. They even have a herd of buffalo!
THe Memphis Zoo
Memphis happens to have an award winning zoo. It is spacious and easy to navigate and has a variety of animal exhibits from exotic species to a petting zoo of farm animals.
My favorite exhibit the last time I visited was their “Animals of the Night.” It was fascinating to see nocturnal animals such as vampire bats, wombats, and sloths actually awake and moving.
Big River Crossing
I talked about enjoying the Mississippi River from a canoe, but you can also experience it from a bridge via the Big River Crossing.
This 10 mile system is the largest pedestrian and cycling bridge across the Mississippi River. It has breathtaking views of the Memphis skyline and the flat floodplains of Arkansas.
It is a particularly gorgeous place to enjoy sunset.
If you enjoy outdoor art installations then you will definitely want to see some of the famous murals in Memphis.
These are beautiful or meaningful or most often, both. They are scattered all around town but you will find the highest concentration in the downtown Memphis area.
Here is a mural guide that you might want to check out.
Memphis Historical and Musical Sites
Here are a few of what I consider to be the best historical and/or musical sites to visit during your weekend getaway to Memphis.
National Civil Rights Museum
If you are only going to visit one museum in Memphis then I suggest that it should be the National Civil Rights Museum.
This museum brings the stories of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement to life using interpretive exhibits and other displays. It is incredibly well done and moving.
Do be aware that they only sell timed entry tickets in advance and only online. Which means that you do have to prepare ahead for a visit.
If you don’t walk down Beale Street on a visit to Memphis were you there at all? Beale street has a history and a beat all its own.
Yes, it is known as a place for evening drinking and music, but if that’s not your thing you can also visit Beale street in the daytime to enjoy some of the history and ambiance.
Sun Studios is one of my very favorite places to visit in Memphis. It is a tiny little studio with a big huge musical history.
I’ve been on several occasions and have always found the tour guides to be excellent.
In my opinion you need to be prepared for the Graceland experience. It is expensive and often very busy, and the huge and impersonal ticketing area is actually across the street from the home.
Your ticket will have a timed entry to allow you to take a shuttle bus over to the home.
HOWEVER, once you step off the shuttle bus and into the house it will have all been worth it.
At Graceland you will feel as if you are stepping back in time. You are given an incredible and personal look at Elvis, his family, his friends, his everyday life, and his career.
The burial site is particularly moving and many visitors bring flowers and momentos to lay on the grave of Elvis.
I highly suggest using the offered i-pad and listening to the audio tour. The tour is extremely well done and very interesting. You will hear stories, some funny and some poignant, about Elvis and his home and friends and family.
Regardless of the crowds and commercialism Graceland is still a must see for any fan of Elvis and early rock and roll.
The Peabody and the Peabody Ducks
The Mississippi River Delta is said to begin in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel. This hotel is a must stop even if you aren’t staying there. It is the grande dame of Memphis!
The history of the Peabody ducks is so fun. It begins with a manager’s drunken return from a duck hunting trip across the river in Arkansas, has a circus animal trainer as a main character, and still continues to this day.
I highly recommend watching the march of the ducks at the Peabody.
Slave Haven underground railroad Museum
This Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is one that you might not have heard of, but it is fascinating.
Memphis, with its location right on the Mississippi River and proximity to the cotton growing soil of the delta plains, had the largest slave trade of any city in Tennessee. However, there were also a few residents who were part of the anti-slavery movement.
The museum is located in the Burkle Estate which was once part of the Underground Railroad.
The tour will give you insight into the lives of the slaves and those who secretly provided refuge for them as they attempted to flee to freedom in the North.
Y’all, there is so much more to do in Memphis than I have mentioned here, but I hope that you will find this list of ideas for a perfect weekend getaway to Memphis to be helpful!
Memphis is honestly one of my favorite cities in the south and has so much to offer any visitor.