Memphis, Tennessee, is arguably one of the most iconic cities in America.
Sure, Memphis doesn't have any big national parks, but it's the birthplace of rock n' roll and soul music (did you know Elvis, Johnny Cash, and BB King all started here?), and home to some of the best BBQ on the planet.
That's just the beginning, though.
Memphis has an incredibly rich culture, defined by fascinating history, grit, and community pride. It also has a surprising amount of adventure, both indoors and out.
If you're interested in discovering some hidden gems and want to do it without fighting crowds (we love you, but ahem, popular national parks), we have just the ticket: a weekend in Memphis.
9 Best Ways to Spend a Weekend in Memphis
Regardless of what you're into, Memphis truly has something for everyone — all served up with a healthy dose of Southern hospitality.
1. Eat Memphis BBQ
It's no secret that Memphis is world-renowned for its BBQ, but how do you decide where to eat? You can only have so many meals during a weekend in Memphis, so every one of them counts!
Memphis BBQ is defined by a couple of characteristics. One, rather than saucy BBQ, Memphis-style typically uses a dry rub with up to 40 spices.
Second, pork is the undisputed star of Memphis BBQ, so try pork ribs or pulled pork regardless of where you eat.
For ribs, head to Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, the king of dry-rubbed ribs in Memphis. The Rendevzous is literally in a downtown alley, where it's resided for nearly 75 years. Oh, and don't forget to order an Appetizer Plate. Trust us on this one.
For phenomenal Memphis BBQ away from the crowds, go to Cozy Corner. You'll find the requisite ribs, but don't overlook the more unique offerings at this family-owned restaurant, including cornish game hen and smoked bologna sandwiches.
2. Walk to Arkansas
There aren't many places where you can simply walk from one state into another, but it's possible in Memphis.
Big River Crossing is a pedestrian-only bridge (no vehicles allowed, but bicycles are welcome) spanning just shy of one mile between Memphis, TN, and West Memphis, AR.
Conveniently located just outside of downtown, the bridge is easy to squeeze into even a packed weekend in Memphis. Best of all, Big River Crossing is totally FREE!
Insider tip: The bridge is illuminated with over 100,000 LED lights and puts on a nightly light show, hourly from 6-10:00 PM. Time your visit to arrive at sunset and stick around to watch Mighty Lights!
3. Go to the Memphis Zoo
Unless you have young children, you probably don't make a habit of going to zoos, right? Especially when you're traveling to a new city.
The Memphis Zoo, however, is one of the best in the country and well worth a visit — kids in tow or not.
For one thing, it's in fabulous Overton Park in Midtown, where you could easily spend your entire weekend in Memphis.
The zoo itself is stunning, with a great mix of diverse animals, historic buildings, and a variety of exhibits, each with their own feel.
Some of the residents are extremely rare — even by zoo standards — such as the giant pandas. The Memphis Zoo is one of just THREE in the United States with giant pandas (the other two are Zoo Atlanta and the National Zoo in Washington, DC), and is fortunate enough to have two, Le Le and Ya Ya.
4. Visit Memphis' Local Buffalo Herd
Yes, you read that correctly: Memphis has its very own resident buffalo herd (technically they're American bison, but hey, tomato-tomato).
The buffalo have lived at Shelby Farms Park since 1989, when six of them were brought here to graze. Today, the herd maintains about 15 animals, depending on how many calves are born each spring.
While the buffalo roam freely on a fenced 50 acres in the middle of Shelby Farms Park's 4,500 (that's five times larger than Central Park in NYC, if you're wondering), you can easily see them from various walking trails and even the main road.
In addition to the buffalo, the park offers plenty to keep you busy during your weekend in Memphis: playgrounds, kayaking, frisbee golf, horseback riding, an off-leash dog park, fishing, ziplines, and much more!
5. Take a Hike (or Pedal)
We know...hiking isn't exactly the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of Memphis. Yet, Memphis has several amazing trails!
As an added bonus, the weather is so mild year-round that you can enjoy them on a weekend in Memphis no matter when you visit!
Here are a few of our favorite multi-use trails in Bluff City:
- T.O. Fuller State Park
- Shelby Farms Park Greenline
- Wolf River Greenway
- Old Forest Trail in Overton Park
6. Take in Live Music
Spending a weekend in Memphis without catching some live music is like visiting Italy but not eating any pasta — it's basically blasphemy.
Blues, soul, and rock n' roll are the obvious stars (one of them is literally in the city's nickname, after all), but you'll find a little of everything on any given night.
Head to Beale Street and bar-hop (you can bring your drinks with you as long as you're walking!), check out the infamous dive Earnestine & Hazel's, or make a night of it in Overton Square, where Billy Joel got his start.
7. Check Out a Brewery...or 5
Fun fact: Memphis has some of the best quality water in the entire world. Really!
Thanks to an ancient underground aquifer, the city's water is naturally purified through several dozen layers of sand and silt.
As it turns out, this high-quality water makes awesome beer.
During your visit to Bluff City, make time to stop by at least one or two Memphis breweries. There are about a dozen to choose from, but here are a few highlights:
8. Visit the National Civil Rights Museum
Whether you're a "museum person" or not, Memphis' National Civil Rights Museum is an absolute must.
Memphis was critical during the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and '60s, the site of many of the most significant events.
The museum, which is spread out in a thoughtful and engaging way across several buildings, features educational displays including the famous Rosa Parks bus and items from the Memphis sanitation workers' strike.
The highlight of the museum is undoubtedly the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was tragically assassinated in 1968. The motel itself, including the very room where Dr. King stayed in the night before his death, has been made a part of the museum.
It's truly a must-see during a weekend in Memphis!
9. Experience the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid
One of your first stops during a weekend in Memphis should be the iconic Bass Pro Shops pyramid. It's one of those places that you really do have to see to believe.
It's the 10th-largest pyramid in the entire world and in the past, has been used as a concert venue and the University of Memphis Grizzlies' basketball home arena. Today, it's one of the biggest and most impressive Bass Pro Shops.
That's a bit of an understatement, as the store also houses an archery range, a bowling alley, multiple restaurants, and even a hotel.
Even if you have no interest in shopping, this is a must-see in Memphis. Head up to the observation deck for some of the best views of the city.
So, who's ready to spend a weekend in Memphis, eating, drinking, and exploring? Us too!
After all, you can keep a travel keychain with you at all times. Who knows, it may even spark a conversation with a fellow adventure lover!