All you need to know about visiting Memphis, Tennessee on a USA cruise
By Zoey Goto | 21 Jun 2022
There are plenty of reasons to get all shook up in Memphis, Tennessee’s most soulful music city, not least the release of new film Elvis. Here is our complete city guide to Memphis
Situated on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, Memphis is a medium-sized American city with a larger-than-life reputation. Offering a heady combination of barbecue, blues and Elvis Presley, the city has been attracting visitors like a magnet for decades.
Memphis city guide
But Memphis has recently regenerated many of its neighbourhoods, adding new hotels and attractions into the mix. And with Viking announcing the launch of its first US river cruise between New Orleans and Memphis, there’s never been a better time to discover the Bluff City’s charms. Discover our complete guide to Memphis below.
What to see in Memphis
For an all-singing, whistle-stop tour to understand the music history of Memphis, hop on board the vintage Backbeat Tours bus. Local musicians lead the tours, cruising around the city’s highlights while singing spirited renditions of Memphis’s greatest hits. But be warned, crowd participation and tambourine shaking are actively encouraged!
Many of the Backbeat Tours also include a stop-off at Elvis Presley’s Graceland to pay your respects to The King. Here, you’ll wander through Elvis’s wonderfully theatrical home, including the notorious Jungle Room lounge complete with shagpile wallpaper, before being dropped off at the recently added complex of shops, restaurants and museums to admire the wonder of his bedazzling jumpsuits.
Hip swivel across town to Sun Studio, the hit factory that brought us the first rock ’n’ roll single in 1951 with the release of Rocket 88. This small but mighty recording studio launched the careers of B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Elvis and you’ll even get a lip-curling photo-op with their original microphone.
Any Memphis musical heritage trail should also include a pitstop at the Stax Museum to explore the dawn of soul music at this movie theatre turned hugely influential recording studio, which has Isaac Hayes’ outrageously flamboyant gold-plated Cadillac on display.
Over in the historic South Main district, you’ll find the must-visit National Civil Rights Museum, encompassing the original Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated, with galleries sensitively guiding visitors through five centuries of civil rights struggles.
Where to stay in Memphis
Situated in the heart of Downtown, the Peabody hotel has been a Memphis icon since opening in 1869 and visitors still flock here for the twice-daily parade of ducks waddling through the lobby.
A little further from the bustle of Downtown, the recently opened Central Station Hotel has transformed a former Amtrak station into a stylish hotel, surrounded by local cafes and bars in the revitalised South Main district. Nearby you’ll find Southern cuisine elevated to fine dining standards at Rizzo’s by Michael Patrick and platters of mouth-watering pulled pork at Central BBQ.
While in the South Main district, stop off at the beautiful Arcade Restaurant, a retro diner beloved by Elvis where you can enjoy a peanut butter and banana sandwich in his favourite booth. For lip-smacking ribs fit for an actual king, head to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, a barbecue institution where Princes Harry and William once dined.
Nightlife in Memphis
The first stop for those seeking unbeatable live music is Beale Street, America’s most famous songful street. Dubbed the home of the blues, Beale Street has been the place to hear live music since gaining notoriety in the Roaring Twenties.
Acts to watch out for include the legendary bluesman Blind Mississippi Morris and the Eric Hughes Band. Lafayette’s is a bustling music joint and restaurant in Overton Square, with a particular emphasis on jazz, blues and country.
In the summer months, the Overton Park Shell outdoor amphitheatre hosts live concerts, many of which are free to attend. Bring a picnic blanket and let the good times roll!
Getting to Memphis
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines fly to Memphis, with one change. American Queen Voyages and American Cruise Lines both include Memphis in itineraries and Viking Cruises is launching its Heart of the Delta voyage in June, between New Orleans and Memphis.