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48 Hours | Central States
48 Hours in Memphis


No one’s truly sure why Memphis Tennessee, was named after the Ancient Egyptian capital. Some say it’s because the Tennessee city also finds itself on an important river and had hopes of becoming a commercial and cultural powerhouse, like it’s Egyptian counterpart, and it’s not a bad theory, particularly because the newer Memphis did accomplish much of that. It’s also home to an attention-grabbing pyramid with curious contents.

Should you find yourself with a couple of days in this Western Tennessee favorite, here are some highlights for an unforgettable 48 hours in Memphis.

Beale Street. Photo by DenisTangneyJr/iStock.comBeale Street. Photo by DenisTangneyJr/
Yes, Memphis is known for barbecue and yes, you should try some while you’re here. Everyone in the city has a different opinion on the best barbecue in town, so asking for recommendations can be less helpful than you’d hope. An easy solution is to visit a classic like Central BBQ for slow smoked meats and an abundance of delicious sides. Don’t be deterred by a long line—it generally moves fast.

For another meaty Memphis favorite, head to Gus’s Fried Chicken and order yours hot and spicy if you can handle it, along with a side of mac and cheese. The recipes here are simple and the space is unassuming. But don’t be fooled—they’re national fried chicken champions and ranked as a top restaurant by multiple national organizations.

When it’s time for something classier than pulled pork or a chicken sando, make a reservation at Cocozza for upscale Italian in a chic setting. You’ll surely notice the painting of Elvis and Mario Lanza sharing a mythical meal, and that’s because Memphis’s most famous resident modeled his career on Lanza, a relative of Cocozza’s owner. Try the shrimp penne arrabbiata.

Finally, if you’re celebrating anything while in Memphis, do it at Itta Bena, a speakeasy-style restaurant above B.B. King’s Blues Club on iconic Beale Street (enter from the fire escape stairs around the side of the building). From shrimp and grits to steak and a martini, the menu combines Southern favorites with fine dining classics in atmosphere that’s white tablecloth, yet relaxed.

Elvis Presley's Graceland museum. Photo by operofilm/iStock.comElvis Presley's Graceland museum. Photo by operofilm/
Memphis is rich in museums, so plan ahead. The National Civil Rights Museum, housed at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, is a must visit. Spanning not just the height of the civil rights movement, but a comprehensive timeline of Africans in America from enslavement through contemporary life, it takes an honest and direct approach at reeducation.

Many of the rest of Memphis’s prominent museums are music-related, and you’ll have to narrow your choices down to just one or two more (especially if you choose Graceland, former home and current resting place of Elvis). While the Graceland mansion is small by modern celebrity standards, the complex of museums here is epic and can easily provide a full afternoon of fascination, even for non-Elvis fans. Don’t miss the chance to walk through his tricked-out planes. A tour of Sun Studio also offers some Elvis action, along with many other top performers, including Johnny Cash. You’ll also find the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, both of which can be toured in around an hour, each.

The Legendary Sun Studio. Photo by PaulMcKinnon/iStock.comThe Legendary Sun Studio. Photo by PaulMcKinnon/
The Mississippi River was the lifeblood of early Memphis, and the best way to connect with the city’s past and future is to enjoy it today. Mississippi River Expeditions offers guided canoe tours of the mighty Mississippi, showcasing some of the city’s beloved landmarks from a unique perspective.

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For a potentially less physical approach, the new Tom Lee Park has brought more than 1,000 new trees to this riverfront spot, along with playgrounds, paths, hammocks, art, food, sports equipment, and a calendar of community classes, including outdoor yoga. Away from the river, about 20 minutes outside of town, you can also bike (or walk) the 10-mile Greenline trail at Shelby Farms Park, the largest urban farm in the country. Keep an eye out for the bison herd (really).

Lorraine Motel. Photo by MKaercher/iStock.comLorraine Motel. Photo by MKaercher/
Central Station Hotel, a Hilton Curio Collection property, occupies the former Grand Central Station in a historic 1914 building amid the city’s South Main Arts District. Many of the recommendations above can be reached with an easy walk of under a mile from Central Station, but it’s also home to its own destination-worthy cocktail bar, Eight & Sand. The soaring lobby venue spins a collection of 500 vinyl albums, and also curates playlists that are streamed directly to the 123 boutique guest rooms above. There’s still an active Amtrak station here, and a trolley that will take you all the way through Downtown for a mere $1.