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Memphis Travel Guide

About Memphis

Memphis is known the world over as the cradle of the blues, the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the place Elvis Presley called home. This sweet Southern Belle vies with Nashville to be the largest city in Tennessee, yet it still retains an alluring small-town feel, with a revitalised downtown teeming with energy and life.

The story of this musical capital is entwined with the history of the South – slavery and plantations, the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. The city witnessed the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, but also desegregation and the launching of black music onto the world stage.

Modern Memphis is an intriguing mix of old and new, with graceful Victorian villas jostling for space with gleaming skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls. After decades of abandonment, downtown has seen an influx of new residents, creating one of the most appealing city centres in America.

For many, a trip to Memphis is a musical pilgrimage. Graceland, the family home and final resting place of Elvis Aaron Presley, is a cathedral to kitsch, but also a place of tremendous emotion. Guitar fans tour the Gibson factory and walk in the footsteps of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King on Beale Street, the self-styled Home of the Blues.

Memphis is a year-round destination: winters are pleasantly mild and summers are exotically hot and humid, while the Mississippi River keeps on roll, roll, rolling along – perfect for fishing trips and riverboat tours.

Befitting Memphis' musical heritage, energetic music festivals run throughout the year, alongside such eclectic events as the world's largest pork barbecue competition. Memphis in May is the top ticket on the cultural calendar, and you can enjoy fresh-from-the-fields produce at the Memphis Farmers Market from spring through fall.

If you only have time for one sight in Memphis, make it the National Civil Rights Museum in the old Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, and contemplate how far race relations, and the city itself, have come in the decades since desegregation.

Key facts

Population:
670,100 (city); 1,280,533 (metropolitan area) (2008).
Latitude:
35.149534
Longitude:
-90.048980

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Gen X Inn

A chic boutique-style hotel in Midtown from the Best Western chain. It's in the heart of the Medical District and less than one block from Interstate 240, ideally located on the trolley line and only two miles from downtown. The décor in the 32 rooms is knowingly contemporary, and the king and queen rooms feature complimentary WiFi and cable TV. Breakfast is included and there's an exercise room and free parking.

The Guest House at Graceland

As part of the Graceland complex's renovations, the somewhat dated Heartbreak Hotel closed down but instead Elvis fans can opt for more luxurious accommodation with a stay at The Guest House, opened in October 2016. This 450-room resort was built to feel like an extension of the Graceland mansion itself with a touch of Southern colonial style to its exterior and décor and furnishings inspired by retro opulence from Presley's homes in Memphis and Palm Springs.

River Inn of Harbor Town

This 28-room boutique bolthole opened in 2007, one of the few properties on the well-to-do island of Harbor Town. For dramatic views of the city skyline and the Mississippi, you could do worse than their rooftop terrace. This Memphis hotel is a mix of European and Old South chic, with lavish sitting rooms to lounge in. A chocolate and glass of port wine await you as you retire to your room at night.

Madison Hotel

Transformed from an original bank building, this Memphis hotel now boasts Beaux Arts architecture and 110 well-appointed rooms. The interior has been transformed: for example, the fitness centre occupies the original bank vault and includes an indoor heated lap pool. One of the hotel's best features is its rooftop terrace. In the summer on Wednesday to Saturday nights, parties there feature live DJs and afford sunset views over the Mississippi.

The Peabody

The South's 464-room Grand Hotel is the epitome of elegant Southern hospitality, and the social hub of Downtown Memphis. This 1869 historic landmark was restored to its original splendour in 1981. See once, but only once, the famous Peabody Ducks' twice daily march at 1100 and 1700 to and from the marble lobby fountain. Sunday brunch and Thursday-night rooftop parties for dancing under the stars are the social highlights.

Days Inn Memphis at Graceland

Elvis fans on a budget should take a look at the Days Inn for an adequate alternative to the expensive Guest House at Graceland. With 60 rooms not far from the airport and a short walk to Graceland, the hotel has a guitar-shaped outdoor pool and inclusive WiFi, breakfast and parking.