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The largest city in Tennessee, most associate Memphis with the legendary king of rock n' roll Elvis Presley. Hundreds of thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to Graceland, the mansion where he lived and died.
The city has had its hand in the shaping of modern musical forms like blues and soul too. Music fans from all over the world stroll down legendary Beale Street in the downtown area, happy to be walking in the footsteps of the blues and soul heroes.
Aside from touring Graceland there are several other music-related attractions, and a whole lot of other things to see and do in Memphis. The nightlife is world-renowned and the cuisine, particularly barbecue, is irresistible. And there are also some fascinating museums, beautiful gardens, Mississippi river boats, amusement parks and quirky cultural and natural sights to explore.
Once the home of the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, Graceland is the second-most visited house in the United States after the White House. Thousands descend on Memphis to tour the icon's house and grounds, paying respects at his grave. Kept as close as possible to how it was then Elvis lived there, visitors can go on audio-guided tours of the home and trophy building. Guests are also privy to his massive collection of cars, including his renowned 1055 pink Cadillac, and two private jets. Along with general memorabilia and history, guests at Graceland can also order some 1950s and 1960s diner-style food, including the king's infamous deep-fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich.
Sun Studio is enshrined in musical folklore for launching legends like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison on the road to stardom. Visitors to Sun Studio are privy to a great deal of memorabilia, rare outtakes from recording sessions and can even touch Elvis' first microphone. It still hosts live sessions and recordings with current artists, while for peckish customers there's always the Sun Studio Café, a 50s-style diner and still a favourite musician hangout. Free shuttles are on hand to transport visitors to and from either Graceland or the Rock 'n' Soul Museum.
Put together by the Smithsonian Institution, the Memphis Rock n' Soul Museum is a collection of rare recordings, vintage films and interactive exhibits celebrating American musical pioneers. The building is located on the corner of the legendary Highway 61 and equally famous Beale Street, home of urban jazz and blues. From gospel to blues and rock, the museum displays memorabilia from performers such as Ike Turner's piano, B.B. King's guitar and some of Elvis's outfits. Each of its seven galleries has a specific focus, ranging from rural culture and music to the influential Sun Records. The Bravo Gallery focuses on the performers and industry players who contributed to a successful civil rights movement.
The Pink Palace Museum is devoted to culture and natural history. Visitors can also explore dioramas, exhibits and audio-visual displays tracing Memphis' past from the arrival of the Spanish explorers through to the Civil War and yellow fever epidemics. An award-winning medical exhibit highlights the city's development into a healthcare centre for the United States, while dinosaurs, fossils and medical history also feature. There's a planetarium at the Pink Palace, as well as an Imax theatre, nature centre and science centre. Nearby are two further houses of historical interest - the Magevney House, an 1830s clapboard house built by Irish immigrants, and the Mallory-Neely House, a 25-room abode built in 1852. Both still have their original furnishings.
Mud Island on the Mississippi offers fascinating insight into the famous river with a series of immersive and informative attractions. The Mississippi River Museum focuses on the history of the Mississippi, as well as the engineering, discovery and settlement of the river and its banks. There's also a display of the Memphis Belle, a famous B-17 bomber from World War II. But the highlight is the River Walk, five blocks long and representing a journey of 1,000 miles (1,609km) from Illinois to Louisiana, ending in a scaled down Gulf of Mexico. Visitors can rent paddle boats, canoes and kayaks, as well as mountain bikes, for exploring.
The delightful Memphis Botanic Gardens are found on a 96 acre (39 ha) site at Audubon Park. Each of 26 gardens are designed according to themes or species, ranging from the Japanese Garden of Tranquillity to the magnificent Municipal Rose Garden. Favourites include a children's garden, the Sensory Garden designed to be enjoyed by the disabled and the Iris Garden, at its best in April and May. There are also popular events such as the weekly farmers markets on Wednesdays from April to October, while there are evenings of wine tastings on Tuesdays from February to October. Three annual plant sales are hosted by the gardens, with proceeds going to various educational and horticultural programs. There are also live concerts in summer, perfect for picnics.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music details the history of the most successful soul music studio in history. Continuing the legacy of Stax Records, the museum pays tribute to all the artists who recorded there, including the likes of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and the Staple Singers. There's a rare and astonishing collection of two thousand interactive exhibits, films and artefacts, as well as general memorabilia and galleries. The museum also gives nods to other influential labels in the genre like Motown, Hi and Atlantic, with giants like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and the Jackson Five receiving praise despite not being part of the Stax stables. It's also important to realise Stax as a cultural phenomenon, starting out at a time when segregation will still a grim reality in the United States.
Memphis has a humid subtropical climate, and experiences four distinct seasons with cold winters and hot summers. Spring and autumn can be varied and unpredictable and severe weather, like thunderstorms and strong winds, is possible during these transitory seasons. Summers are very humid thanks to moisture encroaching from the Gulf of Mexico, and while the temperature rarely reaches great heights; it tends to feel hotter than it is. Summer temperatures average between 70°F (21°C) and 92°F (33°C). Winters, by contrast, can be fairly cold with temperatures averaging between 32°F (0°C) and 52°F (11°C). Memphis averages 3.8 inches (9.7cm) of snow a year. There is plenty of rain to keep the region green, most falling in thunderstorms.
The Memphis in May Festival is designed to not only highlight the charms of Tennessee, but also that of a different guest country each year. The Barbecue Contest is the first of the big three events happening in May, with grill demonstrations, tours through teams' barbecue spaces and tasty sampling at BBQ Alley. Next up will be the Beale Street Music Festival, delivering an outrageous party over four stages and hosting Cajun music acts along the mighty Mississippi. Lastly, more sporty travellers will no doubt delight in the Great American River Run, with both a 3 mile (5km) and 6 mile (10km) route cutting through the crisp and chilly autumn air.
Former home of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley, Graceland in Memphis is one of the most famous and most visited tourist attractions in the United States. Each year on the anniversary of his death, thousands upon thousands of avid fans flock to Graceland for a week of scheduled events, like the Candlelight Vigil, a 1950s style dance party and a fun run in aid of charity. Special guests like former band members, co-stars and bodyguards conduct talks about the King, with topics ranging from his films to his relationship with gospel music. A contest for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Performer runs throughout the week, on top of live music and special movie screenings.
Public transport is not very reliable in Memphis and the most efficient way to cover the sprawling city is by renting a car, although you may find traffic congestion on major roads. The city is simple to navigate and parking is generally easy to find. To hire a car, drivers must be 21 years old, with most agencies having higher rates for under-25s. Some require an International Driving Permit as well as a valid driver's license.
Public transport is available, consisting of slow and infrequent buses. But there are also shuttle buses that operate around the main attractions in the city centre, which visitors may find more convenient. The famous vintage electric trolleys are a popular way for tourists to get around the city while taxis, Uber and Lyft all operate in the area.
Memphis is synonymous with music, with tourists making the trip to visit this melting pot of talent which gave so much to the blues and rock n' roll genres. Music lovers will find every bit of this colourful city memorable, with heroes including Johnny Cash and the king himself Elvis Presley, and the significance of Beale Street.
Indeed, the most popular attraction in Memphis would be Graceland, the mansion belonging to Elvis. It's the second-most visited house in the United States, with thousands of fans passing through its doors throughout the year.
Other favourites would be the Memphis Rock n' Soul Museum, a unique interactive museum detailing the history of rock and soul in America, along with the Stax Museum of American Soul Music that pays homage to the legendary artists recorded at the original Stax Records like Ottis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Elvis Presley.
For those who are interested in more than just the music scene, the Memphis Botanic Gardens are a wonderful outdoors experience and can be enjoyed any time of year. Mud Island in the Mississippi River is great fun for the whole family, and Memphis Zoo is one of only a handful in the US that houses giant pandas.
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