Memphis Neighborhoods & Towns
Those new to Memphis sometimes struggle with directions because the city is sprawling, and many downtown streets deviate from the city's north-south grid system. A quick tip is to keep up with the Mississippi River -- which makes up much of Memphis' western border. Downtown streets run parallel to the river, while avenues run perpendicular to the Mississippi. Learning the city's general divisions is helpful for orientation.
Downtown Memphis is the oldest part of the city and is home to the city's main entertainment center, Beale Street. Many of Memphis's museums, including the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum, are located downtown. Other popular Downtown attractions include the Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recorded their music. For a fun way to get acquainted with Downtown, many travelers recommend a ride on the old-fashioned trolley.
To the east of Downtown Memphis is Midtown. At the heart of Midtown is Overton Park, a sprawling 342-acre green space that's perfect for lazy strolls and leisurely bike rides. The park is also home the Memphis Zoo, which makes it a popular hang-out for families. South of Overton Park is Overton Square, formerly one of the city's nightlife hot spots. The party has since moved south to the Cooper-Young area, which boasts some excellent live-music venues as well as a variety of book stores and record shops. Although Overton Square isn't as nightlife-oriented as it used to be, several notable restaurants still reside here.
Travelers are usually drawn to East Memphis by budget-friendly room rates, but they soon discover that this area -- several miles from the popular sights of Downtown -- exudes a laid-back, younger vibe. This is primarily fueled by the presence of the University of Memphis, around which you'll find a variety of shops, affordable eateries and bars. Even if you aren't staying here, East Memphis is worth a visit, especially if you're a nature-lover. This area is home to the Memphis Botanic Gardens, the Lichterman Nature Center and Shelby Farms Park, which is five times larger than New York's Central Park.
Less than 10 miles south of downtown is Elvis' mansion, Graceland. Sitting just west of Memphis International Airport in the southern fringes of the city, Elvis fans flock by the dozens to tour the mansion fit for "the King." The streets around Graceland and the airport are littered with numerous budget-friendly accommodations, but we do not recommend staying here unless you plan on bringing a car or do not wish to visit the rest of the city.
Memphis has a high crime rate, but sites like Frommer's report that tourists are rarely targets. However, Frommer's advises visitors to be cautious: "At night, whenever possible, try to park your car in a garage, not on the street. When walking around town at night, stick to the busier streets, and hang with a crowd. Generally speaking, don't venture into deserted-looking areas alone at any time of day -- either on foot or by car -- and do not wander the streets of downtown or midtown alone after dark."
Those who are not used to the Southern climate should also take precautions against heat stroke, particularly during the summer months. The most common symptoms of heat stroke include headache, dizziness, fatigue and nausea. Drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen regularly.