Memphis Travel Guide

USA  #12 in Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
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Memphis Area Map

Neighborhoods

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 comprises much of Memphis' western border. Downtown streets run parallel to the river, while avenues run perpendicular. 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' 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 to the Memphis Zoo, which makes it a popular hangout for families. South of Overton Park is Overton Square – an arts and entertainment district featuring several notable restuarants, five live-performance theaters and a multi-screen movie theater. Just south of that is the funky Cooper-Young area, which boasts some excellent live music venues, one-of-a-kind art shops, bars and more. 

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 Garden, 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 on the southern fringes of the city, Graceland greets Elvis fans 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 you shouldn't stay here unless you plan on bringing a car or do not wish to visit the rest of the city.

Memphis is generally a safe city for tourists. You'll notice a lot of police presence downtown (especially around Beale Street) in both the day and night, but travelers should still exercise caution in tourist areas, which are known to have a high concentration of panhandlers. Watch your belongings and avoid going out at night alone. 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 headaches, dizziness, fatigue and nausea. Drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen regularly.

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