This is not your typical things to do in Memphis with kids guide.
You can visit Memphis with kids and still do adult stuff. When we travel we like to find a balance between kids and adults activities, and I think we did a good job in Memphis.
We’re not the type of family who hangs out in playgrounds and museums all day, that’s not to say we don’t do museums as we have included a few in this post.
But they have to be GOOD!
We enjoyed our time in Memphis, home of the Blues and the birthplace of Rock and Roll, and I’m glad we decided to keep heading west on I40 from Nashville.
It was a late decision to visit Memphis. After experiencing the Grand Ole Opry Show and the Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville, we said to each other, “let’s chase the music, let’s head to Memphis!”
So we did.
And although we aren’t big meat eaters, we did taste the famous Memphis BBQ and share the best places to eat it down below.
Things to do in Memphis with kids (or without)
You can’t visit Memphis and not visit Graceland, even if you have young kids like us!
Of all the attractions in Memphis, the home of Elvis Presley is the most popular and it’s the most famous house in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
And to be honest, I think our kids were just as excited about visiting Graceland as much as we were.
We peaked their interest for days leading up to our arrival, telling them stories of growing up watching Elvis movies, and once in town almost everywhere you look there’s memorabilia of Elvis.
It’s amazing that over 600,000 people visit Graceland each year, to tour the home of someone who died 40 years ago. But of course, this was no ordinary person.
From the moment you enter this grand mansion you are taken on a journey through the private life of Elvis and what it must have been like to be the king of rock!
We did the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour which included an audio tour with headsets and an ipad, and the kids were fascinated as we went from room to room.
Graceland is probably not as big inside as one would expect, being the home of a rock star and all, but it’s truly fascinating. And his taste in decor is interesting, I mean, who puts shag pile carpet on their ceiling?!!
As for my favorite room, that would be the pool room!
And it’s not only the Graceland Mansion you get to tour, but there are several other buildings at the Visitor Entertainment Complex.
You can see his:
- car collection
- iconic fashion trends
- private planes
- stories from his time in the military
- watch his movies
- and much more.
Seriously, you could literally walk around for hours reading, watching and looking at all things Elvis! Allow a few hours.
Sun Studio Tour
The Sun Studio Guided Tour was fantastic!
Back in the 50’s a man by the name of Sam Philipps started the Memphis Recording Studio that is now known as Sun Studio, the most famous recording studio in the world and known as the birthplace of Rock and Roll.
It was here that Elvis recorded his very first song, and it was fascinating to learn about how he was discovered.
All the greats have recorded here – Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and modern artists like Bob Dylan and U2.
We got to hear stories about these greats and more, how history was made and continues to be made.
At the end of the tour, don’t miss out on taking a photo holding the original microphone used to record hit songs.
And don’t forget to bring the kids, 5-11 years are complimentary, and adults are only $14.
Plan on being here for 90-minutes to truly enjoy the tour and then browse the cafe.
Open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Mississippi River Cruise
Whenever we visit a city, if there’s a river or a harbor I always like to get out on it for a different perspective of the destination.
And they don’t come much bigger than the mighty Mississippi River – the 3rd longest river in the world and the longest in the US.
I enjoyed this cruise with Memphis River Boats. It was a relaxing 90-minutes filled with interesting commentary about the history of Memphis and of past and present Mississippi River life.
Both educational and entertaining for our kids, and an opportunity to take some close-up photos of the Memphis skyline and bridges as we cruised under them.
- Adults (ages 18-59) – $20
- Teens (ages 13-17) – $17
- Kids (ages 3-12) – $10
- Infants/Toddlers (ages 0-2) – Free
Peabody Hotel Ducks
This was an interesting attraction in Memphis for kids.
When it was suggested we head to the Peabody Hotel to watch a parade of ducks in the hotel lobby, I didn’t know what to expect.
Turns out, these ducks are one of the top attractions in Memphis. People were lined up along the red carpet, yes there is a red carpet leading from the fountain to the elevator, the whole lobby was packed and people were standing two deep around the railing of the second level.
People were lined up along the red carpet (yes there is a red carpet leading from the fountain to the elevator), the whole lobby was packed and people were standing two deep around the railing of the second level.
The Legend of the Peabody Memphis Ducks started back in the 1930s, and they still visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.
They hop out of the fountain, walk the red carpet, step into the elevator and ride to the rooftop. Amazing!
The whole procession only takes 20 seconds, but the “duck master” talks for about 20 minutes beforehand, somewhat interesting and somewhat dragging on.
The famous Peabody Marching Ducks have appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in People magazine and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
Don’t go too far out of your way to see this, but if you’re in downtown and looking for free things to do in Memphis, check it out.
The Children’s Museum of Memphis
Whilst Caz visited a few other museums, I took the kids to the Children’s Museum of Memphis for two hours of play time.
This place is cool and interactive with different rooms and activities for kids of different ages, inside and outside including a splash park.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Memphis with kids, this museum is open 7 days a week from 9am to 5pm.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Whilst Craig and the girls had fun at the Children’s Museum, I snuck away to get an even bigger dose of musical history and culture.
I’m so glad I went. I had such a fantastic time learning about soul music in Memphis.
The museum is an important part of the Memphis and Nashville musical story we were experiencing an learning and tied in so well with our visit to the Civil Rights Museum to understand what was happening at the time.
Even though segregation laws were keeping people apart in Memphis, music was bringing them together through music. Colour never came through the doors at Stax Recording Studio. It was just friendship and race was equally represented from the top down within the studio.
Blacks and whites were making music together – raw, soulful, and edgy music.
“It was rockabilly white mans lyrics to a black man’s rhythm.”
Stax proved that music is the language of our soul and transcends all borders and barriers. Music brings people together.
Sadly the assassination of MLK changed all of that. The relationships between the races within the Stax recording studio became strained and slowly the company fell apart.
Stax was something in musical history that made a difference. And now that story is told at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. I recommend spending a bit of time here, there is a lot to take in through the displays of costumes, records, awards, a replica of Studio A and even a dance floor if you want to express your soul groove while listening to the hits. I loved the intro video which superbly showed the Stax, Soul and Memphis music story.
Stax produced hit records and songs by artists such as Carla Thomas, the Mar-Keys, Booker T. and The MGs, Rufus Thomas, William Bell and Otis Redding.
Not wanting to see Soulsville, USA’s incredible history swallowed by blight, a group of community leaders, philanthropists and former Stax employees formed the Soulsville Foundation to revitalize the area, provide mentoring and music-focused educational opportunities for neighborhood children, and open a museum to tell the Stax story. It was opened in 2003 and although it is not in the original building,w which was demolished, it’s in the original location.
Memphis Rock n Soul Museum
I came straight to the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum after Stax. I was short on time so raced through it as many of the stories I had heard already at the Sun Studio tour, Graceland’s and Stax. It gives a great overview of the history of rock, soul, country, and gospel tells the story of musical pioneers who, for the love of music, overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook the entire world.
You can do the self-guided audio tour which is packed with over 300 minutes of information, including over 100 songs, and takes visitors at their own pace through seven galleries featuring 3 audiovisual programs, more than 30 instruments, 40 costumes and other musical treasures. I enjoyed listening to some of my favorite songs while browsing the displays which traces the history of music from the corn fields, to the church pews, to the teens creating their own self-expression through rock.
It was all about love and happiness. The spirit of the music was black but it involved white people and they got into the spirit of the blackness and it made a beautiful flower.
Civil Rights Museum
I mentioned earlier that we aren’t typically museum people unless they are very good, well the National Civil Rights Museum is probably one of the best museums I have ever visited!
Located at the Lorraine Motel, the actual location of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this museum not only takes you through his life and the tragedy of his assassination but through centuries of history.
Civil Rights is a very important and sensitive topic and one that’s important for our kids to be exposed to and understand, and this museum does an incredible job of sharing important lessons.
We started our visit by watching a short film then moved slowly throughout the building over several hours which took us through YEARS of history before finishing up at room number 306, the spot where Dr. King was shot.
A moving and informative museum, and not to be missed when you visit Memphis.
Obviously, your kids need to be at an age where they can digest this topic, but I’m proud of the way our kids conducted themselves learning about this important issue.
Bass Pro Shop
This is one of the craziest things to see in Memphis!
Before we arrived in Memphis, several people suggested that we just had to visit the Bass Pro Shop. And we were thinking…”Hmm, why would we want to visit a store that sells fishing and hunting gear?”
I mean, no offense to those who are interested in those pursuits, but I think our readers know us well enough that we don’t fish OR hunt.
And when we arrived in Memphis, the tourism board suggested we visit too! Again, we thought, what’s going on here?!
Turns out this particular Bass Pro Shop is located inside the giant Pyramid and is one of the craziest places I have ever been inside of.
They don’t just sell fishing, camping and hunting gear, this place is like an adults playground and adventure destination in itself.
Not only is the pyramid home to the Bass Pro Shop, but an aquarium, bowling alley, and award winning 5-star resort called Big Cypress Lodge! Who knew?
You can ride the world’s tallest freestanding elevator 28 stories to the top of the Memphis Pyramid (our kids freaked out), walk out onto the glass floor observation deck (patterned after the Grand Canyon Skywalk) and get amazing views 300 feet above Memphis and the Mississippi River.
As they said, there’s nothing else like it anywhere in the world.
I now get why they wanted us to visit – only in America, lol.
You really know you’re in Memphis when you take a stroll along historic Beale Street.
Neon lights flashing, music pumping from inside of clubs, and the smell of barbecue wafting from restaurants, Beale Street is the heart of Memphis music.
This three block radius of clubs, restaurants, and shops is a melting pot of delta blues, jazz, rock’n’ roll, R&B and gospel. And you don’t have to be here in the wee hours to experience it or leave your kids back at the hotel.
We visited late in the afternoon, took a stroll along Beale Street, popped into Wet Willies for a Weak Willie (non-alcoholic drink), then had dinner and listened to some cool music at the original BB King’s Blues Club.
What a top night!
If you come late afternoon/early evening to BB King’s it’s family friendly, the food was good, the music great and we got a taste of Memphis.
Beale Street was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and was officially declared the Home of the Blues by an act of Congress in 1977. Don’t miss it.
Events in Memphis
We happened to be in Memphis in May which coincided with the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking contest.
They take their BBQ serious in Memphis, and this festival ion the banks of the Mississippi River in Downtown takes BBQ to a whole new level.
To quote their website, this is America’s most prestigious barbecue cooking competition with teams from all around the country, and overseas.
If you can imagine anything BBQ related, they have it going on here and we were entertained purely by walking around looking at all the displays – it’s one big BBQ party!
Also in May is the Beale Street Music Festival which brings major acts like John Mellencamp, Snoop Dogg, Jason Mraz and John Legend to Tom Lee Park at the end of Beale Street and launches a month of festivities citywide known as Memphis in May!
For a full list of events in Memphis go here.
And for a list of other kid-friendly things to do in Memphis go here – it was suggested that the Zoo is one of the best things for kids to do in Memphis.
Places to eat in Memphis
Step back in time at The Arcade Restaurant, Memphis’ oldest cafe. It was founded in 1919 and judging by the photos on the wall it still has the same look, and feel, that I imagine it did all those years ago.
The Arcade has that nostalgic feeling and you might recognize this classic American diner from movies such as Walk the Line, The Client and Great Balls of Fire.
AND imagine our delight when we sat in the actual booth where Elvis once ate – how cool is that!!
Come get your fix of eggs, pancakes, and biscuits.
When we asked our friend in Nashville, who used to live in Memphis, where to find the best Memphis BBQ and places to eat in downtown Memphis, Central BBQ was at the top of his list.
And when we arrived in Memphis and spoke to a few locals, they recommended it also. We like to eat where the locals eat.
Central BBQ has three locations; Downtown, Midtown and East Memphis.
We ate at the downtown location and from the outside the building looks a little industrial, but the moment you walk in you can tell it has a local vibe in an atmospheric building that is set up like a cafe.
You place your order at the register then sit down and they bring the food to you. Nothing flash, but the BBQ is tasty – take your choice of ribs, beef brisket plate, pork plate, chicken or turkey, BBQ nachos, hot wings and more!
Nothing flash, but the BBQ is tasty – take your choice of ribs, beef brisket plate, pork plate, chicken or turkey, BBQ nachos, hot wings and more!
Even if you’re not big meat eaters like us, the BBQ aromas will tantalize your tastebuds and have you licking your fingers in no time.
Central consistently ranks at the top of the best BBQ in Memphis lists.
Marlowes Ribs & Restaurant
Marlowes was our first introduction to Memphis BBQ.
It’s located in the Graceland area of town and we were staying down the road at the Guest House at Graceland. We arrived late after our drive from Nashville and didn’t fancy driving back downtown for dinner.
When you walk into Marlowe’s, it’s like you entered a museum about Memphis, Rock & Roll and Elvis. There’s something different to look at on every wall and the decor is fun.
One thing you can do at Marlowe’s, and I still don’t know why we didn’t do this, is you can phone from your hotel and be picked up in a pink Cadillac to take you to the restaurant and back to your hotel (for a tip). Next time!
Marlowe’s offers all the BBQ pickings with friendly staff and a family-friendly atmosphere.
Another Memphis BBQ recommendation we received but didn’t eat at, was Rendezvous.
After visiting the Bass Pro Shop we were looking on the Trip Advisor app for dinner suggestions and Westy’s had good reviews, appeared to be another locals fave, and people were raving about their wild rice and Hot Fudge Pie.
We must have visited on a quiet night, which was nice as we had time to chat with our super friendly waitress about all things Memphis, but Westy’s is close to downtown and serves food until late every day of the year!
The menu is HUGE and well priced and although we didn’t go for a slice of the hot fudge pie, we were well satisfied.
City Silo Table + Pantry
After several days of eating meat, we were in need of a something a little lighter and healthier.
We found breakfast particularly hard in Memphis for our health conscious minds and wished we had of discovered City Silo on day one instead of day four!
It’s located in East Memphis and a 20-minute drive from Downtown, but if you’re looking for healthy places to eat in Memphis with amazing smoothie bowls, juices, smoothies, salads, wellness lattes or maybe a kombucha cocktail, go here!
Where to stay in Memphis
If you’re in town to visit Graceland, who isn’t, you can literally walk there from the new Guest House at Graceland, or there’s a shuttle bus to take you across the street, and even into downtown.
This hotel was, of course, designed with Elvis in mind with a 464-seat theater for live performances and movies. Want to feel like you’re a guest of the King, stay here!
However, for seeing the other attractions in Memphis I suggest you’re better off staying downtown. The Peabody Hotel ranks highly, and for a full list of places to stay in Memphis check out our partner Booking.com.
Tours in Memphis
Viator offers a large range of tours in Memphis including cultural experiences, attraction tickets, and activities around the city.
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Do you have any tips on what to do in Memphis, with or without kids?