Memphis, TN

Destination Location

  • 35.149534, -90.048980:primary
  • 35.042417, -89.976666:secondary

Overview

When you think of Memphis, Tennessee, images of legendary rock 'n' roll and blues music icons like Otis Redding and B.B. King instantly come to mind for most. The music to come out of Memphis has both shaped this city's culture and influenced the world over. Welcome to the largest city in Tennessee, the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, and the official home of blues music.

This city is practically synonymous with the king of rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley, and no visit to Memphis would be complete without visiting Graceland, the expansive 14-acre estate where he once lived. Journey through the cultural and musical spectacle of the King's mansion and enjoy self-guided tours of special exhibitions. Then cross Elvis Presley Boulevard to peruse his collection of classic automobiles and vintage airplanes.

For purveyors of rock 'n' roll, a tour through Sun Studio while visiting Memphis comes highly recommended by locals. This National Historic Landmark has been a Memphis staple since the 1950s, and is often credited as being the birthplace of rock 'n' roll as it was the place music producer Sam Phillips pioneered the music style. The active recording studio is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience for music lovers and historians alike.

For those more attuned to soul music, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music should be at the top of your list of places to visit while in Memphis. This 17,000 square foot museum houses more than 2,000 cultural artifacts celebrating musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Otis Redding. The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, a Smithsonian Institution exhibit in the heart of downtown, includes an interactive digital audio tour that music lovers won't want to miss.

Not unlike its music, the Memphis cultural scene is a vibrant combination – old and new, traditional and modern – with venues and museums dedicated to history and the arts in no short supply. The independent local arts culture has centred primarily in South Main, located in downtown Memphis on the trolley line. More than a dozen art galleries have moved into the neighborhood, fueling an economic revitalization that has brought new life to the area.

Visit Beale Street, the official home of the blues, and Memphis' must see for any serious music fan. During the day, this area is perfect for touring the restored home-turned-museum of W.C. Handy, father of blues music. By night, catch world-class music acts at clubs such as B.B. King's Blues Club, Rum Boogie Café and Blues City Café.

The legendary musical hub of Memphis is the perfect destination any time of year. But be warned, once you go, you'll want to return again and again.

WestJet is pleased to offer service to this destination through our code-share agreement with our great airline partners.

Destination basics

If you're looking to experience the seasons, Memphis is the place to be. With four distinct seasons, you'll find winter weather varied – mild at times, chilly at others. Summers are hot and humid – sometimes more one than the other but usually both – and brief thunderstorms are common. When summer turns to fall, you'll be treated to dry and mild weather, with warm temperatures into October. Things get wetter later, and the winters tend to be marked more by rain than snow. The average high temperature in the summer is 33 C (92 F) while in the winter the mercury typically tops out at 10 C (50 F).

If you have not been to Memphis in the last ten years, you might be surprised by the changes in the range and type of dining available. A boom in immigration, especially from south of the border, combined with a surge in downtown development, has resulted in an exciting breadth in Memphis cuisine. No longer is Memphis home to only wet and dry barbecue ribs: it now boasts Asian, Mexican and other ethnic restaurants in virtually every area of the city. The nightlife, which has always centered around the high quality of musical talent developed in and attracted by the region, continues to be more suitable for those who want to sit and listen than those who want to dance and party.

Downtown
Downtown restaurants tend to fall into two categories: those catering to the business-lunch crowd, and those catering to tourists. In the former category visit restaurants like The Cupboard with its traditional Southern plate lunches or the Woman's Exchange of Memphis for the down-home food Memphis mothers made famous. In the second category, the standout is Chez Phillippe in the Peabody Hotel, with award-winning chef Gutierrez serving up innovative Continental cuisine to society folks and the out-of-town crowd. The Rendezvous, on the other hand, attracts tourists looking for good barbeque in a decidedly low-key environment. Around the corner, Automatic Slim's makes powerful martinis and a wicked Voodoo Stew for the adventurous.

Beale Street
Beale Street is a place where people go for music, dancing and people watching. Excellent gumbo is served at the King's Palace Café and the Rum Boogie Café. The Blues City Café is notable mostly for appearing in the Tom Cruise movie "The Firm", and the food is just as exciting. After you've gotten your fill, stop by Gibson Lounge for an après meal cocktail and snack. The stylish lighting and plush couches will offer you all the atmosphere of a similar space in New York or San Francisco.

Harbor Town
The only restaurant currently open in Harbor Town is the River Terrace. The breathtaking views of the river from the floor-to-ceiling windows dare to steal the spotlight from the sparkling seafood dishes and lush desserts.

Midtown/Central
Midtown is where locals go when they're in the mood for innovative cooking or for the perfect place for a special celebration. A dinner here can be combined with an evening of theater or a visit to the Overton Square Entertainment District. Some nights you may be in the mood for Continental cuisine in the formal settings of La Tourelle. On the nights you may be feeling adventurous, see what Pacific Rim dishes Tsunami is serving. When you're feeling ravenous, head for the all-you-can-eat buffet at India Palace. Whatever your mood, you'll definitely find a place to eat in Midtown.

University of Memphis
Students usually want cheap food and they want it fast. To fill that niche, there's no lack of places in the University of Memphis area. But for those who want something other than the standard hamburger and French fries there are a number of other options. At the corner of Poplar and Highland sits a cluster of restaurants including McAllister's Deli for thick, meaty sandwiches on excellent bread and A-Tan's for solid Chinese fare. Around the corner is the International Grocery Store, featuring Middle Eastern and Latin American fare along with plate lunches of kebab. These are places where locals stop for a meal when they're in the neighborhood, not necessarily destination spots. However, they do offer a good variety at reasonable prices for those who live, work and study nearby.

East
East Memphis is not the best place to go for cutting-edge cuisine or authentic ethnic dishes. The affluent local population tends to be a bit conservative in its eating preferences. Corky's Barbecue serves up a barbecue sandwich that is consistently voted "Best in Memphis" despite (or perhaps because of) the mildness of its sauce. Owen Brennan's is popular with those who like the elements of Creole cuisine from New Orleans, while the Cooker offers a slightly upgraded version of traditional Southern fare. Erling Jensen's has such a well-established reputation among long-time Memphis residents that it doesn't bother to advertise anymore, so only those visitors who ask their concierge for a recommendation are likely to know about it.

North
North Memphis is primarily residential, except for the Summer Avenue strip where fast foods abound. One notable exception is the Taqueria Guadalupana. This authentic eatery is the best place in town for over-stuffed burritos and enchiladas or more unusual dishes like barbequed goat and menudo (tripe) stew. A little further north, beyond the car dealerships on Covington Pike, is Asian Palace, widely acknowledged as the place to go for those who understand what Chinese cooks can do with squid, jellyfish and octopus. Be sure to ask for the "authentic menu."

Graceland/Airport Area
Visitors to Graceland have few choices for dining other than low-priced, family-oriented chains. However, many locals think some of the best barbecue in town (and locals are picky about their barbecue) comes from Interstate BBQ.

Germantown, Bartlett and Cordova
Bahama Breeze, is popular at least partly because of its location adjacent to the newest and largest shopping mall in the area, the Wolfchase Galleria. Perennial favorite, Cozymel's, is home to several fanciful varieties of margaritas.

Bordered on the south by the state of Mississippi and on the west by the river of the same name, the City on the Bluffs has long been spreading eastward, taking in more and more of Shelby County. Hot and humid in July and August, Memphis delightfully enjoys a mild climate the rest of the year.

Downtown
Downtown Memphis grew from the warehouses that stored cotton and other goods shipped up and down the Mississippi River. For much of Memphis' history, this meant that the riverfront was solely a place for commerce. Today, however, some things have changed. Now, when you take a ride on the paddlewheel boats that run regular tours from the Memphis harbor, you're likely to spot joggers on the Riverfront Walk, visitors on Mud Island and elegant homes along the bluffs (including Cybill Shepard's—look for the round window). Visitors can take a beautifully restored trolley car up Main Street—parallel to the River—and grab a bite and a brew in one of the Pinch Historic District pubs, loop back to the south to see the Orpheum Theatre and continue on down to the Civil Rights Museum, located in the old Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. A ride up to Union Avenue and a walk two blocks East brings you to the Peabody Hotel, where the downtown comeback started. After a visit with the ducks in the lobby fountain, visit the Center for Southern Folklore and learn more about local culture and history. Cross Union for some popcorn and crackerjacks while the Memphis Redbirds play baseball in Autozone Park.

Brought back from a downward spiral in the 1960s and 70s, Beale Street—"Home of the Blues"—now features lively bars, clubs, restaurants and souvenir shops. Closed to traffic on weekend evenings, the area teems with a mix of tourists, suburbanites, downtowners and kids turning flips for quarters. Here you can visit Alfred's Bar & Grill restaurant, with its souvenirs and videos of Memphis' favorite son. Visit B.B. King's Blues Club and the Hard Rock Café for music, food and dancing. More of Memphis' fabulous musical heritage can be soaked up at the original Sun Studio, just a short distance from Beale Street. This studio, made famous by Elvis Presley and B.B. King, still records major musical acts.

Victorian Village
Situated on the east side of downtown, Victorian Village features homes built at the turn of the century, still standing in their original, tree-lined setting. Some of these homes offer public tours.

Midtown/Central
The Midtown area stretches from I-240 on the West to the University of Memphis area on the East, and from Southern Avenue to Jackson Avenue. This lively neighborhood harbors beautifully restored residential areas, the city's highest concentration of ethnic restaurants, trendy clubs and live theater, along with some of the best places for antiques shopping.

At the heart of Midtown lies the Overton Square Entertainment Complex, home of Playhouse on the Square, the Malco Studio on the Square movie house and wine bar, Loony bin Comedy Club, and a selection of restaurants and funky shops. To the north are the rolling lawns and shade trees of Overton Park, home of the Memphis Brooks Museum, and the Memphis Zoo.

The Cooper-Young Historic District forms the south border of Midtown. There are annual tours of the neighborhood and its Cooper-Young Festival show off the turn-of-century homes, which have been lovingly restored. The area supports some first-rate restaurants, too. Farther East is Pink Palace, which houses exhibits on natural history, the Sharpe Planetarium and an IMAX Theater.

University of Memphis Area
The University of Memphis is largely a commuter campus, thus not developing the usual collection of businesses catering to students. Instead, the stretches of Highland and Park along the borders of the campus have an odd collection of bars.

East
In an area ranging roughly from just East of the University of Memphis to just outside the I-240 perimeter, East Memphis encompasses the Laurelwood Shopping Center, Oak Court Mall, and the Poplar Plaza Shopping Center, the best locations in Memphis for designer boutique shopping.

East Memphians have the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, which features a collection of Impressionist paintings and first-rate traveling exhibits. Restaurants, such as Napa Cafe, can also be found to suit every price and palate.

North
North Memphis is the kind of heterogeneous ethnic neighborhood common in cities such as Chicago and New York. With a recent influx of immigrants from Mexico, authentic taquerias and restaurants have sprung up near Jackson Avenue. Asian shops with exotic produce and merchandise are helping the area take on an appealing international flavor.

Graceland/Airport
Mention Memphis in Paris, Beijing, or Budapest, and who comes to mind? Well, Elvis Presley, of course. The King is more connected with his hometown than are most celebrities, and his home, Graceland, brings more visitors to Memphis from all over the world than any other single attraction in the area. While you're in the area don't forget to check out the C.H. Nash Chucalissa Archaeological Museum. The museum displays a fantastic re-creation of a Native American village, including offering visitors the chance to see an archeological dig in progress.

Germantown, Bartlett and Cordova
While largely residential, Germantown brings in visitors for the international horse show. The area provides some excellent dining and shopping as well. For shopping, Germantowners and East Memphians flock to the Shops of Saddle Creek and the smaller Carrefour, located at Kirby Woods. Bartlett and Cordova have Cordova Cellars, where visitors can taste local wines and learn about wine-making, and the Davies Manor Plantation, a restored log home from the 19th century. Many national chain restaurants and shops along with the Wolfchase Galleria shopping mall have made this area a major draw for out-of-towners.

It is often said that Memphis is the city most often mentioned in popular songs. Whether or not that statement is true, the city does have an indisputably rich music history. As "Home of the Blues and Elvis Presley," Memphis has also given birth to such great artists and groups as W. C. Handy, Jerry Lee Lewis, B. B. King, Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. From Beale Street to Graceland to Sun Studio, this history has created many of the city's most popular attractions. Because of this tradition, travelers can hear wonderful music from both established artists as well as up-and-coming musicians at any time of the year.

Music
Anyone traveling to Memphis should spend at least one weekend evening club-hopping on Beale Street. This street, where B.B. King got his start, has been revived through a joint initiative of the city council and local merchants. Beale Street bars and clubs feature an outstanding variety of live music every night. Rum Boogie Café attracts 20-somethings who come to dance to the hot rhythms of R&B and rock groups, while Kings Palace Café draws listeners with its line-up of blues artists. In the spirit of "something for everyone," The New Daisy theater books alternative groups for the young and hip crowd. On weekends, Beale is closed to traffic and comes alive with bands playing both inside and out, tourists and locals mingling in the streets, and artists entertaining viewers with gymnastic antics. On special weekends, a particular type of music, such as Zydeco, may be featured. A wristband assures unlimited entry into all clubs.

With numerous venues like the Mud Island Amphitheater, there always seems to be a concert of some kind. If nothing in Memphis appeals to you, take a short drive to Tunica, just south of Memphis, and catch one of the many concerts at the strip of casinos that have sprung up along the Mississippi.

Every year in May, thousands of people travel from all over to take part in the rapidly growing Beale Street Music Festival. This three-day event includes six different stages, each dedicated to a different kind of music. Whether you enjoy rock, blues, country or jazz, this festival has it all. In recent years, artists such as Bob Dylan, Percy Sledge, Joan Jett and Bryan Adams, plus groups such as Creed, Dave Matthews Band, the Allman Brothers, Los Lobos and the Foo Fighters have played here.

Parks
In a city lacking mountains and lakes, many nature lovers may feel a bit stifled. However, they can retreat to any of Memphis' many parks for a little peace and greenery. For example, the recently-completed Riverwalk in Tom Lee Park provides an escape along the river just seconds from downtown.

Overton Park, in Midtown, encompasses the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and a golf course. On any sunny morning, the park is filled with Midtowners walking their dogs or jogging the trails. Travelers can make a day of it by visiting the Memphis Zoo and Aquarium, checking out the museum and then relaxing in the park.

Near the University of Memphis, Audubon Park provides the perfect setting for a shady picnic on a hot day. This is where many locals have their Fourth of July picnics, eating barbecue from their favorite restaurant, of course. A creative anachronism group meets here on Sundays, staging medieval battles with realistic looking armor and weapons. Spectators are welcome to watch but need not fear that the "knights" will fall victim to any real injury.

Just outside of Memphis are Meeman-Shelby and Shelby Farms. Meeman-Shelby, to the north of Memphis, offers fishing, horseback riding and camping. Bring a picnic and check out the horses at Shelby Farms, located just northeast of Memphis. If you're lucky, you will see some of the buffalo that graze here.

Theater
Memphis locals enjoy their theater almost as much as their music, even if the theater scene is not as well-known. The strong theater tradition in Memphis has produced such stars as Cybill Shepherd, Kathy Bates and Michael Jeeter. Just a block from the Peabody Hotel is the restored Orpheum Theater featuring touring productions of Broadway hits such as "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" as well as performances such as "Stomp" and "River Dance". For local theater, check out the Circuit Playhouse and Playhouse on the Square in Midtown or Theatre Memphis in the University of Memphis area. All three theaters stage traditional favorites like Noel Coward's "Private Lives," as well as more experimental pieces by modern playwrights. Playbills from these theaters reflect the eagerness with which up-and-coming thespians come to Memphis.

Film
In the past to see a movie, locals had to travel out to one of the many multiplexes in East Memphis and Germantown. Today, however, Malco opened Studio on the Square, a 4-screen cinema in Midtown specializing in foreign and art films with a cappuccino/wine bar and lounge.

Memphis has become a popular site among movie-makers in the years since John Grisham's book "The Firm" was filmed here. Low costs and a mild climate have lured producers such as Sidney Pollack and stars such as Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love. Visitors may find themselves on the edge of a scene being filmed on Beale Street, on the skyway to Mud Island or sitting in the Peabody Hotel lobby with celebrities relaxing after a day's work.

Museums
Where would Memphis be without a museum dedicated to Elvis? How about one dedicated entirely to his cars? The Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, near Graceland, displays the collection of unusual and classic cars that Elvis prized.

And, of course, there is a museum dedicated to music. At the Memphis Music Hall of Fame you can see the vintage equipment actually used at the legendary Sun Studio to record artist such as Elvis and B.B.King. Exhibits trace the history of rock n' roll, soul and R&B in this area of the country over the past 50 years. Visitors will enjoy the photographs of their favorite artists as well as videos and displays of the actual instruments used to create some of the most memorable music of this era.

The Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, has been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum. Visit the room where he was shot and learn about his civil rights efforts. A life-size bus exhibit allows visitors to feel what it was like when Rosa Parks was told to sit at the back of the bus. Other interactive displays bring to life the history of African-Americans in the South and the struggles of those who fought for civil rights. It is an inspiring place for anyone who has ever pondered the flaws in human nature that allow prejudice and racism to exist.

While wandering down Beale Street, be sure to stop at the Beale Street Police Station, home of the Memphis Police Museum. Learn about the history of the police department in Memphis and sit inside an original jail cell. See the photographs and records of small time crooks and nationally-hunted criminals such as James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On a lighter side, children will enjoy learning and playing at the Children's Museum of Memphis. This museum in midtown includes hands-on exhibits as well as replicas of planes, trains and automobiles where children can learn as they explore.

Art buffs will want to spend some time at the Brooks Museum of Art to see its top-notch collection of medieval paintings or the Dixon Gallery and Gardens for its impressionist works. The Dixon also holds concerts in the gardens every spring and summer.

Those interested more in cultural history can pretend to shop in a life-size replica of the first Piggly-Wiggly Grocery Store at the Pink Palace Museum. Previous exhibits have focused on the prehistoric wildlife of the Mississippi River Valley and the fossils found in the La Brea tar pits. This museum also houses a planetarium and IMAX theater. When the nights are clear and warm, telescopes are provided on the lawn for star-gazers of all ages.

Sports
Until recently, Memphis had only a few professional sports teams. Now, the city seems to have gone mad for the triple-A Redbirds baseball team. The Autozone Park provides an ideal venue for this team and has locals clamoring for tickets. Riverkings ice hockey team has been around a bit longer. Locals, who rarely see ice and snow on the ground, have embraced this winter sport. Although many of the players are transplanted Canadians, they are local celebrities with fans as rabid as any in Canada.

Although the University of Memphis has a football team, it is far better known for a tradition of nationally-competitive basketball teams. 

Tennis fans will enjoy benefiting St. Jude Children's Hospital by watching the Kroger St. Jude Tennis Tournament which takes place every February with featured stars such as John McEnroe and Michael Becker.

St. Jude also benefits from the FedEx St. Jude Classic Golf Tournament held June at the South Winds course in Germantown. This has become a premier event on the pro-golfers' circuit. If you missed the tournament, there are many public and private golf courses in Memphis where you can practice your swing including the Overton and Audubon Park courses.

Casinos
Just a few short years ago, the state of Mississippi decided to legalize casino gambling at a few spots along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The first casino on the Mississippi opened in Tunica, about an hour and a half south of Memphis. Tunica had long occupied the unenviable position of "poorest county in the country." The hope was that casinos would bring in tourist money and jobs. Within five years, this initiative proved remarkably successful. A line of casinos and hotels now stretch down the river along Highway 61, beginning just about 12 miles south of the state border. While the primary activity of casinos—gambling—doesn't vary much from one neon-lit building to the next, there are differences in atmosphere and other facilities that make it worthwhile to plan a few stops on your trip to "the Las Vegas of the Mid-South."

The Hollywood Casino has perhaps the most interesting decor. Actual props from movies, movie posters and photos of major celebrities line the halls. The casino sometimes exhibits memorabilia such as souvenirs of Elvis from the private collection of his long-time physician. Even the key chain to hold the ubiquitous player's card is in the form of the famous "Lights, camera, action!" signboard.

While most of the casinos have a variety of dining options including lavish buffets, steakhouses and cafés, one of the most popular places to eat is the buffet at the Horseshoe Casino and Hotel. It features areas devoted to particular cuisines: grilled vegetables and pasta in the Tuscany section, dumplings and stir-fries in the Chinese area, and spicy Creole dishes from New Orleans. Horseshoe also has a Blues and Legends Hall of Fame Museum to tour when you need a break from the slots. There is also a Bluesville Showcase Nightclub featuring some of the best blues musicians in concert every weekend.

Festivals
How many cities can boast a festival that lasts for a full month? The Memphis in May celebration comprises 31 days of music, dance and theater as well as the lesser arts of barbecue and wine carrying! Every year, one country is chosen as the focus for events around the city. Past years have honored France, the Ivory Coast, Portugal and Australia. As part of the celebration, reoccurring events include the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Contest, the Great Southern Food Festival and the Sunset Symphony concert performed by the Memphis Symphony on the banks of the river. Other sanctioned events include a canoe and kayak race and the wine carrying race where local waiters compete in the Olympics of table service.

It seems as though there's a festival somewhere in Memphis every weekend of the year. And that is not too far from true. The Italian Festival in June highlights the heritage of an important element of Memphis' population with spaghetti gravy contests and a boules court. The Pink Palace Crafts Fair brings craftsmen and artist from all over the country to ply their wares under big tents on the grounds of Audubon Park. Arts in the Park celebrates every aspect of art and culture with ballet troops from Russia, prizes for painting, sculpture and photography and craft tables for interactive activities for children.

The Choctaw Indian Heritage Festival, the Cooper-Young Festival in the gentrified midtown neighborhood, the Greek Festival, the National Art Festival and the Saddle Creek European Street Painting Festival all contribute to the festivities in Memphis.

Last, but definitely not least, is the Mid-South Fair, held in late September through early October every year. This event is so important that all the students in the city and county schools get a day off to attend. The traditional county fair competitions in jelly making, quilt sewing, cattle breeding and hog calling are supplemented with amusement park games and rides, art and photography competitions, craft sales and the ever popular "fair food." It's a cultural and recreational event not to be missed.

Memphis

State: Tennessee

Country: United States

Memphis by the Numbers
Population: 653,450 (city); 1,341,000 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 337 feet / 103 meters 
Average Annual Precipitation:  54 inches / 137 centimeters
Average Annual Snowfall: 3 inches / 8 centimeters
Average January Temperature:  42°F/ 5.6°C
Average July Temperature:  83°F/ 28.3°C 

Quick Facts

Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz, standard two pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT-6; Mountain Standard Time

Country Dialing Code: 1

Area Code: 901

Did You Know?

Memphis is also the name of the ancient Egyptian capital.

Orientation

Located in southwest Tennessee, Memphis lies next to the Mississippi River. The city is about 212 miles (841 kilometers) from Nashville, TN and 88 miles (142 kilometers) from Jackson, TN.

The sprawling metropolis of Memphis is a city born out of its geographic location. Like most cities along the Mississippi River, the area was a major stop-off point for transporting goods. However, with the introduction of the railroad dissecting the country from east to west, Memphis was changed from a port into a hub. More recently, large corporations such as Federal Express have started calling Memphis home, thus elevating the local economy and inspiring a new sense of pride in both long-term residents and newcomers.

Long before Columbus, the Chickasaw Indians found their way to this area. The flat plains made cultivation easy and the proximity of the river insured an abundant supply of water. When the last major earthquake along the New Madrid fault shook the area in 1829, a branch of the river reversed its flow and formed Reelfoot Lake. Luckily, so few people lived in the region at the time that no deaths or injuries were recorded. Unfortunately, the same factors that drew the Chickasaw here made the area attractive to the European explorers. In the late 17th century, France claimed the lands in the Mississippi River Valley, down to the Gulf of Mexico. When King Louis XVI handed this territory over to Spain in the 1790s, Fort Saint Ferdinand of the Bluffs (named for King Ferdinand VII) kept watch over the traffic up and down the river.

By 1818, the Spaniards no longer occupied it, and the newly formed state of Tennessee took the land on the East side of the river from the Chickasaw by treaty. Memphis, named for the Egyptian city's similar geographic location on the Nile, was founded in 1819.

Memphis became the center for trade of two kinds: cotton and slaves. Plantation owners from Mississippi brought their cotton up the river to sell and returned home with new workers for their fields. A plaque in Auction Square commemorates the auctioning of both "commodities" during this era. This trade sparked an economic boom in Memphis, resulting in the building of luxury hotels such as the Gayoso House (recently remodeled into condominiums) and the establishment of a number of businesses.

In 1845, Memphis became the site of a naval shipyard, bringing a new source of revenue to the area. With the completion of the Memphis-Charleston Railroad, goods could be shipped East to the Atlantic Ocean, establishing Memphis as the transportation hub it is today.

The American Civil War was fought mostly east of Memphis, in the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia, and south in Mississippi. The one major battle fought locally occurred in 1862. Union forces conquered the Confederate Navy in a short time while Memphians stood on the banks of the river, in what is now Confederate Park, to watch the battle. Memphis became a Union supply point because of the city's transportation facilities and was also the site of a prisoner-of-war camp.

After the Civil War, the schooling of former slaves began. An organization called the Memphis Freedmen's Bureau was instrumental in the start-up of business services for African-Americans. Unfortunately, the yellow fever epidemic of the 1870s killed more than half of Memphis' population of 16,000, halting economic and social progress. Many who did not fall victim to the disease fled the area, believing that the river waters were unhealthy. The devastation was so severe that Memphis had to give up its city charter in 1879.

The irony of the epidemic was that much of the African-American population survived and remained to begin the rebuilding of the city. It was the area's first African-American millionaire, Robert Church, Sr., a former slave, who bought the first bond issued in an attempt to restore the city's charter. In fact, there is evidence that this was a period of time when African-American residents flourished, economically and socially, from Memphis to New Orleans. Their businesses thrived and a strong black middle-class developed.

The early part of the 20th century saw the flowering of Jazz and the Blues as musical forms. Beale Street became the home of nightclubs where musicians such as W.C. Handy experimented with new musical forms born from the combination of spirituals, folk music and even square dance rhythms. When the powerful E.H. "Boss" Crump commissioned Handy to write a campaign song to help him run for mayor, it signaled a formal acceptance of these new art forms. Crump presided over Memphis for almost 50 years, during which time African-American musicians such as Handy, B.B. King and Rufus Thomas put Memphis on the national map. Their success allowed Sam Phillips to start the famous Sun Studio and for radio station WDIA to adopt an all-black format. It was here in 1953 where legendary Elvis Presley got his start, skyrocketing to superstardom, effectively putting modern Memphis on the map.

Points of interest in Memphis, TN

See all points of interest Memphis, TN

Departing from:

^Total price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions.

*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

Explore our world.

or find your dream vacation with our Vacation Finder