What To Do In Memphis In One Day

Welcome to a city that pulses with music, history, and unmistakable Southern charm—Memphis, Tennessee. While one day may only scratch the surface of this lively city, we’ve crafted an itinerary that captures the essence of Memphis, from its poignant Civil Rights history at the Lorraine Hotel to its mouthwatering barbecue, captivating wildlife at the Memphis Zoo, and the unique shopping experience at Bass Pro Shops.

Get ready for a whirlwind tour of Memphis’s iconic attractions, where each moment is a note in the city’s vibrant symphony.

Civil War canon.

Memphis In a Day – Explore the City

Memphis has a long, rich history that stretches back at least 10,000 years.  It was originally inhabited by Native Americans, visited by Hernando DeSoto,  and was “founded by” General/President Andrew Jackson, General James Winchester, and Judge John Overton.  The city was named Memphis which means “place of good abode.”

During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies wanted to control Memphis.  In 1862, the Battle of Memphis was fought along the river and Union forces won and took command of the city.

Once Memphis was under Union control, former slaves moved to the city, quadrupling the African-American population in just 10 years.

Old fountain in the middle of a square.

You’ll see statues, plaques, and monuments commemorating Memphis’ past.

Old car in front of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.
The Lorraine Hotel

Memphis has had its share of turbulence in more modern times.  It was here that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s life was taken while he was at the Lorraine Hotel.  The hotel is now the National Civil Rights Museum honoring his life and work.

National Civil Rights Museum.

The National Civil Rights Museum is located at 450 Mulberry Street. It is open from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily except for Tuesday (closed).

I am a Man mural.

This mural was painted by Marcellous (with BLK75) Lovelace and pays homage to the Civil Rights Movement. It is based on the “I am a Man” march that took place on South Main.

Kress building.

This beautiful Kress building at 9 N Main Street was once home to a five-and-dime store of the same name. Samuel Kress began his chain of shops in Memphis in 1897. This location dates back to 1927 and today is part of Marriot’s Springhill Suites hotel and is used for meeting space.

Checkers table and benches at a park.

Shop at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

Bass Pro Shops pyramid.

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid is a destination in and of itself.  In addition to selling fishing and hunting gear and just about everything outdoor enthusiasts need, this location of Bass Pro Shops also has a bowling alley, an archery range, a firearms range, The Lookout Restaurant at the top of the pyramid which boasts incredible views of the city and Mississippi River, and Big Cypress Lodge, a 103-room lodge.

Bass Pro Shops is located at 1 Bass Pro Drive along the Mississippi River. It is open from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Explore the Natural World at the Memphis Zoo and the Botanic Garden

Memphis Zoo pictures.

The Memphis Zoo occupies 70 beautiful acres and is home to over 3,500 animals. Building upon the Memphis/Egypt theme, the zoo pays homage to the city’s namesake with hieroglyphics, an obelisk, and Egyptian temple facades.  

There are daily events at the zoo, such as a reptile chat, giraffe feedings, and sea lion shows.  The Memphis Zoo is one of only four zoos in the country to house giant pandas.  It is easy to see why the Memphis Zoo ranks among the top zoos on TripAdvisor.com.

The Memphis Zoo is located at 2000 Prentiss Place. It is open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily. Tickets are $23 for people ages 12 and older. Senior citizen tickets are $22 and tickets for children ages 2-11 cost $18.

Botanic Garden in Memphis.

The Memphis Botanic Garden covers 96 acres and has 29 different gardens, including the Asian Garden, the Camellia Collection, the Butterfly Garden, the Hosta Trail, the Japanese Garden, the Sensory Garden, and the Sculpture Garden.  

My Big Back Yard at the Botanic Gardens in Memphis.

There is even a special section just for kids called My Big Backyard that has tree houses to climb and explore, Critter Creek, Raindrop Stop, and so much more to keep children delighted for hours.

The Memphis Botanic Garden is located at 750 Cherry Road. It is open from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $7 for children ages 2-12.

Take a Carriage Ride

People on a carriage ride in downtown Memphis.

A carriage ride through Memphis’ downtown area is a good way to learn more about the history of the city at a leisurely pace.  The two best-ranked companies that offer rides are Carriage Tours of Memphis and Uptown Carriages. Prices range from $45 for 15 minutes to $150 for 2 hours.


Central BBQ building.

Don’t dare go to Memphis without trying some barbecue.  It’s everywhere.  If you prefer lighter fare, the Chicken Chef Salad at Central BBQ is sure to hit the spot.  

BBQ Salad in a taco bowl and topped with chicken and tomatoes.
Chicken Chef Salad at Central BBQ

Central BBQ is located at 147 E Butler Avenue and is only steps away from the National Civil Rights Museum. They don’t use sauce in their BBQ pit and you won’t miss it.

Rib platter
Rib platter at Silky O’Sullivan’s.

Speaking of barbecue being everywhere…where else but Memphis would you find a BBQ sampler platter at an Irish restaurant?

I hope that this post has given you some ideas of things to do in Memphis in a day.  To learn about more places like Beale Street, Graceland, Sun Studio, the Peabody, and the Gibson Guitar Factory, visit MemphisTravel.com.

If you find yourself with more than 24 hours to spend in Memphis and are looking for a nice, affordable place to stay, then be sure to check out the post about The Comfort Inn in Memphis.

Double beds in a hotel room.

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  1. These photos are amazing! I would like to plan a long across USA roadtrip in the future and this is definitely one of the stops, so much good info, thanks! Saving it for later

  2. Lovely blog! Looks like I just visited Memphis! I love that Kress building – so elegant, and colorful. The Memphis zoo and botanical gardens are the places I would like to spend a large part of the day. That horse carriage ride through this town would be a lovely experience. 🙂

  3. I’ve got Memphis on my list so greatly appreciate this travel guide. I would especially like to visit the historical / civil rights sites.

  4. Wow, the Kress Building is beautiful! The botanical garden and Memphis BBQ sound right up my alley. I’ve been to lots of places in Tennessee, but I’ve yet to visit Memphis. Thanks for this awesome guide!

    1. My sister lived in the Porter Building on the fifth floor facing the Kress building. She had a spectacular view of the magnificent facade and the river. The Porter Building was built by Dr Porter DDS and had the first elevator in Memphis. It is gorgeous inside. Downtown Memphis is beautiful, but many building have had the facade cut across the beautiful columns. That’s an architectural crime.

      1. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully, someday people will realize how important it is to preserve old buildings.

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