There is a LOT to do here and you need to be very well organised if you want to do it all! This was how we tackled it. We stayed at the Peabody Hotel which makes a great central base in downtown Memphis.
Arrival – Sunday
Arrive in time to see the March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel. At 5pm, they leave the marble fountain in the lobby where they play all day, walk down a set of steps and along a red carpet right into the elevator. The elevator takes them up too the rooftop where they disembark and settle into their sumptuous duck palace for the night. If you want a front row position, get there by 4.30 at the latest. If you miss it, they march back down to the fountain at 11am the next morning. The duck palace is worth a visit – it shuts at 10pm each day.
Dinner – Huey’s 77 S 2nd St. It’s close to the hotel, does great hamburgers and has live jazz on Sundays from 8pm.
Day 1 – Monday
Tour of the City in a 1955 Plymouth Belvedere – an experience provided courtesy of Brandon Cunning – Rockabilly Rides. This is such a fun way to orientate yourself and learn all about the city. In 90 minutes, you see pretty well everything there is to see so you can decide where you want to explore in more depth in the rest of the time you have. Apart from the thrill of being driven in this classic car, you also have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like along the way. Brandon Cunning makes it such fun. It will set you back $250 – but we thought it was worth every penny. It’s popular though – you have to book at least two months in advance.
After the drive, walk back to Sun Studio. They do tours on the half hour for $14 pp – Aim to catch the 12.30 tour. The unassuming little building that gave birth to Blues and Rock and Roll really comes alive when you do the guided tour. Sam Phillips famously recorded “anything, anywhere, anytime” and Elvis cut his first record here for $4. Great music follows you round all the way – such fun! There are some unique exhibits there you will never see anywhere else. If you only have time for one of the Music Museum tours, make it this one.
Walk to the National Museum of Civil Rights via the I am a Man Sign which commemorates the events that took place in the lead up to the death of two sanitation workers following a bitter dispute over poor working conditions, You will see pictures of the marches that followed these events in the National Museum of Civil Rights later. It is hard to believe that in the “land of the free”, slaves granted freedom in 1863 still had no vote until the mid 1960s. Slaves were eventually given 3/5 of a vote (an attempt to increase electoral college power for the South). Even though they were allowed a vote, only 3% actually cast it because of laws introduced (eg a literacy test) to stop them.
Lunch: Luncbox Eats 288 S 4th St.
A great little find for lunch! They have 1950s style chairs on metal wheels and serve their drinks in jam jars. The BLT is the specialty – it is without doubt the best BLT I have ever tasted. The bacon is battered and fried – I know – but it is heavenly! Aim to get there by about 2pm latest. They shut at 3 and you need to leave enough time to visit the museum.
Allow 2 and a half hours for a visit to the National Museum of Civil Rights. There is so much to see here and it is all excellently displayed, so you don’t want to rush it. The story of the struggle for civil rights from the “end” of slavery in 1864 up to the day Martin Luther King was shot on this site in 1968 is brilliantly told. You can listen to first hand accounts of the horrors of the Jim Crow period and lynchings. At one point, you walk down long corridors with pictures of the marchers and really feel as though you are marching for freedom yourself along with them. The sad tale of how Martin Luther King was shot the day after his momentous speech is told in detail. You can watch the film of his moving “I have a dream” speech and and see for yourself the room where it happened in the blacks only Lorraine Motel, which has been preserved. A must do in Memphis. The museum shuts at 5 and also shuts on Tuesdays.
Dinner: The Majestic Grille 145 S Main St.
Set in a grand 1930s movie house, showing silent films, they serve good cocktails, steaks and upmarket American food. Reservations advised.
Now for Day 2 …