Where to Stay in Memphis

SD › Best Places to Stay in Memphis
Updated: October 25, 2022
By Santorini Dave

Best area to stay in Memphis.

Historic Beale Street in downtown Memphis.

Where to Stay in Memphis, Tennesse

Memphis lies on the banks of the Mississippi River, on the far western edge of Tennessee. With a greater metro population of 1.3 million, it’s the second largest city in the state today and one of the South’s biggest draws – especially for music-lovers. The home of blues, soul, and rock’n’roll, Memphis is known for the bars and clubs of Beale Street, Stax Records, Sun Studio, the Blues Hall of Fame, and Graceland, the lavish home of Elvis Presley. It’s also where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot in 1968, the site now preserved as the poignant National Civil Rights Museum. Though the city’s been through hard times, it’s an undeniably atmospheric place peppered with diners, stores, and bars loaded with character. It’s also the home of some of the best barbecue joints in the nation, with Memphis-style barbecue globally renowned and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest taking place here every May.

The most convenient place to stay is Downtown, with a decent spread of luxury hotels and reasonably-priced chains. There are cheaper options in South Memphis near Graceland, but that area can get sketchy at night. Midtown is worth exploring, particularly the hip Cooper-Young neighborhood, though there aren’t so many places to stay here. East Memphis is not as convenient unless you expect to be driving a lot, but it does feature clusters of cheap motels and some excellent shopping malls.

While it’s relatively easy to explore Downtown and South Main on foot, the Memphis Area Transit Authority also runs the useful downtown trolley system comprising 3 lines: Main Street Rail Line, Madison Avenue Shuttle Line, and Riverfront Shuttle Line. The Main Street trolley links Beale Street, the Civil Rights Museum, and the South Main Arts District with Downtown for just $1 per ride (day pass $2, buy on board). Buses run to other parts of the city, but it’s generally faster (and safer at night) to drive or use taxis.

• Book accommodation well in advance if your visit coincides with the anniversary of Elvis’s death in mid-August (Elvis Week) and during the Memphis in May International Festival.

Memphis International Airport is 12 miles south of Downtown and only around 15–20 minutes by taxi. All the major car rental companies have desks here. The only public transportation is MATA’s bus #28 Airport route, which runs to the Hudson Transit Center at the northern end of Downtown in around 30 minutes (this connects with the trolley service).

• The Tennessee Welcome Center is at 119 North Riverside Drive, facing Mud Island on the banks of the Mississippi (daily 7am–10pm). The Memphis Visitor Center is at 3205 Elvis Presley Boulevard in South Memphis, on the road to Graceland.

Best Places to Stay in Memphis

Best hotel in downtown Memphis.

The iconic Peabody Hotel is the best place to stay in downtown Memphis.

Best Neighborhoods in Memphis for…

  • Best Neighborhood to Stay for First Timers/Sightseeing: Downtown Memphis
    The fairly obvious choice is Downtown Memphis, which has the largest stock of accommodation and is crammed with attractions, not least Beale Street and its associated bars, restaurants, and museums. Here you’ll also be in strolling distance of the Mississippi River Walk and riverboat cruises, Mud Island, the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, and the attractions of the South Main Arts District, including the National Civil Rights Museum. Downtown is also easy to navigate thanks to the cheap and convenient trolley system, though you really need a car to explore further afield. Alternatively, serious Elvis fans may want to consider staying in South Memphis – likely at the Guest House at Graceland – if the rest of Memphis pales in comparison.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Nightlife: Beale Street & South Main (Downtown), Midtown
    Beale Street offers a decent night out most days of the week, with spots like the Absinthe Room, Silky O’Sullivan’s, and Ghost River Brewing Co offering craft beers and cocktails, as well as B.B. King’s Blues Club, Blues City Café, and many others hosting live music. A couple of blocks south along South Main, there’s the slick gastropub SOB Downtown, Slider Inn Downtown, and iconic dive bar Earnestine & Hazel’s.

    To escape the tourists, you’ll need to tour the nightlife clusters in Midtown, notably in the Crosstown, Overton, and Cooper-Young neighborhoods. In Crosstown we appreciate the live music at Hi Tone Café and the cocktails at Art Bar at Crosstown Arts. There’s also B Side and local legend Wild Bill’s Juke Joint, out on its own on Vollintine Avenue.

    • Memphis’s music scene comes to life at the Memphis in May International Festival, which includes the Beale Street Music Festival. August’s Elvis Week and Gonerfest also feature plenty of live shows.
    • The Memphis Flyer is a good source of information for the latest Memphis events and nightlife.

  • Best Neighborhoods for Food and Restaurants: Downtown, Cooper-Young, East Memphis
    Memphis is often claimed to be the pork barbecue capital of the world, and while the barbecue really is superb, there’s a lot more to sample, not least some exceptional soul food joints. Downtown has the widest selection of places to eat, home to local classics Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and the more upscale Southern restaurant McEwen’s. South Main Arts District is home to branches of Central BBQ and legendary Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, as well as the Arcade, a diner from 1919 that was a favorite of Elvis.

    Foodies will want to go further afield. Cooper-Young features several notable restaurants and cafes in a compact, walkable area. Highlights include the Southern seafood at Soul Fish, Maciel’s Tortas & Tacos, upscale seafood at Tsunami, and the contemporary American cuisine at Beauty Shop.

    The scene in East Memphis is more spread out (you really need a car), but features some top-notch foodie destinations. Iris is our top pick for fabulous French-Creole cuisine, while Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant serves authentic Ethiopian food. Local institutions include Huey’s Poplar for burgers and 1922 veteran Leonard’s Pit Barbecue. We also love Erling Jensen for fine dining and the glazed treats at Gibson’s Donuts.

  • Best Neighborhoods for Shopping: East Memphis and South Main
    East Memphis is home to some of the best shopping malls in Memphis, beginning with the boutiques at Laurelwood Shopping Center. Indie bookstore Novel is here, while La Maison Antiques is a little further along Poplar Avenue, home to over 40 craft and antique stalls. Oak Court Mall is just across from Laurelwood, best known for fashion boutiques like Aéropostale and H&M as well as department stores like Macy’s and Dillard’s. A short drive northeast lies the massive Wolfchase Galleria and the posher Shops of Saddle Creek in Germantown.

    Alternatively, the South Main Arts District has its own small-scale indie boutique scene. Highlights include Stock + Belle, which sells designer fashions and furniture, the soybean candles at Downtown Candle Company, vinyl at Vibe & Dime, and hip art galleries such as the Rainbow Stained Glass Studio.

  • Best Neighborhood for Local Vibe: Cooper-Young (Midtown)
    Cooper-Young in Midtown – anchored by the Cooper Street and Young Avenue intersection – is a great place to escape the tourists and mingle with a hip crowd of locals, students, and artists. There’s not much to see in terms of sights, but it’s a walkable neighborhood crammed with restaurants, bars, and indie stores. We like 901 Comics, Java Cabana Coffeehouse, the craft beers at Memphis Made Brewing Co, the vintage clothing at Fox + Cat Vintage, Burke’s Book Store, and Goner Records.

    • The only place to stay in Cooper-Young is an excellent budget option, Hostel Memphis. There are dorms here as well as cozy private double rooms with shared bathrooms.

  • Unsafe Areas of Memphis
    Memphis has one of the highest crime rates in the US, a situation that the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly made worse, with rates soaring in 2020 and 2021. Having said that, the main tourist zones – Beale Street, South Main, Graceland – are usually well policed and as a visitor you are unlikely to get into trouble provided you take care at night, taking taxis and avoiding empty streets. In general, Downtown, Midtown, and East Memphis tend to be safer than South Memphis.

The 5 Best Neighborhoods in Memphis for Tourists

1. Downtown Memphis

Downtown Memphis is the traditional, business, and cultural heart of the city, enjoying a minor renaissance after years of decline. For visitors it’s best known for the live music, diners, and bars in the Beale Street Entertainment District at the southern end. Now a legendary blues corridor, Beale Street began life as a posh white district in the 1840s but transformed into an African-American commercial street in the Jim Crow era – in the 1920s it boomed as a hub of vaudeville theatres, concert halls, blues bars, and juke joints. Today it’s been largely rebuilt as a tourist attraction, lined with souvenir shops, music clubs, bars, and retro cafés, but the live venues still showcase genuine talent. Highlights include B.B. King’s Blues Club, the Orpheum Theatre, Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and W C Handy House Museum, while the A. Schwab store at 163 Beale St looks like it hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1876. The “Beale Street Flippers” will likely entertain you as you stroll the strip with their acrobatic stunts. The nearby Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum chronicles the whole history of the city’s musical roots in the shadow of the FedExForum, home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

Other highlights of Downtown include the enlightening Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange, the Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art, and the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, an outdoor gear megastore that also includes a hotel, water features, and observation deck at the top of the 321-foot steel pyramid itself (completed in 1991).

Don’t forget also the Mississippi Riverfront, which is lined by the tranquil River Walk from the Mississippi River Greenbelt Park in the north to Tom Lee Park in the south. Riverboat Cruises depart the pier at 45 Riverside Drive. Just across from here lies Mud Island, connected to the shore via walkway or monorail. Here you’ll find the Mississippi River Museum and a scale replica of the lower Mississippi River.

On the eastern fringes of Downtown, the Victorian Village is a tiny enclave of 19th-century mansions, one of which is the city’s finest B&B. You can also tour the Mallory-Neely House and Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum. Seminal early recordings by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison were made at nearby Sun Studio, heralding the Rock n’ Roll era.

2. South Main Arts District

The 1-square mile South Main Arts District, technically part of Downtown but a flourishing neighborhood in its own right, begins a block or so south of Beale Street. Initially a residential suburb of Downtown, it became the city’s railroad hub in the early 20th century before falling into a long decline in the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks to its rebirth in the late 1980s, it’s now crammed with locally-owned stores, restaurants, breweries, and businesses and is definitely modern Memphis at its most dynamic. The biggest attraction here is the National Civil Rights Museum, which incorporates the Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. Galleries inside highlight the major events of the Civil Rights movement and include King’s actual room, Room 306, just as he left it. Nearby, the Blues Hall of Fame Museum exhibits blues memorabilia from all the greats, while the Memphis Farmers Market runs April to October, every Saturday, on South Front Street.

  • Time your visit to cover the last Friday of the month to enjoy South Main’s street festival, when galleries and shops are open late and live performers entertain shoppers.
  • South Main is a fun place to stay, but there are only 2 recommended hotels, both excellent. Otherwise it’s an easy stroll or trolley ride from Downtown.
  • Best Hotels:
    ARRIVECentral Station Memphis

3. Midtown

Sprawling Midtown covers the central section of Memphis, east of Downtown and I-69. Though it’s primarily a residential district, there are plenty of things to do and see for visitors. Leafy Overton Park is home to the excellent Memphis Zoo, where giant pandas Ya Ya and Le Le are the star attractions. The park also features the absorbing Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, known for its collection of medieval and
Renaissance works.

Just to the south on Madison Avenue, the Overton Square Entertainment District features restaurants, unique shops, theaters, and entertainment venues such as Playhouse on the Square, Hattiloo Theatre, and movies at Malco’s Studio on the Square. A few blocks south along Cooper Street, the Cooper-Young Historic District is a hip enclave known for cutting-edge restaurants and bars.

Over on the western side of the neighborhood, Crosstown Concourse is a 1920s Sears, Roebuck distribution center converted into a dynamic “vertical urban village,” home to restaurants, art galleries, the Crosstown Theater, and more.

Finally, the Broad Avenue Arts District lies to the east of Overton Park. It’s a great place to shop, with highlights such as the African-inspired fashions at Mbabazi House of Style, unique gifts at Falling Into Place, and the work of local artists at T Clifton Art.

4. South Memphis and Graceland

South Memphis is best known as the home of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Elvis Presley’s Graceland, both major tourist attractions. Though Stax tends to primarily attract soul fans, even non-Elvis aficionados should consider a visit to Graceland, a fascinating combination of whimsical, glitz, and music history.

Stax lies in a neighborhood dubbed Soulsville, brightened with murals of Al Green, Otis Redding, and other Memphis soul artists. The Stax Museum celebrates the seminal record label established at 926 East McLemore Avenue in 1960. Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, and the Staples Singers knocked out hits here throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Be sure to eat at the legendary Four Way nearby at 998 Mississippi Blvd, a soul food institution since 1946, popular with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

The main draw here remains Graceland, further south in Whitehaven. Interactive iPad tours take in the house itself (including the Hawaiian-themed Jungle Room), Elvis’s racquetball court, and a host of his more flamboyant costumes on display. The graves of Elvis and his parents lie outside in the Meditation Garden. The huge Elvis Presley’s Memphis complex contains several museums and interactive experiences dedicated to the “King”, plus a display of his favorite cars.

  • Fans of Al Green and/or Gospel music might want to check out the weekly services at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church at 787 Hale Rd. Established by Green in 1976, visitors are welcome at the 11.30am Sunday service, where Green still usually sings.
  • South Memphis in general isn’t a great place to stay or to be based, but there are some exceptions. The Guest House at Graceland is one of the best hotels in the city and obviously incredibly convenient for visits to Graceland itself. There is a cluster of alternative hotels near here if Graceland is your primary target in Memphis.
  • Memphis International Airport is also in South Memphis, and there’s another cluster of hotels near here, convenient for early or late flights but not much else.
  • Rock-bottom motels line Elvis Presley Blvd (US-51) and South 3rd Street (US-61), but note that standards are low.
  • Best Hotels in Graceland:
    Guest House at GracelandHoliday Inn Express & Suites Arpt Elvis Presley BlvdGraceland RV Park & Campground
  • Best Hotels near the Airport:
    Comfort Inn AirportCourtyard by Marriott AirportQuality Inn Airport I-240

5. East Memphis

East Memphis covers a large swathe of the city about 8 miles east of Downtown. It’s another primarily residential district, though there are some key attractions here worth making time for, especially for families. Memphis Museum of Science & History incorporates family-friendly exhibits, a planetarium, a 3D Giant Theater, and the Pink Palace Mansion, the home of Piggly Wiggly store founder Clarence Saunders. Nearby is the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

Heading east, Dixon Gallery & Gardens boasts art exhibitions and 17 acres of woodlands and gardens to explore. Next door, the Memphis Botanic Garden features 28 specialty gardens over another 96 shady acres.

Further east again, the 65-acre Lichterman Nature Center is also popular with families, with easy trails around lakes and through woods. There are also live snakes, turtles, and other creatures on display.

The vast Shelby Farms Park features horseback riding, paddle-boarding on Hyde Lake, and adventure sports at the Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park. There are also bikes to rent and the 10.65-mile paved Shelby Farms Greenline. Note also that some of Memphis’ best shopping is located in East Memphis, though you’ll need a car to make the most of this (and the other attractions).

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