Memphis may be synonymous with live music and a raucous nightlife but there's more to the city than bar hopping and late-night revelry.

Look a little closer and you'll realize it's actually a wonderful destination for the whole family. Lush and plentiful public parks packed with activities, wonderful museums and world-class barbecue restaurants that actively encourage eating with your hands!

Here's everything you need to know about visiting Memphis with kids in tow.

Why is Memphis good for kids?

Memphis is a great spot for families due to the range of experiences available and its significant place in American history. There’s always something going on in Bluff City, whether it’s the famed Memphis in May music festival that brings in world-renowned performers, the July 4th fireworks over the river or the holiday lights displays around town.

Due to the sprawling nature of the city, it's easiest to get around by car when traveling as a group, especially if you're using a stroller. Free and paid parking is available in most neighborhoods. That said, the MATA transportation system includes buses and historic trolleys that cover most of the city's sights and the vintage trolleys are a fun experience in themselves.

Fares cost $1 per ride for adults and kids under five ride for free. Students in grades one through twelve also receive reduced fares. Multi-day passes are also available if you plan on taking advantage of the network.

If you’re looking to save cash on your visit, try the Memphis Kids Pass, which charges one price for entry into the Memphis Zoo, the Children's Museum of Memphis, Memphis Botanic Garden, and the Fire Museum of Memphis, as well as additional discounts.

A green trolley on the street in Memphis, Tennessee
Riding a vintage trolley through Memphis is an experience in itself © Steve Gronowski / Getty Images

Where is best in Memphis for kids?

The vibrant and welcoming neighborhoods of Cooper-Young, Overton Square, and South Main are best for kids – the streets are wide and filled with restaurants, shops, and colorful murals. Overton Square in particular is home to a large city park and several performing arts venues.

Best things to do in Memphis with babies and toddlers

Attend storytime at Novel Bookstore

The twice-weekly storytime at this beloved local bookstore is recommended for children up to age five and allows little ones time to enjoy stories and songs, including classics and new titles. It’s free to attend, but you might find yourself picking up a few books to bring with you for the rest of the trip. There’s also a cafe in case anyone’s in need of a snack.

Play around at Shelby Farms Park

This sprawling 4500-acre park is one of the city’s most beloved with endless activities for all ages. Toddlers can explore the Woodland Discovery Playground, voted one of the best in the nation, with climbing boulders, slides, swings, plus a seasonal splash pad.

The older kids won’t be left out, though, as the park also has a ten-mile paved trail, bike rentals, a zipline course, horseback riding, boating, fishing, paintball, and disc golf. Your family can also set up a picnic with treats from Belltower Coffee or the food trucks that are set up on weekends.

Catch the Duck Parade at the Peabody Hotel

The duck parade at the storied Peabody Hotel dates back to the 1930s when the manager returned from a hunting trip and put ducks in the hotel’s fountain. Within the decade, the ducks took up full-time residence at a rooftop coop, cared for by The Duck Master.

The birds take a ride down the elevator and waddle down the red carpet every day at 11am and 5pm, much to the delight of visitors of all ages. Guests can also visit them at other points in the day on the roof.

Little girl on a carousel horse
Have a magical time on the historic carousel at CMOM © Lisa5201 / Getty Images

Ride the historic carousel at the Children's Museum of Memphis

Every major city has its own children's museum and you can expect similar interactive exhibits for pint-sized visitors. But the CMOM also has oversized versions of chess boards and Lite Brites kids can play with, plus a chance to fish in a model version of the Mississippi River.

For an additional fee, families can cool off at the seasonal splash pad, test out their archaeological skills at the Dino Dig and take a spin on the hand-carved carousel from 1909.

Best things to do in Memphis with kids

Go inside the city’s scaled-down pyramid

Rainy days are well spent inside a Memphis landmark: the pyramid. It was originally built as a venue and arena but is now home to a sprawling Bass Pro Shop and the Big Cypress Lodge hotel.

You don’t have to be a guest to enjoy the space – admire fish in the massive aquarium, play a round of aquatic-themed indoor bowling, or take in the views from the observation deck. You can also dine at one of the full-service restaurants.

See some of the world’s incredible wildlife at the Memphis Zoo

The conservation-minded Memphis Zoo is just one of the attractions within Overton Park, along with playgrounds and a museum. The kids are sure to fawn at the over 3500 creatures within the zoo, including tropical birds, big cats, and penguins. Feedings and keeper chats provide even more information to curious tots.

The zoo also has a platform on the KultureCity app, which assists in making the experience sensory-inclusive. You can preview what to expect at the zoo in advance of your visit.

A young boy gazing up at dinosaur exhibits in a museum
The whole family can learn about the history of Memphis and the natural world at MoSH © Getty Images

Learn the history of Memphis at the Museum of Science and History

Formerly known as the Pink Palace – the pink stone building was home to the Piggly Wiggly store magnate – the MoSH has a diverse collection of exhibits like fossils, artwork, minerals, and, of course, a grocery store replica.

The museum also has a giant screen theater and a planetarium with special programming and operates additional locations, including the Historic Mallory-Neely House and the Lichterman Nature Center.

Cross the river to Mud Island River Park

Mud Island is one of the islands within the “muddy” Mississippi River. It’s easy to access by car but, if the weather cooperates, is best visited on foot or a bike by crossing the half-mile-long Skybridge that separates downtown Memphis from the island.

Take in the views of downtown as you pose for a family photo at the 50-foot MEMPHIS sign. The island is also home to the Mississippi River Museum, which has exhibits on the importance of the waterway, plus swings and hammocks to relax in and trails to explore. Kayak rentals are available for a fee, as is parking, but everything else is free.

Best things to do in Memphis with teenagers and tweenagers

See history firsthand at the National Civil Rights Museum

In Memphis, your teens can see where important events they’ve learned about in school actually took place. The most essential is the National Civil Rights Museum, set in the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr was tragically assassinated.

It can be a bit overwhelming to take in, even for those who know about the Civil Rights Movement, so download the family guide before you go. Discuss the experience over a sweet treat at Bluff City Coffee and Bakery, known for its gooey cookies and homemade pop-tarts.

Dive into Memphis music

Your kids may not know Elvis Presley or Otis Redding, but that doesn’t mean they can’t experience the Memphis music scene firsthand. BB King’s on Beale Street has matinee performances and the historic Overton Park Shell, where Presley played his first gig, hosts free concerts throughout the year.

If you’d rather skip the crowds, head to the Crosstown Concourse, an art-filled mixed-use development in a former Sears Warehouse. The Memphis Listening Lab is a library of sorts with rare vinyl you can listen to at your leisure and ask the staff for recommendations. When you’ve had your fill, head downstairs for a bite at Global Cafe, a mini-food hall run by immigrants and refugees.

A family canoeing on a river in the USA
Get the whole family involved in a day of canoeing on the Mississippi River © Elizabethsalleebauer / Getty Images

Canoe the Mighty Mississippi 

Navigating the massive river by canoe à la Huck Finn with a local tour company that operates three-hour, full-day, and multi-day excursions to explore the river islands and sandy beaches.

The expert guides share knowledge on the creatures that call the river home and supply all necessary gear, including life jackets and, if you like, lunch. Teens and tweens should be prepared to help paddle to fully experience the tour.

Indulge in friendly competition at the Memphis Chess Club

You don’t have to be a champ to visit the Memphis Chess Club, a downtown restaurant that hosts chess tournaments and game nights. Membership isn’t required but members do play for free.

You can also pick up one of the other games, especially during the weekly Tuesday “Family Knight.” This designated time allows for keen beans of all ages to learn from instructors. Kids under 12 even eat for free with the purchase of an adult entree. The menu includes pizza, sandwiches, and kiddie favorites like chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese.

Planning tips

  • Most of the major hotels in Memphis have large rooms that can accommodate the whole family. But if you’re concerned about noise, it’s best to stay further away from Beale Street, especially on weekends when the party continues well into the night.
  • Even if you don’t use it to get from point A to point B, a ride on the trolley can be a fun activity, where young ones can peer out the window of the vintage cars, which pass many of the major attractions. But be sure to bring exact change to pay your fare.

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