Memphis is undoubtedly one of America’s greatest music cities – its rich heritage birthed rock ‘n’ roll and its own version of soul and the blues. 

The vibrant and culturally diverse hub has recently seen many of its storied neighborhoods spring back to life through regeneration efforts. Where once stood empty warehouses, now you’ll find a crisp batch of independent stores and restaurants, serving up new takes on Memphis’ legendary food scene.

The city’s laidback and open-minded attitude means there isn’t a strict rulebook to follow, but there are a few things to know before visiting Bluff City.

Explore the planet's most surprising adventures with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Always make reservations for brunch and fine dining

Brunch is a big deal in Memphis, and restaurants book up fast, so always call ahead to secure a spot. For those seeking high-end dining, particularly if there’s a James Beard-nominated chef at the helm, you may need to call a couple of weeks ahead to guarantee a seat at the table. 

If it’s a local barbeque or hot wing joint, just show up, but be prepared to wait in line.

Don’t forget your reusable water bottle

Ditch the throwaway bottles – Memphis’ water is classed as some of the tastiest in the world. With the flick of a tap or the push of a fountain’s button, you can hydrate with freshwater derived from natural reservoirs flowing hundreds of feet below Memphis’ surface. 

And with Memphis’ notorious heat and humidity, topping up the aqua levels regularly is a must in this city.

Best time to visit Memphis 

The Memphis dress code is whatever you want 

Memphis is a laidback city, with a dress code to match. You can turn up in an Elvis t-shirt, a tracksuit or sequined eveningwear, and no one will raise an eyebrow, so come as you are. The exception to this: church. When attending a service, it's best to dress smartly. 

The barbeque capital of the US also caters to vegans

In fact, we’ll raise you – it’s now fairly easy to be vegan in Memphis. Although Bluff City has a reputation for giving us some of the finest meaty barbeque in the country, recent years have seen a fresh cluster of plant-based restaurants and stalls cropping up across the city.

Local specialties focus on southern staples minus the meat. Think cauliflower hot wings, beet burgers, carrot dogs and vegan barbeque, for a true taste of Memphis. 

Crosstown Concourse is home to a collective of health-conscious restaurants, while the Imagine Vegan Café caters to all your comfort food needs.

Beale St is a great place to people-watch while enjoying your favorite adult beverage ©f11photo / Shutterstock

Grab a takeout cup – the liquor laws are relaxed on Beale St

Memphis is a town of many quirks. One of them just happens to be that Beale St, home of the blues, is the only place in Tennessee where you can legally walk the street with an open alcohol container.

This means that on a warm summer evening, visitors can grab a drink from a Beale St bar in a takeout cup and wander up and down America’s most famous musical highway, soaking up the live acoustics or catching a performance from the Beale Street Flippers, Memphis’ famed acrobatic troupe. 

Note that cannabis, for both medical and recreational uses, is illegal in Memphis.

Memphis’ churches have an open-door policy on Sunday

There are more than 2000 churches in the Greater Memphis Metropolitan area, the majority of which are Baptist. One of the best ways to ingratiate yourself into the city is to attend a Sunday morning church service, where tourists are welcome to respectfully join congregations in worship, which often involves a full choir and band.

The Reverend Al Green – yes, the former soul-singing legend  – can be found leading a fantastically dynamic service at his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church.

If you’re unsure of the etiquette, just quietly choose a pew in the back. A collection plate will likely make its round during the service, so come prepared. 

Memphis is LGBTIQ+ friendly, but you need to know where to go

Although Memphis’ scene is certainly more lowkey than neighboring Atlanta or New Orleans, a flourishing LGBTIQ+ community exists and is increasing in visibility. 

Cooper-Young and Overton Square are particularly LGBTIQ+ friendly neighborhoods, flying the flag with joyful rainbow crosswalks.

For those looking to explore Memphis’ LGBTIQ+ nightlife, the main roadblock is the lack of a condensed, specific district, so transport is essential for barhopping. 

Atomic Rose is a weekend-only nightclub just steps from Beale Street with drag shows and bingo nights. Dru’s Bar in midtown offers karaoke nights and a patio for cooling off on balmy nights, while The Pumping Station in Crosstown is an ultra-inclusive neighborhood hangout that’s been crowned Memphis’ top gay bar. 

Visit for the Tri-State Black Pride in June, or come for the four-day Memphis Pride Fest Weekend in June. It's the largest gathering of its kind in the Mid-South.

Best Memphis day trips 

Don’t confuse Memphis with Nashville

A friendly(ish) rivalry between Tennessee’s two major cities permeates across most aspects of life, from sports to food and music. If you once had the best night of your life on Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway, maybe keep that one to yourself while in Memphis.

Street car in Memphis
Memphis' trolley system is wheelchair-accessible © Tetra images RF / Getty Images

Accessibility in Memphis

Memphis’ main advantage over other neighboring cities is its wheelchair-accessible trolley system, which makes getting around town a little easier. 

The National Civil Rights Museum has ramp access for wheelchair users, while the Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park is a good place for under 12s of all abilities. The majority of Graceland is wheelchair accessible, aside from the basement rooms.

Free things to do in Memphis

Is Memphis safe to visit?

Crime rates in Memphis are above the national average, but if you stick to the tourist-friendly districts, then your visit should be hassle-free.

Pockets of both downtown and midtown have recently been revitalized, with former derelict buildings transformed into residential blocks and thriving businesses. 

If you haven’t visited Memphis for a few years, expect to be pleasantly surprised by the safe and welcoming vibe in neighborhoods such as South Main and Overton Square.

Around Beale Street, which is a magnet for music lovers, you’ll notice a police presence keeping an eye on everything. 

Downtown and midtown are also patrolled by the brilliantly-named blue suede shoe brigade, a collective of uniformed ambassadors on the lookout for nuisance issues. They are not police officers but are available for assistance.  Yes, they actually wear blue suede sneakers, and yes, everyone jokes about stepping on them!

As with any metropolitan area, keep a constant eye on your belongings and note that it’s wise to stick to the main, well-lit tourist streets when exploring Memphis at night. 

The most common petty crimes in Memphis are pickpocketing and car break-ins, so keep valuables close, especially around tourist landmarks, and never leave them in your car. In an emergency, call 911 or for non-emergency situations call 211 to be directed to the relevant department. 

Doorman on Beal Street in Memphis
Ask a Memphian about the best places to eat or things to do on your visit, but be prepared for strong opinions on barbeque  © Owaki/Kulla / Getty Images

When in doubt, ask a Memphian

Memphis is a friendly city steeped in southern charm, so striking up a conversation with locals tends to be straightforward and guarantees savvy insider tips. 

Those looking for an in-depth chat should just ask a Memphian about their favorite barbeque spot. But be warned: Everyone in Memphis has their favorite smoke, sauce and slaw combination, so the debate can quickly get heated.

Explore related stories