Greetings, Internet Stranger, and welcome to a perfect one day in Memphis itinerary. A fair number of famous people have spent time in Memphis because of its rich history, amazing food, and earthshattering music. But today we are going to focus on two: Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr.
First, we will head to Graceland and learn all about the secret life and history of the King. Then we’ll go to the National Civil Rights Museum and see where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was staying on his final mission for peace and justice. It’s going to be a busy and absorbing day, so let’s head out as soon as possible.
One Day in Memphis Itinerary
Where to Stay?
Memphis is a fairly spread out city, so I was looking for a convenient location for my one day in Memphis itinerary, right in the heart of downtown. That’s why I opted for the Hilton Garden Inn Memphis Downtown. This hotel was right within walking distance of many things I wanted to see, including fine restaurants, and it had an excellent laundry facility on the premises so I could finally wash my clothes after having been on the road for weeks.
OK, maybe that laundry thing isn’t as important to you, but I bet you care about free wifi, coffee, and breakfast, and a friendly 24-hour staff that will help you with everything from directions to getting a ride to the airport for an early flight! Of course you do.
If you want a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore great deals on almost 1000 other hotels in Memphis, click here. This search engine will help you find the most affordable and convenient hotel during your one day in Memphis itinerary.
One Day in Memphis Itinerary
- An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures of your one day in Memphis itinerary
- My favorite guide to Tennessee, including Memphis
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a hound dog, crying all the time during your one day in Memphis itinerary.
One Day in Memphis Itinerary
Here it is! The head honcho! The grilled peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich! The crown jewel in every one day in Memphis itinerary! That’s right, y’all! We’re going to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley!
Now, some of you might be worried that you need to be a massive Elvis fan to enjoy Graceland, but that’s not the case at all. I like Elvis, but I love Otis Redding, and I still had a fabulous time at Graceland. Where else would you be able to see something like this?
No, I am not going to explain what’s in this photo. You’ll have to go to Graceland yourself on your one day in Memphis itinerary to find out. But I shall explain to you…
Approximately Top 5: Graceland Edition
1) The Home of Elvis
Graceland is very well organized, so make sure you pay careful attention to the instructions from the very beginning. You need to buy tickets in advance for a particular time online before you come, so make sure to do so here. When they call your time, you’ll head on a little bus that will take you to Elvis’s house. Don’t worry about not having time to explore because you get that later.
They’ll give you an audioguide featuring quotes from Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie, that will help you explore the house with your group and understand everything you are seeing. My favorite part was the peacock living room, but there’s also the famous jungle room…
This jungle room was apparently very well padded so that the acoustics would be good because not only did he like to chill with his buddies here, he also recorded music in this room.
Then there’s a super posh dining room that Lisa Marie says they never used much…
And Elvis’s parents’ room.
Elvis grew up poor, and once he became a star, it was thrilling for him to be able to keep his beloved mom and dad in the lap of luxury. Aww! I got a little choked up at that, not for the last time on this one day in Memphis itinerary.
2) Pay Your Respects
Graceland isn’t just Elvis’s former home; it’s still home to Elvis. That’s because the King and his family are buried in the gardens here. You’ll come and pay your respects after you finish the house tour. It seemed strange to visit someone’s grave on a mass, commercial group tour like this, but Elvis seemed to like things that were mass and commercial, so maybe it wouldn’t have bothered him.
I knew that Elvis died young, but I didn’t realize that he outlived his own father. (Elvis’s mother died before he did.) The lovely message on Elvis’s grave says, “I thank God that He gave us you as our son,” and it was written by Elvis’s father. I was in tears as I finished reading it–nothing is as sad as a parent outliving their child.
3) Elvis’s Car Collection
It seems strange to jump from a meditation on mortality to a shiny purple Caddy, but that’s just how it goes at Graceland. After the house tour, the bus will take you back to the main entrance of Graceland, where you can visit all the museums of Elvis memorabilia.
The coolest part is undoubtedly Elvis’s sick car collection. I don’t even know how to drive, and I was blown away by these babies.
Obviously the sweetest ride is this pink Cadillac that Elvis got for his mother. That’s just science.
4) Other Elvis Stuff
Take your time wandering the rest of the museums to find all the cool Elvis memorabilia that you can shake a hound dog hat. There’s everything from Elvis’s karate gis…
And here are the cufflinks that President Nixon gave Elvis when Elvis came to the White House and asked Nixon if he could work with him to help stop drug use.
Yes, this meeting really happened, and it was real weird. Tragically, no one recorded the meeting, although some people did take notes.
My favorite object was this drawing of Elvis that was done by a teenage fan after one of Elvis’s concerts. And that fan? A young Jimi Hendrix.
5) Elvis’s Planes
Yes, Elvis not only had a grillion cars, he also had a private plane called the Lisa Marie that you get to explore. Look out for Elvis’s special logo, the letters TCB paired with a bolt of lightning. (That stands for Taking Care of Business at the Speed of Lightning.)
Elvis apparently hated flying, so they kept his plane stocked with all his favorite drinks so that flying could be more comfortable for him. There was everything from Dr. Pepper to Gatorade to Scotch. I was surprised that they still keep the plane stocked with drinks, even though Elvis is long gone, but perhaps what The National Enquirer says is true, and Elvis still walks among us.
One Day in Memphis Itinerary
Afternoon: National Civil Rights Museum
Graceland is probably the most famous attraction you could see on your one day in Memphis itinerary, but the National Civil Rights Museum is the most important. This museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Every American should visit this museum, not only to pay tribute to Dr. King, but also to learn about the long history of civil rights activism in this country, and how far we still have to go to achieve full civil rights for all.
24 Hour Treat: Central BBQ
You’ll have to take an Uber from Graceland to get to the Civil Rights Museum because it’s quite a drive, and you’ll want lunch around this time on your one day in Memphis itinerary.
My Uber driver recommended that I stop for lunch at Central BBQ, which is right near the Civil Rights Museum, and one of the most popular barbecue places in Memphis. (They have more than one location, but you’ll want to go to the downtown one for this itinerary.)
You might have to wait on line to get your food, but it’s worth it. The meat is succulent and smoky, and there’s just the right amount of sweet sauce on top. They were out of brisket when I went, so I just got the pulled pork. Keep in mind that Memphis-style barbecue means you put the slaw on top of the meat and under the bun. It’s a fun little surprise!
After lunch, walk over to the National Civil Rights Museum. I can’t tell you everything I learned when I was there, but I will share with you…
Three Historical Facts: National Civil Rights Museum
1) What is the King Tribute Like?
There are many tributes to Dr. King at the National Civil Rights Museum. Even before you go inside, you can see this plaque honoring him, as well as a stone wreath placed outside the motel room where he was staying. Dr. King was in Memphis to assist a group of sanitation workers that were on strike for better wages and working conditions.
When you are inside, you’ll visit a replica of the motel room where he was staying when he was assassinated. I’m not going to share that picture here because it seems a little ghoulish to me to share that kind of photo. Dr. King deserves some privacy in death.
2) What other civil rights activists were mentioned?
There are other extremely famous Civil Rights activists, like Rosa Parks, who are featured in the National Civil Rights Museum. But there are others who are not as well known that deserve our attention. For example, I didn’t know as much about Asa Philip Randolph, who organized an earlier March on Washington to protest segregation during the FDR administration. FDR agreed to outlaw segregation in the defense industry, so the march was canceled.
There is also a tribute to the Freedom Riders, who were Black and white activists who rode on buses throughout the South to protest segregation. This bus you see above is a replica of what the bus looked like in Anniston, Alabama, where it was burned just because people of different races were riding together on it.
Many of the Freedom Riders were arrested, but this didn’t stop them from being active in politics. Many of them went on to have political careers.
3) Why Was Dr. King Supporting the Striking Workers?
One thing the Civil Rights Museum makes clear is that there’s always been a close and complicated history between civil rights activism and labor activism. One of the early examples they gave was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
These porters, who worked on trains all across the country, were Black Americans. Led by Asa Philip Randolph, they fought for better pay and treatment from the Pullman train company. This union was one of the first with Black leadership, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Memphis sanitation workers were striking because they were treated unjustly in many ways. They weren’t allowed sick days, their pay was canceled if it rained, and they were not allowed to take any breaks. In addition, their lives were often endangered because they had to deal with health hazards like “life-threatening maggots”.
No wonder they were striking, and Dr. King considered their cause important enough to risk his life to come and help them. I felt determined to help people today working in similarly toxic environments.
24 Hour Treat: Wiseacre Brewery
We’ve done a ton of exploring today, so let’s rest our feet and refresh at the spiffy local craft brewery, Wiseacre. It’s just a short walk from the National Civil Rights Museum. The place is airy and spacious and the staff is super friendly. I recommend trying one of their refreshing sours like The Beach Within Reach, especially if it’s a hot summer afternoon in Memphis.
One Day in Memphis Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Flight
Flight, in Downtown Memphis right near our hotel, is one of the most unique restaurants I have ever seen. Their specialty is different themed flights–so instead of one large dish, you get three small, related dishes. And if you get an appetizer and a dessert, instead of getting three dishes, you get nine dishes.
Not all Flight dishes come in flights, so you can just get three normal-sized portions, if you want. But I wanted to have what the waitress called “The Total Flight Experience”, so I got as many flights as I could. You know, for science.
Up first is the salad flight which was really tasty because there are three extremely different salads, ranging from light to rich. First there was the refreshing watermelon and feta, in the middle there was the the harvest salad with balsamic vinaigrette, goat cheese, and spiced pecans, and then the most indulgent was the classic iceberg with bacon and blue cheese.
There are many different main course flights to choose from, but I liked the cut of the seafood flight’s jib. On the left was a fried crab with crab meuniere, so it was crabs on crabs. This was served on one fried green tomato, which paired with the crab made the dish smack of eternal summer. It was cute to see how they shrink down all the portions–obviously in a normal main course you’d get more than one crab and slice of tomato.
In the middle was the shrimp and grits which the waitress said was their most popular dish. It was amazing how they managed to pack so much flavor in this teeny dish of shrimp and grits with just the right amount of mushroom and bacon for saltiness and umami.
Finally, we have the diver scallop with a little tomato and vinegar salad, which they called sangria tomatoes. It was good to have one part of the trio that was a little lighter or I think my stomach might have exploded.
You can also do a flight of wines to go with your meal. Just go with whatever wines are suggested with your food flight! In my case, this was three different Sauvignon Blancs. (Or is that Sauvignons Blanc?)
I apologize for how blurry my dessert photo came out! I was so excited to eat that I didn’t notice. They also have more than one dessert flight, but I recommend the Southern, which comes with bananas Foster bread pudding, Memphis belle pie which was pecans and dark chocolate, and then the apple walnut cobbler.
What I liked best was that each dish really tasted pure, so you could move from one bite of banana to one bite of chocolate to one bite of apple in a satisfying way. However, I 100% could not finish my dessert. When I go back to Flight, I’m going to leave a little on the plate for every dish, and that way I won’t be so stuffed at the end. I suggest you do the same on your one day in Memphis itinerary.
One Day in Memphis Itinerary
How to Get There?
By Car: This is an easy way to get to your one day in Memphis itinerary, if you are coming from somewhere else on the southern East Coast in the United States. You can drive here easily from St. Louis, Birmingham, or other parts of Tennessee.
However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in Memphis. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.
By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in Memphis! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was the easiest way to get to a one day in Memphis itinerary. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)
By Bus: You can use the Greyhound bus to get to Memphis from nearby cities like Nashville. It’s a pretty cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the way for you. But I found the timing of a lot of buses to Memphis inconvenient, so I think flying or driving is the better way.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Memphis Itinerary
What would you do with a one day in Memphis itinerary? If you had your own private plane, what beverages would you keep on it? And how do you pluralize Sauvignon Blanc? Please email me at [email protected] and let me know!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a one day in Memphis itinerary