City Review: Memphis, Tennessee
For being in the midst of a two week road trip, time sure feels like it's flying by! I will admit, Memphis is another city that wasn't exactly at the top of my travel bucket list - Nashville occupied that as the Tennessee destination I was most eager to visit prior to my seeing it last year - but I'm glad to have visited if for two reasons - Graceland and Parisian Gnocchi at Bishop in The Central Station Hotel.
The drive from Wilmington to Memphis was one of the longer ones during our trip (approximately 12 hours). We left around 7:30am from ARRIVE Wilmington and pulled in to ARRIVE Memphis just before 7pm. Main Street, where ARRIVE Memphis is located, was illuminated with Christmas lights upon arrival which definitely set the inviting, warm tone from the moment we pulled up late Monday night.
I can't wait to share more about each ARRIVE location so be sure to stick around for my final Road to ARRIVE blog post but just know, this was one was good. Not that any of them have been bad, they're each unique and special in their own individual way.
Anyway, this post is reserved for reviewing the tourist destinations in each city that we visited, with this one in particular covering Memphis, so let's get to it!
We started our first day in Memphis with coffee and breakfast from Vice and Virtue (the coffee shop downstairs), before taking on the streets of Memphis.
The first thing that we noticed upon exiting our hotel was how absolutely DEAD the city felt. We barely saw anyone else on the sidewalks, out driving, out anywhere. Much more so than Wilmington, Memphis feels like a city affected by the worldwide pandemic. We were curious to see if/which cities would feel this way during our road trip and Memphis certainly did.
Our first walking tour stop was Beale Street. In my humble, never-been-to-Memphis-before opinion, Beale Street is essentially Tennessee's version of Bourbon Street. It's overflowing with tourist shops, bars and restaurants, loud music, peeling paint on exteriors of buildings and posters from a distant memory of a concert or performance falling off those same buildings. Depending on your opinion of Bourbon Street, you'll either love or hate Beale Street. For me, personally, I'm not a huge Bourbon Street gal so take that advice as you will.
We continued through Beale Street to visit Sun Studios, the infamous studio where Memphis legends like Elvis got their start. While we didn't take the official tour, it was definitely special to see the studio and feel a part of that rich part of Memphis Music History.
It was about a mile and a half walk from ARRIVE Memphis to Sun Studios but I would recommend sticking to the main road where possible. There are parts of the nearby surrounding area that are definitely up and coming with beautiful new apartments and developments but if you walk as we did through Beale Street, it doesn't feel quite as safe.
On our way back to the hotel that afternoon we walked by the Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel. Again, we didn't partake in the official tour at the Civil Rights Museum but just walking by the Lorraine Motel and the tribute to MLK at the exact location in which he was tragically murdered was unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life. It truly takes your breath away.
Memphis is a city dripping with such incredible history, it's worth visiting just to feel like you were a part of it. Even if as a spectator.
Still in awe of our experience at The Lorraine Motel, we stumbled upon a hotel just down the street from ARRIVE with a spectacular restaurant. Unfortunately it was 2pm and they didn't open for Happy Hour until 4pm but you better believe we were first at Bishop's at the Central Station Hotel once it did open.
If you take away anything from this Memphis post, GO TO BISHOP'S. Not only is the decor captivating in its vintage, meets edgy French style, but the food is incomparable. If you're new here and haven't heard me talking about this before, you should know that food is just about the least important thing to me. I consider myself an "anti-foodie" (although I'll admit I do love my dessert), so for me to comment on the food anywhere means you know it's good.
So good in fact that we ate dinner there two out of the three nights we spent in Memphis. The third night was really the first night we arrived and we just ordered sushi from down the street delivered to ARRIVE to keep things simple after 12 hours in the car. I had the Parisian Gnocchi (both nights - why fix it if it ain't broke you know?) and holy cow I will never again have another meal that compares to that. I may come back to Memphis JUST to visit Bishop's.
The staff was incredibly friendly (just like everyone in this city truth be told), and made the experience that much more enjoyable. Should you find yourself at Bishop's, order the Petit Aioli as a starter and the Parisian Gnocchi for your main. But be prepared, it's nothing like Italian Gnocchi. Personally, I think it's better.
Our second and final day in Memphis was dedicated to the true crowning jewel of Memphis, Graceland. I mean why come to Memphis if you're not going to visit Graceland???
I will put the disclaimer in here that it is expensive. Our tickets to tour Graceland were $73 each. While expensive, I can honestly say it was worth every penny. To walk amongst the hallowed halls where The King spent most of his life was incredible. I learned so many new things about Elvis and experiencing him in that light, at Graceland, made me love him that much more.
Graceland is not the lavish, opulent house of modern-day celebrities but truthfully it's a beautiful home. It feels like the residence of The King, filled with incredible decor, extraordinary details and whispers of memories laid with Priscilla, Lisa Marie and other family members who resided at the residence alongside Elvis and his immediate family. It's a moment frozen in time dedicated to the life of an icon unlike any we'll ever experience again.
The Elvis Experience Tour provides access to Graceland, Elvis' private planes in addition to other exhibits featuring the influence of Elvis, Elvis the movie star, Private Presley, his costumes and gold albums and so much more. We were there for 2.5 hours and honestly could have spent more time there fully immersing in every single moment and aspect of Elvis's life.
I hope Graceland never ceases to exist. It's an absolute gem to have access to The King and his legacy like that.
You already know we ended our last night in Memphis with Gnocchi from Bishop's again and yes, it was just as good the second go around. We did also learn that most stores in Memphis are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so that explained the lack of traffic in the Downtown area. Something to make note of should you find yourself in the city during the beginning of a week like we did.
As a final hurrah on the way out of Memphis, we visited the infamous Gibson's Donuts (thank you to Celeste for the recommendation). It was just slightly out of the way but absolutely worth it. We each received a free glazed donut - their signature glaze that people go "crazy" for - as first-time visitors and then we also grabbed a chocolate sprinkles, s'mores (today was the last day to enjoy that flavor!) and a blueberry donut. If you look up Gibson's in Maps, some of the reviews say "best donuts I've ever had." They aren't lying...
As I mentioned, Memphis is a city that appears to have been very much affected by the pandemic. Take into account, we were there and bopping around town at the beginning of a work week but nevertheless, it didn't seem to be very busy or exploding with energy. It is most certainly worth visiting Memphis to experience Graceland (in addition to Bishop's, don't forget) but other than that I'm not sure I would recommend it as a destination city to spend any more than a few days in. I by no means am an expert on the city but based on the limited experience we had during our trip, in the middle of a pandemic (of course), that's my humble opinion.
I'm incredibly grateful for this stop on our ARRIVE road trip tour and I feel so lucky to have experienced even a small piece of the rich history offered in this town.