Walking in Memphis...

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It has been almost a year since we made our move from Philadelphia to our new home in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s been quite an adventure, but as usual – we are always open to seeing new places and experiencing new things. Memphis is, most likely, known by most for its musical scene - Elvis Presley and his home Graceland, other artists like B.B. King or Johnny Cash, museums such as Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, or Sun Studios. Yet, even people like myself, who aren’t that much into rock n roll, blues or jazz, will find some fun things to see in Memphis. I have put together a ‘’walking tour’’ of downtown Memphis and some areas close by, for those interested in exploring Memphis more generally than just focusing on the musical aspect of the city. So, put your walking shoes on, turn up Marc Cohn's 'Walking in Memphis', and off we go!

 

Beale Street

So where else would we start if not Beale Street! Music on this famous street started to emerge as early as 1860s, and it was once the central part of Memphis’ music scene. By the 1940s, jazz and blues clubs lined the street, and B.B. King was called "The Beale Street Blues Boy." In 1977 an act of Congress declared Beale "Home of the Blues." 

Unfortunately, the downward spiral of Memphis’ economy in 1960s and racial tensions along with high crime rates and violence, impacted Beale Street as well and many famous building and establishments were boarded up and deserted. There have been attempts to revive and re-develop Beale Street, which were partially successful, yet walking Beale Street nowadays there is little left of its former glory. Nonetheless, it is still fun to walk these few blocks listening to music coming from every bar and restaurant, along with live performers and artists singing on the street. Beale Street is definitely a party scene on weekend nights, so I prefer to explore it during daytime. 

Also, don’t forget to look down at the sidewalks and read the names on the brass note plaques! 

If you do want to throw in a little bit more of the music scene, places like Rock N Soul Museum, Sun Studio or even Blues Hall of Fame are all within a very short walking distance from Beale Street. 

 

Peabody Hotel

A fun stop just a few blocks down from Beale is the Peabody Hotel. What is so special about it? The ducks! There are 5 ducks who live in the hotel lobby’s fountain, and have done so since 1930.

The tradition started almost a 100 years ago when the general manager of the Peabody returned from a fruitless hunting trip and placed a group of live ducks in the hotel fountain as a joke. The guests were so delighted by the addition of the adorable birds that the owners decided to let the birds stay. And they have ever since… The ducks live in the fountain for just a few months until the next group of trained ducks is brought in to replace them. 

For an even bigger spectacle, come and see the Duck March at 11am when the ducks are marched down from their rooftop penthouse on a red carpet to the lobby’s fountain. And then back up again at 5pm to retire for the night. The whole procession is overseen by the Duckmaster.

You can also grab an elevator to the hotel’s rooftop terrace to take a look at the ducks’ rooftop penthouse, as well as enjoy the sky-high views over Memphis for free! 

 

South Main Street

After the Peabody Hotel, we are heading up to the S Main Street which is just a block away. It is the heart of the Historic Arts District of Memphis. The 6-block walk down the S Main Street will take you by century old architectural buildings, art galleries, shopping, restaurants, many fun wall art pieces, and all of that with an occasional tram or horse drawn carriage passing you by.

I personally enjoyed all the fun wall art the most!

The intersection of Adams Ave is our turn off point, where we turn left towards the river. 

 

Mud Island River Park

Mud Island River park is our next stop. Mud Island is a small peninsula, surrounded by the Mississippi River and the Wolf River Harbor. There are 2 ways to reach the island – you can either take the pedestrian bridge all the way across to the island (free of charge), or choose to jump on the monorail that will take you there quicker. Monorail operating schedule changes seasonally based on whether or not there are any public events happening on the island, so if monorail is your choice, I would suggest checking the operating schedule beforehand.

The walk across the bridge won’t take you longer than 10 minutes though, and will give you beautiful views of the river, the island and Memphis skyline. I have done both (monorail and the pedestrian bridge), and always prefer the walking.

One of the most unique pieces of the Mud Island River park is the Riverwalk - an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River. Designed by the Corps of Engineers, the Riverwalk is composed of over 1,700 concrete pieces and runs about 5 city blocks. You can walk ‘’along the river’’ for its entire length with geographical precision of towns, cities and other infrastructure along its way. During hot summer months, kids have a blast wading in the waters of this river replica.

 

Once you reach the tip of the island, you are rewarded with beautiful views of Memphis skyline.

When done exploring the island, you can get back to the ‘’mainland’’ again by either the monorail or on foot. 

 

Tennessee Welcome Center

Right on the other side of the bridge across the Mud Island, there is a conveniently located Tennessee welcome center with loads of information on various activities to do in Memphis and Tennessee in general, free brochures, maps and other information sources. The bathrooms are always clean here, and there are water fountains to fill up your water bottles, which comes in handy during the hot summer months. So, I would definitely suggest a stop here before continuing on. 

 

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid

The Pyramid is one of the symbols of Memphis and can be noticed from far away.

/Photo credit: John Thomas Photography/

It is located just about a 5-minute walk down the street from the Welcome center and Mud Island. The Pyramid is actually a megastore for hunting, fishing and wildlife enthusiasts, yet because of its incredible interior, it has become a popular tourist destination more so for admiring it than shopping. There are huge ‘’lakes’’ with fish, ducks and even live alligators; an educational wall aquarium, pretend trees and woods, a waterfall, and many animal mounts. 

It is a fun place to browse the stores as well, or you can check out the menu at their restaurant. Another option is to take the elevator up to the top of the pyramid’s viewing platform. The Sky High Ride at the Pyramid is the tallest free standing elevator in the country to take in the sights of Memphis from 300 feet (92m) in the air. To top it off, the 28-story elevator has floor to ceiling glass on all four sides.

It costs $10 per person to ride up, but should be done on a clear day as the viewing platform may close in inclement weather.

 

Beale Street Landing (Riverfront)

Continuing our journey down along the river, we are heading towards the Riverfront Landing. It is a fun area with a kids’ playground and a splash pad in summer, a park, sports fields, paved walkways / jogging tracks, souvenir shop, sitting areas… Lots of green space here to just take a deep breath and relax with river views on the right and Memphis skyline on the left.

Also, the Landing is the starting point for the Memphis Riverboat sightseeing cruises. The prices are various and depend on a type of cruise and time of day. 

As the Landing is right at the end of the Beale Street, we have made a full loop and have returned to the starting point of the tour, so this would be a good spot to wrap up. However, if it hasn’t been enough walking yet, you can continue on another 1.5 miles (2.5km) along the river to the Harahan Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Halfway across the bridge is the border between the states of Tennessee and Arkansas, which is a fun spot to take a photo at!

Overall, the actual walking distance of the whole route, Beale Street – Peabody Hotel – S Main Street – Mud Island – Pyramid – Riverfront Landing, is just 4.5 miles (7.2km) and would take only 1,5hrs to complete if walked start to finish, however, with all the stops, sightseeing and photo breaks along the way, the tour is sure to take almost the whole day, especially if adding some museums or restaurant sit-downs to the list. Below is the map of the walking route with the sights along the way:

And even though Memphis is not New York, Las Vegas or San Francisco, it has its little charms and many of them I have to yet discover myself!

My blog post about other places worth seeing in and around Memphis, as well as day trip (and weekend getaway) ideas from Memphis can be read here:

What to see and do in and around Memphis & Memphis day-trips

 

Articles and trip reviews about other major USA cities:

Seattle and the Pacific Northwest

New Orleans

Miami and Key West

Washington DC during cherry blossom festival

Christmas in New York

Pittsburgh

San Francisco

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania

Honolulu, Hawaii

 

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Outstanding job - Ty for your diligence

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

David, you are welcome! I hope it helped you, and will help some other future visitors of Memphis.

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