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Welcome to Memphis


Few people alive today have not heard of Elvis Presley, legendary 'King of Rock 'n Roll', and most associate Memphis, largest city in Tennessee, with the iconic deceased singer. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the city each year, particularly on Elvis' birthday, to make a pilgrimage to Graceland, the mansion where Presley lived and died.

Citing its famous singing sensation as the only draw card in Memphis, however, is failing to do this go-getter city in southwest Tennessee justice. But music makes Memphis special, for sure: not only rock 'n roll but also the fact that the city spawned the modern musical forms of blues and soul as well. Music fans from all over the world stroll down legendary Beale Street in the downtown area, happy to be walking in the footsteps of their heroes.

Aside from touring Graceland there are several other music-related attractions to grab the attention, and a whole lot of other things to see and do in Memphis. The nightlife is world-renowned; the cuisine, particularly barbecue, irresistible; and there are fascinating museums, great gardens, Mississippi river boats, amusement parks, and some quirky cultural and natural sights to explore.

Information & Facts


Memphis has a mid-latitude, moist continental climate, which means it has four distinct seasons with cold winters and hot summers. Spring and autumn can be varied and unpredictable and severe weather, like thunderstorms and strong winds, are possible during these transitory seasons. Summers are very humid thanks to moisture encroaching from the Gulf of Mexico, even though the temperature rarely reaches great heights. This makes it feel hotter than it is. Winters, by contrast, can be very cold with temperatures below freezing occurring fairly often. Memphis averages 5.7 inches of snow a year. There is plenty of rain to keep the region green, most falling in thunderstorms, but this does not mean there are not plenty of sunny days. Memphis has sun for 64% of its days, which it proudly claims adds up to more sunny days annually than are experienced in Miami.

Getting Around

As most residents own a car, public transport is not very reliable and the most efficient way to cover the sprawling city is by car, although traffic congestion can make it slow, even more so during rush hours. The city is simple to navigate and parking is generally easy to find. To hire a car drivers must be 21 years old, but most agencies have higher rates for under-25s; some require an International Driving Permit as well as a valid driver's license. Public transport is available, but consists of slow and infrequent buses, as well as the more useful Main Street Trolley that covers downtown in a circular route. Taxis are also available and must be booked by phone.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Memphis' biggest attraction is the second-most visited house in the United States after the White House. The Graceland Mansion and its attendant buildings and attractions were home to the 'King of Rock 'n Roll', Elvis Presley, who died in 1977. Thousands of fans of all ages still make pilgrimages here to tour the house, grounds and visit his grave. Mansion tours are offered with audio players describing the rooms and memorabilia. Also open for viewing is the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum housing the star's renowned 1955 pink Cadillac, a collection of Elvis' personal belongings, and a re-creation of an airport terminal where the singer's two private jets are on display. As of March 2006, Graceland joins the White House, Mount Vernon and Monticello as a National Historic Landmark, the USA's highest designation for historic properties, usually accorded to the homes of American presidents. Long live the King.

The Memphis Botanic Gardens are a sensory delight through which to stroll at any time of year. The 96-acre site at Audubon Park, in the east of the city comprises 22 formal gardens each focussing on a theme or species, ranging from a tranquil Japanese garden to the magnificent Municipal Rose Garden, an organic vegetable garden and a tropical conservatory. Highlights are the Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden, at its best in April and May, and a Sensory Garden designed to be enjoyed by the disabled.

A collection of rare recordings, vintage films and musician interviews along with photographs, and interactive exhibits makes up the 'Social Crossroads' exhibition put together by the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition fills seven galleries and covers the development of American popular music over the past century, from gospel to blues and rock, with exhibits such as costumes and guitars from performers like Elvis Presley, Ike Turner's piano and B.B. King's 'Lucille' guitar. An audio guide is available and takes visitors on a tour of the music that was the biggest influence on culture and lifestyle in the 20th century.

Mud Island in the Mississippi River offers a fascinating insight into the famous river with a series of fun and informative attractions. The island emerged in the river in 1900 and was turned into a 52-acre park. Main attractions on the island are the Mississippi River Museum, an amphitheatre where touring acts perform during summer, a huge swimming pool and a display of the Memphis Belle, a famous B-17 bomber from World War II. The highlight of a visit to Mud Island, however, is the unique and fascinating River Walk, a scaled down replica of the lower Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois to New Orleans in Louisiana. The River walk is five blocks long and represents a journey of 1,000 miles (1,609km).

The Pink Palace, a soubriquet bestowed on this elaborate pink marble Memphis mansion by the locals, was intended to be a luxury home for the founder of the Piggy Wiggly chain of supermarkets, Clarence Saunders, when he began building it back in the 1920s. Before the ostentatious mansion that dominates Central Avenue was completed Saunders declared bankruptcy, and the homestead ended up in the hands of the city of Memphis for use as a museum. The Pink Palace Museum is devoted to culture and natural history, it's origins preserved in the form of a replica of the first self-service grocery store in the country, Saunders' Piggly Wiggly. Visitors can also explore dioramas, exhibits and audio-visual displays that trace Memphis' development from the arrival of the Spanish explorers through the Civil War and yellow fever epidemics. Dinosaurs and fossils also feature, as does an excellent medical-history section. The museum includes a planetarium and an Imax theatre.

Stax Records was not only the most successful soul music studio in history - recording the likes of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, and The Staple Singers - but also a cultural phenomenon, that furthered the ends of social integration at a time when segregation was still a grim reality in the USA. Although Stax Records was forced into involuntary bankruptcy at the end of 1975, its legacy lives on, in the form of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Located at the original site of Stax Records, the museum pays tribute to all of the artists who recorded there, with a rare and astonishing collection of more than two thousand interactive exhibits, films, artefacts, items of memorabilia, and galleries.

Visitors who come to Memphis to pay homage to Elvis Presley inevitably are also keen to visit the legendary recording studio in Union Avenue where the King of rock 'n roll's career, and that of numerous other stars, began. The story is that Elvis first walked into the Sun Studio in the early 1950s to record a song as a birthday present for his mother. The rest is musical history, now enshrined in the studio that also launched the likes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis on the road to stardom. Visitors to the studio can hear outtakes from recording sessions, touch Elvis' first microphone, view a great deal of memorabilia and listen to anecdotes. Alongside the studio is the Sun Studio Café, a diner that retains its 1950s style and is still a favourite musician's hangout.

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