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Just three hours away from Nashville, Tennessee’s capital city, Memphis claims a rich music heritage, serves up mouth-watering barbecue, and sits alongside the mighty Mississippi River.  Whether you’re interested in learning more about the Civil Rights Movement or are an Elvis fan, you’ll find plenty to inspire you. There is touristy Beale Street for late-night revelry, or refined dining restaurants, such as Tsunami in Cooper-Young and Bounty on Broad in East Memphis. Walk a few blocks from downtown to stroll along the river or Uber over to the expansive greenery of Shelby Farms, one of the 20 largest urban parks in the country. Here are 7 reasons why Memphis is giving Nashville a serious run for its money.

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1. The heart and soul of music beats here

Sun Studio lays claim as the “birthplace of rock ‘n roll.” Music legends such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins all recorded here in the 1950s. You can tour the studio at the bottom half of every hour between 10:30am and 5:30pm. Tours leave from inside a memorabilia-filled café onsite.

Flickr CC: Sun Studio

Meanwhile, visits to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music are self-guided, but touring the collection of memorabilia is a must. You’ll get a look at a complete replica of the converted movie theater where top artists cut records; Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac Eldorado, complete with white fur carpeting on the floorboards; and walls lined floor to ceiling with albums and singles released by Stax. Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and The MGs, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Jean Knight and the Dramatics all recorded here. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

Flickr CC: Noel Pennington

2. Ducks take center stage

Where else but Memphis can you find a hotel where, twice a day, ducks command the attention of throngs of visitors? Historic and luxurious, The Peabody opened in its current location in 1925, with the addition of ducks in the lobby fountain starting as a prank in the 1930s. Today, the hotel rolls out the red carpet twice a day and a duckmaster leads five ducks via elevator to the fountain from their rooftop residence at 11am and then back up again at 5pm daily. Plan to arrive early to get a good view of the pomp and circumstance surrounding this transit. For a special treat, reserve a table for a decidedly upscale afternoon tea at Chez Philippe between 1 and 3:30pm Wednesday through Saturday before viewing the ducks.

3. Barbecue beckons

Expect to find barbecue dishes at every manner of eating establishment, from hole-in-the-wall diners to trendy hot spots—each with its own answer to what makes Tennessee barbecue unique. Just across the street from The Peabody, tucked into an alley, The Rendezvous serves up no-frills barbecue that’s stood the test of time (since 1948) and a loyal staff that have been around for decades. Central Barbecue boasts three locations and since 2003 has ranked among the top in the city. Dive diners such as Paynes BBQ and Cozy Corner are great for a quick bite where the locals like to grab their grub.

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Flickr CC: Mike

4. The Mighty Mississippi

Whether it’s a 90-minute sightseeing tour aboard one of Memphis Riverboats’ double-decker sternwheelers or a multi-day luxury cruise aboard one of American Queen Steamboat Company’s riverboats, there is no better way to travel through the history of the South than on one of America’s most important waterways. Before or after your time on the river, explore Beale Street Landing, opened in 2014. The modern docking facility offers dining, a gift shop and a play area for children. It’s also the ticket office for Memphis Riverboats, which offers daily sightseeing tours at 2:30pm and dinner tours Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm

Flickr CC: Avalon Frost

5. Commemorate one of America’s greats

In 2018, the National Civil Rights Museum will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There is no better time to see this world-class museum. Located in the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated, and in the Legacy Building (once a boarding house, where the assassin’s shot was allegedly fired), the museum features 260 artifacts, numerous films, and interactive exhibits tracing the history of slavery and the movement for race equality. The museum is open from 9am until 5pm daily, closed on Tuesdays. Plan to spend a minimum of several hours here.

6. Spaces to go green

The Memphis Botanic Garden features 28 specialty gardens spread across 98 acres, including My Big Backyard, an expansive children’s garden with playhouses, a kid-sized birdhouse, a stage with instruments, a fountain to splash in and much more. The Garden is open daily from 9am until 4:30pm in the winter and until 6pm during other seasons.

At 4,500 acres, Shelby Farms is more than five times the size of Central Park in New York, with more than 40 miles of paved and unpaved trails for hiking, biking (rentals available) and running; more than 20 lakes, including some for fishing and non-motorized boating (rentals available). There are also guided horseback rides and private lessons; the Woodland Discovery Playground and Water Play Sprayground for kids; a zipline treetop adventure course (ages 10+); an off-leash dog park; an 18-hole disc golf course; and a gift shop and visitor center. The Kitchen Bistro, Kitchenette and food trucks (every other Sunday) keep visitors well fed.

Flickr CC: Mark Gstohl

7. Then, there is Graceland

People still come from all over the world to see the home of Elvis Presley. Now you can visit not only the mansion but Elvis Presley’s Memphis, an entertainment and exhibit complex, complete with restaurants, gift shops, museums and Elvis’ planes. You can even stay close to all the attractions in The Guest House at Graceland, a new hotel steps from all the action.

Whether it’s your first trip to Tennessee or you’re a repeat visitor, consider putting Memphis on your list. Not to knock Nashville, but this city certainly deserves its share of attention, too.

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Tagged: Memphis

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