Do you enjoy the flexibility and spontaneity that comes with taking road trips? Is there anything better than hitting the open road for a long weekend getaway and experiencing the very best of various locations? Both of these are our ideas for a great weekend trip and we are extremely fortunate to be located close to Tennessee where we can enjoy the amazing drive from Memphis to Nashville. Both cities are awesome and although they are only 3 hours apart and located in the same state, their unique differences are what makes them both hugely popular among visitors to this part of USA.
Have you considered visiting Tennessee and combining both Memphis and Nashville into one trip? Let’s take a look at how you can accomplish this during a 72 hour (or even 48 hours if you are really pushed for time) trip around the “Volunteer State!” Essentially we are going to give you a breakdown of the best way to spend 24 hours in Memphis, 24 hours in Nashville and then a little bit of flexibility and drive time in between.
Whether you are road tripping from outside of Tennessee or perhaps starting your adventure by flying into Memphis, this guide will introduce you to the very best of both cities and a few experiences you may enjoy in between.
Road Trip from Memphis to Nashville
A little over 200 miles, the drive from Memphis to Nashville along I-40 is one of the easiest trips you can take and will likely take you somewhere in the region of 3 to 3 1/2 hours. If you opt to take this direct route and spend more time enjoying the best of Memphis and Nashville, there is very little along this stretch of I-40 that will likely entice you to stop.
Here are a couple of stops along the route that may spark your interest:
- Jackson, Tennessee – the largest town in between Memphis and Nashville is worth stopping if you want to grab lunch or a late dinner depending on when you choose to drive between the two cities. Jackson is also home to the Casey Jones Home and Railway Museum, dedicated to the former locomotive engineer and situated next to his birthplace.
- Loretta Lynn’s Ranch – Located 65 miles west of Nashville and only 7 miles north of I-40 on Highway 13, this ranch is certainly a unique “southern” experience that you may want to experience if you are looking to sample authentic life in Tennessee. You may even want to consider spending a night here but we will leave that decision to you!
If you have a little more time and want to experience the heart of Tennessee, why not avoid I-40 and take an alternative route along the iconic Natchez Trace Parkway. You have a couple of options open to you here depending on how much of the Parkway you want to experience but be warned, the speed limit is a mere 50mph (40mph in parts).
Head to Tupelo, Mississippi from Memphis before taking the Parkway all the way to the outskirts of Nashville if you want the ultimate experience.
Memphis – Explore the Home of Elvis
When you hear the words, “Memphis, Tennessee,” what’s the first thing that springs to mind? I would argue that 99% of you are likely going to say Elvis! So if you are visiting Memphis for the first time, why not embrace the love of Elvis and take a visit to his former home at Graceland?
Of course, Memphis is so much more than Elvis Presley and as you will see, 24 hours in the so-called “Bluff City” is barely enough to touch the surface of this vibrant city. Here is our recommended list of places to see and where to eat if you only have a short time in Memphis.
If you are an Elvis fan, taking a tour of Graceland is an experience you won’t want to miss. Not only is Graceland the most famous attraction in Memphis, it’s one of the iconic rock and roll residences anywhere in the world. We have been fortunate to tour this residence on several occasions and each time there is something different to experience.
The 13.8-acre estate has been preserved and transformed into a hugely popular tourist attraction that helps maintain Elvis’ legacy and position as one of the world’s greatest musicians.
Whether we are just learning more about the life of Elvis and his family or enjoying his greatest hits, Graceland is the place to surround yourself with everything about Elvis. Take a tour of his private jet and many of the other museums presenting exhibits from Elvis’ life.
When you leave Memphis and choose to head to Nashville via Tupelo, you can enjoy a tribute to the King in his birthplace town!
3764 Elvis Presley Blvd,
Memphis, TN 38116
Length of Time Required: You can easily spend at least a half day but realistically, allocate 3-4 hours to experience the best of Graceland.
Downtown Memphis and Riverfront
After spending the morning touring the amazing Graceland residence, why not head downtown to explore the heart of Memphis. You may have heard that Memphis is referred to as “Bluff City” and heading downtown offers the opportunity to find out why.
Located directly along the banks of the “mighty” Mississippi River, downtown Memphis is an eclectic blend of modern and historic neighborhoods with plenty of things to do and experience.
Take a stroll along the Memphis Riverfront and head to what we consider to be the coolest Bass Pro Shops anywhere in the United States. This retail outlet opened in the Memphis Pyramid, a former events venue which famously hosted the boxing event between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.
Downtown Memphis is home to the FedEx Forum where the NBA Memphis Grizzlies play their home games in the so-called “Grindhouse” because of their dedicated fans and style of play. The Memphis Redbirds, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals play their home games at Autozone Park which is a short walk from the FedEx Forum, so for the sports lovers visiting Memphis, the downtown area is definitely going to appeal.
Of course, the iconic location in downtown Memphis is Beale Street. Home to many famous bars and restaurants, this is the stereotypical home of “Rock N’ Roll.” You may consider taking a tour of the nearby Gibson Guitar shop or perhaps head to the real birthplace of Rock N’ Roll and take a Sun Studio Tour.
Length of Time Required: If you choose to take either the Gibson or Sun Studio tour, this will likely add an additional 60-90 minutes to your itinerary. Spend 4-5 hours downtown for a full experience.
South Main Street Neighborhood
While experiencing downtown Memphis, consider hopping on the local trolley not only to experience this cool public transportation option but also to head to the artsy South Main Street neighborhood.
This one-square-mile neighborhood is home to a number of cool arts and culture spots along with a variety of local, authentic restaurants and coffee shops.
South Main Street is one of many distinctive neighborhoods that you may want to explore during your visit to Memphis but again, it’s all dependent on how much time you have.
We highly recommend visiting Bluff City Coffee & Bakery to enjoy a customized espresso before taking a stroll across South Main Street to experience the Civil Rights Movement. Did you know that the South Main Street neighborhood was home to the National Civil Rights Museum, a spot dedicated to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King who was tragically shot in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel?
Take some time to commemorate this spot where MLK was fatally shot before heading inside to educate yourself on the Civil Rights Movement.
450 Mulberry St,
Memphis, TN 38103
Length of Time Required: Plan to spend 1-2 hours in this area to experience the architecture, grab a bite to eat and learn all about the importance of MLK in this part of Memphis.
Where to Eat in Memphis?
As you can see, we have prepared a pretty action-packed itinerary for your visit to Memphis. Each of the locations offers something unique and representative of Memphis. You will likely want to sample stereotypical, authentic cuisine while in Memphis and of course, this part of Tennessee is famous for barbecue.
Regardless of your opinion on barbecue food, you need to sample local fare in Memphis before making a decision on whether you like it or not. Head to Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Q or Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous if you want to sample some of the best that Memphis has to offer. Don’t worry, if you can’t fit either of these into your itinerary, there are plenty others that you will stumble across.
If barbecue just doesn’t sound appealing, we strongly recommend visiting Huey’s Restaurant to sample their world famous burgers or a variety of other menu options. There are several locations throughout Memphis, one of which is located downtown Memphis and perfectly situated to enjoy lunch or dinner before exploring other parts of Memphis. The sunshine burger is perhaps my favorite Huey burger but you really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu.
Ready for dessert? Check out our collection of places to indulge in the best ice cream in Memphis. My favorite spot is Sheridan’s Frozen Custard but again, there are plenty of choices to satisfy your sweet tooth!
Nashville – Experience the Best of Music City
Memphis may be renowned as the “Home of Rock N’ Roll” but it’s actually Nashville that is known as “Music City.” For those of you that have never visited Nashville, let’s start by emphasizing this modern city is more than just a hub for country music.
Yes, Nashville is home to many of the world’s best country artists and it’s no surprise that the Country Music Hall of Fame is located in downtown Nashville but it’s actually a negative stereotype to associate this city with just this genre of music.
Nashville is proud to be home to a myriad of music genres along with a plethora of other reasons why visitors will fall in love with Music City. Let’s take a look at some of the best things to do after hopping across I-40.
Nashville may be the home of country music (and proud of it!) but it’s also home a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon. Located in Centennial Park, this gorgeous architectural masterpiece was constructed in 1897 by a former Confederate veteran William Crawford Smith as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.
Take a stroll around the park and admire this structure that stands proudly in the heart of this urban green space.
However, for those of you that want a little more up close and personal interaction with the Parthenon in Nashville, head inside and experience a self-guided tour of the art museum before climbing to the top floor and seeing the pièce de résistance with the 42-foot statue of Athena, just as it was in the original in Greece!
2500 West End Ave,
Nashville, TN 37203
Length of Time Required: 1-2 hours! You can spend as much time as you want in and around Centennial Park but if you are focused solely on exploring the Parthenon, you can experience both inside and out in less than 2 hours.
From the iconic Country Music Hall of Fame to the hustle and bustle of nightlife along Broadway, exploring downtown Nashville is certainly an experience you won’t want to miss when you head to Music City.
Take a stroll across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to appreciate the stunning views of the Nashville skyline from across the Cumberland River before heading back to enjoy the best downtown Nashville attractions.
Broadway is an experience both during the day and again at night. Hop inside Ernest Tubbs Record Shop before visiting the various bars where you never quite know which aspiring musician you will see perform.
The original Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium can be found in downtown Nashville while Printer’s Alley is a spot worth visiting to enjoy a showcase of more talented musicians.
Length of Time Required: 4 hours will give you enough time to walk around downtown, enjoy lunch and also have the opportunity to experience either the Johnny Cash Museum or the Country Music Hall of Fame. Don’t forget to head into the Goo Goo Cluster shop for a local delicacy!
Bicentennial Mall and State Capitol
Nashville is also home to the Tennessee State Capitol and if you love architecture, this is definitely a building worth exploring. If you plan on spending quite a bit of your time downtown Nashville, you can either take the short drive to Bicentennial Mall or even walk to appreciate some of the other iconic landmarks around this part of Nashville.
Learn all about Tennessee’s history through a 200-foot granite map, a World War II Memorial, 95-Bell Carillon, a Pathway of History and the Rivers of Tennessee Fountains. Bicentennial Mall State Park also features a 2,000-seat amphitheater with gorgeous views of the Nashville skyline and State Capitol building.
Climb the steps that lead up to the State Capitol to admire memorials of Tennessee’s former presidents (Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson have monuments while James K. Polk was actually buried on the grounds).
This part of Nashville is also famous for being home to a local farmers market. Not only can you enjoy some of the best local produce in the area, you can spend several hours wandering around and interacting with locals and learning some of the best-hidden gems in the area.
600 James Robertson Pkwy,
Nashville, TN 37243
Where to Eat in Nashville?
I think it’s fair to say that when you visit Nashville, you will literally be spoiled for choice when it comes to cuisine options. Our top recommendation to experience stereotypical Nashville “hot chicken” is to visit Hattie B’s. Be prepared to line up outside for a while but trust us when we say it’s well worth the wait. The challenge is figuring out just how daring you want to be with your “hot” sauce selection on the tender chicken.
If the thought of hot and extra spicy chicken doesn’t appeal, don’t worry because Nashville is home to an eclectic range of other cuisine choices. Calypso Cafe is a great choice to sample Jamaican cuisine while The Soda Parlor is an extremely popular choice among locals and visitors alike if you have a sweet tooth.
It’s fair to say that you could easily spend several days in both Memphis and Nashville but this is all about showing how you can experience the best of both cities during a long weekend. Depending on how much flexibility you have with your itinerary will determine exactly what you want to accomplish but we want to emphasize that a road trip between Bluff City and Music City is a great way to experience the best of both.
You may be wondering if we have a favorite city? Honestly, Memphis is our “home” city given the proximity of where we live to it just across the state line in Arkansas but we LOVE taking the road trip across I-40 to Nashville and make this trip several times each year.
What are your experiences in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee? Do you enjoy road trips and if so, are you considering this route in the future?