Selecting a Memphis hotel involves more than just picking a place to crash. Memphis is hot, and you’ll want to take refuge in a clean, comfortable, well-air-conditioned hotel where you can relax while keeping the entertainment coming.
For some, that might mean a hotel that’s up on all the latest design trends like The Memphian, while for others that might mean accommodations that focus on historical aspects like The Peabody. Both are cushy and luxurious in their own way, and both can set the tone for the type of Memphis vacation you want to take.
We hope you love the hotels we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
The Memphian: A trendy, photo-ready Memphis hotel
Opened in May 2021, The Memphian is everything you’d expect from a new luxury hotel located in a recently gentrified area, and it was designed with photo opportunities in mind.
Surprisingly, the exterior is nothing to write home about. The paintwork is a two-tone neutral and the architecture is rather plain. It’s obviously a new-build, but there are touches of 1920s hotel design with a marquee lit up with Broadway-style lights and a few arched windows.
All that changes when guests step in the door. The lobby is an explosion of colors, patterns, and textures that take maximalism decor to the next level. Those in search of an extraordinary selfie background have no shortage of options. The walls are paneled and painted in two contrasting tones of cyan that make the room look fresh and elegant, and are also covered in an eclectic mix of art. There are brightly colorized black-and-white photos and a large framed message typographed in gold lettering that read “All dramas must remain on stage.” Clearly, all the drama happens right here either on one of the several leopard-print velvet chairs, around the grand piano, by the open-shelf library full of knick-knacks, or possibly under the chandelier made of colorful fish hooks.
It’s not just the lobby that will have your brain buzzing with interior decor ideas. The on-site restaurant, mysteriously named Complicated Pilgrim, is a little more subdued, but it’s certainly not tame. Here, the dominant color is green and the fun artworks are plentiful, including a display of hanging plates that look nothing like the one at your grandma’s house.
Besides the great decor, Complicated Pilgrim is a lovely place to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner for a reasonable price. During my stay, I opted to have breakfast there because none of the restaurants on Overton Square open before 11 AM on Sundays. I was particularly impressed by the service at Complicated Pilgrim. The young people behind the counter were not only speedy and attentive, but they gave me some tourist tips I badly needed as a first-timer to Memphis. Order the freshly squeezed blood orange juice — it’ll wake you up almost as instantly as a cup of the delicious coffee.
For late night bites and drinks at The Memphian, make your way up to the rooftop, where the bar Tiger and Peacock envelops you in bold colors, patterned wallpapers, neons, and art like a faux giraffe’s head holding a chandelier in its mouth. The view of the neighborhood, which you can easily enjoy from inside through the large windows or from the terrace, is lovely, but barely noticeable amid the pure joy of the whimsical decor.
I booked a Standard Room ($224 per night) and, while stylish, the interior design of the rooms are a lot more low-key with soothing colors and simple art on the walls. A safe choice for a space dedicated to sleeping. The layout, however, is a little unusual: As you enter the room, you walk straight into an open-concept bathroom.
Beyond the beauty of The Memphian, it’s the location that may be a deal-maker or a deal-breaker, depending on what type of traveler you are. Right on Overton Square, The Memphian is part of the regeneration of this Midtown neighborhood. There’s plenty to see and do around here with five theaters and plenty of clothing boutiques, spas, restaurants, bars, and street art. You can spend your entire weekend in the area and not run out of places to visit. But if you’re a first-time visitor to Memphis and want to enjoy music on Beale Street or visit the National Civil Rights Museum or Sun Studio, you’re going to have to take a 15-minute ride or hop on the bus via Union Avenue for $1.
The Peabody: The Memphis hotel for traditional style
On the other side of the hotel spectrum from The Memphian is The Peabody. Built in 1925, this Memphis hotel is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places, and according to our taxi driver, “it’s the grandest hotel in the South.” It’s not hard to see why.
The exterior of The Peabody is very similar to that of The Memphian, except that it’s real-deal 1920s. The huge structure is made with red bricks and there are branded maroon awnings around every window and lit-up marquees around the entrances.
In the lobby, the 1920s are replaced with Italian Renaissance Revival-style architecture. It’s over-the-top decor, but in a totally different way than at The Memphian. No bright colors, busy patterns, or neon signs here, but there are soft yellow-light chandeliers and sconces, wooden beams, and hand-painted floral designs on the ceilings. A large fountain topped with a gigantic bouquet of real flowers is right in the center of this immense space. The check-in desk is almost hard to find in this huge lobby where there are also clothing and souvenir shops, three restaurants and cafés, and a bar with seating spread throughout the entire room, including around the fountain and the self-playing piano.
The Peabody’s most famous feature is its marble fountain and the four ducks that call the fountain home from 11 AM to 5 PM daily. Because they are adorable and well-behaved (we never saw one attempting to escape), they are the subjects of many photos from hotel guests. The event not to miss at The Peabody is the Duck March, which happens at 11 AM and 5 PM daily. The duckmaster, dressed in his fancy red uniform, tells guests gathered around how the ducks were brought to the fountain in the 1930s after the general manager Frank Shutt returned from a hunting trip and put his live duck decoys in the fountain. An animal trainer taught the birds the duck walk in 1940, and the tradition remains to this day in the form of the duckmaster who guides the ducks from the fountain to the nearby elevator via a red carpet. He then gets in the elevator with the birds and takes them to the rooftop where they have a cozy little home called the Duck Palace. The whole show is a must-see, but know that you need to get there 30 minutes before to find a good spot (the mezzanine level provides some decent seating and views of the event).
You can take a closer look at the ducks in their private space on the roof by taking the elevator to the top of the building and walking around the terrace — the Duck Palace is at the far left end. At night, there’s staff (dressed in the hotel’s elegant and classic uniform) working behind a makeshift bar, so you can take in the view of the city and follow the baseball games at nearby AutoZone park with a drink in hand. While up on the roof, make sure to take a selfie with the lit-up “The Peabody” sign — it’s a rite of passage.
The rooms at The Peabody are simple and comfortable. There’s a hushed blue, gray, and beige color scheme that won’t blow your socks off, but the beds are extremely comfortable and you’ll get a couple of Peabody-specific touches, like water bottles decorated with little ducks and duck-related art on the walls. The bathrooms are run-of-the-mill, functional, and, unlike The Memphian, pleasantly private. While we heard some guests complaining about the lack of elevators (only three for 625 rooms), we never had an issue and used the stairs to walk down from our seventh floor Deluxe Double room (starting at $260 per night).
There are three restaurants within The Peabody: Chez Philippe, where you are served afternoon tea in a jaw-dropping decor; the Capriccio Grill for Italian fare; and The Peabody Deli & Desserts, where you can grab a coffee, a sandwich, and a cute duck-shaped pastry. Note that none have duck on the menu for obvious reasons, and all are on the pricey side.
To get a well-rounded lecture on this Memphis institution, take a $10 two-hour tour led by the Duckmaster that happens daily at 11 AM. It’s very worth the small fee to see rooms you would not otherwise have access to, get the whole history of the hotel, and learn about the famous people who visited it over the years. You can purchase your ticket at reception.