Photo: Natalia Bratslavsky/Shutterstock

Dear Travelers to Memphis, Please Don't Visit Until You've Understood These 12 Things

Memphis Insider Guides Entertainment
by Ashley Smith May 18, 2016

1. You can’t judge a Memphis restaurant by its façade.

Some of the best meals of your life will come out of a building that looks like it should be condemned. Don’t write off an eatery because it’s in a basement, an alley, or possibly boarded up. Don’t let the ramshackle fool you. Elwood’s Shack (and some of the city’s best brisket and trout tacos) stands true to its name because it’s hidden in a Lowe’s parking lot. And our most famous restaurant, the Rendezvous, can be found in the basement of a dirty back alley, the only hints to its location being the protruding sign and the plumes of BBQ-scented smoke billowing from the pipes.

2. Memphis is also an ancient Egyptian capital. That may help explain a few things.

Our Pyramid may seem out of place to you but it’s not to us. Memphis, Tennessee was named after the ancient Egyptian city of the same name located on the Nile River, much the same as we are on the Mississippi. There are tributes to our African namesake found all throughout the city: the replica statue of Ramses and the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the University of Memphis, the aesthetic design of the Memphis Zoo, and the Pyramid that opened as a sports and entertainment arena in 1991 but is today a Bass Pro Shop and one of the largest retail stores in the world.

3. And yeah, we know it’s strange that we turned the Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shop, but hear us out.

After the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies moved to their new home off Beale Street in 2005, the Pyramid had gone otherwise abandoned. Often a source of hostility and embarrassment, the revival of Memphis’s most recognizable landmark was a project 10 years in the making. The outdoor retail giant may not be our most ideal use of the facility but developers estimate one million visitors (and their wallets) to Memphis each year. The city itself will get $1 million each year in tax revenue or 2% of Bass Pro sales, whichever is larger. Our Pyramid finally has life again and hope for the revitalization of the surrounding district has never been higher.

4. You may have heard about our high crime rate but visitors have little to worry about.

Our bad reputation precedes us, we know, but it’s been long known that our top tourist neighborhoods are among the safest in town. Downtown, Midtown, and East Memphis are where you will most likely spend the majority of your time and — because of a few bad apples and preconceived notions of urban city centers — are often lumped together with the city’s overall “unsafe” distinction. No popular area is completely devoid of crime but the casual visitor can relax a bit. Just be smart, as you would anywhere else.

5. We hate it when you take a carriage ride downtown.

Exhausted horses, unnecessary traffic buildup, irritated locals, and that barnyard perfume are not romantic and charming. They are a nuisance and an embarrassment. Memphians hate the tourists’ insistence on taking the horse-drawn carriage rides through their busy and bustling downtown and oh, we will judge you.

6. Please calm down with your trip planning. We’re friendly and we want you to talk to us.

Memphis is a great city for winging it. It’s easily navigable, affordable, and you won’t have trouble filling up your days (or bellies). And what you don’t know, we’ll be glad to help you with. Memphis has some of the friendliest residents in the world and we love helping out our visitors. Approach us anywhere: at the gas station, at the grocery store, on the street. Need directions? We can get you where you’re going via four or five different routes. Need restaurant recommendations? Ask ANYONE and you will get enough to last you three days. Want to know who has the best BBQ? Only ask this question if you have an hour to spare and everyone you ask will tell you something different.

7. There’s so much more to Memphis than Elvis.

Depending on where you’re from, this may be your only association with the city; but while Graceland may be Memphis’s strongest tourist attraction, there are plenty more reasons to visit. Our unique and vibrant neighborhoods, our food, our hospitality, our plethora of museums and sites dedicated to Memphis cultural and musical heritage, and one of the best zoos in the country are a few good places to start.

8. When you come to Memphis, do so on an empty stomach.

We’re very proud of our culinary offerings and want you to experience every bit of it. No matter how long your trip to Memphis is, it still won’t be enough time to consume all that sweet, Southern goodness that Memphis is famous for. And while the list of to-die-for Memphis restaurants is endless, your stomach will only stretch so far. Plan accordingly and start here.

9. You can come in the summer but it’s going to be brutal.

Summer is the most popular time for travel all around the world but if you’re coming to Memphis, prepare yourself for 100+°F temperatures and 90% humidity. It can be done but remember to stay hydrated, park in the shade, and don’t forget your sunscreen.

10. Only people from Memphis can talk shit about Memphis.

Sure, Memphis has its faults — we’ve got bad neighborhoods, bad drivers, a high crime rate, and the Pyramid is now indeed a Bass Pro Shop. But don’t you dare point all that out to us — nly we are allowed to criticize our issues and we’ll let you know it.

11. You’ll have a hard time finding a hotel in the month of May.

But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. Memphis in May is an annual month-long festival featuring the nationally recognized Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest, and two handfuls of other festivals throughout the month. This is the best time to visit our city but plan way ahead.

12. Skip the bottles and drink the tap water.

Drawn from artesian wells, Memphis tap water has been dubbed “the sweetest, most wonderful tasting water in the world” by a nationally known water expert not to mention everyone who has ever lived in Memphis. It requires very little treatment, has a great taste, and costs a third less than other cities to deliver to residents. So drink up; it’s 100°F out there.

Discover Matador