Road Trip USA: Memphis the Rock & Roll City

Memphis, Tennessee, is well known as the home of Elvis Presley and the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated, but what else does it have to offer?

Memphis Entrance to Graceland
The author’s party at the entrance to Graceland

Visiting Memphis, the starting point on my Road Trip USA, was as much to do with picking up a hire car and getting over any jet lag, as it was to seeing the city itself.

Nevertheless my short stay proved a sentimental journey back to the rock & roll music of my teenage days and set the scene well for the next three weeks of travel to Las Vegas.

My Highlights of Memphis

Graceland is an essential part of any visit to Memphis. This is where Elvis lived and died. It is now a museum containing many thousands of items from his gold discs to the famous Las Vegas jumpsuits – replicas can be purchased purchase for just $2,670! Fascinating certainly, but don’t expect to get any in-depth understanding of this complex character; this is a shrine to Elvis that glosses over any negative aspects.

Rolls-Royces at Graceland
Rolls-Royces at Graceland

As theme parks go, this is definitely one of the better ones. I found his two aircraft and collection of cars to be particularly interesting. I also very much enjoyed the retro café, complete with jukebox featuring all of Elvis’s vast range of recordings.

Seniors 62+ get a 10% discount on entry charges.

Sun Studio in the centre of Memphis considers itself to be the birthplace of rock & roll. It is where Elvis recorded ten of his first discs including ‘That’s All Right’.  Considering the building consists of only a couple of rooms, the one and a half hour guided tour proved surprisingly interesting; our vivacious guide, Lara Deering, can take much credit for this.

Elvis's first recording
Elvis’s first recording

We arrived three-quarters of an hour before the tour started, and was directed to visit the Trolley Stop Market just across the road – an excellent atmospheric place for a drink and a snack. It’s run by a cooperative and provides high quality food and a vast range of local and international beers – even Newcastle Brown – although I opted for an excellent Memphis brewed beer.

•A short walk from the Sun Studio takes you to Beale Street. Its many bars and nightclubs hosted great blues artists like BB King and Isaac Hayes. Although I found the area had a rather run-down feel to it, any blues fans would see a visit as a pilgrimage and would greatly enjoy for the nostalgic atmosphere.

Sun Studio with photo of the Million Dollar Quartet: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash
Sun Studio with photos of the Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash

• Heading further down Beale Street brings you to the Tom Lee Park on the Mississippi River waterfront. This was our first view of the great river that would feature prominently in the next few days of my road trip. It is not the prettiest of waterfronts, but quite dramatic as the sun set behind the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge.

Lack of time prevented me from visiting the National Civil Right Museum situated at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. A short visit would not do this newly restored museum complex any justice; it will have to wait until my next visit.

So that was Memphis. For a senior traveller like my party, it was a memorable, nostalgic experience. Next stop New Orleans in the Deep South – 350 miles down the Mississippi basin.

Beale Street
Beale Street

Flying from the UK to USA

The Delta Airways flights from the UK to Atlanta and then on to Memphis proved much better than I was expecting. Delta is often considered the poor relation to Virgin and British Airways for trans-Atlantic travel, but I found the service excellent with the matronly air hostesses providing a good selection of complimentary food and drinks throughout the flights.

Car Hire

Nothing ever goes completely according to plan, and my Road Trip USA Planning involved picking up a Ford Escape SUV from Alamo Car Rentals at Memphis Airport. Unfortunately, on arrival all they had available in that car group was a much smaller Jeep Patriot – not really large enough for the four people in my party (see photo above of STE’s Web Editor, Photo Editor and wives). It took two days and the intervention of Economy Car Hire/Zest Car Rental to get the correct car.

Dusk by the Mississippi
Dusk by the Mississippi


The Holiday Inn Express Southwind was just 20 minutes’ drive from Memphis airport and a similar drive from downtown Memphis. The Senior Discount Rate gave flexibility in case of flight delays.

This is an extremely well run hotel with helpful staff and a great breakfast. The complimentary cookies and coffee on arrival are a nice touch.

Road Trip USA articles:

1. Memphis to Las Vegas via Houston – Planning This includes a route map.
2. Memphis the Rock & Roll City
3. New Orleans and Mardi Gras
4. Houston, Gulf Coast and San Antonio
5. Across Texas to El Paso and Tucson
6. Sedona, Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelley
7. Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon
8. The Final Fling – Route 66 to Las Vegas

Posted 10th February 2015 by Steve Hanson