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Wisconsin's Great River Road

Featured Photo by Clara Daschund

6 Memphis Museums To Visit on Your Next Road Trip!

Memphis, TN

Memphis: It’s the home of the Blues, the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley. Featuring more than 60+ tourist attractions and being voted the second most popular entertainment district in America next to Bourbon Street, New Orleans, these Memphis Museums makes for an exciting stop along the Great River Road.

Known for its rich history, thriving arts, and entertainment scenes, and the best pork barbeque in the country, Memphis has plenty to explore and experience. Among other attractions, the city offers a long list of museums and cultural places that highlight the rich culture and history of the area. Here are six of the best museums in the city worth checking out on your next trip to Memphis.

The Museum of Science and History - Pink Palace
One of the finest collections of attractions and exhibits in the country, The Museum of Science and History – Pink Palace was built as the future home of Clarence Saunders, the founder of Piggly Wiggly. However, the mansion never reached completion and was donated to the city of Memphis to be converted into a museum. Now consisting of the Pink Palace Mansion, the Giant Screen Theatre, and the Autozone Dome, as well as the Lichterman Nature Center and the historical Mallory-Neely House and Magevney House located off the property, the museum packs a full day of exhibits and attractions.

Visiting Pink Palace feels a bit like traveling through time as you explore the cultural and natural history of the Mid-South, view exhibits of the original mansion, and stop by the historical houses, as well as see a movie at the theatre or observe a show at the planetarium. You can also participate in the many themed events, fairs, and workshops that are offered to visitors throughout the year. With ever-changing exhibits and events, one day of fun at the Pink Palace museum won’t feel like nearly enough time.

 2. Memphis Brooks Museum Of Art
You can explore centuries of art in one spot at the Brooks Museum of Art, which is often recognized for the diversity of its collection. From pieces by well known artists like Georgia O’Keefe to local student exhibitions, art can come in many forms from many periods, and this museum in Midtown features them all. The Brooks Museum is the best stop in Memphis to view contemporary and historical art pieces.

If you’re interested in ancient Western art, the Brooks museum holds a collection of Greek art, as well as several pieces from Roman and Eqyptian artists, such as ceramic vessels, textiles, metalwork, stone carvings, and mosaics. Other featured collections include decorative arts, photography, sculptures, as well as collections by groups of people such as women and African Americans artists. The exhibitions are listed on the Brooks Museum website, where you can view current, past, and upcoming exhibitions before you plan your visit, and check out the online gallery.

3. Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

Photo by Wally Holden

You can’t visit the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll without visiting the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum features and celebrates the musical pioneers of the 20th century who overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create music that changed the industry for good. Beginning with rural styles of Blues, country, and gospel, Memphis became the merging ground for a musical revolution, crossing the color line in a then socially segregated city, to bring people of all races together.

At the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, you can experience the musical revolution that took place on the same Beale Street decades before. Be sure to check out the legendary Sun Records exhibit, telling the story of the small recording company that first recorded the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, and started the national phenomenon of rock ‘n’ roll in 1955. Other popular exhibits focus on the cultural, social, and civil rights movements of the time, as the music that erupted on the streets of Memphis broke racial barriers of its own. Here, you can learn about the intertwined histories of music and civil rights through a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Mississippi River Museum

Photo by Emily Finch

After traveling on the Great River Road, you might be inspired to visit the Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island Park. With 18 galleries showcasing 10,000 years of history of the Lower Mississippi Valley, visitors can learn everything there is to know about the mighty Mississippi River in the south.

See exhibits featuring the early exploration and settlement of the area, transportation & disasters along the river, and the evolution of music along Ole Man River. Holding a great significance in Memphis and the South, it is only fitting that the museum dedicates 5 galleries to Civil War history, including battle simulations with artillery pieces and uniforms. Your trip to the Mississippi River Museum wouldn’t be complete without taking a stroll on the River Walk, one of the most unique, to scale models of the Mississippi River in the world, taking up five blocks to represent the lower Mississippi River from Cario, Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana.

5. National Civil Rights Museum
To learn even more about the Civil War and African American history, head to the other spot that pays homage to these important historical events. The National Civil Rights Museum showcases five centuries of history, remembering the events of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. Through the exhibition of 260 artifacts, more than 40 new films, oral histories, interactive media, and external listening posts, you’ll learn about the important people and events that led our nation towards equality.

The focus at the National Civil Rights Museum is on remembrance and acknowledgment, and the exhibits beautifully illustrate the hardships and choices made by African American people during the fight for equality. Located in the original Lorraine Motel where the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. occurred in 1968, the popular exhibit “King’s Last Hours” allows you to view the room where the celebrated Civil Rights leader spent his last living moments. The museum is a must-visit for any Memphis traveler, as it captures the emotion and importance of the past and current fight for equality in the United States.

Graceland

Photo by Uwe Conrad

For generations, Elvis Presley fans have come from all over the nation and world to view the lavish estate of the iconic 20th century pop culture star who started the rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon in 1955. With over 500,000 visitors each year, Graceland is the most famous home in America after The White House, and it is a great place to check out while you’re in Memphis.

Whether you’re an Elvis fanatic or not, Graceland has something for everyone to enjoy. See the interior and exterior of the beautiful 17,552 square feet mansion that Elvis called home, walk the surrounding gardens, or tour the star’s aircraft that he took from show to show. Then be sure to visit the Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex for more Elvis exhibits featuring legendary costumes, artifacts, and personal keepsakes from Elvis and his family. If you plan on staying in Memphis for a few days, Graceland features The Guest House at Graceland to welcome guests with Southern Hospitality and luxurious amenities that make you feel as if you’re living like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself.

 

I am a student, aspiring writer, and avid reader of books. My favorite things in the world are my German Shepards and hiking in Colorado.

Maeve Miller

Writer, River Travel Magazine