Orpheum Trolley, Memphis
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Orpheum Trolley, Memphis

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Memphis travel guide

Memphis is known the world over as the cradle of the blues, the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the place Elvis Presley called home. This sweet Southern Belle vies with Nashville to be the largest city in Tennessee, yet it still retains an alluring small-town feel, with a revitalised downtown teeming with energy and life.

The story of this musical capital is entwined with the history of the South – slavery and plantations, the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. The city witnessed the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, but also desegregation and the launching of black music onto the world stage.

Modern Memphis is an intriguing mix of old and new, with graceful Victorian villas jostling for space with gleaming skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls. After decades of abandonment, downtown has seen an influx of new residents, creating one of the most appealing city centres in America.

For many, a trip to Memphis is a musical pilgrimage. Graceland, the family home and final resting place of Elvis Aaron Presley, is a cathedral to kitsch, but also a place of tremendous emotion. Guitar fans tour the Gibson factory and walk in the footsteps of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King on Beale Street, the self-styled Home of the Blues.

Memphis is a year-round destination: winters are pleasantly mild and summers are exotically hot and humid, while the Mississippi River keeps on roll, roll, rolling along – perfect for fishing trips and riverboat tours.

Befitting Memphis’ musical heritage, energetic music festivals run throughout the year, alongside such eclectic events as the world’s largest pork barbecue competition. Memphis in May is the top ticket on the cultural calendar, and you can enjoy fresh-from-the-fields produce at the Memphis Farmers Market from spring through fall.

If you only have time for one sight in Memphis, make it the National Civil Rights Museum in the old Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, and contemplate how far race relations, and the city itself, have come in the decades since desegregation.

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