Oh Tennessee! - A Four day weekend in Memphis and Nashville

Updated: May 1, 2018

Oh Tennessee - what a treat you turned out to be!

I have many things that I love in this life - 2 particular things are music (particularly blues) and fried chicken - so naturally getting "down south" has been a top priority on my list of things to do in the US of A for a while now.

When I was younger, my Dad's favourite movie was The Blues Brothers and my sisters and I became hooked on it too, watching it so many times we wore the videotape out! I have been a lover of Blues and Soul music my whole life and in my older years have become quite the country fan too - so visiting America's musical heartland was a very very exciting prospect. So much so we made it our first weekend trip after arriving in Toronto.

We visited Nashville and Memphis over 4 days in total and felt this was a good amount of time to soak up as much history, music and southern cooking as possible.

People often visit the USA and tick off the usual big ticket items - NYC, DC, Grand Canyon, LA, Vegas etc. - don't get me wrong, I love all these places. But a trip to the USA truly isn't complete without getting your butt down south. Trust me you will love it (though your waistline may not!)

Here is a rough itinerary of what we covered in our time in fabulous TN!

Day 1 - Memphis, TN

Lunch @ Gus' Fried Chicken

This place is famed as being the best - and we can see why. Hot, crispy and finger lickin' good, trimmed with beans, slaw and washed down with a cold beer - the BEST way to start our trip! Oh and of course, I HAD to order a side of Mac and Cheese, because............Mac and Cheeeeeeeeese!

National Civil Rights Museum

This museum is a must visit in Memphis. The Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis is the sight where Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. was assassinated in 1969. This motel has since been converted into the National Civil Rights museum, a place to tell the story of the long struggles for equality faced by African American people and a place to ensure none of us ever forget.  A very, very important place for all people, regardless of religion, race or gender, to visit. One of the most memorable museums I have visited in all my years of travelling.

Pre-dinner (or anytime for that matter) drinks @ The Peabody Hotel

The regal Peabody Hotel is one of the jewels of Memphis. Built in 1869, this upmarket hotel retains all of it's classic charm and beauty and is worth a stop by even if just to grab a drink in the stunning lobby bar. Gav and I decided to treat ourselves to two nights in the hotel and loved it! The thing the Peabody is most famous for however is the Peabody Ducks, a trained flock of ducks who every day at 11am and 5pm descend from the upper floors into the lobby, follow their "Duckmaster" in single file across the lobby red carpet laid especially for them and enter the lobby pond for a swim around. This extremely cute event has been happening since the 1930s and still draws a massive crowd each and everyday. These ducks are serious celebrities! Get in early to secure a spot so you can see!

Dinner @ Rendezvous BBQ

BBQ is serious business here in Tennessee (and seriously good!). I had read and heard multiple different opinions as to where the BEST BBQ place in town was, but finally decided on Rendezvous after a few locals we met during our first day insisted this was the place to be. So many good things on the menu but we went with their specialty dry rub pork ribs with the usual trimmings. SO. DAMN. GOOD. You cannot visit Memphis without having BBQ, and we think this place is tops!!

Listen to the Blues on Beale Street - or anywhere for that matter!

Blues is what Memphis is ALLLLLL about. Beale Street is the cultural core of Memphis and after-dark all you need to do is follow your ears and the blues beats will lead you there. There are great acts playing every night that will get your toes tapping. We loved the BB King Blues Bar, Blues City Cafe and Rum Boogie Cafe. Do not leave Memphis without listening to some Blues - you will become a fan even if you weren't before!

Day 2 - Memphis, TN

Visit Graceland

The dream-like home of Elvis "The King" Presley, is the number one attraction in Memphis and must not be missed. Elvis' much beloved home has now become a beloved place for his thousands of fans who flock here every day to get a glimpse into what his home life was like and pay homage to one of the greatest of the greats. Not only can you take a walking tour through his home, gardens and visit his gravesite but also there is a sprawling museum full of costumes, cars, gold records, memorabilia from his time in the army and so much more!!! 

Lunch @ Beauty Shop Cafe

This place is SO cute. A lovely restaurant/cafe set up in an old hairdressing salon. You even sit in the original hairdressers chairs with clear heat domes hovering above your head!!! Besides the unique and fun decor, the food is also fabulous. Great salads, sandwiches etc. it is the perfect place for a light lunch. Try the grilled romaine salad topped with maple bacon, scallions and blue cheese dressing - yummo!

Stax Museum of Soul Music

A very cool museum that houses memorabilia and stories of all the great soul musicians that have recorded under the Stax records label. Stax records played an integral role in the creation of the Memphis Soul sound and had many of the biggest names in soul music record under their label including Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and Booker T and the M.G's. If you are a music fan, make sure you check this place out.

Sun Studios

Another place I had always wanted to visit - Sun Studios is one of the most famous recording studios in the world and often credited as being the "birthplace of Rock n' Roll". Established by musical pioneer Sam Phillips in 1950, these studios were where many of the greats laid down tracks - Elvis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and in later years U2, Ringo Starr and Def Leppard. Tours are given hourly from 10:30am until 5:30pm. Don't miss this place!

Day 3 - Nashville

Tour the Ryman Auditorium

The "mother church" and spiritual home of country music in Nashville and in the entire USA is a must visit in Nashville. Originally built in 1892 and boasting beautiful timber pew seating and colourful glass windows, music lives here - in every hallway and every wall. Most famous for being the home of the Grand Ole Opry country music radio show from 1943-1974, the Ryman was the heart and soul of the Nashville country music scene for a long time. Despite facing demolition in 1974 and remaining empty and unused for around 20 years, the Ryman has now been fully restored to its former glory and is a hallowed stage frequented by many famed acts from multiple genres of music. Take a guided tour and learn all about the history of this famous concert hall. A very special place. 

Johnny Cash Museum

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" - famous words that greet you as you enter this great museum that is small in size but boasts an incredible amount of memorabilia, costumes, instruments etc. from the lives of Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash. The "Man in Black" is one of the godfathers of country music and this is a great place to learn more about the music and the man behind the music!

Dinner @ Rolf and Daughters

Now, Nashville may be known as Music City - a pretty accurate description, but we were pleased to discover the Food City would also be a reasonable title. Nashville's food scene is growing in leaps and bounds, which made it profoundly difficult for us to choose a dinner spot. We went with the very well reviewed Germantown spot "Rolf and Daughter's" and we were not disappointed. Philip Krajeck's restaurant served up a seriously delicious meal and some bold and super fun cocktails - try the pasteurised chicken with preserved lemon and garlic confit, the garganelli verde or one of the unique and scrumptious desserts!

Go Honky Tonkin' into the wee hours of the night!

Broadway - one of the main streets of Nashville, is hard to miss. When the sun goes down, hoards of people are drawn to Broadway by the neon lights and the fantastic honky tonkin' tunes that pour out of every bar. Make sure you get on down and get yourself into a few bars to dance the night away - we loved Tootsie's and Robert's Western World. You don't need cowboy boots - when the music is this good, any shoes are dancin' shoes! YEEEEHAA!

Day 4 - Nashville, TN

Visit the Grand Ole Opry House

Take a tour of one of the most famous concert venues in the USA. If you are lucky enough, the tour will take you backstage to have a sneak peek into the performer dressing rooms and lounges. Stand on the stage in the circle carved from the original Ryman stage, a spot stood on by all the greats. If you can, try to plan ahead and check out the performance schedule for the Opry - there are concerts held many nights of the week with several acts playing on the night. We unfortunately didn't have time to catch a show, but it is the top priority on our return visit to Nashville. If you are a fan of "Nashville" the TV series (as I am!), this stage will be very familiar to you!

Lunch @ Husk

For true southern comfort food and southern hospitality, book a table at Husk. Located in a beautiful heritage building framed by a long porch, Sean Brock's Nashville outpost of the beloved Husk in Charleston should be on your eats list when visiting Nashville. We had a delicious lunch with friendly service and a lovely setting. Try the devilled eggs, dusted red with paprika, the fried catfish with pickles and mac and cheese (again!) or the really naughty and juicy cheeseburger. Southern food done just right!

Country Music Hall of Fame + RCA Studio B

The country music hall of fame is well worth a visit - packed to the brim with history, instruments and other memorabilia encompassing the entire history of country music in the USA. The most impressive part is the rotunda housing all of the bronze faces of the inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame - including all the greats Cash, Presley, Parton and the list goes on. If you do visit the Hall of Fame make sure you upgrade your ticket to include a tour of the famous RCA recording studio B - a famous recording spot for that Nashville sound, used by many of the greats including Elvis, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers etc. Even take a pic sitting at Elvis' favourite piano (*squeal)!

As I am sure you guys can see from this LONG post - Memphis and Nashville are packed with amazing music, history, food and culture and definitely should be added to your USA bucket list! We can't wait to return

K + G xxx

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