The eternal question for those planning a trip to Tennessee: Memphis or Nashville? Which one to visit?
Both cities are jewels in the Volunteer State’s crown, brimming with fun things to do, places to go, and people to meet, but if you only have time for one, it can be hard to pick.
I’ve been to and loved both, so here’s a little information on the difference between Memphis and Nashville to help inform your choice.
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Memphis or Nashville? How To Pick:
The first thing you need to do when planning a Tennessee vacation is decide what “genre” your trip will be. Are you going on a buisness trip and looking for fun things to do on the side? A girls trip? A family vacation?
Within those genres, figure out what kinds of things your group is interested in. Boozy brunches? Museum crawls?
Then you’re ready to learn more about each city.
Memphis: Country Foundations and Civil Rights History
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Memphis is a place for history lovers. Whether that’s civil rights history or the foundations of country music is up to you.
Highlights in Memphis include the following things:
The famous estate of the late and great Elvis Presley, now expanded into a small museum compound with exhibits exploring his life, his celebrity, and his impact on country music and the “rock ‘n’ roll” generation. When I went, there were women in their 50s and 60s who were at fangirl level 100000 and were literally wearing blue suede shoes.
It’s probably what I’ll be like when I visit Harry Styles’ house museum when I’m their age. Graceland is also a gateway to a cluster of other museums and recording studios in the city of Memphis that offer glimpses into how country music got rollin’.
- National Civil Rights Museum
The most poignant and thoughtful museum I’ve ever been to. It took me a good three hours to progress through the exhibits and I could’ve easily spent more time there.
It lays out the journey of African Americans from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to #BlackLivesMatter and should be required viewing for all Americans, especially now. If you choose Memphis in the Memphis or Nashville debate, please, make every effort to visit.
- Redneck Heaven at the Bass Pro Pyramid
Y’all. Even as a native Texan, I was blown away by the southernness of the Bass Pro Pyramid in Memphis.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly what it means to be a good ‘ole country boy who loves huntin’, fishin’, and lovin’ every day, you gotta take it in. When I say that Memphis offers a glimpse into the foundations of “country,” I definitely don’t mean just the music.
Nashville: Concert Crawls and Modern Music
Nashville is for country music aficionados and people who love to party. It is Nashvegas after all.
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Highlights in Nashville include the following things:
- Grand Ole’ Opry / Ryman Auditorium
The Show that Made Country Music Famous! Country lovers should jump at the chance to attend a show (or take a tour!) of this iconic southern stage. All the greats have graced it, including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and even Elvis himself. The show’s original home, the Ryman Auditorium, is also still operational for tours and shows.
If you visit Nashville during the winter, the Opry even does a stint there each year during this time, which is sure to be a treat.
Many people visit Nashville because they like to party. For those who live in NYC, Boston, and even Chicago, Vegas can be too long of a flight for a quick weekend trip, so Nashville is the sweet spot for a good time.
In the Memphis or Nashville debate, when it comes to nightlife, the match-up is between Beale Street in Memphis and Broadway in Nashville, and because of its authenticity, Nashville comes out on top for people looking to live it up.
Final Thoughts: Memphis or Nashville
Both cities are easy to get to. Both cities are fun. Both cities have infinite things to do.
You honestly can’t go wrong. It just depends on what you are looking for.
If you’re looking to catch the concert of a lifetime and hit the town with your girls, then Nashville is the right choice for you. If you prefer a look into the history of country music and the American South, head to Memphis.
Emily’s all over the place. She’s an expert on working holidays, studying abroad, and turning your #GapYear into a #GapLife. Learn how here.
I could probably convince Chris to visit Memphis because of he Bass Pro Shops Pyramid!
It’s his dream vacation spot tbh. He’d fit right in in his waders lol.