The entire town of Newport, Rhode Island looks like it walked straight of out a storybook. The water is so crisply blue I briefly wondered if it had been dyed. The sun, warm and bright, felt heavenly, not hellish. The famous Newport Mansions dotting the coast were the perfect final touch.

Luckily, the best photo spots in Newport, Rhode Island and the most interesting things to do in the area go hand and hand. If you have one day, one hour, or one week in this sometimes sleepy, sometimes sultry seaside town, here’s where you should visit:

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Gilded Age Mansion: The Breakers

Built in the 1890’s by the filthy rich Cornelius Vanderbilt II, The Breakers became a National Historic Landmark in 1994. The 125,339 square foot house is the closest thing you can get to a royal palace in America, as its over 70 rooms are crafted with only the finest marble and limestone.

It’s hard to imagine that it would not only belong to just one family, but that they wouldn’t even spend an entire month there each year because they owned so many other ornate homes. On top of everything, Cornelius Vanderbilt II wasn’t even the richest of the bunch. His grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt I was worth over $215 billion in today’s money.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is only worth $121 billion. Bill Gates is worth $91 billion.

So yeah. The Vanderbilts were rich.

Former Vanderbilt Home: Marble House

Marble House is one of the best photo spots in Newport, Rhode Island simply because of the history here.

Alva Vanderbilt was one of the original suffragettes and often held rallies calling for women’s rights on the front steps. When you visit, it’s hard not to close your eyes and imagine the commotion of it all unfolding around you.

The cool, marble exterior also sharply contrasts with the foliage and skyline, transforming Marble House from a simple structure into a striking statement. I can only imagine this was done entirely on purpose.

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"No woman should marry a man until all of us have won the right to vote. Should you need help, pray to God. I'm sure SHE will help you." -Alva Vanderbilt. ✌🏻✌🏻I was thrilled to stand on the steps of #marblehouse where #votesforwomen became the rallying cry for ladies who had had enough (unfortunately they weren't fighting for all their sisters…hello #intersectionality) but I got a little misty-eyed thinking about how 100 years ago women couldn't even vote and now our first female president is probably out there right now, angry and ready to fight back to get this show on the road.🇺🇸🇺🇸 ••TELL ME: do you enjoy political history? Have you ever visited a place for that reason?

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The Ida Lewis Yacht Club

Speeding over the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge on our way to visit the Newport Mansions, my friend Siobhan and I noticed the Ida Lewis Yacht Club and made sure to circle around on our way home to explore it.

After spending the day in the “old money” part of Newport, learning about the Gilded Age legends who once called the area home, it was rather grounding to be in a place where modern Newport, the Sailing Capital of the World, thrived.

Back in my mother’s BC years (before children) she raced sailboats out of Cedar Point Yacht Club in Connecticut, so I also took interest in Ida Lewis for what it could tell me about my mother.

Any of the Local Beaches

The best photo spots in Newport, Rhode Island are anywhere along the water, as the town is colloquially known as the city by the sea.

Like I mentioned, the water is too blue. The sun is perfectly warm. If you listen hard enough, over the sweet sound of the birds chirping, you might even heard the hallelujah chorus.

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The Best Photo Spots in Newport, Rhode Island

 

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Thinking of taking some Rhode Island Day Trips? The ornate, historic mansions that dot the Ocean State’s coast are a great place to start. But which Newport Mansion should you visit?

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Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

Can you guess where in Newport this is?

Newport Mansions: The Best Rhode Island Day Trips

This itinerary assumes that you need to make the drive to Newport and you only plan to spend the day exploring, rather than staying overnight. In order to appreciate the mansions before closing time, I’ve picked the two I visited on the recommendation of one of my best friends, a Massachusetts native who grew up making frequent visits to the area.

The Breakers and Marble House.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

The front of The Breakers.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

The entrance to Marble House.

I ate lunch in between visiting The Breakers and Marble House, but if you’d like to skip eating, or simply scarf down a sandwich in your car, it is possible to comfortably visit three Newport Mansions in one day. I’d recommend Rosecliff for your third stop.

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The Breakers Newport, RI

Address: 44 Ochre Point Ave, Newport, RI 02840

Hours: 9:00AM – 5:00PM (6:00PM during the summer), 7 days a week. Closed for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and special events.

Admission: Adults $18 or $29 for 2-house combo ticket / Kids 6-17 $8.00 or $9.00 for combo / Kids under 6 are free. 

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

Start your journey at The Breakers and plan to spend about two to three hours here.

The Breakers is the iconic home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a man who I assume to be richer than God. When he purchased just the grounds for his home in 1885, it cost him $450,000. That’s $12.3 million today. The cost of the final project was $7 million, equivalent to over $150 million today. Chump change, I know.

Simply put: just existing in the same moment as The Breakers is electric.

As I walked into the Great Hall, I felt like a princess. I could almost see the Robber Barons in their top hats and women in golden ballgowns swirling around me. I was in awe of the excess.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

The Great Hall.

My friend Siobhan kept joking that we should pretend we were on House Hunters. “It’s a little out of budget, but the view is great,” she joked, as we stood on the Upper Loggia, a semi-enclosed porch that faces the Atlantic. The walls are painted marble. I laughed, but secretly wondered what it would really be like to be this rich.

“It would have been nice to spend the summer here,” I said as we continued our tour. “Especially coming from dirty, crowded New York City.”

“Oh, they didn’t even spend the entire summer here,” Siobhan said. “Maybe only a few weeks a year.”

I nearly had the wind knocked out me and had to stop walking, staring in shock at the limestone walls and sets of chandeliers.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

The Upper Logia.

This house, this 125,339 square foot house, was only used a few weeks a year? I wanted to be annoyed, but I only felt impressed. And envious.

After we finished our audio tour of The Breakers, Siobhan and I spent some time exploring the grounds and gardens, which were equally lovely.

It was a sunny day, a small breeze rolling in off the ocean. As I sat in the sun and closed my eyes, it’s almost as if I could hear the Vanderbilts and their staff milling about…like I was a guest there all that time ago.

Rhode Island day trips are truly magical.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

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Marble House Newport, RI

Address: 596 Bellevue Ave, Newport, RI 02840

Hours: 10:00AM – 5:00PM, 7 days a week. Closed for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and special events.

Admission: Adults $17.50  or $29 for 2-house combo ticket / Kids 6-17 $8.00 or $9.00 for combo / Kids under 6 are free. 

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

After a quick lunch in town, continue one of the best Rhode Island day trips by visiting Marble House. Plan to spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours here.

Walking into Marble House feels like walking onto a movie set. Fitting, since the 1974 Great Gastby was partially filmed on site. It’s also where Alva Vanderbilt decided to take care of business.

“No woman should marry a man until all of us have won the right to vote. Should you need help, pray to God. I’m sure SHE will help you.” – Alva Vanderbilt.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

I was thrilled to stand on the steps of Marble House and even got a little misty-eyed thinking about how 100 years ago women couldn’t even vote and now our first female president is probably out there right now, angry and ready to fight back to get this show on the road. Although the suffragettes of the original moment weren’t fighting for voting rights for all, I can still respect the progress they made.

Each year on August 18th, I watch Iron Jawed Angels to “celebrate” the passing of the 19th Amendment.

My great grandmothers were born without the right to vote. My paternal grandmother was born two months after the 19th Amendment passed, making the realization of such an obvious right frustratingly recent.

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

Feeling right at home.

But due to the lack of intersectionality in the original suffragette movement, many of my peers’ mothers (!!) were born without the right to vote. Many of my peers’ votes are still being suppressed. As we draw nearer and nearer to the amendment’s centennial, please remember that the fight for voting rights is far from over.

You can watch the movie here. And see a timeline of American voting rights here.

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You Choose: Rosecliff, Dinner, or the Beach

Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

Depending on what time it is after your tour through Marble House, you might have time to visit one more of the Newport Mansions (I’d recommend Rosecliff), have a nice dinner in town, or even head down to the beach for the sunset. Whatever you choose, your day at the mansions is sure to be the first of many Rhode Island day trips.

It’s hard to stay away.

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Rhode Island Day Trips: Which Newport Mansion Should I Visit

 

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The best things about Mount Holyoke?

Here’s a comprehensive list:

  • everything.

Just kidding! Only not really. When I applied to Mount Holyoke in the fall of 2010, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

To quote Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, “I shall cherish my visit here in memory for as long as I live.”

25 of the Best Things about Mount Holyoke:

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Laurel Fellowships.

The Laurel Fellowship program is the reason that I got to study abroad! I can never thank Mount Holyoke enough for giving my the opportunity to study classics in Rome. Basically, if you receive financial aid from Mount Holyoke, the school will also give you assistance to fund a study abroad program.

It’s like Moho buys you a gift card to another store, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the program! It’s one of the best things about Mount Holyoke and reasons I chose to attend in the first place.

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Mountain Day.

One day between convocation and the start of fall break, the Mount Holyoke President wakes up and declares Mountain Day! All on campus classes and commitments before 5:00PM are canceled and students can either sleep in, or make the trek to nearby Skinner Mountain to climb to the top for free ice cream and hats.

5 College Consortium.

I never took a class off campus because I’m a firm believer in keeping your nap to class travel ratio firmly under seven minutes, but many of my friends took advantage of Mount Holyoke’s partnership with nearby Smith College, Hampshire College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Moho’s can not only take classes at these other schools, but also participate in extracurricular activities.

Elfing.

You’re a wee firstie at Mount Holyoke. You wake up, open your door to the bathroom, only to be trapped in your room by a sheet a wrapping paper covering your doorway. You break through it, only to find the hallway in front of your room to be filled with candy, perfumes, magazines, and more!

That’s Elfing. A sophomore student goes out of their way to be a “secret sibling” to a first year for a week, then they link up and become besties at the end of it.

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The Awesome Alum Community

Did you know that Mount Holyoke affected your life moments after you were born? It’s like all of us were destined to go here. That’s because Doctor Virginia Apgar (MHC class of 1929 represent) designed the widely-used Apgar score to determine the health of a newborn baby.

Can you credit Cinderella from The Cheetah Girls with your elementary school feminist awakening? Then shout out to Debra Martin Chase, MHC Class of 1977.

Are you looking forward to collecting you well-earned Social Security? Pour one out for Frances Perkins, the woman behind the New Deal.

The Frances Perkins Program.

From the Mount Holyoke Website (citation cause MHC made sure I knew that PLAGIARISM AIN’T NO JOKE):

The Frances Perkins Program is open to and designed for women 25 years and older who have experienced an interruption in their education, but who now seek the intellectual challenge of completing their 4-year degree at a top liberal arts institution. Veterans, active military,  and women who are under 25 with dependents are also eligible to apply.

Known affectionately on campus as “FPs,” these students were always great to be in class with because of their unique perspectives on academics and life in general.

Dressing up for Convocation.

I missed my first convocation because I was a spring admit, but the next year I went as Pikachu, then as a bottle of mustard for my junior and senior years…although my senior year I went as a bottle of mustard in a cap and gown, thank you very much.

When you matriculate at Mount Holyoke, you are assigned a class color and mascot based on your year of graduation. I was lucky enough to be a golden sphinx.

You could also be a red pegasus, blue lion, green griffon, or purple phoenix if you are a FP student. But honestly, red, green, purple, or blue, it would sphinx to be you.

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Lynk Funding.

Students can apply for Lynk Funding to finance an unpaid summer internship.

School breaks were all about earning money for school, not planning my career and gaining value experience in my field. I never thought I would never be able to live the intern life, until Mount Holyoke stepped in. Because of the Lynk, I was actually able to intern for a travel company and learn the ropes of digital marketing, search engine optimization, and destination-based content curation.

I would quite literally have NO career if it weren’t for the head start I got from the Lynk.

The Food.

One of the best things about Mount Holyoke is the food. I recently went back to campus to sample the food from “Superblanch” and let me tell y’all, it did not disappoint. The only thing I’m bitter about is now students have unlimited access to food, when countless times during my undergraduate career I ate dinner at 6:00PM, was starving by 11:00PM, yet was totally out of Dining Dollars.

This isn’t a problem any future Mount Holyoke students will ever have to face.

The Yellow Flashing Lights.

…have been activated. Cars may not stop.

The anthem of any Mount Holyoke student trying to get anywhere. I heard the pedestrian warning system on 116 so many times that I sometimes hear it in my sleep…thousands of miles away in Texas.

The Professors.

During my 1st semester at Mount Holyoke, I dyed my brown hair red on a Friday night. On Monday, all three of the professors I had that day greeted me by name and mentioned that they liked my new hairstyle.

When people ask me how much MHC professors care about you, this is the best example I can give. My own father doesn’t even notice when I change my hair.

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The Leaves in the Fall.

I’m from Houston where our four seasons are summer, hotter summer, even hotter summer, and did you really think it was ever going to get cold summer?

So when moving to New England, experiencing the the fall foliage was mind boggling and one of the best things about Mount Holyoke. I honestly didn’t think trees could even change color so profoundly. Thought it was just movie magic.

The Student Orgs.

I participated in MHC Project Theatre each semester I was on campus. It’s how I made the majority of my friends. Being in a theater group at a historically women’s college also has its perks. For example, I got to play Oscar in The Odd Couple and juror six in 12 Angry Men.

The Horsies.

There’s a stable full of them. If you don’t want to pay extra to take a riding class, you can still go up to the barn and say hello and give pats with owner permission, etc. etc.

Its Location.

Since no one in Texas knows about Moho, my number one joke is that Mount Holyoke lures prospective students onto campus with promises of proximity to Boston and NYC, but instead just drops them off somewhere in a forrest in Western Mass. And while that’s partly true, coming from Texas, Mount Holyoke’s campus is a lot closer to cool stuff than I’d ever been before.

I went to NYC every.single.semester. as there’s a bus stop in front of the school that runs directly to Port Authority. I went to Boston multiple times. I went to Philadelphia for Fall Break. If you’d like to see the East Coast, Mount Holyoke is a perfect base.

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No Study Zone.

On the last day of classes during the fall semester, Chapin Auditorium turns into a no study zone! There’s usually a bounce house or two, a Zumba class, snacks like popcorn and snow cones, and even an arts and crafts station (a great place to make gifts for the upcoming holidays on a college student’s budget). One year, the organizers even turned the elevator into a “Primal Scream” zone. You go just go inside and scream really loud. It was great.

The Library.

Hogwarts called, it wants its library back!

One of the best things about Mount Holyoke is the magnificent study space. Many times, while I was supposed to be working on a paper, I would simply lie back and stare at the ceiling, dumbstruck that I was lucky enough to go to a school as pretty as this.

The Classes.

I took a class on World Politics where I heard the word “hegemon” so many times I thought my brain would explode. I took a creative writing class. A class dedicated solely to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. A mediaeval literature class that comes in handy nearly every single time I watch Jeopardy. I studied Latin and Italian, so I’m concurrently fluent in neither and both.

My first year seminar was on Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction. About two weeks into classes, on a dreary, snowy Monday, my professor ordered us pizzas and let us watch BBC’s Sherlock in lieu of a discussion.

“So this is college,” I thought. “I can get used to this.”

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Off Campus Work Study.

Mount Holyoke’s work study program offered me the opportunity to intern at nearby Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke. I learned about non-profit work, museum curation, arts education, and more!

The school provided transportation to and from my job each week, and the other students who rode with me worked at local high schools and homework help organizations. We were all able to really put down roots in the community. It’s one of the best things about Mount Holyoke.

The Staff.

One of the best things about Mount Holyoke was the people who worked on campus. The staff was constantly going out of their way to be kind. The man who drove the work study van, John, was a WWII Navy veteran with many stories to tell. He kept the car fun and on our toes.

I was always dropped off 1st on the route and one day, he mentioned his favorite pastry, a bear claw. I said I’d never had one.

The next week, he didn’t drop me off 1st. As we went from drop off to drop off, I began to wonder if he had forgotten I was in the car. Then, as we pulled up to the museum, he reached into his briefcase and pulled out a bear claw.

“I bought you one! It’s a shame you’ve never had one before. I dropped you off last because I wanted you to be able to eat the entire thing.”

The bear claw was delicious and I’ll never forget John’s thoughtfulness that day.

Jorge.

I love and miss this noisy, vicious little beast. Whether or not he’s the original Jorge, or even if he’s a he is still up for debate, but that doesn’t take away from campus’ resident goose being one of the best things about Mount Holyoke.

Your Classmates.

Truly, one of the very best things about Mount Holyoke is the people who study there. People who challenged me academically, spiritually, and morally. People who supported me and encouraged my growth in the exact same ways.

Friends who let me cry on their floor when my childhood dog died, when I did poorly on an assignment, or when I was just plain tired. Friends introduced me to weird Italian cinema, challenged my worldview with kindness, and called me every year on my summer birthday. Friends who flew across countries to see me. Friends who really, truly, deeply, love me.

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The Art Museum.

I love the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum! The collection is top notch and lovingly curated by a team of committed experts who not only make art accessible, but also fun.

I spend hours in the museum during my years as an undergraduate, as an excited visitor, student guide, and guest lecturer. Make sure to stop in when you’re on campus.

The Pumpkin Face in the Clock Tower during October.

The spooky face is one of the best things about Mount Holyoke just because it’s so cheeky. I didn’t even notice it until I was a junior. I was walking into the library one night and there he was…just chilling like “what’s up?”

The Dorms.

I’ve never felt more like a princess than when I lived in Mead Dormitory my senior year. The high ceilings. The Downton Abby staircase in the front foyer. While there are some definite dudes *coughcoughProspectcoughcough** in general, the living situation at Mount Holyoke is leaps above other school’s.

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Want to spend 2 days in Memphis?

Whether you’re planning a stop in Memphis during a road trip through the American South, or hoping to take an entire weekend trip to Memphis, I’ve got you covered.

Memphis was the place I took my very first solo trip, so it holds a special place in my heart.

I hope you have as much fun there as I did.

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How To Spend 2 Days in Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

I’ve arranged each activity in order of the most logical way to complete them, in relation to their geographic proximity to each other and operating hours.

One thing to note is that the National Civil Rights Museum is closed on TUESDAYS, so if day 2 of your 2 days in Memphis is going to be on a Tuesday, you can flip the 2 days around.

Day 1 in Memphis

Graceland

Address: 3717 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis, TN 38116 (parking lot address) 

Admission: Varies. Adult tickets from $39.75  – $169. See my recommendation below. $10 for parking, if needed. 

Hours: Vary greatly depending on the season, but usually fall between 9:00AM and 5:00PM.

Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

Graceland is only about a 5 minute drive from Memphis International Airport, so it makes sense to visit it first thing if you fly in. The only minor logistics thing here is luggage. If you rent a car (which you don’t technically need to see the main Memphis attractions), then you can just leave your bags in the car as you explore Graceland.

If you use ride sharing, then you have two options: go to your hotel first, drop off your bags, then head back to Graceland (this wasn’t an option for me since I travel on a shoestring) OR just bring a small bag and store it in the lockers at Guest Services which are 12inches wide x 22inches long x 27inches deep.

I spent about 4 hours at Graceland and purchased the equivalent of the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour. It was $96.50 and would have been $101.50 if I had included a visit to Elvis’ airplanes.

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

It included the following things:

  • Graceland Mansion Audio-Guided Tour with New Orientation Film
  • Self-guided tour of Presley Motors Automobile Museum
  • Self-guided tour of Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum
  • Self-guided tours of Elvis Discovery Exhibits
  • Self-guided tour of Exclusive VIP Exhibit

PLUS

  • Front-of-the-Line Mansion Access
  • Keepsake Backstage Pass

Is Graceland worth the trip?

Yes, but I didn’t feel like this level of ticket was worth it because I wasn’t an Elvis super fan. Elvis Presley died 15 years, 364 days before I was born, so I grew up seeing him as a cultural moment, rather than a musician to invest time and interest in.

So, while I was excited to learn more about his brand of rock n’ roll and the impact he had on a generation, the 4 hours I spent in his home were a little overwhelming and felt too long.

Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

So, if you are just there for the history and fun, and not like the man from Alabama that I asked to take a photo of me in front of the mansion who visits every year and tears up when he talks about Elvis, you should opt for the Elvis Experience Tour for $59, which includes the following things:

  • Graceland Mansion Audio-Guided Tour with New Orientation Film
  • Self-guided tour of Presley Motors Automobile Museum
  • Self-guided tour of Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum
  • Self-guided tours of Elvis Discovery Exhibits

This way, you get to see the wonder that is the shag carpet inside of Graceland, Elvis’ cool car collection, and learn a little bit about his life, but not be bombarded by nostalgia that you can’t really feel.

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Sun Studios

Address: 706 Union Avenue Memphis, TN 38103 at the corner of Marshall and Union

Admission: Adults $14 / Military, Students, & AAA  $12 / Kids 5 -11 FREE / Kids under 5 not permitted. 

Hours: Sun Studio is open 7 days a week from 10AM – 6:15PM. Tours begin at the bottom half of every hour from 10:30AM – 5:30PM.

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

There is a free shuttle from Graceland to Sun Studio, so if you time your visit right, you won’t have to pay for a ride share. The Shuttle picks up and drops off every hour at the top of the hour, from 10:00AM – 6:00PM. You can find the shuttle at the cab stand at Graceland’s entrance.

Sun Studio is known worldwide as “The Birthplace of Rock’n’roll.” Legends like B.B. King, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis have recorded at Sun Studio. In fact, it’s the place where Elvis recorded his first ever song.

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

And you can hold the microphone that made it happen!

My tour lasted 45 minutes and was definitly a can’t miss Memphis attraction.

Beale Street

Your 2 days in Memphis wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Beale Street.

Beale Street is filled with bars, restaurants, and interestedly enough, ice cream shops. I don’t like going to bars alone, as I don’t really drink and frankly find the humming energy that they contain overwhelming without a familiar presence nearby, so I chose to visit

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

A. Schwab Trading Co

 163 Beale Street, Memphis, TN 38103

Monday – Wednesday, 8:00AM – 5:00PM, Thursday 12:00PM- 6:00PM

Friday – Saturday, 12:00PM – 8:00PM, Sunday 11:AM – 5:00PM

to sit at the counter of its old fashion soda shop, chat with the nice man who gave me extra whipped cream on my milkshake, and later explore the store with all its oddities. If you find Beale Street too touristy, or prefer a more intimate vibe, try

Mollie Fontaine Lounge

679 Adams Ave, Memphis, TN 38105

Wednesday – Saturday, 5:00PM – ’til the spirits go to sleep

Closed Sunday – Tuesday

An antiques-filled Victorian house lounge which serves martinis & tapas and features local bands. I didn’t make it to Mollie’s, but my Airbnb host couldn’t stop raving about it. Next time!

Day 2 in Memphis

The National Civil Rights Museum

Address: 450 Mulberry St, Memphis, TN 38103 

Admission: Adults $16 / Seniors & Students with ID $14 / Kids 5-17 $13 / Members, Active Military, Kids under 4 FREE

Hours: Wednesday – Monday, 9:00am – 5:00pm, CLOSED EVERY TUESDAY 

the national civil rights museum loraine motel mlk

This is the most powerful and insightful museum that I’ve ever been to. It follows the journey of African Americans from the transatlantic slave trade all the way to #BlackLivesMatter, explaining in accessible detail things that were continually glossed over during my formal education.

As I made my way through the exhibits, I thought about the people whose first thought is “he was reaching!” when a young father is murdered by the police, or “she’s playing the race card” when a public figure comes forward about racist harassment.

“If they would just come here,” I thought. “If they could just see!” The deep, institutional roots that racism has in America have never been as clear as when I was in the National Civil Rights Museum.

Please, make visiting this museum a priority, even if you only have 2 days in Memphis. I left feeling embarrassed of how much I didn’t know, convicted by what I learned, and inspired to do better.

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Stroll along the Mighty Mississippi at Tom Lee Park

Memphis or Nashville? How To Plan Your Tennesse Vacation

Tom Lee Park is only about a 5 minute walk from the National Civil Rights Museum and a relaxing place to stroll, sit, or sunbathe. It offers great views of the Mighty Mississippi, the Memphis Skyline, and even Arkansas across the river.

As I sat on a bench in Tom Lee Park, the peacefulness, the feeling of community, and the natural wonder of the river made me feel like I wouldn’t mind calling Memphis home. I left wanting to spend way more than 2 days in Memphis.

Redneck Heaven: The Bass Pro Pyramid in Memphis

Address: 1 Bass Pro Dr, Memphis, TN 38105

Admission: free. $10 for the elevator ride to the lookout deck. 

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 8:00AM – 10:00PM, Sunday 8:00AM – 7:00PM.

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

Visiting the Bass Pro Pyramid directly after the National Civil Rights Museum was definitly jarring, in terms of cultural contrast, but still enjoyable.

I’m from Texas, but was still overwhelmed by the overall southernness of the complex. If you’re a Yankee, or not American, it’s a great place to really get inside the mind of a good ‘ole country boy who likes huntin’,fishin’, and lovin’ everyday.

I think that the $10 to ride the elevator to the observation deck was worth it, as the view was amazing and the experience of riding a freestanding elevator was also fun. You could easily spend over an hour exploring the store.

Visit the Peabody Ducks

Address: 149 Union Ave, Memphis, TN 38103

Admission: FREE

Hours: The Ducks arrive everyday at 11:00AM and retire for the evening at 5:00PM. 

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

My mom lived in Memphis when she was in Jr. High School and stayed at the Peabody Hotel at the beginning of her life there. She remembered being delighted by the Peabody Duck Parade, so I made it a priority to visit during my 2 days in Memphis.

I thought the ducks looked cute, swimming around in the fountain. I liked the ringmaster-esque costume of the Peabody Duckmaster. I thought the booming classical music that accompanies the duck march was fun. I’ve read that others think the Peabody Duck Parade is overhyped or not worth it, but I enjoyed it.

Maybe it was because of my sentimental attachment to the event, or maybe because it was a good excuse to wander around the ornate inside of the hotel, but I didn’t find it lame at all. I’d also recommend following the ducks up to their penthouse. It’s pretty cute.

The best viewing for the Peabody Duck Parade is on the second story, directly behind the fountain.

Have Dinner at Gus’ Fried Chicken

Address: 706 Union Avenue Memphis, TN 38103 at the corner of Marshall and Union

Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:00AM – 9:00PM, Friday – Saturday 11:00AM – 10:00PM

memphis attractions 2 days in memphis

No 2 days in Memphis would be complete without some delicious Gus’ Fried Chicken.

Allergy note: if it’s fried at Gus’, it’s fried in peanut oil.

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I was so excited about touring Graceland.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons to visit Memphis that really drew me in.

My friend had given me a Buddy Pass on Southwest Airlines to visit her in Florida, but since she had a bundle of them that was expiring, I ended up with an extra that I needed to use within two weeks.

I thought to myself, “Where can I go alone that’s a direct flight from Houston?” When I thought of touring Graceland, the glorious home of Elvis Presley, as well as paying my respects at the National Civil Rights Museum, I knew I wanted to visit Memphis.

But when I arrived at Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116, I didn’t expect to feel so sad. But I did anyway. Here’s why:

Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

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Why Touring Graceland Made Me Sad

I’m not an Elvis super fan.

He died 15 years, 364 days before I was born, so I grew up seeing him as a cultural moment, rather than a musician to invest time and interest in. Sure, I like his songs and know his general story, but my parents were born a little too late to appreciate him, and my grandmothers didn’t have the time to be fangirls, so I didn’t know much more than Jail House Rock.

Before touring Graceland, I only knew of Elvis the phenomenon, not Elvis the person, so I was excited to learn more about his brand of rock n’ roll and the impact he had on a generation.

Seeing his home really shifted my perspective.

Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

From Phenom to Friend

Before visiting, I didn’t know Elvis’ life started in tragedy; that his twin brother Jessie Garon Presley was stillborn in a tiny shotgun home in Tupelo, Mississippi, an event that caused the Presley family to cling together and love each other more fiercely than before.

I knew vaguely of Elvis’ religious background, but the exhibits throughout Graceland painted the picture of a man of great faith with a heart for the nations.

I heard mention after mention of Elvis’ generosity towards his community and fellow man, coupled with his intense desire that his philanthropy be anonymous.

As much as Elvis was “the voice of a generation” or “the king of rock n’ roll,” it really just seemed like he was boy with a voice trying to do a little good. It made me sad to think he was ever portrayed otherwise.

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Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

Too Much Too Fast

It was the little things at Graceland that made the biggest impact.

Like when I learned that Elvis, nervous for his first day on set of his first motion picture, memorized everyone’s lines instead of just his own, just in case, indicating how naive about, and yet wholeheartedly committed to, Hollywood he was. Elvis went on to star in 27 films in the 1960’s. 27. And that’s in addition to all his singing.

It made me sad to hear that his non “teen beach movies” failed, as he wanted to do serious work. The public just didn’t want to buy “off brand Elvis,” so he had to stick to the formula…27 times.

His pompadoured black hair. His guitar. His bedazzled jumpsuits. Even his “thank ya, thank ya very much.” Those weren’t Elvis. Those were his brand; trademarks assigned to him, then taken from him, and exaggerated into something that would sell.

Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

When I went to Guest Services at Graceland to ask a question, there were two women ahead of me in line, both in their late 60s. They were little girls when Elvis was at the top of his game, but they still loooooved him. One of them was even wearing blue suede shoes.

Their enthusiasm was infectious and reminded me of how I speak about literally ever boyband member ever, but it also reminded me of the voyeuristic relationship that the public often has with our favorite celebrities.  We feel like we know them, but we only know their persona. It’s totally one-sided.

While we (the public) were giddy in love with Elvis, he was working himself to death, turning to substances in the process to comfort himself.

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Gone Too Soon

The Meditation Garden at Graceland is what really got to me.

I had to sit down for a moment I was so overwhelmed. Elvis is resting there, along with the family he loved so dearly. His parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley, as well as his grandmother, Minnie Mae. There’s even a memorial for his twin brother, Aaron.

Visiting Graceland Elvis Presley Home

I say resting emphatically, because while touring Graceland, I learned resting is something Elvis never really got to while living. 42 years. 27 movies. 19 albums. Countless concerts.

He was tired.

We, the public, took from Elvis. A once poor boy with an extraordinary voice and charismatic smile. A generous man who was overwhelmed by the needs of the world. We could never get enough of him. And eventually we took too much.

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