Cheap Memphis – Lonely Planet

Looking for a fun city break without breaking the bank? So Memphis got you covered. With a never-ending schedule of free festivals – 200 of which are located in the very walkable city center – there’s never a dull moment in Bluff City.

Throw a plethora of low-cost yet high-quality products into the mix Restaurantseasy transport links, a newly unveiled bike-sharing network, as well as exceptional live music, and you have the ingredients for an outstanding city break at low cost.

The main stumbling block for budget-conscious travelers tends to be the cost of hotels during major festivals, but with a little careful planning, you can easily land a bargain. Here are some fun and inexpensive ways to experience Memphis.

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It’s cheap and easy to get to Memphis by train or road…but book early if you’re arriving by plane

Memphis is Tennessee’s most popular rail destination, so arriving by train is a breeze. There are 19 separate train routes, including non-stop services from Chicago and New Orleans. Fares to Memphis Central Station start at $19; from there it’s a walk or a tram ride into the city center.

Memphis’ central location means 85% of the country is less than eight hours away from the city. Greyhound also has an extensive network of routes that stop in Memphis from most major cities nationwide.

For those traveling abroad, cheap airfares are no secret; it’s just a matter of booking your ticket well in advance. Check if you are flying to Nashville and then hopping on a Greyhound bus (3.75 hours, from $27) could save you money on your trip.

The best time to go to Memphis

Board a bus from Memphis International Airport

Memphis International Airport is located on the outskirts of the city, approximately 20 km from the city center. Carpooling services and taxis are therefore a quick solution. But if time is on your side, the bus ride is just $2, taking line 69 and changing to line 39 to downtown. You can also ask if your hotel offers a free shuttle service.

Check out the Memphis Backstage Pass to save on top attractions like Graceland Mansion © Jon Hicks/Getty Images

Combo ticket saves money at Memphis’ legendary music museums

Music is the magnet that draws visitors to Memphis, but visiting its many historic museums adds up. A smart way to cut costs is to buy combo tickets. Pair it Rock’n’Soul Museum of Memphis with the Memphis Music Hall of Fame Museum for an admission cost of $18, saving $3 off the total ticket price.

For $89, the Memphis Backstage Pass provides access to four of the city’s most popular attractions – Graceland Mansion, Sun Studio, Stax Museum and the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. The pass is 23% off the total ticket price.

The best museums in Memphis

Head to South Main for the free monthly Memphis Street Festival

On the last Friday of every month, Memphis’ South Main neighborhood comes alive with the city’s longest-running street festival. The area’s vibrant independent businesses keep their doors open late, so grab a cold drink and dive into the shops and galleries for an evening of entertainment.

You will be serenaded by musicians playing on the street corners as you sneak into neighborhoods. South Main also offers a free walking tour of the neighborhood’s stunning murals, many of which depict the city’s role in the civil rights movement.

"The historic Main Street Trolley in Memphis, Tennessee, with buildings, an elegant station and water fountains in the background.
Taking the trolley is one of the cheapest and most popular ways to get around Memphis © Davel5957 / Getty Images

Travel in style on the Memphis Trolley

By far the best way to get around Memphis on a budget is to hop on the wonderfully nostalgic trolley service. The ride and ticket price look like something from a bygone era, with a one-way ticket costing just $1 – or you can ride all day for $2.

Memphis’ three streetcar lines – Main Street, Madison and Riverfront – drop off at landmarks such as Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum. You will need the exact cash fare, so be prepared.

Cycle around the city

Burn calories, not dollars, on test drives Memphis Explore Bike Share initiative. It’s a great way to see the sights on a budget; a two-hour ride is a reasonable $5, while a weekly rental is a bargain at $12.

Scenic pedal routes include the nearby one-mile Big River Crossing Pathway Arkansas or the Shelby Farms Greenline, which winds through seven miles of tree-lined wilderness. When you’re done, simply drop the bike off at any of the 60 docking stations dotted around Memphis.

A mid-week gallery visit saves on entrance fees

Visiting Memphis on a Wednesday? So stop at Brooks Museum of Art to admire their collection of works by local and international artists, with an entrance fee.

Throughout the week there is also free entry to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, which houses an impressive acquisition of Impressionist paintings in picturesque gardens. The Crosstown Arts Gallery at the new Crosstown Concourse complex is another great way to connect with Memphis’ local art scene.

Eat delicious budget food

Memphis is full of reasonably priced restaurants. To smoke a hot barbecue on a budget, Cozy corner and Central BBQ are the places to be. It might not seem like much from the outside, but the line of customers sneaking in the door is a testament to its delicious low-cost sandwich plates. A

too, Earnestine & Hazel’s serves up a satisfying soul burger in a juke joint haunted by ghosts – or so the legend goes. Food truck fans should head to Broad Avenue on the weekends, while Court Square offers inexpensive lunchtime meals on weekdays.

Beale street sign with blurred background in Memphis.
Hit Beale Street early for happy hour deals © f11photo / Getty Images

Hike the Memphis Happy Hour Trail

If you don’t mind getting the party started early, many bars in Memphis offer happy hours until 7 p.m., where you can expect to pay around $5 for a martini and $4 for a pint of draft beer. Let’s toast to that!

Point: Avoid the tourist crowds of Beale Street and head to the neighborhoods of Cooper-Young and Overton Square in East Memphis to party with the locals.

Avoid peak season hotels and consider a hostel stay

Looking for the best hotel rates in Memphis? Then plan your visit between late fall and early spring, when there are plenty of deals to be had.

The Memphis Hostel is located in a century-old building in the trendy Cooper-Young neighborhood for the cheapest rooms in town. This thrifty slumber party includes a fully equipped communal kitchen and free breakfast at just $35 per night for a bed in a shared dorm.

Attend one of the many free street festivals

Memphis has a busy year-round schedule of free activities to do, with events touching on the arts, music and the city’s famous food scene. Some of the festivals worth mentioning include the Cooper-Young Festival and the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, which feature live performances and fabulous vendors of art, food and other goods.

View of the iconic Memphis Pyramid, which has been transformed into a huge wilderness-inspired Bass Pro Shops and a rustic, elegant hotel.
The swampy wonderland that is the Memphis Pyramid Bass Pro Shops isn’t your typical shopping experience – a stroll inside is fun and completely free © Dan Reynolds Photography / Getty Images

With a little planning, there are plenty of free things to do in Memphis

Early risers on a budget should head to Elvis Presley’s Graceland between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., where each morning it’s free to walk to the meditation garden to pay homage to the king of rock’s tomb. ‘n’ roll.

Be sure to stop at The Peabody Memphis hotel for their twice-daily parade of ducks waddling through the lobby.

You can also head to the surreal Pyramid of Memphis on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, home to a swampy indoor wonderland Bass Pro Shops inhabited by alligators, giant sliding bars and the nation’s tallest freestanding glass elevator.

Free music is everywhere in Memphis

Nothing beats a nighttime stroll along Beale Street, where you’ll hear world-class blues in live music venues lining this historic street for the price of a drink. The Overton Park Shell Amphitheater hosts 50 free outdoor performances during the summer months – perfect for soaking up some sounds on a balmy Memphis evening.

Average daily costs

  • Hostel room: $35+
  • Basic room for two: Citywide $100+ (Downtown $150+)
  • Self-contained apartment (including Airbnb): $100+
  • Public transport ticket: the average ticket around Memphis is 1 USD for the bus and trolley
  • Coffee $2.77
  • Pulled pork BBQ sandwich: $5.75 to $7.99
  • Dinner for two: $30 to $100
  • Beer/pint at the bar: $3 to $5

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