If you are new to the area and attending the University of Memphis…this blog’s for you! Even if you are from here, you might find some hidden gems of places to visit and things to do. Most college students are on a budget, so let’s talk about the free things to do in Memphis.
Everyone’s heard of Beale Street, but it’s not all bars. It’s one of America’s most famous streets, a diverse and thriving area, containing restaurants, nightclubs, parks, museums and shopping. Make sure you check out the Beale Street Flippers, a group of kids that perform stunning acrobatic moves down Beale Street all day and night. They have been featured on ‘America’s Got Talent’, and perform regularly at halftime at Grizzlies games. They flip for tips (which are collected by younger flippers-in-training), so help support keeping these kids ‘on the street’…flipping!
While walking down the street, you’ll notice the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame. Between 2nd and 3rd street, musical notes are embedded in the concrete marking the Walk of Fame, where some of Memphis’ finest musicians are honored.
Stroll down Beale Street to Handy Park, which features free concerts and traveling musicians. The next free concert is Fall on Beale on Friday, November 1st. This year Kix 106 Memphis is bringing in the country chart topping artists Joe Nichols and Cassadee Pope to perform.
The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum at 191 Beale St. offers a comprehensive Memphis music experience. Free admission on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. for Shelby County, Tenn. residents only.
Just south of Beale, check out the eclectic South Main Historic Arts District. The best way to experience this area spotted with cool museums, boutiques, and cafes, is on Trolley nights. Free rides for the Art Trolley Tour run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the last Friday of each month of the year, rain or shine. Shops, restaurants and art galleries in the area open their doors to the public, some offering free hors d’oeuvres and wine.
Center for Southern Folklore on Main Street houses exhibits and photographs on the arts, music and culture of the area, as well as a café serving hot-water cornbread, vegetarian greens and peach cobbler plus a coffee/beer bar. They often host several special events and weekend concerts throughout the year.
The Peabody Hotel lobby is definitely worth seeing. Try to go at 11:00 a.m. when you’ll catch a procession of mallard ducks making its way from the roof of the Peabody Hotel down to the Grand Lobby. Once there, a red carpet is rolled out and John Philip Sousa’s King Cotton March begins to play. The ducks then march into the ornate fountain in the center of the lobby. At 5:00 p.m., the ceremony is reversed when the ducks return to their rooftop home. Though this may sound like an odd ritual, it has been a Memphis tradition since the 1930’s.
Ghost River Brewing Company Tours at 827 S. Main St offers a free brewery tour (with free samples) every Saturday at 1 p.m. Reservations required.
Learn about the significant moments of civil and human rights struggles and victories at the National Civil Rights Museum at 450 Mulberry St, just south of Beale St. Free admission on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for Tennessee residents only.
The free area of the river park on Mud Island features a ½ mile model of the Mississippi river that empties into a wading pool replica of the Gulf of Mexico, complete with sprinklers for kids to run through. To make this a free trip, use the footbridge instead of the monorail to access the park and skip the museum. Mud Island is host to many big name concert acts at their amphitheater throughout the season. You can sit on the bluffs across from the island and catch a little bit of some of these great shows for free.
The Mississippi river is magnificent and a great place to visit for a walk, a picnic, or just some relaxation. The grassy banks, cobblestones, and walkways of the riverside can accommodate a variety of activities. This is the best place to catch beautiful sunsets and watch the riverboats and barges cruise by.
As you leave downtown, heading towards midtown, check out Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood Cemetery is Memphis’ oldest active cemetery and is abundant with Memphis history. Its residents include Confederate and Union generals, mayors, governors, adams, outlaws, and spies. Additionally, the grounds of Elmwood are adorned with tombstones that are crumbling and moss-covered and tombstones that are gothic and breathtaking. The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. This is a fantastic place for student photographers!
You must visit the midtown Cooper Young District. This is a revitalized, hip art and entertainment district full of cool specialty restaurants, unique boutiques, antique stores, galleries and farmer’s markets. Experience the nightlife in Cooper Young where hundreds are drawn each month to the popular First Thursday ‘Night Out’ from 5pm-9pm. On this night, the antique, specialty shops, local restaurants and bars offer up discounts. An eclectic mix of music is featured at the neighborhood square and in many of the businesses all free for your listening and dancing pleasure. And hopefully you didn’t miss the Cooper-Young Festival earlier in September, the largest single day annual event in Memphis, that draws over eighty thousand to the neighborhood. From artists to flea market vendors, the streets are lined with over 370 booths and music on three stages.
Overton square was once one of the most thriving areas in Memphis. Many new businesses have recently opened helping bring the area back to its once splendidness. You can find fantastic restaurants, bars, shopping, and entertainment. Playhouse on the Square, on South Cooper one block from Overton Square, offers ‘Pay What You Can’ night when new productions open, usually on weeknights or Saturday mornings.
Overton Park is where you’ll find young Memphians hanging out on the weekends with their dogs and hula-hoops. You can often find people playing their conga drums, belly dancing or working on their art project. It is the home of the Memphis College of Art, Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis Zoo, and Levitt Shell. The Memphis Zoo is one of the best in the country, and TN residents can get in free on Tuesdays from 2pm until close. The Brooks Museum has ‘Pay what you can’ Wednesdays, and is only $3 with a student ID any other time.
The Levitt Shell in Overton Park is an enchanting venue that offers over 50 free, outdoor, professional performances a year. This historic outdoor amphitheater staged celebrities like Elvis Presley, Al Green and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The Dixon Gallery and Gardens is right around the corner from the University of Memphis. It’s one of Memphis’ premier art museums specializing in Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings and decorative arts complete with beautiful, thriving gardens. There is free admission on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. until noon and it’s ‘Pay What You Can’ on Tuesdays.
This is just a start for your free fun in Memphis! Stay tuned for more blogs where we will talk about the free offerings all year on the U of M campus, the Greenline, fall festivals, and the best bars and restaurants for college students. Be sure to add your own free finds in the comments. Have fun exploring!