Looking for a fun-filled city break that won’t break the bank? Then Memphis has you covered. With a non-stop schedule of free festivals – 200 of which are located in the highly walkable downtown area – there’s never a dull moment in the Bluff City. 

Throw into the mix a plethora of low-cost but high-quality restaurants, easy transport links, a recently unveiled bike-share network, plus some outstanding live music, and you've got the ingredients for an exceptional city break on the cheap. 

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 score some deals. Here are some fun, cheap ways to experience Memphis.

It’s cheap and easy to arrive in Memphis by rail or road…but book early if flying in

Memphis is Tennessee’s most popular train destination, so arriving by rail 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 about $50; from there, it’s a stroll or trolley ride downtown.

Memphis’ central location means that 85% of the country is within an eight-hour drive of the city. Greyhound also has a sprawling network of routes that stop in Memphis from most major cities across the country.

For those flying internationally, cheap airfares are no secret; it's just about booking your ticket far in advance. Check if flying into Nashville and then jumping on a Greyhound bus (3.75 hours, from $47) could shave some money off your journey.

Hop on a bus from Memphis International Airport

Memphis International Airport is located on the city’s outskirts, around 12 miles from downtown, so ride-sharing services and taxis are a quick fix. But if time is on your side, the bus journey costs just $2, taking line 28 to downtown. You can also ask if your hotel offers a free shuttle service.  

Elvis Presley memorabilia on display in the racquetball building in Graceland.
Check out the Memphis Backstage Pass to save on major attractions like Graceland Mansion © Jon Hicks / Getty Images

A combined ticket saves money at Memphis’ legendary music museums

Music is the magnet that draws visitors to Memphis, but visiting its many storied museums adds up. A smart way to keep costs down is by purchasing combined tickets. Twin the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum with the Memphis Music Hall of Fame Museum for an $19 admission cost, saving $3 on the total ticket prices.

For $105, 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 20% off the total ticket prices.

Head to South Main for Memphis’ free monthly street festival

On the last Friday of each month, Memphis’ South Main district springs to life with the city’s longest-running street festival. The area’s vibrant independent businesses keep their doors open until late, so grab a cold drink and duck into the stores and galleries for an evening of merriment.

You’ll be serenaded by musicians playing on street corners as you weave through the neighborhoods. South Main also has a free walking tour of the district’s stunning street murals, many charting 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 hopping on the wonderfully nostalgic trolley service. Both the journey and the ticket price feel like something from a bygone era, with a one-way fare costing just $1 – or you can ride all day for a cool $2.

Memphis’ three trolley lines – Main Street, Madison and Riverfront – drop off at landmarks including Beale Street and the National Civil Rights Museum. You’ll need the exact fare in cash, so come prepared.

Tour the city on a bike  

Burn calories, not dollars, by road testing Memphis’ Explore Bike Share initiative. It’s an excellent way to see the sights on a budget; a two-hour ride costs a reasonable $5, while a three-day rental is $35.

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

A midweek gallery visit saves on entrance fees

Visiting Memphis on a Wednesday? Then stop by the Brooks Museum of Art to admire their collection of works from local and international artists, with entrance on a pay-what-you-can basis.

Throughout the week, there’s also free entry at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, home to an impressive acquisition of Impressionist paintings set in scenic gardens. The Crosstown Arts Gallery at the revived Crosstown Concourse complex is another great way to plug into Memphis’ local art scene.

A close-up of a plate of Memphis barbecue
Don't miss out on Memphis barbecue © Anthony-Masterson / Getty Images

Eat some delicious budget-friendly grub

Memphis is brimming with reasonably priced restaurants. For smoking hot BBQ on a budget, Cozy Corner and Central BBQ are the places to be. It might not look much from the outside, but the line of customers snaking out the door is a testament to its delicious, low-cost sandwich plates. 

Also, Earnestine & Hazel’s serves up a satisfying soul burger in a juke joint haunted by ghosts – or so the legend goes. Food truck enthusiasts should head to Broad Avenue at weekends, while Court Square offers cheap eats from the trucks at weekday lunchtimes.

Hit the Memphis happy hour trail

If you don’t mind starting the party early, many of Memphis’ bars run happy hours until 7pm, where you can expect to pay around $5 for a martini and $4 for a pint of draft beer. Cheers to that!

Tip: 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 time your visit between late fall and early spring, when there are plenty of deals to be had. 

The Hostel Memphis is situated in a century-old building in the hip Cooper-Young district for the cheapest rooms in town. This thrifty sleepover includes a fully equipped communal kitchen and complimentary breakfast at just $35 per night for a bed in a shared dorm room.

Attend one of many free street festivals

Memphis has a packed year-round schedule of free things to dowith events tapping into the arts, music and the city’s renowned food scene. Festivals worth penciling in include the Cooper-Young Festival and the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, which feature live performances and fabulous vendors selling art, food and other goods. 

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

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

Early birds on a budget should head to Elvis Presley’s Graceland between 7:30am and 8:30am, where each morning it’s free to walk up to the meditation garden to pay your respects at the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s grave.

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

You can also head to the surreal Memphis Pyramid on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, home to a Bass Pro Shops swampy indoor wonderland inhabited by alligators, slithering super-sized bass and the nation's tallest freestanding glass elevator. 

Free music is all around in Memphis

Nothing beats an evening stroll along Beale Street, where you’ll hear world-class blues in music venues lining this historic street for the price of a drink. The Overton Park Shell amphitheater hosts 50 free alfresco performances in 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-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $100+
  • Public transport ticket: average ticket around Memphis is $1 for 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

This article was first published August 2022 and updated March 2024

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