Perched above the Mississippi River, MEMPHIS is perhaps the single most exciting destination in the South – especially for music-lovers. Visitors flock to celebrate the city that gave the world blues, soul and rock’n’roll, as well as to chow down in the unrivalled BBQ capital of the nation. Memphis is both deeply atmospheric – with its faded downtown streets dotted with retro stores and diners and the sun setting nightly across the broad Mississippi – and invigorating, with a cluster of superb museums and fantastic restaurants. If it’s the Elvis connection that appeals, you won’t leave disappointed – let alone empty-handed – but even the King represents just one small part of the rich musical heritage of the home of Sun and Stax studios.

Culturally and geographically, Memphis has always had more in common with the delta of Mississippi and Arkansas than with the rest of Tennessee. Founded in 1819 and named for Egypt’s ancient Nile capital, its fortunes rose and fell with cotton. The Confederate defeat that ended slavery briefly plunged the city into economic chaos, but thanks to its potential for river and rail transportation it soon bounced back. The nation’s second largest inland port became a major stopping-off point for black migrant farmers and sharecroppers escaping the poverty of the Delta and many stayed, significantly shaping the city’s identity.

In the 1950s and 60s, the vibrant musical metropolis had a confidence that belied its size. The city reached its lowest ebb, however, when Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated here in 1968, and for a couple of decades thereafter it tottered on the brink of terminal decline, with downtown blighted by white flight. In the 1990s money was poured into tourism projects like Mud Island and the colossal stainless-steel Pyramid, while the new millennium brought the huge Peabody Place mall to downtown. Those lofty schemes are white elephants today, hit by recession and the draining of tourism away from the city by the big Mississippi casinos, but a handsome minor league baseball stadium – Autozone Field, home of the Redbirds – and a major performance arena, the FedEx Forum, as well as the fabled blues corridor of Beale Street keep Memphis’s downtown far livelier and more appealing, than most, while the Rock’n’Soul Museum, Sun Studio and Stax Museum keep true to the city’s astonishing musical heritage. Then there is Graceland, a warm and witty tribute that provides an intimate glimpse of the city’s most famous son.

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