Are you planning to spend any time this winter in Memphis? If so, you need to know about all the fun places to go and things to do!
The fun-loving Home of the Blues brings a vibrant energy to every season.
However, it has an especially comforting, cheerful vibe in the wintertime. Abundant holiday events take over, the weather is mild, and the city’s cultural calendar gets more jam-packed!
Memphis isn’t typically super cold in early December, but there will be a noticeable holiday chill in the air.
You’ll find no shortage of events both indoors and out, for families, couples, groups, and solo travelers.
Plus, the world-famous Memphis music scene continues delivering riveting performances all winter long. Cold weather doesn’t stop the party!
Let’s dive into all the unforgettable things to do this season in the Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll!
Best Things to Do in Memphis in Winter
Is catching elaborate holiday light displays or exploring unique parks more your style? Maybe it’s taking in special museum exhibits or brewery hopping.
Whatever your jam, Memphis in winter means never-ending entertainment.
1. Attend the Memphis Holiday Parade
Held on iconic Beale Street, the annual Memphis Holiday Parade offers a vibrant community event in the heart of the city.
This parade typically takes place on the afternoon of the second Saturday in December — officially kicking off winter in Memphis and the holiday season.
Bundle up in your best holiday garb to watch the colorful floats. From local school cheerleaders and bands to Chinese New Year festivities and Santa on his sleigh, you’ll see it all.
And the best part? Anyone can join in on the fun! Since the parade is community-organized, it’s always open to participants. Also, it’s totally free to participate!
2. Beale Street Festivities
Speaking of Beale Street…it’s always a fun destination, whether you’re bar-hopping or attending a specific event.
The highly Instagrammable street rings with perpetual live music, trendy eateries, and hip bars.
Of course, as the unofficial-but-totally-official Ground Zero of blues and rock n’ roll, there’s always incredible new talent to discover.
To see Beale Street all decked out in its holiday best, hit the Holly Jolly Holiday Celebration in early December. Bring your kiddos out for photos with Santa, and also enjoy festive decor, music, treats, and other fun surprises.
Another highlight of winter in Memphis is the International Blues Challenge (IBC). Held for five days in early January, Beale Street venues transform into competition grounds. More than 200 bands go head-to-head for the limelight!
Then, the highly anticipated grand finale takes place at the revered Orpheum Theater. The best thing about the IBC is that you can attend just one event or watch the entire lineup of shows.
Finally, another option is to crash Beale Street on New Year’s Eve for a party of a lifetime. The 21+ event brings together over 50,000 attendees! Memphis streets overflow with music, laughter, and late-night revelry.
3. Celebrate Elvis’ Birthday at Graceland
No trip to Memphis is complete without a visit to Graceland.
The sprawling complex showcases Elvis Presley’s perfectly preserved private residence, plus a museum brimming with memorabilia. Graceland also serves as Elvis’ final resting place.
Fun fact: Graceland is the second most visited home in the United States. It’s second only to the White House!
For an unforgettable experience this winter in Memphis, schedule your visit during Presley’s birthday, January 8th.
The annual 4-day event commemorates The King’s contributions to both music and culture. Enjoy tons of live music, celebrity guest speakers, special movie screenings, and tours of the mansion.
To close out the event, there’s a celebratory birthday cake cutting on Graceland’s north lawn. Local officials also proclaim it Elvis Presley Day. The general public is welcome to attend for cake and coffee, and best of all, it’s free!
4. Zoo Lights at the Memphis Zoo
The always-impressive Memphis Zoo really “shines” when the weather turns cold.
USA Today recently named it one of the top five zoos in the country! The zoo was noted for its tremendous diversity of animal species and exhibits.
Come winter in Memphis, though, the zoo takes “wild” to a whole new level. Over one million lights illuminate during Zoo Lights, which runs from Thanksgiving weekend through early January.
Zoo Lights is much more than just holiday lights, though. You can ride an LED-lit Ferris wheel or carousel, and experience nightly snowfall. Or, go ice skating in the outdoor rink. You can even interact with real reindeer.
5. Catch a Holiday Performance at the Orpheum
To many, winter in Memphis means Christmas-themed performances on the big stage.
Every year, the stunning and historic Orpheum Theater puts on live renditions of holiday classics such as The Nutcracker.
The Orpheum is also approaching its 100th birthday!
The interior decor is stunning, especially during the holidays. This makes it a great venue for a date night or special occasion.
6. Holidays at the Peabody Hotel
Head to The Peabody to experience the famous marching ducks year-round. But in the winter, it’s decked out in a glitzy holiday theme.
The hotel notoriously goes all out with decorations. Expect to see a towering 40-foot tree, thousands of multi-colored lights, and elaborate garlands draped over every surface. Even the celebrated fountain (the one the ducks march to) gets a festive makeover.
You can watch the adorable ducks march through the hotel around 11:00 am and 5:00 pm every day!
If you want to attend the tree lighting ceremony, it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving (immediately following the evening duck march) and includes an appearance by Santa Claus.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the gingerbread house village. It takes the hotel staff over a month to complete!
7. Shelby Farms Park
As one of the largest urban parks in the US, it comes as no surprise that Shelby Farms is a hub of activity during winter in Memphis.
From kayaking, biking, trail running, and horseback riding, it’s one of the city’s top outdoor destinations.
Also, the park has a resident herd of bison!
In addition to promoting conservancy and maintaining the gorgeous grounds, the park hosts hands-on events. There are kids’ camps, wellness classes, fitness leagues, and more, many of them held in the winter.
Without question, one of Shelby Farms Park’s most treasured events is Starry Nights. A major annual fundraiser, it’s a drive-thru experience with over a million lights. Every year, two or three nights are designated as walk-thru or bike-thru only. During these nights, no motor vehicles are allowed.
8. Warm up With a Brewery Hop
Like many other Tennessee cities, Memphis has a booming local craft beer scene. And what sounds better on a cold winter day than warming up with a tasty brew?!
Breweries here are truly unique because a sand aquifer under the city provides incredibly clean, tasty water. In fact, worldwide, people know Memphis for having some of the sweetest water around!
Start off at Ghost River Brewing, conveniently located on Beale Street. It’s especially well-known for its cream ales and beer garden and makes a great stop for low-key music.
From there, head to Memphis Made Brewing in the cool Cooper-Young neighborhood, which produces an excellent malty winter ale.
Round out your brewery tour with Soul & Spirits Brewery downtown. Here, you’ll have the chance to customize your beer with made-in-house syrups.
9. Holiday Wonders at the Garden
The stunning Memphis Botanic Garden offers a consistently fun holiday outing. During the holiday season, the property’s 30 gardens across 96 acres transform into Holiday Wonders.
Explore acre after acre of twinkling lights, play in falling “snow,” and enjoy festive winter treats in Yuletide Yard. The entire event is immersive, so expect walk-through and hands-on displays.
Check the garden’s calendar for theme nights. These vary year to year, but include “Jingle Jammies” (pajama night) and Santa Sundays.
10. Honor King Day at the National Civil Rights Museum
A visit to the ultra-informative National Civil Rights Museum is a must any time of year.
A sobering but important experience, the museum is set in the infamous Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.
The extremely well-curated exhibits offer information on much more than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. Rather, it features insights on the Civil Rights movement, from the period of slavery to present day.
Every year, on the third Monday in January, the museum honors the late Dr. King for King Day.
On this day, you can enter the museum free of charge. There are also special presentations outside, including celebratory concerts, recordings of the reverend’s speeches, and more.
Where to Stay During a Winter in Memphis Vacation
No hotel in Memphis is more iconic than the Peabody.
Approaching a century since it first opened, simply stepping into the stunning historic property is an experience itself.
This four-star hotel features incredible upscale amenities. Enjoy the pool, spa and gym, impeccable service, and a whopping eight onsite dining options to choose from.
Best of all, though (and the real reason to stay here during winter in Memphis), is the duck march.
The hotel’s resident ducks “march” from the elevator to the fountain twice a day. This takes place all year, but over-the-top holiday decor kicks things up a notch in the winter.
As a bonus, staying at the Peabody means iconic Beale Street is just a short walk away.
The Central Station Memphis
Book a night at The Central Station for a different kind of memorable experience. The hotel occupies a historic train station, operated by Hilton as part of their Curio collection.
Turn-of-the-century design gets a modern touch throughout the hotel, and you’ll find railroad-inspired details everywhere. For example, the lighted concourse signs above the bar.
The sun terrace is a highlight of staying here, as are the views of the Mighty Mississippi River.
And don’t skip grabbing a meal at one of the three restaurants. Like the rest of the property, the dining rooms are stunning.
Another advantage of staying in this area, on the edge of downtown, is that the recently revitalized area offers some of the city’s trendiest dining and drinking options.
River Inn of Harbor Town
Looking for something quaint but still upscale and luxurious? Check into the European-inspired River Inn of Harbor Town.
Right on Greenbelt Park, this hotel is in a fantastic spot and is known for impeccable service.
For starters, your stay will begin with a complimentary glass of champagne upon check-in.
The rooms have a 19th-century feel, all while being surrounded by greenery. Out your window, enjoy views of the river and trees, which lend the property a much less urban feel.
The tucked-away location is close to major attractions, with central Memphis a short car or bike ride away.
What to Wear & Pack for Memphis in Winter
Winter in Memphis is chilly, but typically not below-freezing temperatures.
Temperatures average in the mid-50s, a bit warmer and milder than East Tennessee. Cloudy weather is common, with gray skies being the norm and just glimpses of the sun.
The clouds do break into a drizzle on occasion, so it’s a good idea to have an umbrella on hand.
And sadly, although it’s not unheard of, don’t plan for a white Christmas.
Snow is somewhat of a rare occurrence in the city proper. Once or twice a season, a cold front moves in and brings ice and some snow, but these weather events typically don’t happen until after the new year.
(If you’re looking for snow, visit the Smoky Mountains!)
With all of that in mind, here are some of the things we recommend packing.
- Light coat. Grab a windbreaker, jean jacket, or another type of lightweight garment that’s easy to layer
- Umbrella or rain jacket. Memphis isn’t necessarily rainy, but occasional rain does tend to come out of nowhere
- A heavier winter coat. Although lows generally stay in the 40s, those rare cold fronts can bring chillier temps
- Going out clothes. No matter what you do during winter in Memphis, you’ll want to embrace the rock n’ roll vibes. Memphians dress casually for the most part, but a nice top and pair of boots will ocme in handy.
What do you think about visiting Memphis during the winter season? Let us know in the comments about your stay!
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Featured Image Credit: Graceland