When you hit town, you may be surprised, and even a bit baffled, by Memphis. The city is spread out, so getting around can be confusing and frustrating at first. Read this and your first hours in town should be less bewildering.
The city's main visitor information center, located downtown at the base of Jefferson Street, is the Tennessee State Welcome Center, 119 N. Riverside Dr. (tel. 901/543-6757). It's open daily 24 hours but staffed only between 8am and 7pm (until 8pm in the summer months). Inside this large information center, you'll find soaring statues of both Elvis and B. B. King.
At the airport, you'll find information boards with telephone numbers for contacting hotels, as well as numbers for other helpful services. Other visitor centers are located off Interstate 40 just east of the Memphis city limits, and at Elvis Presley Boulevard just north of Graceland.
Memphis, built on the east bank of the Mississippi River, lies just above the Mississippi state line. Consequently, growth has proceeded primarily to the east and, to a lesser extent, to the north. The inexorable sprawl of the suburbs has pushed the limits of the metropolitan area far to the east, and today the area known as East Memphis is the city's business and cultural center. Despite the fact that the city has a fairly small and compact downtown area, the sprawl of recent years has made getting around difficult for residents and visitors alike. Traffic congestion on main east-west avenues is bad throughout the day, so you're usually better off taking the interstate around the outskirts of the city if you're trying to cross town.
In general, the city is laid out on a grid with a north-south axis. However, there are many exceptions, including downtown, which was laid out with "streets" parallel to the river and "avenues" running perpendicular to the river. Throughout the city you'll find that, for the most part, avenues run east-west and streets run north-south.
Main Arteries & Streets -- Memphis is circled by I-40, which loops around the north side of the city, and I-240, which loops around the south side. Poplar Avenue and Sam Cooper Boulevard/North Parkway are the city's main east-west arteries. Poplar, heavily lined with businesses, is narrow, congested, and accident-prone. If you don't want to take the interstate, Sam Cooper Boulevard is an alternative route into downtown, as is Central Avenue between Goodlett Road in the east and Lamar Avenue in the west. Union Avenue is the dividing line between the north and south sides of the city. Other important east-west roads include Summer Avenue and Park Avenue. Major north-south arteries include (from downtown heading eastward) Third Street/U.S. 61, I-240, Elvis Presley Boulevard/U.S. 51, Airways Boulevard/East Parkway, and Mendenhall Road. Lamar Avenue is another important road.
Out in East Memphis, the main east-west arteries are Poplar Avenue and Winchester Road. The main north-south arteries are Perkins Road/Perkins Road Extended, Mendenhall Road, Hickory Hill Road, and Germantown Road.
Finding an Address -- Besides going online to find maps to your destination (or, better yet, using a GPS to indicate your route), your second-best bet for finding an address in Memphis is to call the place first and ask for directions or the name of the nearest main cross street. Though address numbers increase the farther you get from downtown, they do not increase along each block in an orderly fashion. It is nearly impossible to determine how many blocks out an address will be. However, there are some general guidelines to get you in the vicinity of where you're going. If an address is in the hundreds or lower, you should be downtown. If the address is an avenue or other east-west road in the 2000-to-4000 range, you'll likely find it in Midtown; if the number is in the 5000-to-7000 range, you should be out in East Memphis. If the address is on a street, it will likely have a north or south prefix included. Union Avenue is the dividing line between north and south.
Street Maps -- Because the streets of Memphis can seem a bit baffling at times, you'll definitely need a good map. The Tennessee State Welcome Center, 119 N. Riverside Dr. (tel. 901/543-6757), offers a simple map; you can also buy a more detailed one at any bookstore, pharmacy, or gas station. If you arrive at the airport and rent a car, the rental company will give you a basic map that will at least get you to your hotel or to the information center. Most hotels will also give you a free map at check-in, to help you navigate your way around the city.
If you happen to be a member of AAA, you can get free maps of Memphis and the rest of Tennessee either from your local AAA office or from the Memphis office at 5138 Park Ave., Memphis, TN 38117 (tel. 901/761-5371); it's open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.