Memphis is a big sprawling city, and the best -- and worst -- way to get around is by car. A car is nearly indispensable for traveling between downtown and East Memphis, yet traffic congestion can make this trip take far longer than you'd expect (45 min. isn't unusual). Avenues running east-west and almost any road in East Memphis at rush hour are the most congested. Parking downtown is not usually a problem, but stay alert for tow-away zones and watch the time on your meter. Out in East Memphis, there is usually no parking problem. When driving between downtown and East Memphis, you'll usually do better to take the interstate.
Car Rentals -- All the major car-rental companies and several independent companies have offices in Memphis. Some are located near the airport only, and some have offices near the airport and in other areas of Memphis. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time for returning your car when you head to the airport to catch your return flight. None of the companies have an office in the airport itself, so you'll have to take a shuttle van from the car drop-off point to the airport terminal.
Major car-rental companies in Memphis include Avis, 2520 Rental Rd. (tel. 800/577-1521 or 901/345-6129; www.avis.com); Budget Rent-A-Car, 2650 Rental Rd. (tel. 800/527-0700; www.budget.com); Dollar Rent-A-Car, 2600 Rental Road (tel. 866/434-2226; www.dollar.com); Enterprise Rent-a-Car, 2909 Airways Blvd. (tel. 866/799-7965 or 901/396-3736; www.enterprise.com); Hertz, 2560 Rental Rd. (tel. 800/654-3131 or 901/345-5680; www.hertz.com); and Thrifty Car Rental, 2680 Rental Rd. (tel. 877/283-0898 or 901/345-0170; www.thrifty.com).
Parking -- Parking in downtown Memphis is a lot more expensive than it used to be. There are plenty of parking lots behind the Beale Street clubs; these charge big bucks. Metered parking on downtown streets is becoming increasingly scarce; if you're lucky enough to snag a spot close to your destination, be sure to check the time limit on the meter. Downtown parking is also available in municipal and private lots and parking garages. Again, most require a stiff fee. The good news is, many of the automated parking kiosks now accept credit and debit cards for payment, eliminating the need to carry a lot of change.
In midtown, where parking is rarely a problem, there is a free lot in Overton Square, between Madison Avenue and Monroe Avenue.
Driving Rules -- A right turn at a red light is permitted after coming to a full stop, unless posted otherwise, but drivers must first yield to vehicles proceeding through a green light or to pedestrians in the walkway. Children under 4 years of age must be in a child's car seat or other approved child restraint when in the car.
The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA; tel. 901/274-MATA ; www.matatransit.com) operates citywide bus service, but I do not recommend it for tourists. Public transportation here is poor and does not offer convenient connections between most hotels and tourist sites. Bus stops are indicated by green-and-white signs. For schedule information, ask a bus driver or call the MATA number above. The standard fare is $1.50, and exact change is required. Transfers from bus to bus cost 10¢, but there's no transfer fee to the trolley . MATA offers a 50% discount for travelers with disabilities and senior citizens with ID cards. (Note: To qualify for the discounted fare, however, you need to show a Medicare card or obtain a MATA ID card by bringing two forms of identification to the MATA Customer Service Center at 444 N. Main St., open Mon-Fri 7am-7pm.)
The Main Street Trolley (tel. 901/577-2640) operates renovated 1920s trolley cars (and modern reproductions) on a circular route that includes Main Street from the Pyramid to the National Civil Rights Museum and Central Station, and then follows Riverside Drive, passing the Tennessee State Visitors Center. It's a unique way to get around the downtown area. The fare is $1 each way, with a special lunch-hour rate of 50¢ between 11am and 1:30pm. An all-day pass is $3.50; exact change is required, and passengers may board at any of the 20 stations along Main Street. Trolleys are wheelchair accessible.
For quick cab service, call Checker/Yellow Cab (tel. 901/577-7777) or City Wide Cab Company (tel. 901/324-4202), or have your hotel or motel call one for you. The first mile is $3.80; after that, it's $1.80 per mile. Each additional passenger is $1 extra.
Downtown Memphis is walkable, though the only areas that attract many visitors are the Beale Street area and Main Street from the National Civil Rights Museum north to the Pyramid. The rest of the city is not walkable.
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.