Where you stay in Memphis will depend on what brings you here. If you're in town for a convention, the place will probably be prearranged. And if you're an Elvis fan planning on spending the majority of your time at Graceland, there are several properties within spitting distance of the gated mansion in the southern suburbs. If you're coming to town as a tourist interested in the history of the blues, the birth of rock 'n' roll, and the civil rights movement, downtown is your best bet. Besides great views of the beautiful Mississippi River, it's here that you'll have the widest choice of properties, too, from the sleek Westin on Beale Street to the intimate Madison and posh River Inn of Harbor Town.
Then again, if you don't need to be downtown, consider booking a room in East Memphis, which is more than 20 miles by interstate highway from downtown. Comfortable chain hotels abound here, and these make sense for business travelers as well as for those with families wanting to avoid the drunken revelry that can sometimes consume the Beale Street area downtown.
More questionable is the Midtown area. Although convenient to the interstate and located midway between downtown and East Memphis, the few hotels here can feel rather isolated. Likewise, I don't recommend staying in the airport area if you can avoid it. It's not that there aren't adequate hotels here; it's just that the surrounding neighborhoods are rather dicey, and there is little of interest here except proximity to the terminals and car-rental agencies.
Keep in mind that there are many modern, reliable chain hotels located in the suburbs just outside the area covered in this book. If you want to stay in the suburbs of Germantown, Cordova, Collierville, or Southwind, or in Olive Branch or Southaven, Mississippi, there are hundreds of appealing chain hotels from which to choose. Just be aware that you'll have long driving times and traffic to contend with if you want to take in the city's main tourist attractions in the heart of Memphis.
Virtually all hotels now offer nonsmoking floors (or are completely smoke-free), and others are equipped for guests with disabilities. Many larger hotels are also adding special rooms for hearing-impaired travelers as well as rooms equipped with cardio exercise equipment, for fitness-minded guests. When making a reservation, be sure to request the type of room you need.
If you'll be traveling with children, always inquire about policies regarding children. Some hotels let children under 12 stay free, while others set the cutoff age at 18. Still others charge you for the kids, but let them eat for free in the hotel's restaurant.
I have listed the official published rates (also known as rack rates). Keep in mind that almost all hotels offer special corporate and government rates, so ask about discounts. Most of the more expensive hotels have lower weekend rates, while inexpensive hotels tend to raise their rates slightly on the weekend.
If you get quoted a price that seems exorbitantly high, you might have accidentally stumbled upon a special holiday or event rate. Such rates are usually in effect for major sports events or music festivals. If this is the case, try scheduling your visit for a different date if possible. Or try calling around to hotels farther out of town, where rates aren't as likely to be affected by special events. In fact, at any time, the farther you get from major business districts, the less you're likely to spend on a room.
For the purposes of this guide, I have placed hotels in the following rate categories: very expensive, more than $200 for a double room; expensive, $150 to $200; moderate, $100 to $150; and inexpensive, less than $100. Please keep in mind, however, that the rates do not include taxes, which in Memphis add up to a whopping 15.95% (9.25% sales tax and 6.7% room tax).
Downtown -- If you want to be where the tourist action is, your first choice ought to be downtown. Besides Beale Street, this area is also where the majority of the city's major sporting events, concerts, and cultural performances take place. If you want to feel as though you've been to Memphis, you need to experience the riverfront heart of it all.
Midtown -- Midtown probably isn't the best area of town to stay as a tourist, but there are some moderate to inexpensive choices here. One of the newest places is a small boutique hotel that took over a rather ugly office building near the Southern College of Optometry in the medical center area. Gen X Inn, 1177 Madison (tel. 901/692-9136), is an smoke-free Best Western property with a spare, modern look, clean rooms, free Wi-Fi throughout, and plenty of free parking. It appeals primarily to students and other budget-conscious travelers who don't mind its location, a short cab ride from downtown. Rates average around $99 per night.
Other reasonably priced options include the Holiday Inn Select Medical Center/Midtown, 1180 Union Ave. (tel. 901/276-1175), charging as low as $89 for a double; Red Roof Inn, 42 S. Camilla St. (tel. 901/526-1050), charging $79 for a double; and Motel 6, 210 S. Pauline St. (tel. 901/528-0650), charging $54 for a double.
East Memphis -- If your visit to Memphis brings you to any of the suburban business parks in the perimeter of the city, East Memphis is a smart choice. It's centrally located between downtown hot spots and outlying suburbs, where top employers such as FedEx and International Paper have their corporate headquarters.
Airport & Graceland Areas -- Obviously, if you need to be near the airport, any of these properties will suit your needs. But truthfully, the airport area encompasses neighborhoods most locals do not feel safe driving in. To get a sense of what Memphis is all about, you really should try to stay in or near downtown. Besides, with the plethora of tour buses and shuttle services available, access to Graceland is as easy from downtown as it is from the airport area. Still, if you want to go it alone, be aware that there is not much besides Elvis's former home to offer tourists in this area. Along Elvis Presley Boulevard there are many cheap motels scattered among the fast-food restaurants, gas stations, cash-advance stores and other businesses, but book these at your own risk.
Elvis Slept Here -- You might not mistake this former housing project for an upscale hotel, but, then again, this is Memphis -- where offbeat surprises seem to lurk around every corner.
Elvis Presley lived here at Lauderdale Courts with his parents, Vernon and Gladys, when he was still a wide-eyed teenager (1949-53). Spared from demolition, in recent years the site has been transformed into Uptown Square, 252 N. Lauderdale, a trendy apartment complex that has preserved its sole historic unit as "The Elvis Suite."
For $250 a night, tourists may rent this first-floor apartment that includes a 1950s-style kitchen and sleeping room for four people. Before you book, be aware that this is a smoke-free property without wheelchair access, and that there's a 2-night minimum and 6-night maximum stay. Black-out dates apply during Elvis week (Aug) and other tourist-heavy times, when the property is in demand for guided tours but not for overnight lodging. For reservations, call tel. 901/523-8662 (www.lauderdalecourts.com).
Embassy Suites -- The indoor pool and gardenlike atrium lobby provide a place for the kids to play even on rainy or cold days, and the two-room suites give parents a private room of their own. In addition, there's a small video game room that gets a workout from kids and adults alike.
Homewood Suites -- With a pool and basketball court and grounds that resemble an upscale apartment complex, this East Memphis hotel is a good bet for families. Plus, the evening social hour includes enough food to serve as dinner (and thus save you quite a bit on your meal budget).
Hyatt Place -- Larger-than-expected suites have comfy, sectional-style furniture and ottomans, ideal for spreading out to nap or to watch sports or play video games on the massive, flatscreen TV. With spacious kitchenettes and plush beds, this affordably priced hotel offers all the comforts of home in a safe, convenient location.
La Quinta Inn & Suites -- Many rooms here have refrigerators and microwaves -- ideal for extended family stays. And there's an outdoor pool.
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.