Just to the west across the river from Memphis, Tennessee, Marion is the county seat of Crittendon County. Though it’s in a different state and its own distinct municipality, it’s considered a suburb of the greater Memphis area.
In many ways, it’s the best of both worlds. It maintains its small-town charm but is conveniently close to its large urban neighbor’s historical and cultural attractions that give the area much of its allure.
It’s also close to other attractions – like state and national parks – in neighboring states, which makes it the perfect starting point for lots of fun day trips.
1. Tennessee Welcome Center
Whenever you’re visiting a new city or town, it’s a good idea to visit their welcome center before striking out on your own.
They’re usually staffed by helpful volunteers and are full of maps, brochures and travel magazines that are yours for the taking.
In addition to these, the Tennessee Welcome just outside Memphis has lots of local art and historically significant items on display too – they’ve even got clean restrooms.
Even if you’re staying in Marion, many of the things you’ll want to see and do are in Tennessee, so stop by and get some valuable local insight.
2. Sultana Disaster Museum
Located on Washington Street in Marion, the Sultana Disaster Museum is one of those truly unique places that you sometimes find while traveling that sticks out for its singularity.
Though it’s not the most uplifting place in the world, it’s packed full of history that’s often overlooked; in many ways, it’s a reminder of how fragile we all are in the scheme of things.
The museum is free to visit, though donations are gladly accepted.
It’s best to view the short video before taking the tour, as it’ll let you know about many of the disasters you’ll learn about.
3. Sun Studio
There are lots of places around Memphis that claim to be the birthplace and home of rock ‘n roll, but since the Sun Studio is where a young Elvis Presley recorded his first song, it’s hard to dispute their claim to these titles.
One of the most famous recording studios in the world, during the day it’s a museum, but in the evening, it’s still a fully functioning recording studio.
Located on Union Avenue in Memphis, the cost of admission is reasonable. It’s full of photos, albums, and paraphernalia related to the music industry and many of the stars who’ve recorded here, like B.B. King, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
4. National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
During the ‘50s and ‘60s, the country was caught in the grip of a mass movement toward equality that often pitted neighbor versus neighbor. In no place was it more front and center than in southern cities like Memphis and Little Rock.
In 1968, the movement’s leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down at the Lorraine Motel. It’s now been turned into a civil rights museum that is one of the places that deserves to be visited, as it focuses on one of the most pivotal eras in the nation’s history.
It’s located on Mulberry Street in Memphis.
5. Memphis Rock ‘n Soul Museum
Located on world-famous Beale Street, the Memphis Rock ‘n Roll Museum is one of the city’s most visited sites, and during peak times it can get downright crowded.
It chronicles the lives of many of rock ‘n rolls first superstars and is full of exhibits, displays and interactive activities that’ll give visitors of all ages something to enjoy.
Audio equipment for self-guided tours is available, and the museum is close to other area points of interest like Sun Studios that make it easy to visit without wasting a lot of time in the car or waiting for a bus.
6. Stax Museum of American Soul Music
They say that rock ‘n roll and soul music both share roots with the southern spirituals that have been the mainstay of African American music in the south since the time of slavery.
Located on McLemore Avenue, The Stax Museum of American Soul Music consists of nearly 20,000 square feet of space. It’s dedicated to bringing the lives and history of soul music to music lovers from all over the country and the world.
The museum has some permanent exhibits dedicated to superstars such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, and Ike and Tina Turner, to name just a few.
7. Beale Street
Beale Street is often likened to Bourbon Street, and if it’s live entertainment, cold drinks and tasty food that you’re after, you could do a lot worse.
The street is full of flashy neon signs and alluringly seedy bars just beckoning visitors to come inside. If you’re visiting with little ones, it might not be the best place to visit after the sun has gone down.
There are plenty of shops as well, and since it’s considered ‘The Home of Blues,’ you’ll usually find plenty of musical venues.
B.B. King’s restaurant is a favorite if barbecue is your thing.
8. Slave Haven at the Burkle Estate Museum
In the 17th century, the Underground Railroad was a clandestine network of sympathetic whites and free blacks, who risked their lives to assist slaves in their flight from the horrors of slavery.
It’s interesting to note that even some southern plantation owners did their share. The Slave Haven at Burkle Estate is probably the South’s premier venue to learn about this fascinating and suspenseful chapter in American history.
The tunnels are still intact and open to visitors, though be warned that some of what you’ll see and learn is pretty disturbing and emotional, but it’ll be well worth it.
9. Big River Crossing
According to locals, the Big River Crossing that spans the Mississippi and connects Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas is the longest pedestrian-only span of its kind in the entire world.
It’s been open since 2016 and offers visitors some of the most scenic and unobstructed views of the river and nearby cities that they’ll find anywhere.
It’s a great place to get some exercise, have a picnic and just enjoy the great outdoors. It’s also a favorite spot for bird watchers, who come to check out the wading birds, fowl, and birds of prey that live on and near the water.
10. Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island
The Mississippi River has been one of the country’s most important highways for ages and has played a role in the economy, migration and even the arts and sciences.
The Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island gives guests an in-depth overview of the river and how it has changed over time, from before the country was settled all the way up until modern days.
There are lots of interesting historical plaques inside and a model of the river, too.
It won’t take long to see everything, and there are some great shops and walking paths on the island that are worth checking out.
11. Southland Park Gaming and Racing
If you’ve never been to Marion, Arkansas in the summer, I’m here to tell you that the weather in this part of the country can be nothing short of brutal. The heat and humidity together are oppressive, and finding things to do indoors takes on the utmost importance.
Southland Park Gaming and Racing is one of those places that attracts visitors year-round, but it’s particularly busy during June, July, and August.
They offer tons of slots and table games, as well as dog racing. Like most casinos, their food is a big attraction too, so consider going for lunch or dinner.
12. Belz Museum of Asian & Judaic Art
Memphis isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about Asian and Judaic art, but South Main Street is home to a rare gem of a museum with collections focused on those very things.
Admission is inexpensive – free for kids under five – and the museum is full of amazing art in a number of different mediums. It’s usually not as crowded as other local attractions.
They often host instructional and educational classes for local school children, and there’s a great gift shop on site too if you’d like to pick up a keepsake or two before heading out.
13. The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange
They say cash is king, but for much of the modern history of the American south, cotton that was king.
The area was full of large plantations that harvested the cash crop, mostly with slave labor; the city’s Cotton Exchange was where nearly all of it was bought and sold on the open market.
Located in downtown Memphis not far from Beale Street, it’s full of character and history that harkens back to an interesting time in history.
It’s full of displays, equipment, and interactive exhibits, and will give guests a thorough insight into how the important material made it from the farm into the things we use in our lives every day.
14. Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum
Built in the 1870s, the Woodruff-Fontaine House is a mansion with nearly 20 rooms. It’s full of antiques and housewares that were considered very opulent by the standards of the day.
Built in the Victorian era, the house has been refurbished over the years to make sure that its important architectural characteristics remain intact.
Guided tours are the way to go; your guide will impress you with his or her knowledge of the home’s history and how it relates to the city as a whole.
Plan on spending between 60 and 90 minutes to enjoy all there is to see.
15. Mud Island River Park
Consisting of nearly 60 acres of land in the middle of the river, the Mud Island River Park is accessible only by a pedestrian bridge. In addition to the museum mentioned above, it’s a popular destination for those looking to get outside and stretch their legs without traveling far from the city center.
There are a few nice restaurants, shops, and coffee shops as well, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon with a cappuccino and a good book, waiting for the sun to set.
The bridge crosses over onto Memphis’ North Front Street, and the walk across takes just a few minutes.