Updated: Aug 26, 2019
Welcome to our Memphis Travel Guide, this is Part Five of this series.
On this episode we will provide you with information about visiting Memphis' top attraction - Graceland.
Graceland Farms was originally owned by Stephen C. Toof, founder of S.C. Toof & Co., the oldest commercial printing firm in Memphis, who was previously the pressroom foreman of the Memphis newspaper, the Memphis Daily Appeal. The "grounds" (before the mansion home was built in 1939) was named after Toof's daughter, Grace. She inherited the farm/grounds from her father in 1894. After her death, the property was passed down to her niece Ruth Moore, a Memphis socialite, who together with her husband, Thomas Moore, built a 10,266 square foot Colonial Revival style mansion in 1939.
After Elvis Presley began his musical career, he purchased a $40,000 home for himself and his family at 1034 Audubon Drive in Memphis. As his fame grew, especially after his appearances on television, the number of fans that would congregate outside the house multiplied. Presley's neighbors, most of whom were happy to have a celebrity living nearby, soon came to find the constant gathering of fans and journalists a nuisance. After several complaints, Presley decided it was necessary for him to move to a property more suitable.
In early 1957, Presley gave his parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley, a $100,000 budget, and asked them to find a "farmhouse" type property to purchase. At the time, Graceland was located several miles beyond Memphis' main urban area. In later years, Memphis would expand with housing, resulting in Graceland being surrounded by other properties. Presley purchased Graceland on March 19, 1957 for the amount of $102,500. which is nearly million in today's money.
Graceland would remain Elvis' home until he died in 1977 and today remains one of the best kept rock n roll museum-homes of all time. Elvis fans flock to the house to get a peek into Elvis' life and those not too fond or too young to remember the music, the actor and the entertainer, will also be surprised that this is a fun tour with a lot to see and do. Even if you are traveling with younger children, you will find that the house and museum is accommodating, and includes personal ipads with children specific themes.
And that is what is great about Graceland – it is very accessible for the young, the old and those with physical disabilities.
Graceland is open from 9-5 each day, but there are specific days and holidays in which it is closed, or that the hours of operation change. It is best to check with the official web site for updates and special schedules.
The ticket office opens promptly at 8:30 and staff are more than welcoming, engaging and helpful in determining what tour you should do.
Once you have your ticket in hand you can proceed to a waiting area in which while waiting to board a motorcoach, you are provided headsets and a personal ipad. The ipad will offer up an interactive experience once you enter through Graceland's doors. It is narrated by actor John Stamos and provides information, insight and interactive elements such as photos and videos. It is really simple to use and is an outstanding inclusion on the tour.
The bus ride to Graceland takes less than 5 minutes from the ticket boarding area. Once inside you are guided through the house, at your own pace.
Once inside Graceland you are immersed in Elvis' personal world. John Stamos narrates the salient events of Elvis’s life and introduce the relics that adorn the rooms and corridors. The story celebrates the life of an extraordinary man, emphasizing his generosity, his kindness and good fellowship, how he was at once a poor boy who made good, an extraordinary musical talent, a sinner and substance abuser, and a religious man devoted to the Gospel and its music.
One is able to visit the entire house, except for the top floor which is off limits. The rooms in the upper floor have been kept a sanctuary and left just the same as Elvis had had them when he died. They also decided to not allow tourists on the top floor because they did not want the focus on the house to be on the bathroom floor where Elvis had collapsed and died.
After visiting the main house you can also tour parts of the yard, the swimming area, Vernon's Office, the record room, and the racquetball court area. The entire house tour can take up to 2 hours and once you are completed you can board a bus back to the main ticket area where you will now begin to go through a series of brand new museums and buildings dedicated to Elvis.
First up is the Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum where you immerse yourself in Elvis’ incredible career through hundreds of artifacts and photos from significant events in his life, as you tour the extensive Graceland Archives, including Elvis’ amazing collection of gold and platinum records, his stunning jumpsuits, and other clothing, memorabilia from his movies, and more! The museum is massive so be prepared to do a lot of walking.
Up next is the Presley Motors Automobile Museum where you walk among some of Elvis’ favorite automobiles, including his iconic Pink Cadillac, Stutz Blackhawk, 1956 Cadillac Eldorado, Dino Ferrari, Mercedes Benz limousine, Rolls Royce sedans and more. Elvis had some great taste in cars and he had some of the most unusual as well. This is a fantastic museum that is very open so crowds will not be an issue.
And there is the Elvis Discovery Exhibits. It is a themed discovery space showcase Elvis’ influences, important facets of his incredible life, and his role in launching a music and pop culture revolution. Elvis Discovery Exhibits include:
Presley Cycles Exhibit
Icons: The Influence of Elvis Presley Exhibit
Mystery Train: Celebrating Sam Phillips Exhibit
Elvis’ Tupelo Exhibit
The Country Road to Rock: The Marty Stuart Collection
Private Presley Exhibit Archives Experience
Elvis Fashion Exhibit
Graceland Soundstage A
The whole area is enclosed and is designed to look like an old fashioned street and includes restaurants and cafes as well as a lot of souvenir shops.
Some of the restaurants include Vernon's Smokehouse, Glady's Diner, and Minnie Mae's Sweets. You will find all the dining options to have inflated prices and the food quality is not that great.
Likewise all the merchandise is priced higher than in other retail locations. For the best priced souvenirs I would suggest visiting Boulevard Souvenirs which is just a short walk from the main gates of Graceland. Here you will find great customer service as well as the very best prices.
For dining options I would wait until outside of the museum area and head to Marlow's Ribs and Restaurant just south of Graceland.
Just outside the main museums is another section devoted to some of Elvis' planes.
Step aboard Elvis’ customized airplanes to see how he traveled in luxury. The Lisa Marie includes a living room, conference room, private bedroom and features gold-plated seatbelts, leather-covered tables and 24-karat gold-flecked sinks. Plus, you can take a glimpse at Elvis’ smaller Lockheed Jetstar, the Hound Dog II. There is an additional charge to see the planes, but it is certainly worth it.
The museums will take an extra 2 to 3 hours to visit and be prepared to do a lot of walking.
Graceland is a very, very busy attraction, being the second most visited home in the United States, the first being The White House.
We arrived first thing in the morning and got our tickets promptly at 8:30 and yet, we were the second full motorcoach to arrive at the house. Behind us the lines and buses were full. I would suggest visiting in the morning or at 2pm when the crowds have already built up and gone through.
During Elvis week and other key celebrations be prepared for long lines and crowded rooms. You can also avoid ticket lines by buying tickets online.
Parking at Graceland is $10, which includes security. There is also free parking a short distance away by the RocknRoll Cafe and the shops around it – called Graceland Crossing. There are about 80 spaces, but keep in mind, these businesses pay for the parking area and it would be kind of you to visit them on your way in and out of Graceland.
Additionally, you can also get a free shuttle from Sun Studios if you are visiting that attraction avoiding driving and parking fees.
If you don't want to visit any of the museums and interior of the Graceland mansion, you can still stop by the iconic front gates and get a photo. You can also visit the meditation garden, where Elvis and his family are buried free of charge.
There is currently a $4 off per ticket coupon available online and in the past there have even been 50% off coupons available. It is best to check online before you make any purchases. Only coupons from Graceland itself are accepted.
A visit to Memphis without a visit to Graceland, to some is sacrilegious. It is an absolute must do attraction for any Elvis fan or for anyone who loves music and rock-n-roll. For some of those on the tour with us, it was their 50th visit to the home.
It is easy to see why it is so popular. It is fun, educational, inspiring and motivational.
Until Next time, happy travels.
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