Situated along the banks of the Mississippi River in the southwest corner of Tennessee, Memphis has more claims to fame than any one American city should have a right to claim. The city is known as the birthplace of the blues, rock and roll, the American civil rights movement and pork barbecue. Its residents enjoy inviting weather, river views, an extensive network of parks and green spaces, and even a wealth of culture, music, art, and history.
Whether you're a young professional relocating for work or a couple looking for the perfect place to launch your own business, Memphis offers a wealth of opportunities and recreational experiences to savor. This guide will take you through what you need to know about living in Memphis, including the cost of living, the best neighborhoods and the most interesting things to do, indoors and out.
1. Living in Memphis: An Overview
The city of Memphis melds the energy of a busy metro area with the gentle rhythm of the rural South. Steeped in history and culture, it offers residents a vibrant mix of arts, music, history and a deep reverence for their roots and their community. The sense of community and attention to history fosters a small-town atmosphere that's inviting to families and retirees, while the rich cultural scene and vibrant nightlife make it attractive to artists and creatives looking to launch careers and surround themselves with inspiration.
As one of the largest majority-Black cities in the country, Memphis has also played a significant role in the civil rights movement and has long been a center of Black culture and excellence. Established in 1991 on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the National Civil Rights Museum welcomes visitors to learn about the history of civil rights and the place of Black artists, inventors and innovators in the history of our country.
Thanks to forward-thinking residents who recognize and revere the past, Memphis is also on the forefront of preserving green space and making it accessible to all.
Population in Memphis
With a population of 633,104, Memphis is home to nearly 10% of the total population of Tennessee. While the population declined slightly from 2010 to 2020, the renewed commitment to community investment has brought an influx of new residents to take advantage of the educational, cultural and economic opportunities available. Nearly 60% of the working age residents are involved in white-collar trades, but there's a healthy respect for working-class individuals and families, with a number of neighborhoods providing affordable housing in both single-family and multi-family units.
- Population: 650,980 (2022)
- Diversity: 29.2% white, 64.1% Black, 0.2% American Indian or Alaska Native, 1.7% Asian, 7.2% Hispanic or Latino
- Primary language: English
Weather in Memphis
- Highest temperature: 91°F (July)
- Lowest temperature: 34°F (January)
- Warmest months: late July to mid-September
- Coolest months: early December to late February
With mild winters and four distinct seasons, Memphis is a comfortable place to live and work throughout the year. The average annual temperature is a mild 62°F, and the city features sunny skies for about 64% of its daylight hours, making it the ideal place for folks who love the outdoors. The best times to visit Memphis are the spring and fall months, when cooler, dryer temperatures invite outside activities, of which the city has plenty to offer.
2. What’s the Cost of Living in Memphis?
With an average monthly living cost of about $1,600 balanced by a median after-tax salary of just over $3,000, Memphis is a surprisingly affordable city. In fact, it's been listed among the top 2% of best cities to live in the world. Both rent and mortgage costs are reasonable, groceries are affordable, and a meal for two in a nice restaurant will only set you back about $50.
- Housing: $170,000 median sale price
- Average number of days on the market: 36
- Rent (one-bedroom): $984 per month
- Utilities: $173.03 per month
How Expensive Is Renting in Memphis?
Like most other cities of its size, Memphis has seen an unprecedented rise in the cost of rental housing. According to Realtor.com, median rents increased by 23% from June 2020 to July 2021. That said, the current median rents in Memphis — $995 for a studio, $1,125 for a one-bedroom, and $1210 for a two-bedroom — are still considerably lower than the median rents in nearby cities.
The most expensive neighborhoods to rent in are in the rapidly developing Midtown and Downtown neighborhoods, with their high concentration of young professionals and historic homes. The most affordable neighborhoods are in the southern area of the city, including Whitehaven, North Parkway Village, and Southeast Memphis, where renters can find one-bedroom apartments for as little as $530.
3. The Best Neighborhoods in Memphis
Memphis’ neighborhoods reflect the city's diversity, culture and rich history, offering the perfect place to put down your roots, no matter what your preferred vibe is. From the busy bustle of downtown to the suburban neighborhood streets of Germantown, there's a neighborhood that will suit your lifestyle and your family. These are five of the most popular Memphis neighborhoods.
- Downtown Memphis
Business district by day, entertainment hub by night, Downtown Memphis is the place to be for young singles, retirees and families who enjoy being right smack dab in the middle of one of the most culturally eclectic cities in the world. Drawn by opportunities with Fortune 500 companies, medical technology pioneers and a growing group of vital entrepreneurs, the neighbors are nearly as eclectic as the neighborhood itself. Downtown encompasses much of the diversity and rich culture that characterizes Memphis — a thriving music and arts scene, some of the best barbecue you'll ever taste, and world-class shopping and entertainment.
- Population: 19,721
- Average household income: $64,652 (Median: $20,409)
- Cost of living: $179,428 median house price + $1,375 median rent
- Places to check out: Beale Street, Sun Studio, B.B. King's Blues Club, the National Civil Rights Museum
While it's part of the Midtown neighborhood, the Cooper-Young Historic District deserves its own mention. Billing itself as "historically hip," the area is an up-and-coming working-class residential neighborhood that is reinventing itself as the mecca of all things musical, funky and fun. In addition to being home to some of the city's best-loved local dining spots and music clubs, Cooper-Young hosts a number of annual music and art festivals, including the famous Gonerfest, a staple for lovers of garage and psyche rock. The neighbors are a mix of artists, entrepreneurs and long-time residents who all mingle and mix at the district's renowned locally owned restaurants, diners and pubs.
- Population: 4,826
- Average household income: $66,657
- Cost of living: $245,500 median house price + $927 median rent
- Places to check out: Bar DKDC, Burke's Books, Memphis Drum Shop, Goner Records
Between the bustle of downtown and the laid-back suburban vibe of East Memphis, Midtown is a collection of historic homes and new/newly renovated construction that capture the vibrant spirit that is the soul of Memphis. Thrillist has called it "perhaps the most diverse neighborhood in Memphis," which is saying a lot for a city that's famous for its diversity. Midtown's historic homes and industrial buildings have attracted a range of entrepreneurs, artists and young professionals who appreciate the vibrant music and arts scene.
- Population: 85,852
- Average household income: $69,816 (Median: $38,868)
- Cost of living: $232,500 median house price + $1,024 median rent
- Places to check out: Memphis Zoo, Overton Park, Brooks Museum of Art, The Bar-B-Q Shop
Best known as home to Graceland, Elvis' iconic home, Whitehaven has a lot to offer those who choose to make the neighborhood their home. The largest neighborhood in South Memphis, Whitehaven is a majority African-American middle-class neighborhood with high homeownership and a highly involved community. The low housing prices and easy commute to downtown Memphis — as well as its proximity to some of the area's largest employers — have made Whitehaven an increasingly popular choice for working-class families and individuals.
- Population: 40,301
- Average household income: $50,537 (Median: 37,126)
- Cost of living: $111,250 median house price + $646 median rent
- Places to check out: Graceland (of course!), Pose 901 Selfie Studio, The Links at Whitehaven
Technically not a part of Memphis, Germantown nonetheless always ranks high in any listing of the most desirable neighborhoods in Memphis. The small suburb borders Memphis to the east/southeast and is just a 20-minute drive from downtown, but it may as well be in a different world. Germantown prides itself on its friendly community, low crime rates, excellent schools, and wholesome family-friendly activities. If you're looking for a little slice of small-town USA with easy access to the sparkling nightlife and rich culture of the city that brought the blues to the world, you couldn't pick a better place to settle than Germantown.
4. What Are the Best High Schools in Memphis?
The city of Memphis is served by eight public school districts, including charter and magnet schools that are open to residents from any area of the city. The city's public schools underwent a major reorganization beginning in 2011, and many Memphis high schools rate highly on the lists of best schools in the country. That said, the bare numbers don't always reflect the reality of what happens in the schools. If you have children who will attend the Memphis Public Schools, be sure to learn about all the school choice options that are available to them. Many of the magnet and public charter schools offer highly individualized attention and special courses. These are five of the top high schools to consider in Memphis, TN.
- Type - Public
- Average graduation rate - 90%
- Average SAT - 1350
- Average ACT - 27
- Student-teacher ratio - 17:1
- Type - Public
- Average graduation rate - 95%
- Average SAT - 1200
- Average ACT - 23
- Student-teacher ratio - 15:1
- Type - Public
- Average graduation rate - 90%
- Average SAT - N/A
- Average ACT - 21
- Student-teacher ratio - 11:1
- Type - Public charter
- Average graduation rate - 92%
- Average SAT - N/A
- Average ACT - 20
- Student-teacher ratio - 17:1
- Type - Public magnet
- Average graduation rate - 98%
- Average SAT - 1250
- Average ACT - 24
- Student-teacher ratio - 19:1
5. The Job Market in Memphis
The Memphis job market is hot, with a number of international corporations driving job growth of nearly 3% from 2018 to 2020. As a major multimodal transportation hub — and the international headquarters of FedEx — it's no surprise that transportation and warehousing jobs make up a large segment of available employment, employing more than 40,000 people. Memphis is also home to internationally renowned St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, driving the employment of health care professionals, educators, researchers and support staff. Overall, according to a May 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, Memphis residents make about $49,966 annually, less than the $56,305 national median wage.
The most common occupations in Memphis (with median salary) are:
- Transportation and Materials Movement - $37,419
- Healthcare Practitioners and Technical - $71,988
- Protective Service - $41,059
- Office and Administrative Support - $39,499
- Food Preparation and Serving Related - $23,233
Learn more about these top employers listed by We Are Memphis:
- International Paper
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
- XPO Logistics Supply Chain
Here are some places you can find open positions in Memphis:
6. The Best Things to Do in Memphis
With its cultural and artistic diversity, alongside the city's rich history as the cradle that birthed the blues and rock and roll, there's no shortage of music festivals and venues in Memphis — but that barely scratches the surface of things to do in this city. The mild climate and nearly constant sunshine also make Memphis a mecca for those who love the outdoors. Check out this list of fun things to do in Memphis, along with a smattering of the best places to grab some of the city's most famous fare.
- Bike One of Memphis' Trails. With more than 60 miles of biking trails, including multiple protected greenways, Memphis is a biker's paradise. Explore Bike Share stations located around the city make it easy to enjoy the trails even if you don't own a bicycle. Some of the local favorite biking trails include:
- Take a Treetop Hike. Why keep your fun at ground level when you can — literally — take it to the treetops? Go Ape Treetop Adventure at Shelby Farms Park offers a variety of treetop activities, ranging from a casual hike along the catwalks to an obstacle course, as well as a zipline and an ax-throwing activity to appeal to the lumberjack inside you.
- Enjoy the Evening Bridge Light Show. Memphis offers some of the best views of the Mississippi River, and you can catch the sunset from various spots around town — but it also offers the Mighty Lights, a light show you won't see anywhere else in the world. Each evening, the iconic arches of the Hernando de Soto Bridge and Big River Crossing light up with a spectacular LED light show. The show is visible from any point along the riverfront and runs for about 10 minutes every half hour between sundown and 10:30 p.m.
Parks and Attractions
- Memphis Botanic Garden. There's a lot more to the Memphis Botanic Garden than artfully planted flowers and plants. Every week throughout the year, the Garden offers a wide-ranging list of activities for visitors of all ages. You can spend a morning working with clay to create your own unique bird feeder on a Sunday afternoon, take a class in herb lore from the Herb Garden curator or sign your kids up for vacation week botanical camp, and that's just for starters. The Memphis Botanic Garden is also available as an event venue accommodating private groups as small as two or as large as 600.
- Shelby Farms Park. With more than 4,500 acres of urban greenspace, Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country. In addition to 40 miles of trails for hiking, biking and walking, the park has 20 bodies of water for fishing, a kids Discovery Playground and a Water Spray Playground and a herd of buffalo. Shelby Farms also has facilities for laser tag, paintball, horseback riding and treetop adventures. Dogs are welcome — as they are in most Memphis parks — and there's even an off-leash playground for them to enjoy. The park is available for private events, with rental fees going to support park operations.
- Memphis River Parks. Memphis River Parks is part of a unique collaboration — a nonprofit organization that stewards the riverfront on behalf of the people of Memphis. It works with a corps of committed volunteers, ambassadors, and paid team members to maintain and develop more than fove miles of riverfront parks. Thanks to their dedication, the Memphis River Parks play host to a variety of annual events and festivals to honor the music, history and culture of the city of Memphis.
Historic Sites and Attractions
- National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. Created on the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel is noted as one of the nation's premier heritage and cultural museums. Established in 1991, it offers visitors the chance to walk through the history of the civil rights movement in the United States through dynamic interactive exhibits, lectures, historic collections and special events. It honors and preserves the legacy of Dr. King in the city that is often called the birthplace of the civil rights movement.
- Graceland. No visit to Memphis would be complete without an excursion to Graceland, the home of the legendary performer, Elvis Presley. Located in Southeast Memphis, Graceland welcomes more than 600,000 visitors annually — more than 20 million guests since it first opened to the public in 1982. Besides touring the grounds and mansion, guests can book a stay at the Guesthouse at Graceland, get married in the Chapel of Love, or attend one of dozens of entertainment events held at the Graceland Exhibition Center or the Soundstage at Graceland.
- Sun Studio. Memphis birthed more than one music legend, and legendary Sun Studio was part of many of their stories. Known as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, Sun Studio was the discovery place of such 50s music legends as B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis himself. Stand where the King stood when he first recorded, and listen to outtakes from historic recording sessions featuring some of the best-known names in rock and blues history. For budding artists and serious music buffs, the studio is available for recording sessions after the museum closes in the evening.
Places to Eat
- The Bar-B-Q Shop. Featured on multiple Food Network shows, and voted the Best Ribs in America by their "Top Five Restaurants" show, the Bar-B-Q Shop should be on the must-visit list for any lover of barbecue. The signature Dancing Pigs sauces and spice rubs are available for order, but nothing compares sitting down to a plateful of their pulled pork barbecue on Texas toast in its Midtown storefront eatery.
- Hammer & Ale. Voted one of the best beer bars in Memphis, Hammer & Ale combines a laid-back atmosphere with an array of carefully curated craft beers, many of them local, on tap. Enjoy a tankard with one of their specially crafted sandwiches or fill a growler to take home, just don't miss out on this gem.
- Gus' World Famous Fried Chicken. Gus' World Famous Fried Chicken has been a Memphis tradition for decades and one bite of the crunchy, spicy goodness will tell you exactly why. If you can't decide between light and dark plates, split the difference with a half chicken plate, and while you're at it, order an extra side of the best baked beans ever made.
While most Memphis neighborhoods are walkable, the city itself is big and getting around it can be a challenge if you don't own or rent a car. The Memphis Area Transit Authority runs 47 bus routes and three trolley routes around the city, but locals will tell you that you're better off calling a Lyft or Uber, especially if you want to go somewhere in the evening — the MATA shuts down around 7 p.m. To make matters worse, the bus routes can be confusing, especially if you're not familiar with the city. The city does provide a trip-planning service and a tracking app to make it a little less painful. If you're interested in sightseeing, however, the trolley, which runs on fixed-loop routes through downtown Memphis, passing by many of the historic sites. Fares for both the trolley and the buses are $1, though there are day passes and monthly passes available to those who use the bus more frequently.
On the plus side, Memphis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the Southeast, with miles and miles of protected bike lanes and bike trails that can get you from one part of the city to another. If you don't own a bike, there are bikes available at various stations around the city via a bike-share app, and many area businesses rent bikes. If your trek is longer than a comfortable bike ride, you can even take your bike with you on the bus.
8. Planning Your Move
Thinking of moving to Memphis? Check out our guides to learn everything you need to know about packing, staging your home, and moving:
- Essential Tips for Packing and Moving While You Sell Your Old House
- Tips on Staging a Home for a Quick Sale
- The Essential Guide to Selling on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace
Be sure to download our checklists, too: