The author, Elizabeth Demolat at the rooftop bar of White Limozeen in Nashville

Nashville vs Memphis Compared (By a Tennessee Local)

Nashville vs Memphis, which is right for you? Travelers come to both cities for their rich cultural history and live music venues, but the two cities have very different atmospheres. 

Deciding whether to visit Nashville or Memphis can be a difficult choice. Memphis and Nashville are two of the best places to visit in Tennessee, and as the two biggest cities in Tennessee, each has a lot to offer visitors.

As a Tennessee local, I’m here to give you the highlights of each city and help you make the decision about which one is best for your visit. Here’s what you need to know about Memphis vs Nashville!

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Which is Better Memphis or Nashville? 

Clear blue sky over a mural on a building in Memphis
A mural in Memphis

Nashville is a more popular destination compared to Memphis. Both Nashville and Memphis have lots of interesting things to do, and both are worth visiting. Nashville is a music industry hub, has amazing restaurants, and is a great place to visit with kids. 

Memphis has a unique vibe you won’t experience anywhere else. Memphis is full of sites with national historic significance, and Memphis is typically more budget-friendly and less crowded. However, Memphis isn’t set up to cater to visitors as much as Nashville.

Advantages of Nashville 

  • Music hub
  • Iconic music history
  • Family-friendly attractions
  • Wide variety of restaurants
  • Outdoor activities

Advantages of Memphis 

  • Legendary music history
  • Historical landmarks
  • Less costly
  • Fewer crowds

Nashville is Best For

  • Destination concerts
  • Family vacations
  • Bachelorette parties
  • Weekend getaways

Memphis is Best For

  • Budget travelers
  • Day trips
  • Fans of Blues music

Memphis vs Nashville – Detailed Comparison 

Memphis and Nashville are both worth visiting. It just depends on what kind of trip you want to have to decide which one is the best for you.

In the table below, I compare cost & budget, things to do, the music scene, food, family-friendliness, and crowds. Keep reading further for a more detailed overview of each category.

Feature/CategoryNashvilleMemphis🏆 Winner
Cost & BudgetHotels, transportation, and food can get priceyMore budget options availableMemphis
Things to DoGreat museums, outdoor spaces, and activities for all interestsInteresting museums and historical landmarksTie
Music SceneA music industry hub with iconic music venues and live music eventsSeveral great music venues and a rich musical heritage. Home of the Blues. Nashville
FoodNashville hot chicken + a wide range of restaurantsMemphis BBQ + a number of great restaurantsNashville
Family FriendlinessHands-on museums, playgrounds and parks, and a water parkInteresting activities, outdoor spaces, and a chance to watch the duck marchNashville
CrowdsExtremely busy during holidays and the summerFewer events that draw massive crowdsMemphis

Nashville vs Memphis: Cost & Budget

The author, Elizabeth Demolat holding a vintage mic at the Sun Studios in Memphis
Me at Sun Studios in Memphis

While it is possible to do Nashville on a budget, many travel expenses are lower in Memphis than in Nashville. On average, Memphis hotels are cheaper than similar quality hotels in Nashville. You’re also able to find high-quality restaurants charging lower prices in Memphis.

The price of flights depends on where you’re coming from, but overall, it’s easy to keep costs lower in Memphis when you consider all the expenses put together.

🏆 Winner: Memphis

Nashville vs Memphis: Things to Do

Cars parked in front of the Lorraine Motel building
The Lorraine Motel at the National Civil Rights Museum

Both Nashville and Memphis have lots of activities for visitors to do, especially visitors who are interested in the music industry and music history. Activities in Nashville include the Country Music Hall of Fame, the National Museum of African American Music, the Johnny Cash Museum, and the Frist Art Museum.

In Memphis, you’ll find everything from the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr at the National Civil Rights Museum to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. For more, see my guide to the top things to do in Memphis.

Because Memphis and Nashville are both decent size cities, they both have something for almost every interest.

🏆 Winner: Tie

Nashville vs Memphis: Music Scene

The author, Elizabeth Demolat smiling for a photo outside the Grimey’s Record Store in Nashville
Me at Grimey’s Record Store in Nashville

There’s a reason Nashville has the nickname Music City and that Memphis is called the Home of the Blues. Both Memphis and Nashville have an incredible music history and continue to produce new artists today.

Today Nashville is best known for country music, and the city is home to venues like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry House. You can also listen to artists of all kinds of genres performing at Honky Tonks on Broadway and at other spaces across the city every night of the week. 

People move to Nashville to break into the music scene and that’s obvious from the live music you’ll find there. Also, there are 4 times as many people working in the music industry in Nashville than in any other American city. [Source]

Memphis is associated with the Blues and soul music as well as hip-hop and other genres. You can listen to live music at venues like BB King’s Blues Club on Beale Street or at Overton Park Shell where Elvis Presley had his first concert. Music lovers should also visit the iconic Sun Studios, which is still a working recording studio today.

🏆 Winner: Nashville

Nashville vs Memphis: Food

View of the entrance going to Rendezvous in Memphis
Rendezvous, a famous spot for Memphis BBQ

Memphis has a lot of really good things going for it when it comes to food. Memphis BBQ is an iconic dish and the city is known for having classic southern food. Also, because Memphis typically sees fewer tourists than Nashville, I’ve noticed that wait times for popular Memphis restaurants are not as long as some restaurants in Nashville.

That being said, I’m going to state the controversial opinion that Nashville has better food. Nashville’s must-try foods include hot chicken, and you’ll find decent BBQ as well. Nashville restaurants serve everything from shrimp and grits to ramen, and Nashville has a number of James Beard Award Winners. Plus, Nashville has an incredible brunch scene.

You eat well in either southern city, but to me, Nashville has a slight edge on Memphis. Just be prepared to wait in line.

🏆 Winner: Nashville

Memphis vs Nashville: Family Friendliness

View of slides at the Woodmont Park in Nashville
Woodmont Park in Nashville’s Green Hills neighborhood

While Nashville and Memphis both have activities that are fun for the whole family, Nashville has a wider range of family-friendly activities due to its size. 

Kid-friendly activities in Nashville include going to the Nashville Zoo, visiting the children’s area in the Tennessee State Museum, and experimenting at the Adventure Science Museum. You’ll find playgrounds and parks in almost every part of Nashville. Plus, there are even two water parks in Nashville–SoundWaves at the Opryland Resort and the Nashville Shores Waterpark.

Of course, you’ll still find activities in Memphis to do with kids as well. Visitors can go to the Memphis Zoo, see the buffalo at Shelby Farms Park, and play at the Children’s Museum. No visit to Memphis with kids is complete without stopping at the Peabody Hotel to see the famous march of the ducks.

🏆 Winner: Nashville

Memphis vs Nashville: Crowds

View of a trolley at Downtown Memphis
The trolley in Downtown Memphis

One of the biggest downsides to visiting Nashville is the crowds. You’ll find a few Nashville neighborhoods that are quiet, but downtown Nashville is almost always busy. Check out my guide to when to visit Nashville to find out when the slow season is, but even the slow season isn’t that slow.

Memphis has some crowds, especially during special events and festivals. But downtown Memphis and Beale Street are rarely as busy as you’d find in Nashville during the same season. 

🏆 Winner: Memphis

Final Verdict – Memphis vs Nashville

View of people at night during a concert in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium
A concert at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium

Both Nashville and Memphis are good destinations for visitors who are interested in music and music history. And, there’s no shortage of activities to do in either one.

Nashville receives a higher number of visitors each year, and the city is set up to accommodate those visitors. There’s just so much to do including restaurants and shopping. This is the place to go if you’re interested in visiting a trendy, popular destination. It’s also a good option if you’re traveling with children.

Memphis is the better option for visitors who want to visit a really interesting Tennessee city without the excessive costs and crowds. In my experience, Memphis is an underrated destination.

FAQs About Nashville vs Memphis

Is food better in Memphis or Nashville?

Both Memphis and Nashville have really good southern food. Nashville has a wider variety of restaurants as well as several James Beard Award Winners.

Is Nashville or Memphis cheaper?

The cost of visiting Memphis is usually cheaper. While you can find some deals in Nashville, you’ll generally pay more for the same level of hotels, transportation, and restaurants in Nashville than in Memphis.

How big is Nashville vs Memphis?

Nashville surpassed Memphis as the biggest city in Tennessee in 2017 and has continued growing since then. There are more than 700,000 residents in Nashville with an even larger metro area compared to Memphis’s 630,000 residents.

Why is Nashville so popular?

Nashville has all the attractions of a large city with plenty of things to do, great food, and a family-friendly atmosphere while still keeping the charm it originally had as a small town.

👉 Read Next: How to Get to Memphis from Nashville


Thanks for reading my guide to Nashville vs Memphis. Hopefully, you have a better idea of which city is the best fit for you! Before you go, be sure to find out when the best time to visit Tennessee is.

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  1. No, no. Memphis food is so much better. Sorry. (Yes I’m biased… i grew up in memphis). Also, the Memphis Zoo, in my opinion, is one of the best in the nation… and far, far better than Nashville. Then there’s the grizzlies. Nashvile has simply gotten too expensive.
    Also, i now live now in upper east tennessee. When it comes to visitors, don’t forget Tennessee has the Great Smokey Mountains NP, the most visited national park in the nation.

    1. Thanks for commenting, David! I agree the food in Memphis is very good, too. Also, thanks for mentioning the Memphis Grizzlies. I’ve heard the games are fun to attend!

    2. David, the Memphis Zoo is not just your opinion. It is ranked as one of the top zoos in the nation. The children’s museum of Memphis is awesome. I kept a membership before the additions and the additions are very cool. Admittedly, I never have been to the children’s discovery centers she mentions, but boy she really downplays Memphis. One of the fun things Memphis has is the Bass Pro in the Pyramid. Definitely worth a trip to the Observation deck. And yes – the food in Memphis is Epic. I have never been impressed with dining in Nashville. However, if the brunch scene is that good, I would definitely be interested in a few weekend trips.

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