Is Graceland worth visiting? August 16th marks the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, and “The King” is more popular than ever. Below is our review of visiting Graceland, which reflect updates to the facility made recently.

The Elvis Presley Graceland home is a required pilgrimage for Elvis fans. Graceland Memphis TN is one of the most popular Memphis attractions, but with tickets ranging from roughly $40 to over $150, is Graceland worth visiting? We set out to see if a tour of the Elvis house was worth the price.

BEST VALUE: The Elvis Experience Tour

QUICK ACCESS: Elvis VIP Skip the Line

There are many different options for visiting, which we share below (along with our candid opinions). A lot depends on how much of a fan of “the King” you are, along with how much time you want to spend, and of course your budget.  If you are a fan going to Memphis to walk in the footsteps of your musical idol then Graceland is a must. If you’re just passing through and are simply curious, it may not be as high a priority. (Although we do share a free hack for a quick visit at the bottom of the post.)


We’re casual fans. I like his music but I’ve never seen one of his movies in its entirety (Larissa has–I think it’s a “girl thing”) and I owned only one of his albums. Despite this, we were pleasantly surprised to find there was plenty to see, and it was one of the best Memphis tours that we took.

Graceland Memphis|Elvis Presley Graceland|Memphis toursThe entrance to Graceland: Elvis Presley’s legendary home

Graceland Tours

There are ticket packages with different options about what you can see, which range from below $50 to over $150. Since prices are subject to change we are categorizing them into 3 general price ranges:

  • Low: Under $50
  • Moderate: $50 to $90
  • High: Over $90

1. The Graceland Mansion Only

(Price category: LOW) Includes: an audio-guided tour of Graceland, Elvis’ house, only. While this is the least expensive option, at around $40 it’s not exactly cheap; we don’t think it’s the best value.

2. The Elvis Experience Tour

(Price category: MODERATE) In our opinion, this is the best value. It’s about $20 extra, but you get to see a LOT more. This package includes the Graceland Mansion, plus full access to the all-new Elvis Presley’s Memphis Entertainment Complex, which includes three self-guided exhibits:

  • Presley Motors Automobile Museum: A great collection of Elvis’ favorite cars
  • Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum: Gold records, the funky jumpsuits and more
  • Elvis Discovery Exhibits: A collection of exhibits (some rotating) that showcase different facets of Presley’s life, such as his Army years and growing up in Tupelo, MS.

Book the Elvis Experience Tour


 3. The Elvis Experience + Airplanes Tour

(Price category: MODERATE) includes the above plus self-guided tour of Elvis’ jets–which Larissa insisted on, since she is a total plane geek. The Airplanes Tour is a few dollars extra. (Note: same tour as above, simply select the “tour the planes” add-on option.)

Book the Elvis Experience + Airplanes Tour


 4. The Elvis Entourage VIP Tour

(Price category: HIGH) includes the above plus “Front-of-the-Line” mansion access, a Keepsake Backstage Pass and a Self-guided tour of Exclusive VIP Exhibit.

Book the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour⇐  


(NOTE: Most of what you are paying for on the VIP tours is the ability to skip the line. We visited at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon in late August and there was absolutely NO line. We strolled through the house practically on our own and had the Jungle Room all to ourselves. However, if you’re visiting on a weekend, or during a special event, it may be worth the extra money.)

 5. The Elvis Entourage VIP + Airplanes Tour

(Price Category: HIGH). So you have to pay an extra few bucks to see the airplanes if you purchased only the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour. You still get the ‘Front-of-the-Line” mansion access and the backstage pass.

Book the Elvis Entourage VIP + Airplanes Tour


6. The Elvis Entourage VIP Tour (With Transportation)

(Price Category: HIGH) This is a good option if you’re staying in downtown Memphis and don’t have a car (or don’t feel like dealing with parking hassles). You get a full-day pass to the attractions listed above (Airplanes a modest surcharge), along with regularly scheduled shuttles to/from several Memphis hotels.

Book the Elvis Entourage VIP + Transportation Tour

[For those without a car in Memphis]

7. The Ultimate VIP Tour

(Price category: HIGH+). If you just won the lottery this is the tour for you. Instead of touring the mansion via a self-guided audio tour you get a personal guide plus: transportation for your tour of Graceland Mansion in special vehicle, access to Ultimate Lounge at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, options to purchase special merchandise only available to Ultimate guests, a meal with table service at one of the Elvis Presley’s Memphis restaurants, Exclusive Photo Opportunity, Personal Graceland Archives Show and Tell Session and the Keepsake Backstage pass. We didn’t take this tour, so we can’t recommend it. But to us it seems like a lot of extra doodads you could purchase at the souvenir shop, along with a meal at a restaurant that’s open to the public anyway.

Elvis Presley Pink Cadillac at Graceland|Memphis attractions

Elvis’ favorite car was this pink 1955 Cadillac he bought for his mother . . . even though she couldn’t drive!

Even if you’re not a fan we recommend the Elvis Experience Tour. It helps put the whole Elvis “Phenomenon” into context, and gives you a greater appreciation for the impact Elvis Presley made on music and pop culture in his relatively short life. You’ll see the car museum (I’m a classic car guy, and included the Presley Automobile Museum in my guide to classic car museums, so I had to see that) and a few more exhibits. If you want to pay more to go inside the airplanes is up to you. You’ll only be inside them for a few minutes tops. (Well, most people will be–Larissa was in there for half an hour!)

Graceland jungle room|Elvis Presley Graceland|Memphis tours

Ah, yes, the infamous Jungle Room at Elvis’ Graceland.

Inside Graceland: Jungle Room & more

Graceland mansion includes Elvis’ house, which is not that large for someone who was larger than life, along with the paddock with his father Vernon’s office, and racquetball court. It’s interesting to walk through the rooms where he lived (except for the off-limits second floor) and get a sense of the man, or at least his lavish taste in decoration.

The Jungle Room is legendary for what some consider its tackiness. Woe unto anyone who had the misfortune to die in the 1970s and have their design choices from that funky era of shag carpeting and garish colors be memorialized forever. On the plus side, a prerecorded guided tour with headsets is included with the admission ticket, most places charge extra for that.

The tour of the grounds ends beside the in-ground pool with a somber visit to the Meditation Garden containing the graves of Elvis and his family. A stone marker also commemorates his twin brother Jesse, who was stillborn. [Note: If you simply want to pay your respects, here’s a free hack: the Meditation Garden is open daily from 7:30am to 8:30am for free walk-up visits.]

elvis grave graceland|Elvis Presley Graceland|Memphis attractions

Elvis’ tomb. He is buried here, along with his family, including his twin brother Jesse (who was stillborn). 2017 is the 40th anniversary of the Elvis Presley death.

Elvis Presley’s Memphis: multiple museums and displays

On the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, you’ll find Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a recently-opened entertainment complex that houses the other museums and exhibits. [These are included in all tour packages except the “Mansion only” tour.] This is where you’ll find Elvis’ collection of gold records and those famous jumpsuits.

Other displays include videos of his early TV appearances and costumes and memorabilia from his movies. You can also see the outfits that he and Priscilla wore for their wedding. (BTW, if you’re seeking a gift for the Elvis fan in your life, those costumes shown at the top of this post are available in the gift shop for a mere $2,000 and up.)

There are also two restaurants–Vernon’s Smokehouse and Velma’s Diner–along with a coffee shop. This makes it easy to pace yourself through the many exhibits. We took a break, had a peanut butter & banana sandwich (Elvis’ fave) at Velma’s, and were refreshed and ready to continue exploring.

graceland racquetball court|Elvis Presley Graceland|Memphis tours

Jumpsuits and gold records: a hunk a hunk o’ burnin’ love.

Visiting Graceland: Practical Stuff

The Graceland tour is well organized. The ticket office, museums, jets, gift shops, restaurants and rotating displays are on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, while the mansion is across the road. Visitors board shuttle buses to enter the mansion grounds. Once you’re over there, it’s just the house, some outbuildings and the Meditation Garden, so it is not overrun by commercialism.

One negative aspect was the parking charge. I could understand this during busy times and festivals, but on a midweek afternoon the lot was virtually empty and we still had to pay $10–effectively adding five bucks to each of our admissions. I wasn’t too happy about that. It looked like there might have been free spaces on the street, but we didn’t discover that until later.

Graceland Hours: Monday-Saturday from 9am to 5pm; Sunday 9am to 4pm for most of the year. Winter hours and holidays might be shorter–best to check the website.

Graceland Address: 3765 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis, TN 38116 (about 20 minutes south of downtown Memphis)

Where to Stay: There are several hotels near Graceland. Check Prices!

For the full immersion experience, the best choice would be The Guesthouse at Graceland, which is part of the Graceland complex. (It didn’t open until after our visit, but you can bet we’re going to try it the next time we’re in town!)

fried peanut butter and banana sandwich|Elvis Presley Graceland|Memphis attractions If you made it this far you may as well stop at Gladys’ Diner for The King’s favorite sandwich: fried peanut butter and banana.

Our Verdict

So is visiting Graceland worth it? While it depends on your level of fandom–and we’re not crazy fans–we still felt it was worthwhile. It’s not like visiting a zoo or fine arts museum, which you can find in any major city. There is only one home of King of Rock and Roll; Graceland is unique and we’re glad we went.

For more opinions on whether Graceland is worth seeing here is a discussion on Fodors.

🎶 I saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue

Followed him up to the gates of Graceland

Then I watched him walk right through

Now, security did not see him

They just hovered round his tomb

But there’s a pretty little thing

Waiting for the King

Down in the Jungle Room 🎶

~Marc Cohn, from his song Walking in Memphis

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!

Is graceland worth visiting|Elvis Presley Graceland|Graceland Memphis TN|Memphis attractions

28581550060_131210d7e7_mWe’re Larissa and Michael: your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

I must confess that I am not an opera fan but I found visiting the Luciano Pavarotti Home in Italy to be fascinating; sort of like Graceland for opera buffs. Recently opened to the public, the museum is set in a bucolic setting on a one-lane road outside his childhood home of Modena. Though he became one of the most famous people in the world who traveled everywhere, he was still a hometown boy at heart.

Luciano Pavarotti House Museum exterior

The house where he lived for the final years of his life, and where he died in 2007, is entirely open to visitors. This compares to Graceland where Presley’s second floor living quarters are off-limits.

Pavarotti House Museum in Italy

The audio guide that comes with admission shares the tenor’s role in designing the house and background information on the exhibits.

Pavarotti house museum kitchen

Visitors also learn about Pavarotti’s signature handkerchief which he always clutched in his hand during performances. He used it in his early years to overcome nervousness about performing. You’ll see them in his walk-in bedroom closet along with Pavarotti’s omnipresent Panama hats and Hermes scarves.

Pavarotti Hawaiian shirt

I didn’t realize that Pavarotti was also an accomplished painter. Many of his colorful paintings are on display as well as the equally colorful Hawaiian shirts he loved to wear offstage.

Pavarotti home costumes

Costumes from his key roles, revealing that he was not just a big man in girth but rather tall too.

Pavarotti Museum piano

An exhibit of letters from the great singer’s friends reads like who’s who of world celebrities and includes Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, Bono and Bruce Springsteen. A room covered with pillows on the floor to sit on shows home movies of Pavarotti vamping it up around the house and getting ready backstage for his performances. In his unguarded moments you can see how much he enjoyed life and being around people.

During the tour Pavarotti’s music voice is paying out of a great sound system. Thus inspired, I went and downloaded my first Pavarotti album.

Pin it!You don't have to be an opera buff to enjoy visiting the home of the late maestro Luciano Pavarotti outside Modena, Italy

Visiting Luciano Pavarotti’s Home/Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti

Address: Stradello Nava 6, Modena, Italy

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Admission: Adults, 8 euros; adults (over 65), children (12-18), 6 euros, children under 12, free. Includes audio guide .

Web: Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti

Discover Ferrari and Pavarotti Land Pass

The Modena is also the home of Ferrari. The Luciano Pavarotti House Museum can be visited as part of the Ferrari & Pavarotti Land Pass which provides admission to over a dozen attractions in the region including two Ferrari museums and artisanal food producers.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

A museum dedicated to the Man in Black opened in Nashville, Tennessee. The Johnny Cash Museum, a block off the fabled Broadway music district, almost brings the man back to life through artful displays of recordings, artifacts and memories.

The first display is a series of pylons devoted to each decade of Johnny Cash’s musical career; an imbedded iPad allows visitors to select four different music videos for each decade, allowing one to watch Cash’s career progression from up-and-coming star to American legend.

johnny cash museum nashville interior

One poignant video in his last decade highlights one of his last performances with his wife, June Carter Cash. It’s clear that they both are ailing, but once the music starts they each start swaying to the beat and belting out the song, revealing their decades of professionalism.

Interesting tidbits of Cash’s life are shared. Among them, in the 1950s he was a radio operator monitoring Soviet military traffic for the United States Air Force while stationed in Germany, and was the first Westerner to relay the news of Stalin’s death.

Cash’s deeply religious feelings are on display including a copy of his personal Bible and a documentary film he recorded in Israel. Snippets of this film are shown in a 20-seat theater along with clips from his brief movie career.

johnny cash museum nashville guitar

The museum accesses a treasure trove of Cash’s personal memorabilia, including outfits he wore on stage, guitars and notes from his songwriting. He is the only person to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriting Hall of Fame.

On September 12, 2013 Johnny Cash will have been gone for ten years; but at the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, the Man in Black still looms larger than life.

Visiting the Johnny Cash Museum

Address: 119 Third Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee 37201

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Website: For further information go to the Johnny Cash Museum.

Time to allow: About an hour.

Who should go? Lovers of country music, roots music, rock and roll and Americana.

Is it worth it? At $17 for most adults it’s not cheap, but that’s the going rate for attractions in Nashville. However, the museum is thorough in its storytelling and offers a depth of personal memorabilia related to June Carter and Johnny Cash that won’t be found elsewhere.

What’s your favorite Johnny Cash song?

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2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of blues rock guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan. On August 26th, 1990, he had just finished a monster show at the Alpine Valley ski resort in Wisconsin. Other players on the bill included his brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray. The concert ended with all the performers on stage for a rousing rendition of Sweet Home Chicago. That would be Stevie Ray’s last song.

side view of stevie ray vaughan playing guitar, black and white photo

After the show the performers boarded helicopters to fly back to Chicago. They were going to meet up and play a gig at Buddy Guy’s club. Stevie, his pilot and two others never made it. Flying through unfamiliar terrain on a foggy night, the pilot crashed into the ski slope. Stevie Ray Vaughan was 35.

stevie ray vaughan crash site alpine valley
The ski slope that wasn’t seen in the fog.

Alpine valley, site of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last concert

Alpine Valley Music Theatre is an outdoor venue adjacent to the Alpine Valley Ski resort. It opened in 1977 and has been a site for summer concerts ever since. It’s location, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago, makes it a great place to get away for some open-air music during a midwestern summer.

alpine valley srv final concert
The concert stage at Alpine Valley.

A few years ago on a cross-country road trip I stopped in at Alpine Valley to see the place where Stevie Ray Vaughan last performed. The concert stage looked like dozens of others that welcome summer touring shows. But this one felt different. It hosted the last live performance of a music legend. The day I visited the gloomy sky, laden with gray storm clouds, mirrored how I felt as I stood in the empty arena.

Stevie Ray Vaughan still inspires . . . and draws a tear

In a strange turn of events, his death is what got me into taking up the guitar. As so often happens after the death of a musician, radio stations play their music more frequently. I guess hearing them somehow softens the blow. Listening to his music I became attracted to his Texas attitude to blues and rock. No one before or since sounds quite like him.

On August 27th, 1995, the 5th anniversary of Stevie’s death, I saw his older brother Jimmie perform in concert. The prior year he had released his first album since the accident. It contained a tribute song called Six Strings Down, the story of a guitar slinger called up to heaven too early, and meeting other blues icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Albert Collins. As Jimmie sang that song on a sweltering summer night on the Camden waterfront, the emotions were still raw. Tears and sweat merged to form a river of pain. It was the most emotional performance I’ve ever seen at a concert.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: From Legend to Hall-of-Famer

I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2014. At the time it surprised me that Stevie Ray Vaughan had still not been enshrined there. Rolling Stone magazine has already selected him as the 7th greatest guitarist of all time. Not bad for a scruffy kid from Oak Cliff, Texas. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Although he’s been a legend for a long time in his beloved home state of Texas: a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of him was installed in Austin in 1993.

SRV Stevie Ray Vaughan statue Austin texas

The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue in Austin, Texas.

Remembering Stevie

As I got into my car and drove away, the sky finally opened up and the rains came pouring down. I flipped on the wipers and slid in a CD I had brought along for the trip; the opening notes of The Sky Is Crying filled the car as Stevie once again wailed away on his battered old Fender Stratocaster.

This recording (sadly, without video) is of SRV’s last performance–the finale song, “Sweet Home Chicago.” It gives me chills every time I hear it.


Related Post: Bruce Springsteen – A holy relic in denim and sweat

What are some of your memories of Stevie Ray?


Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

In Don McLean’s song American Pie, he refers to the death of rock-and-roll star Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959 due to a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield as “the day the music died.” Earlier Holly had played a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. The gig was part of a chaotic Winter Dance Party tour that included Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, who also perished in the crash along with their 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson. buddy holly stamp (250x202)There were only three seats on the plane, enough for Holly and his bandmates. But Holly’s bass player Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson who was suffering from the flu. Reportedly the 17-year-old Valens won his place on the plane due to a coin toss. The plane crashed only a few miles from Mason City Airport due to poor weather and pilot error. Surf ballroom stage (800x596)

Today there’s a poignant memorial at the crash site while the Surf Ballroom is still an active concert venue attracting the likes of ZZ Top and the Beach Boys. It’s even been designated a Historic Rock and Roll Landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To pay tribute to Holly and this piece of musical history start out at the Surf Ballroom’s museum.

Surf Ballroom booths (800x628) Surf Ballroom booths fish (800x608) (300x228)

With its tropical themed murals, original maple dance floor, colorful awnings and green vinyl booths, it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1959. Check out the tropical fish details on the wooden booths where the South Seas motif was carried over. On harsh winter nights in northern Iowa thoughts of sun, sand and surf must provide quite an escape. Surf Ballroom museum (800x549)

The former Cypress Room where performers would take a break between sets is now a museum filled with memorabilia related to Holley, Valens, Richardson and the history of the Surf Ballroom. You’ll be surprised at all the famous people who have played here. Afterwards climb up onto the stage where Holly performed. I had my guitar with me and the accommodating ballroom staff even allowed me to strum a few tunes.

surf ballroom green room michael guitar (800x561)

The “Green Room,” where performers wait before their show, was where Valens bet on the fateful coin toss that got him a seat on the plane. The walls are covered with hundreds of signatures of people who’ve played here, along with prominent visitors, giving the room the appearance of a Jackson Pollock painting.

Buddy Holly surf ballroom green room wall (800x613) Buddy Holly phone surf ballroom (176x250)

Since Iowa is such a key state during presidential election years politicos often stop by too. Barack Obama signed the wall in 2008 but we couldn’t find his autograph. Though we did see Kevin Costner who has played here several times with his band. If you’ve seen The Buddy Holly Story you’ll recognize the pay phone on the way out. It’s the original one that was used after the concert by Buddy Holly to call his wife Maria. Buddy Holly crash site glasses memorial (800x617)

After leaving the Surf Ballroom you’ll want to complete your pilgrimage by heading to the Memorial Site that’s about five miles north. (See directions below.) A giant pair of signature black Buddy Holly glasses mark the spot to stop on Gull Avenue. Many people think this is the memorial so they take a few photos of it and leave. But it’s just a marker. The actual crash site with the memorial is about 200 yards into the cornfield on private ground. Fortunately the farmer who owns the property respects the historical significance of the site and leave a swath unplanted to allow pedestrian access.

Buddy Holly crash site memorial (800x646)

Walk along the south side of the fence until you find a metal sculpture of a guitar marked with the names of the three musicians along with three records naming their popular hits: Peggy Sue, Chantilly Lace and Donna. Don’t miss the poignant tribute off to the side, a set of pilots wings emblazoned with the name of the plane’s pilot, Roger Peterson. Visitors still come from all over the world to the site. On our visit there was a bouquet of flowers and note left by a fan from Sweden. It’s really a touching place to visit. After you leave it helps to have some upbeat Buddy Holly tunes to play in the car.

I’m a-gonna tell you how it’s gonna be

You’re gonna give your love to me

A love to last a-more than one day

A love that’s love – not fade away

A well, a-love that’s love – not fade away

~ Buddy Holly, Not Fade Away

Visitor information for Surf Ballroom and Museum

Web site:

Location: 460 North Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA 50428

Hours: Year-round: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Additional summer hours: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: $5

Directions to Memorial Site: At the Surf Ballroom they hand out directions to the memorial site. That follows a long stretch of gravel road which you might not want to take. Here are alternative directions to the memorial site. GPS coordinates are: N 43° 13′ 12″  W 93° 23′ 0″

Urban legend debunked: According to musical folklore, American Pie was the name of the plane but there’s no truth to this.

Video of the memorial site: [youtube][/youtube]

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