13 Tips to Escape the Tourist Crowds in Detroit, Michigan

Crowded Hart Plaza | © LetNoun/Flickr
Crowded Hart Plaza | © LetNoun/Flickr
Photo of Tim Marklew
27 February 2018

Detroit may not be among the most touristy cities in the US, but it still attracts its fair share of visitors, 19 million of them a year according to the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. While it also estimates that visitors contribute $6 billion to the city’s economy, not everyone enjoys it when the tourists come to town. Here are some tips for avoiding queues and crowds in Detroit.

Watch out for game days…

Detroit is the only US city where you can watch all of the big four sports at downtown venues, so there are plenty of game days to avoid in Detroit. The Lions NFL team play at Ford Field, with baseball team the Tigers next door at Comerica Park. Slightly north on the other side of Woodward, the Little Caesars Arena is the home of both the Pistons and the Red Wings.

… and other big events

Other big events in the Detroit calendar include the North American International Auto Show, one of the largest car shows in the US, MOVEMENT, Detroit’s electronic music festival and Detroit Jazz Fest, the largest free music event in North America.

Detroit Jazz Festival crowds | © Jeff Dunn/Flickr

Avoid rush hour

As US cities go, Detroit’s traffic isn’t so bad, but a 2017 study found it to be the 23rd worst city for gridlock, with 35 hours spent in traffic on average that year. The majority of that traffic was during rush hour, so it should be avoided.

Go in the winter

Michigan winters can be brutal with an average low temperature of 17.8°F in January, but if you are properly prepared and don’t mind the cold, it’s a quiet time to visit. Snowy days can even provide opportunities for beautiful and quiet walks in the city.

Detroit in January | © Bill VanderMolen/Flickr

Get out of Downtown

A number of the city’s primary tourists attractions are grouped together in the relatively small Downtown area, so visiting other parts of Metro Detroit is an easy way to avoid tourists. Luckily, there are many great towns and cities to enjoy nearby.

Head to Hamtramck…

Hamtramck is a city within the city of Detroit, just 15 minutes northeast of Downtown. With an official tagline of “the world in two square miles,” its a famously diverse area, with plenty to see and do. Celebrate its Polish heritage with traditional bakeries and restaurants, check out the famous Hamtramck Disneyland art installation or give fowling a try at the Fowling Warehouse.

Hamtramck Disneyland | © Jerry Paffendorf / Flickr

… or Ferndale

Located 30 minutes north of the city, Ferndale is another place with much to offer. Centered around the Woodward and 9 Mile intersection, it has public art to see as well as excellent shopping and dining options, including one of Detroit’s best record stores. You could even try Detroit Axe, Metro Detroit’s first dedicated competitive axe throwing arena.

Take to the water

A surefire way to avoid crowds is to leave land behind. Several companies operate kayak tours of the Detroit River, taking you out to see Belle Isle or Canada’s Peche Island, or viewing some historical mansions from a different vantage point.

Good morning, Detroit!

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Seek an unusual date spot

Detroit has plenty of unusual activities to enjoy, not just axe throwing. We listed some of them here, including checking out the Masonic Temple, taking a cooking class at Mirepoix or visiting the world’s largest drive-in theater in Dearborn.

Try a less mainstream museum

There are so many interesting museums in Detroit that you can skip the DIA and the Henry Ford during tourist season. Learn about the history of the city at the Detroit Historical Museum, explore the Arab-American experience at Arab American National Museum, or see African art at the MBAD African Bead Museum.

Arab American National Museum | © Knight Foundation / Flickr

Visit the city’s largest park

Far less popular than Belle Isle, which can be crowded in the summer, the city’s largest park is actually Rouge Park in Dearborn Heights. Significantly larger than Central Park, there’s room for plenty and it’s often quiet.

Hide out in John K. King Used & Rare Books

It takes a lot of people to make a four-story bookstore in a former warehouse crowded, so you’re pretty safe at John K. King Used & Rare Books. A day can easily slip by while perusing over a million titles, especially without a computer search available. The staff are pretty knowledgeable though if you’re after something rare.

John K. King Used & Rare Books | © VasenkaPhotography / Flickr

Try an iconic cuisine… at a less famous option

You’re in Detroit and you should try some specialties, such as square deep dish and barbecue, but avoid the crowds by skipping the most famous restaurants. For pizza, give Buddy’s a miss and head to Cloverleaf or Loui’s, and for barbecue, skip Slows and try C.A.Y.A. Smokehouse Grill or Red Smoke.

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