Detroit may not be the most touristy city in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many attractions to excite and delight you. From world-class art museums and architecture to historical sites and beautiful public spaces, these are the spots you must visit during a trip to the Motor City.
World famous and renowned as a mecca for art lovers, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) has a collection of more than 65,000 artworks, spanning the entire length of civilization. Its undoubted centerpiece is Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals, which depict the city’s auto laborers across 27 panels.
Learn the story behind the music and have a damn good time while you’re at it at Hitsville U.S.A. Set inside the record label’s first and main building, including the legendary Studio A, passionate guides will show you where the magic happened and tell you how Berry Gordy turned an $800 loan into one of the most famous labels of all.
Detroit’s most famous outdoor art project is the work of Tyree Guyton, who created the projects in response to the ongoing blight and decay in the neighborhood. Constantly changing and evolving, Guyton recently told Culture Trip about his plans to replace some of the famous installations with a new vision, called Heidelberg 3.0. But there’s really only one way to find out what’s happening on Heidelberg Street.
One of the oldest and largest year-round markets in the U.S., Eastern Market takes place every Saturday, offering an eclectic mix of local food, art, and music in a friendly community setting. The market is run by a non-profit that does a lot of work to give back to the area, so be sure to stop by.
Home to the Detroit Tigers, the oldest continuous one-name, one-city franchise in the American League, Comerica Park is a great place to enjoy America’s favorite pastime in the heart of downtown Detroit. There is also a Ferris wheel and diverse food court to complete your visit.
A National Historic Landmark and one of the finest Art Deco skyscrapers in the U.S., The Guardian Building was completed in 1929 when Detroit was a global hub. Be sure to go into its amazingly colorful lobby that has been lovingly preserved.
A quick and cheap ride on the city’s monorail, functionally titled the People Mover, is a pretty sweet way to see the city’s resurgent downtown area. The entire loop is only three miles (4.8 kilometers) long, with 13 stops, and takes less than 15 minutes to complete.
As well as featuring a number of historical markers and statues, including the 27-foot (8.2-meter) sculpture of heavyweight champion Joe Louis’s fist and the Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, Hart Plaza hosts many free events during the summer months and is one of the city’s top riverfront destinations.
Belle Isle is a leafy 982-acre island on the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada. The island contains a state park, a free aquarium open on weekends, a conservatory, and the Detroit Yacht Club. Walking, biking or jogging the many miles of trails is a great way to see the island and enjoy views of the city and its Canadian counterpart, Windsor.
A Coney Island is a hot dog covered in chili and onions, and it’s also a Detroit institution. The two most famous places to get one just happen to be next door to each other on W Lafayette Blvd, and they share a historic rivalry. The only way to know where your loyalty lies is to try both.
You can’t visit Motor City without learning more about the industry that gave it its name. In Dearborn, just outside the city, the Henry Ford Museum occupies over 250 acres and has over 26 million artifacts. It has several attractions, including the largest auto museum in the world and Greenfield Village, an outdoor living museum dedicated to American history.
MOCAD is typically Detroit, from the graffiti-covered, repurposed auto dealership that serves as its premises to the adventurous nature of the contemporary visual, literary, music and performing arts within it. Exhibitions regularly change, and exciting events are a weekly occurrence. The museum has a “pay what you can” admission policy.
Detroit’s foremost alternative musical export of the past 15 years may have moved to Nashville, but Jack White’s label Third Man Records was founded in Detroit. And one of only two physical stores sits off the Cass Corridor. Alongside the record store, there is a performance space, novelties lounge, and a recording booth, where you can record and press up to two minutes of audio.
Dominating the downtown skyline are the seven interconnected towers that make up the GM Renaissance Center. Originally built by Ford, it became the world headquarters of GM in 1996. Shops, restaurants, and hotels attract visitors year-round, and complimentary tours of the GMRENCEN take place at 12 pm and 2 pm on weekdays.
Adjacent to the Renaissance Center is the Detroit Riverwalk, connecting a series of areas developed to make the most of the city’s east riverfront. The 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) stretch from the Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park is 80% complete and offers parks, plazas, and pavilions to enjoy, as well as views of Detroit and Windsor.
Connecting the riverfront with the Eastern Market area for pedestrians, the Dequindre Cut is a revitalized greenway and recreational path popular with residents and visitors alike. Formerly a railroad, it now features a wide pathway and urban art and graffiti. Visitors can rent bikes from WheelHouse Detroit.
Part of the Wayne State University campus, The Wright Museum, founded in 1965, explores and celebrates African American culture and history. Home to over 35,000 artifacts, the museum’s core exhibit is the largest display on African American history in the world. Rotating exhibitions, events, and educational resources are all available to enhance your visit.
Whether you want a look behind the curtain at the home life of one of Detroit’s most famous families or to experience an impressive and authentic piece of period architecture, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is a must-visit. The son of Henry Ford and his wife moved into their home at Gaukler Pointe in Grosse Pointe Shores in 1929, and Eleanor gifted it to a trust for the benefit of the public when she died in 1976.
The Detroit Historical Society’s free museum has been preserving the city’s history for over 85 years. With permanent exhibitions featuring cobblestone streets, an auto assembly line, and a fur trading post from the 1700s, there’s something to enjoy no matter your interests. The museum is closed on Mondays.
After a long day of exploring the city, you’re going to need a drink. And what better to accompany that drink than some live music. Cliff Bell’s is a legendary jazz club, dating all the way back to the 1930s, and it still carries that roaring vibe with its nightly performances and classic cocktails.