While Detroit may not be the most touristy city in the US, it has 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.
The world-famous Detroit Institute of Arts has a collection of more than 65,000 artworks – one of the largest and most significant in the US – spanning the entire length of civilization. Its centerpiece is Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals, which depicts the city’s auto laborers across 27 panels. The creativity on display here will inspire you, leaving you ready to take on your next creative venture and maybe wanting to enroll in an art history class, too.
Learn the story behind the music and have a good time while you’re at it at Hitsville USA. Within 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 time. Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson are just a few of the artists who have walked through these doors.
Constantly changing and evolving, Detroit’s most famous outdoor art project is the work of Tyree Guyton, who created it in response to the ongoing blight and decay in the neighborhood. In 2017, Guyton told Culture Trip about his plans to replace some of the famous installations with a new vision, called Heidelberg 3.0. Of course, there’s really only one way to find out what’s happening on Heidelberg Street: visit it yourself and prepare to be inspired.
One of the oldest and largest year-round markets in the US, Eastern Market takes place every Saturday (with two smaller markets on Sundays and Tuesdays), 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 neighborhood. It operates important programs that increase access to healthy food in the Detroit metro area and helps new food businesses in the city. Stopping by here will not only be delicious but also help a great cause.
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. If you’re not a baseball fan, it’s still a perfect place to meet and mingle with the locals. The park is also home to a Ferris wheel and a diverse food court to quell your hunger between innings.
A National Historic Landmark and one of the finest art deco skyscrapers in the US, the Guardian Building was completed in 1929 when Detroit was a global hub. Construction involved many design and technology innovations, with the building’s designer, Wirt C Rowland, using Monel metal for all exposed metalwork instead of the usual brass and bronze. Its elevator system marks the first use of technology that automatically stopped the car at floor-level and opened the doors. Be sure to check out the 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 great way to see the city’s resurgent downtown area. The entire loop is only 3mi (5km) long, with 13 stops, and takes less than 15 minutes to complete. While enjoying the tour, don’t miss checking out the original artworks installed throughout the stations, thanks to the Downtown Detroit People Mover Art Commission (now known as Art in the Stations), which raised $2m to finance the creative project.
Hart Plaza, named for late US senator Philip A Hart, is one of the city’s top riverfront destinations, featuring several historical markers and statues. Artworks on view include a 24ft (7m) sculpture of heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis’s fist and the Horace E Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain, designed by Isamu Noguchi in 1978. In the summer months, festivals, concerts and special events take place here, attracting residents and travelers alike.
Belle Isle is a leafy 982-acre (397ha) island on the Detroit River between the US and Canada. It’s home to various attractions, including 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 get some exercise, see the island and enjoy views of the city and its Canadian counterpart, Windsor. Visiting this island on a warm and sunny day is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Restaurant, American, Fast Food, Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-free
A Detroit culinary staple, the Coney Island hotdog is covered in chili and onions. The two most famous places to get one happen to be next door to each other on West Lafayette Boulevard, and they share a historic rivalry dating back to when each business was owned by a brother in the same family. Detroiters say that Lafayette is the hometown favorite and has a better atmosphere, but many feel American’s hotdogs and chili are superior. 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 is a museum that occupies over 250 acres (101ha) and has over 26m artefacts, including the bus where Rosa Parks took a stand against segregation by taking a seat. It’s among the world’s largest auto museums and is home to Greenfield Village, an outdoor living museum dedicated to the history of the United States.
This museum is quintessentially 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 inside. Exhibitions regularly change, and exciting events are a weekly occurrence. The museum has a “pay what you can” admission policy, so it’s especially great if you’re on a budget. An innovative addition to Detroit’s vibrant Midtown area, it’s both a hub for exploring emerging ideas in the contemporary art world and a meeting place for the community.
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, with a store lying off the Cass Corridor. Alongside the record store, it has a performance space, novelties lounge and a recording booth where you can record and press up to two minutes of audio. Let your inner rocker shine as you explore the history of a label that changed music history and go home with some great music as a souvenir.
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 two hotels – the Marriott features high-end dining, elegant venues and beautiful river views – attract visitors year-round. You can also take a complimentary tour of the towers at noon or 2pm on weekdays.
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. You can rent bikes from Wheelhouse Detroit and explore the area on two wheels instead of two legs. It’s the perfect activity for a warm day or evening. Make sure to stop along your ride so that you can soak in all the innovative and colorful street art.
Adjacent to the GM Renaissance Center is the Detroit RiverWalk, connecting a series of areas to make the most of the city’s east riverfront. The nearly 4mi (6km) stretch from the Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park is more than 80 percent complete and offers parks, plazas and pavilions to enjoy. Strolling along the river, you’ll also be able to admire panoramic views of both Detroit and Windsor. Go for dinner nearby, and then enjoy a post-meal walk around these parts for some great photo ops and to feel the vibe of the city.
Charles H Wright Museum of African American History
Part of the Wayne State University campus, the Charles H Wright Museum, founded in 1965, explores and celebrates African-American culture and history. Home to more than 35,000 artefacts, 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, so prepare to spend a few hours here to make the best of it.
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 and Eleanor Ford House is a must-visit. The son of Henry Ford and his wife moved into their home on Gaukler Pointe near 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 more than 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. A visit here is a great way to dig into the city’s culture and learn some fun facts.
The Detroit Zoo, in Royal Oak and Huntington Woods, is about 2mi (3km) north of the city. Operated by the non-profit Detroit Zoological Society and the Belle Isle Nature Center, it’s one of Michigan’s most popular family attractions, with 125 acres (51ha) of naturalistic habitats housing 2,100 animals from 230 different species. It also boasts a simulator ride, 4D theater, the Tauber Family Railroad and a custom-made carousel.
After a long day of exploring the city, you’re going to need a drink or two. And what better to accompany that drink than some good old-fashioned live music. Cliff Bell’s is a legendary jazz club dating to the 1930s. Years later, the art deco hangout still carries that old-school roaring vibe with its nightly performances, tasty food menu and classic cocktails. It can also host special events. A night here will have you feeling like you’ve stepped back in time, and you probably won’t want to leave.
Designed by theater architect C Howard Crane, this historic performing arts center in downtown Detroit dates back to 1928 when it first opened as a flagship movie palace. It was the largest theater in the city at the time, with more than 5,000 seats. In 1985, it earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and became a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Visit the building to see its lavish interior and check out a show – it will be well worth your time.
Campus Martius Park (Latin for “field of Mars”) lies in downtown Detroit. In 1805, following the fire that nearly destroyed the city, the park became the focal point for rebuilding the city. It’s a great place to hang out and comprises two performance stages, monumental sculptures, public spaces and a seasonal ice-skating rink.
If you love science, you won’t want to miss the Michigan Science Center. Highlights include a dome theater where you can catch educational shows, a planetarium, live science demonstrations in exhibit laboratories and an awesome children’s gallery for the mini scientists among you. After-dark events are also available for those who want to enjoy the museum in a livelier atmosphere. Who knew science could be so much fun?
Do a bit of gambling at the MGM Grand Detroit, one of three casino resort hotels in the city. This luxury spot opened in 1999 – the first luxury casino resort hotel to open in a major metropolis outside Las Vegas. The casino will offer you an exciting experience, with slots and table games, many food and drink choices, a host of entertainment options, a spa and much more.