Situated right in the center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula “mitten” is its capital city, Lansing. Along with its neighbor East Lansing, home to Michigan State University, it’s a great place to visit, with excellent food, shopping, museums, galleries and places of historical significance to enjoy. But what are the best things to do when spending time in the “heart of Michigan?” Here are our picks.
The MSU Broad, or to give it its full title the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, is a must-see contemporary art museum and cultural hub in Greater Lansing. Opened in 2012, the Zaha Hadid-designed structure is a work of art itself, featuring angular facades composed of pleated stainless steel and glass. Inside, its collection includes Greek and Roman antiquities, Old Master paintings, and important works by contemporary artists. Admission is free.
Running for over 20 miles along the Grand River and Red Cedar River from north of Lansing into the heart of East Lansing, the Lansing River Trail offers access to plenty of attractions and an picturesque path between them all. Popular stops on the trail include the Brenke Fish Ladder, Adado Riverfront Park and Potter Park Zoo.
Also on the Lansing River Trail is the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, dedicated to early automotive leader Ransom Eli Olds, who called Lansing home and founded two car companies in the city around the turn of the 20th century. As well as telling the story of the man who made such an impact on the city, the museum’s collection of historic automobiles, engines and other artifacts demonstrate the significant contribution he and the area had on the transportation industry.
Don’t miss out on a lesson in Michiganology by visiting the Michigan History Center. The five-story building houses both the Archives of Michigan and the Michigan History Museum, with exhibits, artifacts and educational programs all dedicated to the Great Lakes state, from the forming of the lakes during the ice age to present day.
The Michigan State Capitol dates all the way back to 1879 and was one of the first state capitols to be topped by a cast iron dome roof. Free guided and self-guided tours are available on which you can see the Rotunda and the Gallery of the Governors, as well as the House and Senate Galleries, the Governor’s Office and the Supreme Court Chamber. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.
Lansing’s historic Old Town was once the city’s downtown and is now its foremost cultural and creative district, offering art galleries, boutiques and markets alongside plenty of restaurant and bar options. Favorites include Pablo’s Old Town Mexican Restaurant and Meat BBQ, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in 2017.
As hands-on and interactive as science museums come, the Impression 5 Science Center is a gem for kids of all ages looking to play and create and learn along the way. The name refers to making a meaningful connection to science using the five senses, and the exhibits and programming will test them all while teaching about water, light, human anatomy, nature and more. Look out for regular special events.
Tour one of the oldest houses in the city at the Turner-Dodge mansion. Built in 1858 by James and Marion Turner, important figures in the early history of Lansing, it’s been perfectly restored to its original glory with period decor and antiques, and is run as a cultural heritage center by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
One of the oldest attractions in town at nearly 100 years old, the Potter Park Zoo has a wide range of animals to see and other activities primarily open in the summer. As well as being a fun day out, the zoo is a great cause to support because of its endangered animal programs for species of rhinoceros, tigers and more, and its involvement in regional and global conservation schemes.
MSU’s dedicated science and culture museum is home to nearly a million artifacts across its three floors, including long-term exhibitions featuring dinosaur skeletons and fossils, as well as rotating exhibitions on a wide range of subjects. Established in 1857, it was the first museum in the state to receive Smithsonian affiliate status.