Things to Do and See in Detroit, Michigan

Belle Isle Park is a beautiful must-visit island in the Detroit River
Belle Isle Park is a beautiful must-visit island in the Detroit River | © Russell Kord / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Benjamin M. Smith
21 August 2020

In recent history, Detroit has had its fair share of misfortune. Despite filing the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy case in US history, the city is on the up, due to the efforts of its residents and the people bringing new life to its streets. Its original museums and landmarks are well worth visiting and are some of the finest in Michigan, if not the country.

Visit Belle Isle Park

Aquarium, Memorial, Park
Belle Isle Park became a state park in 2014. This beautiful 982-acre (397ha) island has some of the best views of Detroit and is home to many entertainment options if nature isn’t your cup of tea. Home to an aquarium, a conservatory and majestic memorial fountain, Belle Isle Park is a great place to escape the city and relax.

Go to the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History

Museum, University
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located in the Cultural Center, Detroit, Michigan, USA
© Bjanka Kadic / Alamy Stock Photo
As the world’s largest museum dedicated to the rich history and culture of African Americans, the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History is an important place to visit while in Detroit. Along with multiple collections of historical artefacts, such as the Blanche Coggin Underground Railroad Collection and the Harriet Tubman Museum Collection, it’s also home to the General Motors Theater, a fantastic place to catch a live performance or lecture.

Eat barbecue at Union Woodshop

Restaurant, BBQ, $$$
Despite Detroit’s location north of the Mason-Dixon line, barbecue is taken seriously here. Union Woodshop in Clarkston – roughly 40 minutes’ drive from central Detroit – is a great stop for everything smoked, grilled and tender. As it offers a variety of meats and even wood-fired pizza, come here to taste some real barbecue in the Motor City.

Walk inside the Basilica Sainte Anne de Detroit

Detroit, Michigan - A "mass mob" fills Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church for Sunday morning mass.
© Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo
The Catholic Basilica Sainte Anne de Detroit was established in 1701 – thanks to the efforts of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac – and has always had a tendency to be set aflame, largely due to conflicts with Native Americans. It was also a point of contention for the English, who conquered the French settlers in the area, but today it stands in much of its original glory.

Tour the Detroit Institute of Arts

Art Gallery, Museum, University
Founded in 1885, the Detroit Institute of Arts boasts a magnificent permanent collection and is one of the finest art museums in the US. This 658,000sqft (61,130sqm) facility has more than 100 galleries inside, a large auditorium and a medium-size lecture hall. With works by such notable artists as Diego Rivera and Vincent van Gogh, the Detroit Institute of Arts is a great place to visit.

Tour Motown Museum

Motown Museum, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Oct. 23, 2014.
© dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo
With an $800 loan from his parents, African American musician Berry Gordy founded the “Motown Records Corporation,” arguably one of the most successful music labels in American history. With more than 180 number-one songs worldwide, his company became a cultural force of its own, employing the likes of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye. Visit the Motown Museum to learn more about this essential part of Detroit’s history.

Have a drink at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, American, Pub Grub
There aren’t many self-professed speakeasies around nowadays, but Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy has never been one to play by the rules. This hopping Detroit venue always has live music playing, cocktails pouring and a smiling proprietor. This bar is a prime example of the city’s comeback scene and is edgy in the extreme.

See a show at Fox Theatre

The historic Fox Theater in downtown Michigan opened in the 1920;s and remains in operation today. The historical venue features Broadway plays.
© ehrlif / Alamy Stock Photo
The Fox Theatre is perhaps one of the grandest venues in the Midwest. Its lavish art deco architecture is complemented by gorgeous Asian interiors, which also feature a beautiful set of columns and an even grander ceiling. Check the theater website for upcoming shows and performances.

Tour the Henry Ford Estate

Historical Landmark
Few men have made such significant contributions to modern society as Henry Ford. His innovations on the Ford auto assembly line and the living wage brought prosperity to America’s middle class and inspired a culture of mass consumerism. His house is a great place to learn more about his life.
These recommendations were updated on August 21, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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