Detroit is a mesmerizing mecca of Michigan and the American Midwest. This giant city is often underrated. It was once a titan of the auto industry, hence its nickname Motor City, but famously fell into urban decay in the late 20th century. With recent revitalization, Detroit has earned the coveted moniker City of Design.
This diamond in the rough currently has so much more going on than meets the eye, making it a newly popular hotspot for tourism and travel. It’s the birthplace of many musical genres and offers an iconic arts scene, riverfront scenery, rich history, diverse culture, art deco architecture, and unique character you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
While many don’t think of Detroit as one of the best places to visit in Michigan, there are actually plenty of activities to enjoy here! Here are the best things to do in Detroit.
Where is Detroit?
Detroit, despite what many people think, is not the capital of Michigan. However, it is the largest and most populated city in Michigan and the largest US city on the Canadian border. It’s located in Southwest Michigan and just across the border from Windsor, Ontario.
Metro Detroit is home to a whopping 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest city in the Midwest after Chicago. It’s well known as the birthplace of Motown. A name derived from both motor and town and is now a nickname for the city. It’s well known in the art, automobile, and architecture community and for large sports teams like the Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers, Detroit Pistons, and Detroit Redwings. It’s one of the best places to visit in Michigan!
Best Things to do in Detroit
Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is a renowned museum is a must-visit. It boasts impressive works from all over the world and houses one of the largest collections in the entire country.
There are over 100 galleries with permanent and rotating exhibitions spanning a vast array of cultural themes and mediums. Whether you’re interested in installations that are classic or contemporary, it’s surely covered in this expansive creative space.
The Motown Museum honors the musical masterpieces conceived in this very city. Detroit is known as the birthplace of the beloved genre of Motown. This place was once home to the original headquarters of Motown Records, aptly nicknamed Hitsville U.S.A.
Visit the famous Studio A where countless treasured tunes have been recorded. Memorabilia and artifacts adorn the walls for a powerful glimpse into the history of Motown in Detroit.
Belle Isle Park
Belle Isle is an idyllic island of over 900 acres. It’s home to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, a gorgeous botanical garden made up of breathtaking greenhouses. There’s also half a mile of sandy beach to soak up the sun or paddle the day away.
Be sure to take in the city skyline from the shores of this mid-river oasis. The recently reopened aquarium is a magical scene to enjoy as well. This is easily one of the best things to do in Detroit.
In the warmer months, locals and visitors alike flock to the scenic waters of the Detroit Riverfront. It’s a 3.5 mile trail that meanders alongside the stunning waterway. There are fishing piers, parks, picnic spots, and even a carousel and a lighthouse. Plenty of community events are held here, such as yoga classes and concerts. It’s particularly picturesque for some great photo ops.
The Henry Ford Museum
Detroit is a haven for museum goers, but this one offers a special allure. Named after the famed founder of the Ford Motor Company, The Henry Ford Museum is a prestigious place to learn about the beginning of the auto industry in America. Explore the evolution of cars throughout the 20th century with models, motors, and more.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is an essential stop for everyone visiting Detroit. It’s the largest permanent collection of African American culture in the world. Displays of historical artifacts highlight the history of their heritage over the course of centuries. Engage with in-depth exhibits on Civil Rights, film, and art, just to name a few.
Admire the Architecture
Detroit is known for having one of the most distinctive skylines anywhere. Within the preserved and refurbished gems of historical buildings around town you’ll find awe-inspiring examples of neo-gothic style, art deco, and Albert Kahn designs.
There’s a long list of sites to see, but our stunning suggestions include the Guardian Building, Masonic Temple, Fisher Building, Vanity Ballroom, and Grand Army of the Republic Building.
eat at the many Detroit Restaurants
Detroit is home to an up-and-coming foodie scene and is a treasure trove of traditional eats and exciting tasty treats. Cliff Bell’s is an institution of the area for art deco design, smooth jazz tunes, and delectable dishes, all with a 1930s flair. Of course, Detroit style pizza has made a serious name for itself among pie aficionados. Try Buddy’s, Loui’s, or Niki’s for the perfect square slice.
The Peterboro, Shewolf, La Feria and Selden Standard are cooking up contemporary locally sourced and globally infused plates. Duly’s Place and Detroit One have the best revered regional bite called Coneys. Be sure to indulge in some soul food at least once while here, from either Motor City Soul Food or Soul “N” The Wall.
visit the Michigan Science Center
The Michigan Science Center is an interactive learning center is full of hands-on displays to discover all the curious, cool, and creative aspects of science. Explore exhibits about sound, health, engineering, and the earth that are fun for all ages. There’s also an IMAX theater and planetarium on-site.
John K. King Used and Rare Bookstore
The John K. King Bookstore is a special store is so much more than your average vendor of good reads. It’s set in an old glove factory and houses over one million titles. Wandering through the rows of strange stock is an unmissable experience. Dig through four stories of spines spanning every interest and genre possible. You can even make an appointment to see some of their very rare editions.
The Fox Theater was opened way back in 1928 in downtown Detroit. A retro relic that’s since been refurbished and has certainly stood the test of time as one of the most iconic performing arts venues worldwide.
It’s the largest surviving site of its kind and seats up to 5,000 spectators. The decor is grandiose and influenced by East Asian design. The likes of Elvis and Sinatra have graced the stage, and today many comedians, broadway shows, and musical acts join their ranks.
Shop at the Eastern Market
Visit one of the oldest urban farmers markets in the country, dating back to 1841 is the Eastern Market. Open year-round with well over 200 vendors, you’ll find fresh produce, flowers, clothing, jewelry, baked goods, culinary creations, handmade crafts, bath and body products and more. This is an excellent way to enjoy the true spirit of the city and to shop small and support local while in town.
Have a drink at the detroit Breweries
There’s no shortage of creative craft beer destinations in Detroit, and the breweries here are some of the best in Michigan. Make sure to try at least one, as it’s one of the best things to do in Detroit.
Batch Brewing Company was the first nano brewery in the city. They offer small hand crafted beers, so there’s always something new to try on tap, as well as an outdoor patio and gourmet grub. Try the rotating Feel Good Tap where proceeds go to community nonprofits in Michigan.
For Belgian-style brews hit up Brewery Faisan. They love to experiment in their urban prairie beer playground. Motor City Brewing Works has stellar flagships drafts and seasonal selections set inside a warm taproom adorned with local art.
Dequindre Cut Greenway
The Dequindre Cut Greenway two mile greenway goes from the Eastern Market area to the banks of the Detroit River. It’s a perfect path for walking, biking, running, or skating. It’s a repurposed section of old railway and is lined with commissioned murals from local artists.
It’s cheap and easy to rent a cycle here, and it’s an all round enjoyable way to enjoy some scenic urban recreation.
Admire the Street Art
As a city, Detroit is covered with enchanting installations of unique street art, you just have to know where to look. The Heidelberg Project began in the eighties, converting crumbling homes into works of art. It’s now world renowned and covers an entire block.
The Belt is an alley set in the former garment district covered in works by local, regional, and international artists. The World’s Largest Stove calls Detroit home as well. It weighs 30,000 pounds and is just as cool and kitschy as it sounds.
Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum houses a jaw dropping collection of cultural objects accumulated over hundreds of years and from many countries. With countless strands made from all kinds of natural materials, it’s an amazing attraction honoring African history and art.
Hamtramck Disneyland is a fantastical piece of folk art. Two stories of hand-carved and carefully curated found objects, creates a wacky and whimsical sculpture by a Ukrainian auto worker.
Tour the Towns
Detroit is not just a mecca for vintage Americana but a miraculous melting pot as well. Greektown offers authentic eateries, eclectic entertainment, and even a casino all steeped in old world charm. In Mexicantown mosey the street to find mouthwatering eats from tamales to tacos as well as tiki bars and traditional tiendas.
Campus Martius Park
Campus Martius Park is a commercial center and lively public space for gathering in Detroit. On a nice fall day in Michigan it’s a fantastic place to head. It spans over an acre encompassing historical buildings, cafes, bars, performance stages, an ice skating rink, green spaces and a mini beach. A popular pick for happenings around town, there’s always food trucks to find and festive events to participate in here.
Enjoy the big screen
We all know by now that Detroit is at the forefront for many American arts, and film is no exception. The Ford Drive-In operates year-round and is the largest in the state. It has five screens, each playing new or old movies to watch from the comfort of a car. The Film Lab is where cinema buffs can relax and rejoice. They show art house pictures and obscure documentaries for the discerning viewer.
It’s a part of the Henry Ford enclave, but is a one-of-a-kind attraction all its own. Greenfield Village is an outdoor living history museum that spans over 80 acres.
There are authentic replicas of Thomas Edison’s lab, the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, as well as glassblowing and cooking demonstrations. Take a ride on a steam locomotive or a model T and explore four working farms for a true step back in time. If you are visiting around the holidays, make sure to take part in the Holiday Lights festival, it’s one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in Michigan.
The Russell Industrial Center
The Russell Industrial Center is a seven-building industrial complex designed by Albert Kahn in 1915. It has since been turned into a creative hub, featuring artist studios, shops, lofts, and small businesses. The Russell Bazaar takes place here monthly and the People’s Art Festival is an annual occurrence in this collective.
Due to a period of economic transition, there are still many abandoned buildings in Detroit. Relics of a bygone era, they’re fascinating facades to explore for any daring adventurers. You’re sure to come away with countless Insta-worthy photos, just be sure to scout safely.
The Abundant Life Christian Center, Packard Automotive Plant, Ira Wilson and Sons Dairy Building, and Grande Ballroom are a few of our favorites to start with.
See what Detroit Rock City is all about
It’s not called Detroit Rock City for nothing! Make sure to see some live music while in town, it’s one of the best things to do in Detroit. You’ll find massive headliners at the Fillmore, or smaller acts at local dive bars like the Old Miami. Try the time honoured duo the Majestic Theater and the Magic Stick for a bit of both.
Detroit is a happening hub of activism and a great city to visit and explore spaces for social movements. Crow Manor is a cool collective of musicians, artists, and activists who regularly host shows and workshops in their community garden or Victorian mansion, and are known especially for Crownival. They even produce their own honey with bee boxes on-site.
Trumbullplex is a community collective striving to create an environment for revolutionary change. A mecca of mutual aid in the city, they’ve established and operate out of two Victorian homes and an art space that help to contribute to their core causes such as urban agriculture and education for anyone at-risk.
Take a Cruise
Though certainly not a tropical destination, Detroit is still a spot that makes you want to get out on the water! Hop aboard a boat for a scenic tour of the spectacular eponymous river. The Detroit Princess Riverboat is a popular pick for sweeping skyline vistas, cocktails, jazz music, and fine dining. It’s a luxury two-story vessel that holds up to 1,500 guests. Remember several of the Great Lakes are all a quick day trip away as well.
Detroit is home to many big name sports teams, and is a fun place to catch a game of the athletic event of your choosing. It’s one of only two places in America that has teams in all four major sports playing right downtown.
Among them are the NBA Pistons, MLB Tigers, and NFL Lions. It’s no surprise that this wintery city is also fondly called Hockeytown, as it lays claim to the Red Wings, who are often Stanley Cup champions.
Where To Stay In Detroit?
READ MORE MICHIGAN TRAVEL TIPS
I hope you enjoyed this guide on what to do in Detroit. Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few relevant articles for more travel around Michigan.
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