48 Hours in Detroit: The Ultimate Itinerary

The skyline of Detroit in the evening, with pink lights on many of the buildings for breast cancer awareness. The skyline is reflecting off the Detroit River.

Mike Kline (notkalvin) / Getty Images

If you haven’t been to Detroit in awhile (or ever), get ready to be wowed by the Motor City. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but fueled by grit, moxie, and determination, the city is in the process of some serious reinvention. A few of the brightest spots in Detroit’s continuing comeback story are the District Detroit development (home to the city’s most iconic sports venues); notable museums, theaters, and cultural attractions; destination dining and casual eats; reliable, safe public transportation and edgy urban art. Feeling revved up yet? Here’s how to fill 48 hours with some of the best stuff Detroit has to offer.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Campus Martius Park in Central Detroit
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9 a.m.: The sleek, uber-modern Detroit Metropolitan Airport makes a striking first impression on arrival, setting the stage for a sophisticated stay ahead. First order of business? Shake off any lingering jet lag and get your bearings with an architecture tour to admire some of the city’s most distinctive buildings, structures and skyscrapers. Go it alone with a self-guided stroll, or sign up for a curated Detroit Experience Factory journey on foot or by bus. Whichever option you choose, don’t miss the chance to peek inside the Guardian Building in downtown’s financial district; the domed interior lined with Pewabic Pottery art tiles is even more stunning than the facade. Take a breather at Campus Martius Park, the city’s premiere outdoor gathering space, where you’ll find an array of events, festivals, and activities going on all year long. 

11 a.m.: One of the oldest and largest public markets in America operating in its present location since 1891, Eastern Market teems with vibrant street murals and locally sourced brunch and lunch options. If you weren’t hungry when you got here, you will be after wandering your way through the maze of tempting sights, tastes and smells that waft from the permanent stalls and the vendors who assemble for regular weekly markets. Coffee, wine, juices, meats, seafood, chicken, fresh fruit and veg, baked goods, cheese, pizza, ice cream, chocolate—you’ll find pretty much any flavor or cuisine you might be craving. 

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Vintage cars, Henry Ford Museum, Detroit, Michigan, USA - stock photo

De Agostini / A. Vergani / Getty Images

1 p.m.: A full day isn't enough to truly observe and absorb everything the Henry Ford campus has to offer, but it is possible to hit quite a few highlights in a couple of hours. This dizzyingly large destination houses three different attractions on one expansive campus. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation serves as a vast repository for some of the country’s most innovative inventions and cultural touchstones of the past century including a Dymaxion House, pop-culture artifacts, vehicles from U.S. Presidential motorcades, and the actual bus Rosa Parks made Civil Rights history on in 1955.

Step back in time at the 80-acre, open-air Greenfield Village living history site that has four working farms (including live animals), a recreation of Thomas Edison’s lab, artisan workshops, period shops and dining, and rides on carriages or Model-T Fords. Wind down your visit with a Ford Factory Rouge tour to see how Ford's signature F-150 trucks take shape from the drawing room through the factory floor.

5 p.m.: Relax after a full day of Henry Ford exploration by celebrating happy hour at one of Detroit’s new breed of chic boutique hotels. A massive disco ball anchors the frilly pink Candy Bar cocktail lounge within the seductive Siren Hotel. Or, kick back with a classic cocktail in the Shinola Hotel’s very comfortable and very handsome Living Room.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions football team in Detroit, Michigan

 Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

6 p.m.: In the heavily Irish Corktown district, the original Slows Bar BQ dishes up mouthwatering plates of ribs, brisket, pulled pork, mac and cheese, beans, cornbread, and its famous Yardbird sandwiches for legions of loyal customers.

8 p.m.: Root, root, root for the home team! Whether you’re a football, basketball, baseball, or hockey fan, there’s always a game or bout happening at the sprawling 50-block District Detroit multi-use complex. Here, you’ll find Ford Field, Comerica Park and Little Caesars Arena, as well as a whole slew of restaurants, bars, shops and nightlife to keep the glow going well into the wee hours, if that’s how you roll.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Motown Museum (Hitsville U.S.A.), original home of Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan

 Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

8 a.m.: Fuel up for the day’s adventures ahead with a cereal milk latte made from beans roasted in-house at New Order Coffee. Pair the latte with a doughnut with a side of local music history from Dilla’s Delights. For a more substantial morning meal, try the Dime Store or the Hudson Cafe. And don't worry about the calories, you can always burn off a few by hopping on a two-wheeler from any MoGo bikeshare station for a spin along the Detroit Riverfront and through the Dequindre Cut Greenway.

10 a.m.: Motown is the enduring soundtrack of Detroit, and it’s impossible not to hum — or even sing — along during guided tours of humble Hitsville U.S.A. The Motown Museum celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019 with a $50 million expansion, giving visitors increased and updated opportunities to walk in the musical footsteps of a glittering roster of artists that includes the likes of the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and the Temptations.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

exterior of the Detroit Institute of Arts
Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Noon: Amid Detroit’s diverse dining scene, coney dogs hold a quintessential space all their own. Depending on which local legend you believe, either American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island originated the classic Detroit recipe: a beef hot dog on a bun slathered with chili sauce and topped with chopped onion and a squirt of yellow mustard. The dueling eateries sit right next door to each other on Lafayette Boulevard, making it easy for diners to sample both and then make up their own minds about which one rightly deserves bragging rights as Detroit’s best.

2 p.m.: Soak in some culture within the gorgeous confines of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Founded in 1885, the encyclopedic museum moved to its current Beaux Arts home on Woodward Avenue in 1927, the perfect backdrop for a vast 65,000-piece collection that encompasses American, European, African, Asian, Native American, Islamic, Modern, and Contemporary works.

5 p.m.: The Beltmay very well be the coolest alley you’ve ever seen, repurposing space between two parking garages in downtown’s former garment district to accommodate an al fresco public art gallery that highlights murals and installations by well-known street artists. Pop-up events, bars, cafes, and visiting food trucks offer even more incentive to check it out. 

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Detroit Fox Theatre at night

JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP / Getty Images

6 p.m.: Don your best duds to experience stylish fine dining in Detroit. Magnet serves wood-fired Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-influenced fare in the Core City neighborhood; Cork & Gabel in Corktown somehow manages to successfully fuse Irish, Italian, and German cuisines with mouthwatering results like lamb Bolognese with house-made rye pasta; and Lady of the House, also in Corktown, is where to find skillfully prepared Modern American offerings like steak tartare, roasted cauliflower, and olive oil-poached salmon.

8 p.m.: Keep the classy vibe going by taking in a live theater show at any one of Detroit’s storied performing arts venues. The Fox Theatre is considered the city’s crown jewel, hosting big-name acts and major tours; while Broadway shows tend to stop at the Detroit Opera House or the Fisher Theatre. On a smaller-but-no-less-important scale, Detroit supports a thriving community of independent playwrights, actors, and directors for dramatic and comedic productions in intimate theater settings scattered all around town.