15 Best Things to Do in Detroit

Buildings in Detroit, Michigan

Jose Francisco Arias Fernandez / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Motor City’s on a roll as Detroit continues to reinvent itself through a winning recipe of equal parts renovation, motivation, and inspiration. From riverfront recreation and automotive attractions to music, culture, and sports, this multifaceted Michigan metropolis truly offers something for everyone. Here's a look at just a few must-see and must-do suggestions to put on your Detroit itinerary.

01 of 15

Visit Detroit's Museum of African American History

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48202, USA

Whether it's your first trip to Detroit or you're a regular, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History deserves a spot on every itinerary. This inspiring history museum features a vast 22,000-square foot, 20-gallery permanent exhibit called "And Still We Rise" that takes guests from humankind's earliest days in Africa through the horrors of slavery and the Middle Passage, including the stories of those who bravely set off on the Underground Railroad, marched during the Civil Rights Movement and who continue to be resilient in the face of injustice today.

Other permanent displays such as "Detroit Performs!" focus on the city's role in American popular culture and the artists who came here to participate in and forever influence its music, dance, and theater scenes, as well as the "Ring of Genealogy," a stunning 37-foot installation that features the names of influential and historical African Americans. Recent traveling exhibits have included "King Tutankhamun: Wonderful Things from the Pharaoh’s Tomb" and "44: Portraits of a President," so check the website to see what'll be here when you're in town.

02 of 15

Geek Out at the Michigan Science Center

Space Gallery at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit

Michigan Science Center

5020 John R St, Detroit, MI 48202-4045, USA
Phone +1 313-577-8400

The Michigan Science Center is home to more than 220 interactive exhibits and displays, making it an ideal stop, especially for anyone traveling with children. Highlights include the Space Gallery, Smithsonian Spark!Lab, Health Gallery, Motion Gallery, and Math Mountain, while little ones will especially enjoy the STEM Playground, Centennial Lab, Nano Gallery, and other displays focusing on weather, waves and vibrations, and roads, bridges, and tunnels.

03 of 15

Check Out the Detroit Historical Museum

Detroit Historical Museum

Detroit Historical Museum

5401 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202-4097, USA
Phone +1 313-833-1805

Located within walking distance of most of the other attractions on this list, the Detroit Historical Museum offers a look at the city's past as a crucial part of the Underground Railroad network, how it served as an "arsenal of democracy" during World War II, and why the area became known as "Motor City."

Other permanent displays focus on famous residents—Aretha Franklin, Alice Cooper, and Sam Raimi, among countless other well-known names, have called Detroit home over the years—and other interesting tidbits of Detroit history, while recent traveling exhibits have offered a look at the city during the roaring 20s, Detroit's brewing heritage, and of course, the area's automotive history.

04 of 15

Make like a Supreme at the Motown Museum

Motown Museum

Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

2648 Berry Gordy Jr. Boulevard, 2648 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48208, USA
Phone +1 313-875-2264

There’s no need to resist the temptation to strike a “Stop! In the Name of Love!” pose and snap a selfie outside the humble home of Berry Gordy’s Hitsville U.S.A—in fact, it’s highly encouraged! As Motown found its footing during the 1960s, a shining roster of performing artists including the likes of Diana Ross, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, The Jackson 5, and Stevie Wonder all launched their careers inside these hallowed halls. Docent-led tours usher guests through displays, exhibits, and the actual studio spaces where all the musical magic happened.

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05 of 15

Discover The District Detroit

The District Detroit banner flies downtown in Detroit, Michigan

 Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

W Elizabeth St, Detroit, MI 48201, USA

Devoted sports fans gravitate to The District Detroit, an expansive commercial, entertainment, and residential development conveniently situated between Downtown and Midtown on the Q Line. The complex is one of the most densely populated professional sports epicenters in the country. Fans come for Red Wings hockey and Pistons basketball at Little Caesars Arena, Tigers baseball at Comerica Park, and Lions football at Ford Field. But with performing arts venues, a wealth of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to check out, there are lots of good reasons to linger before or after a game and spend some time exploring this buzzy, 50-block, mixed-use project space.

06 of 15

Honor Motor City’s History and Heritage

Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford

 Jeff Kowalsky / AFP / Getty Images

20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124, USA
Phone +1 313-788-8653

Detroit wasn’t nicknamed the Motor City for nothing. For an encyclopedic look at all things automotive, locomotive, and aeronautical, set aside the better part of a full day to investigate The Henry Ford in Dearborn. This sprawling 250-acre destination actually maintains three attractions in one setting: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation features a dizzying collection of American ingenuity on full display, with exhibits featuring everything from modular houses and modern technology to culturally significant historical artifacts like Presidential motorcade vehicles and the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Greenfield Village is a living history site where visitors can stroll through working farms and ride in an authentic Model T, while the Ford Rouge Factory Tour provides a behind-the-scenes opportunity for guests to observe how Ford’s iconic F-150 trucks take shape from start to finish. 

07 of 15

Eat Your Way Through Eastern Market

Streets of Eastern Market

Peeter Viisimaa / Getty Images

Eastern Market, Detroit, MI, USA

One of the largest and oldest open-air public marketplaces in the U.S., Eastern Market captures the flavors of Detroit all in one walkable location. Here, a dedicated group of local butchers, farmers, bakers, florists, confectioners, grocers, specialty food vendors, jewelers, clothing retailers, musicians, and so many others come together to deliver a comprehensive shopping experience set against an evolving backdrop of colorful large-scale murals. Walking and bike tours, cooking demonstrations, yoga classes, and seasonal night market events offer even more incentive to explore the scene.  

08 of 15

Admire the City's Architecture

Mural inside Guardian Building, Detroit

SNWEB.ORG Photography, LLC. / Getty Images

500 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226, USA
Phone +1 313-963-4567

Detroit’s visually stunning assortment of buildings and structures speaks well of the city’s remarkable history, and it’s easy to arrange a self-guided walking tour or hop on the People Mover light rail public transit service that loops the downtown business district to witness the range of architecture.

A few particularly notable points of interest include the commanding GM Renaissance Center, rising up like a sentinel on the riverfront, the lovely sculptured Wayne County Courthouse, and the Victorian Gothic-style Ste. Anne of Detroit Church, located near the Ambassador Bridge. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Art Deco Guardian Building in the Financial District; take a few minutes to duck inside and gawk at the breathtaking domed lobby, trimmed with locally-produced Pewabic Pottery ceramic tiles, intricate murals, and colorful mosaics. 

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09 of 15

Savor Local Flavors

Detroit-style coney dogs

 bhofack2 / Getty Images

Detroit, MI, USA

Contemporary American cuisine seems to be the predominant flavor of Detroit’s current dining scene, with the restaurants and an award-winning roster of chefs to prove it. But with a wide array of authentic global cuisines also available for the tasting, it’s entirely possible to feast your way around the world without ever leaving city limits.

Among the signature local food products, you’ll want to make sure you get a chance to sink your teeth into some original Detroit-style coney dogs and square slices of thick-crust pizza, artisan Bon Bon Bon chocolates and addictively crispy Better Made Potato Chips. Wash it all down with a bottle of fruity Faygo soda pop.

10 of 15

Take a Walk in the Park

Campus Martius Park

smontgom65 / Getty Images

800 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226-3580, USA
Phone +1 313-566-8250

Featuring green spaces, gardens, and event stages in the summertime, an ice skating rink throughout the winter months, and an eclectic range of food trucks and nearby dining options all year long, Campus Martius Park is downtown Detroit’s favorite gathering spot.

Otherwise, venture midway across the Detroit River to Belle Isle, a 2.5-mile long park-like oasis populated with recreation options and family-friendly attractions. Take the kids along to wander through the Belle Isle Aquarium and Belle Isle Nature Center before venturing into the great outdoors for hiking, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, and canoeing. Auto racing fans will want to mark their calendars to attend the annual Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, a street-circuit IndyCar event that takes place here each year in early summer just after the Indianapolis 500.

Robert C. Valade Park opened along the Detroit Riverfront in October 2019, featuring a large sandy beach, an imaginative children’s playscape, a musical garden, and a large shed structure for programs and retail. In the summer, Bob’s Barge, Detroit’s only floating bar, features multiple unique seating areas and planters made of recycled truck tailgates from Detroit automakers. Special programming is available throughout the winter months, including large outdoor fireplaces, free sleds, ice curling, and marshmallow roasters. Stop by Geisha Girls Sushi or Smokey G's Smokehouse for tasty treats Wednesday through Sunday year-round.

11 of 15

Admire Colorful Street Art

Detroit street art

 Elizabeth Blaser / 500px / Getty Images

Dequindre Cut Greenway, Detroit, MI 48207, USA

Detroit artists are finding their own clever ways to use the city itself as a canvas, recasting abandoned urban buildings, underutilized walls, and unexpected traffic corridors in a meaningful new light.

Large-scale murals line the Dequindre Cut, a former rail line-turned-pedestrian trail, while the Belt has transformed what used to be a boring alleyway in the old Garment District into a surprisingly chic open-air gallery full of lights and street paintings for art exhibitions and pop-up events.

There’s also an impressive Robert Wyland-painted Whaling Wall on the side of the old Broderick Tower downtown, which, unfortunately, keeps getting covered by temporary murals, so it may or may not be visible when you visit.

12 of 15

Take a Trip to the Art Museum

Detroit Institute of Arts

 Deb Perry / Getty Images

5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202, USA
Phone +1 313-833-7900

Taking a more formal approach to art appreciation, the handsome beaux-arts-style Detroit Institute of Arts presents a treasure trove of priceless works to observe and appreciate. The museum itself was founded on Jefferson Avenue in 1885, moving to its current Woodward Avenue home in 1927 and most recently renovated in 2007.

Clocking in at a spacious 658,000 square feet with an inventory of holdings more than 65,000 pieces strong, this all-encompassing facility earns frequent accolades for its vast American, European, African-American, African, Asian, Native American, Islamic, and Ancient collections.  

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13 of 15

Go Wild at the Zoo

Couple walking through the underwater tunnel in the Arctic Ring of Life exhibit at the Detroit Zoo

 Richard Cummins / Getty Images

8450 W 10 Mile Rd, Royal Oak, MI 48067, USA
Phone +1 248-541-5717

With an unwavering devotion to wildlife conservation principles and efforts, the Detroit Zoo delights visitors of all ages with more than 2,000 animals in residence, ranging from aardvarks to zebras living happily in Asian forest, African grassland, American grassland, Arctic Ring of Fire, and Australian Outback habitats stationed across the 125-acre site.

The Shackleton-inspired Polk Penguin Conservation Center is a highlight, with an underwater gallery and a unique 4D entrance experience that lets guests imagine themselves in the environment.

14 of 15

Visit One of Detroit's Many Theaters

The marquee on the Fox Theatre

 Jeff Kowalsky / AFP / Getty Images

2211 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201, USA
Phone +1 313-471-7000

From ornate halls to edgy contemporary venues, Detroit presents visitors with plenty of ways to spend an evening at the theater. The crown jewel of Detroit’s performing arts community, the historic Fox Theatre attracts big-name acts and touring productions. The grandly furnished Detroit Opera House sets a dramatic stage for opera and ballet, while the extravagant Fisher Theatre hosts touring Broadway shows.

On a smaller, more intimate scale, check out the offerings at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, Hilberry Theatre at Wayne State University, the Planet Ant Theatre for improv, or the Matrix Theatre and the City Theatre to see productions of works penned by local playwrights. 

15 of 15

Pick up a Detroit-made Souvenir

watchmaker making a shinola watch

Jeff Kowalsky / AFP / Getty Images 

500 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226, USA

You can’t leave town without something to fondly remember your Detroit adventure by. For distinctive Motor City mementos and gifts, Detroit sustains a handful of inimitable stores to browse.

Pick up a Detroit-proud T-shirt or a handbag made from recycled seatbelts at one of Pure Detroit's five locations, or find high-quality jeans, totes, and leather goods at Detroit Denim's downtown store just off Jefferson Avenue.

Beautifully made creative arts, crafts, and paper products flourish at City Bird in Midtown, while charming home decor items fill the shelves of Nest, located right next door. Détroit Is The New Black carries lines of clothes and accessories in a stylish boutique setting on Woodward Avenue, and you can splurge on a gorgeous luxury Detroit-made watch, bicycle, or journal at Shinola's flagship Midtown location.

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15 Best Things to Do in Detroit