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. These are just a few must-see and must-do suggestions to put on your Detroit itinerary.
Make like a Supreme at the Motown Museum
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., celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019. 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, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, 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.
Devoted Detroit sports fans gravitate to the District, an expansive commercial/entertainment/residential development conveniently situated between Downtown and Midtown on the Q Line. The complex is one of the most densely populated professional sports epicenter 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 additional reasons to linger before or after a game and spend some time exploring this buzzy, 50-block, mixed-use project.
Honor Motor City’s History and Heritage
Detroit wasn’t nicknamed the Motor City for nothing. For an encyclopedic look at all things automotive (and locomotive, and aeronautical, and more), 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 from modular houses to modern technology and 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, and 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.
Stay in a Buzzy Boutique Hotel
A new batch of boutique hotels are making themselves right at home in downtown Detroit, repurposing historic buildings as sophisticated new accommodations and trendy hotspots. The Detroit Foundation Hotel lets guests spend the night in the former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, preserving the structure’s original arched doorways and high ceilings. An offshoot of the revered hometown luxury watch brand, Shinola Hotel has thoughtfully curated amenities like in-room turntables and midcentury modern furnishings in a combined space that once held an upscale department store and a Singer sewing machine building. The Siren sings to prospective patrons with stunning views from the rooftop deck and a flair for dramatic vintage décor in the 1926 Wurlitzer Building, and the Element Detroit Downtown in the historic Metropolitan Building proposes stylish rooms and features geared toward meeting the needs of extended-stay travelers.
Eat Your Way Through Eastern Market
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.
Admire the City's Architecture
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 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.
Hit the Beach
Robert C. Valade Park opened along the Detroit Riverfront in October 2019. The park features a large, sandy beach; an imaginative children’s playscape; a musical garden; and a large shed structure for programs and retail. It also includes a bridge along the RiverWalk, which connects Stroh River Place to Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre. In spring 2020, Bob’s Barge — Detroit’s only floating bar — will open featuring multiple unique seating areas and planters made of recycled truck tailgates from Detroit automakers. A restaurant serving sushi and barbeque will also be fully operational at the park by next year, and programming is available throughout the winter.
Savor the Local Flavors
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.
Take a Walk in the Park
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. Or, 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, paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing. Auto racing fans will want to mark their calendars to attend the annual Belle Isle Grand Prix, a street-circuit IndyCar event that takes place in early summer just after the Indianapolis 500.
Peep Some Street Art
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 a Robert Wyland-painted Whaling Wall on the side of the old Broderick Tower downtown.
Make a Trip to the Art Museum
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.
Go Wild at the Zoo
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 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.
Visit One of Detroit's Many Theaters
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 and the extravagant Fisher Theatre hosts Broadway shows. On a smaller, more intimate scale, check out the offerings at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, Hilberry Theatre at Wayne State University, Planet Ant Theatre for improv, or Matrix Theatre and City Theatre to see productions of works penned by local playwrights.
Try Your Luck at the Casino
Detroit is home to several full-scale casinos, each offerings its own distinctive vibe and personality. The MotorCity Casino-Hotel within the District Detroit ups the ante with luxury guest accommodations, dining options, and a full-service spa. The resort-style MGM Grand Detroit pampers guests with gaming, spa services, signature restaurants, and a one-of-a-kind TopGolf Swing Suite. In the heart of a bustling entertainment district, Greektown Casino-Hotel delivers upscale rooms and suites along with a lively gaming experience within walking distance of many downtown attractions and restaurants.
Pick up a Souvenir, or Several
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, and charming home decor items fill the shelves of Nest right next door. Détroit Is The New Black carries lines of clothes and accessories in a stylish boutique setting on Woodward Avenue, or splurge on a gorgeous luxury Detroit-made watch, bicycle or journal at Shinola's flagship Midtown location.