A Travel Guide for How to Visit Detroit on a Budget

The Detroit skyline, as seen from the stands at Comerica Park.
••• (c)Mark Kahler, under an arrangement with About.com


Welcome to Detroit:


This is not really a story about what to see and do in Detroit. It is an attempt at getting you around this interesting area without destroying your budget. As with most places, Detroit offers plenty of easy ways to pay top dollar for things that won't really enhance your experience. 


When to Visit:


September might be the best month for a visit, but spring and fall offer plenty of comfortable days for travel.

Summer heat and winter cold can be penetrating, because the surrounding Great Lakes often add high humidity readings to the temperature extremes. Detroit receives a lot of snow, but road crews are usually up to the task of removing it. Find flights to Detroit.


Where to Eat:


Detroit ethnic specialties include foods from the Middle East (Dearborn is home to one of the nation's largest Iraqi communities) and Greek cooking. Detroit's Greektown is located on Monroe Street downtown. Few cities provide a better selection of Greek delicacies. About.com's Guide to Detroit offers an extensive restaurant guide for every taste. Using a guide such as this will allow travelers to make good spending decisions.


Where to Stay:


Business travelers often prefer the nearby large suburbs of Southfield or Troy for hotel space. Priceline frequently offers business-class rooms in these areas at reduced prices. Detroit is a very spread-out city, so be wary of bargain rooms that are located far from where you want to go.

One example: rooms near the airport are low-priced but often quite a distance from attractions and meetings. Four-star hotel for under $150: Embassy Suites Southfield along the Lodge Freeway.


Getting Around:


City planners originally patterned Detroit after Paris, with a series of wagon-wheel spokes as major streets.

Woodward Avenue is a main north-south spoke. Later came the east-west routes known as "Mile Roads" calculated from the city center. Eight Mile Road is the northern boundary of Detroit, but the Mile Roads continue far to the north. SMART is the mass transit service for the area. Look for the red signs that mark stops. A single ride is $2 USD. Find a car rental in Detroit.


South to Canada:


Believe it or not, Detroit is north of Windsor, Ontario. The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel connect the two cities. To enter Canada, you will need a photo ID, proof of residence and proof of citizenship. Many people visit Windsor for low-cost prescriptions, but that involves scheduling an appointment with a Canadian doctor.


Detroit Nightlife:


Windsor is also home to a lot of nightlife choices: casinos (notorious budget killers), dance spots and bistros abound. There are casinos on the Detroit side of the river, too. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra provides world-class entertainment, as does Michigan Opera Theatre.


More Detroit Tips:


  • Take the city's reputation for crime in moderation. Budget travel principles we espouse for every city on earth apply to Detroit as well: Don't sacrifice safety for a cheap room. Be aware of your surroundings. As with any major city, there are areas you will want to avoid, especially at night. But visitors who insist on remaining in the suburbs all the time will miss out on some of Detroit's greatest treasures.


  • Fewer factories offer tours, but you can still find them. Ford allows visitors to its Rouge Plant to view the assembly area from overhead walkways. Adults pay $17 USD each for the tour, but it is an important Detroit experience.


  • Greenfield Village is a great family destination. Henry Ford created this historic outdoor village and nearby museum, which has become one of Michigan's top attractions. You'll see 300 years of American history, and participate in a number of educational activities. Family discounts and group rates apply, and if you live in the region, a membership allows multiple visits for one price.


  • Schedule a visit to Cranbrook. The Cranbrook Institution in Bloomfield Hills (north of the city on Woodward Avenue) is one of America's cultural treasures. The museums and architecture here are worth a day in your itinerary.


  • For shopping and dining, visit Birmingham. This city, and neighboring Royal Oak, is home to a myriad of trendy stores and eateries. Not all of them will fit your budget, but it doesn't cost anything to look. From south to north on Woodward Avenue, you'll encounter Royal Oak, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills (home of Cranbrook).


  • Take in a game at Comerica Park The home of the Detroit Tigers is one of the best places to watch a major league baseball game in the country. Even the so-called "cheap seats" provide excellent views of the game, and upper deck seats offers some great city views. Seats are affordable, but the resurgence of Tigers in recent seasons makes tickets a bit harder to find. Parking can be expensive if you want to be close to the ballpark.


  • Visit Michigan's historic farms and cider mills. These are usually open during the late summer or early fall, but they provide a rare treat to visitors on a budget. One of the best near Detroit is the Franklin Cider Mill, (7450 Franklin Road, Franklin) which affords an inside look at cider making and a place to buy the finished product.

    Step by step tips for visiting any large city on a budget