Your Trip to Detroit: The Complete Guide

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If you haven’t been to Detroit in a few years, please go back. Soon. With a new crop of boutique hotels, buzzy restaurants, a stunning riverfront and a thriving arts community, Michigan’s largest city is the underrated cultural capital of the U.S. Anchored by one of the country’s most impressive art collection—at Detroit Institute of Arts in Midtown—the ripple effects into neighborhoods provide enough activities to fill a few fun days in Motor City.

Here's a primer on when to go, how to get there, and what to do, see, eat, and drink in Detroit.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Shoulder season—spring and autumn months—is the best time to venture to Motor City. Schools are still in session, so you won’t be bumping elbows with other museum-goers, and you also won’t be sweating (Detroit’s humidity in July and August is no joke). April, May, September, and October are ideal months to visit, although summer is blessed with long hours of sunlight.

Currency: Detroit’s local currency is the U.S. dollar.

Getting Around: Like most U.S. cities, morning and evening rush hour should be avoided if driving. Uber and Lyft—two standard car-sharing services—are not hard to secure. Consider hopping onto a QLINE streetcar in Detroit’s urban center or taking a DDOT bus around the city. SMART buses service the entire metro area.

Travel Tip: Detroit is Midwestern nice. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for help reading a map or where to score the best burger in a certain neighborhood.

Things to Do

You’re going to want to dedicate at last some of your trip to viewing art, whether that’s street murals at Lincoln Street Art Park in the North End neighborhood or wandering galleries at Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). DIA’s 27 “Detroit Industry Murals,” created in 1933 by Diego Rivera, document Ford Motor Company’s stronghold in the auto industry. Another art museum in Midtown—MOCAD: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit—is within a former auto dealership and, as a non-collecting museum, hosts interactive events and art installations.

As Detroit is home to the largest Arab population in the U.S., many of whom settled in Dearborn, the city’s Arab American National Museum seeks to educate about this culture’s history as well as its present-day contributions to arts and culture.

It would be a shame not at least to dabble a little bit in Detroit’s history. You have two options: cars or music. Motown Museum is within the former studio of Motown Records, a house on Detroit’s West Grand Boulevard. If cars are more your thing, head to The Henry Ford Museum in nearby Dearborn, a living-history campus with indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as an opportunity to see a Ford assembly line.

Want more trip-planning inspiration? Check out our full guide of things to do in the Motor City.

What to Eat and Drink

Like many Midwestern cities, Detroit’s current buzzy restaurants are staffed by locals who cut their chops in other cities—cue New York City or Paris—and are now back home. One example is Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant’s former personal chef, Ryan Lopez, the chef at Pop’s for Italian in Ferndale, while Thomas Lents now helms the kitchen at The Apparatus Room after a stint at Sixteen in Chicago. Kate Williams, chef-owner of Lady of the House in Corktown, was at Restaurant Relæ in Copenhagen before returning home to Detroit.

One signature dish you need to try is a Coney Island hot dog (topped with chili, chopped raw onions, and mustard), which became famous thanks to immigrants who passed through Ellis Island en route to the Midwest. You’ll find these at “coneys” or “coney islands,” local-speak for the restaurants (like at American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, both in downtown Detroit) where they’re served. Greek immigrants opened many.

Influences from Upper Michigan include pasties, which are baked hand pies popular with miners back in the day. Even trendy chefs are putting these on the menu, folding in artisan ingredients.

As far as beverages, Michigan is a craft beer destination and Detroit is no exception. Corktown and downtown Detroit host a cluster of tasting rooms but you’ll also find these on restaurant and bar menus.

Where to Stay

Detroit’s hotels are a draw for many visitors right now, with many coming to Detroit to stay in a particular hotel. Shinola’s first branded hotel opened earlier this year in downtown Detroit; the hometown luxury-goods brand (watches, bicycles and leather goods) also has a flagship store less than two miles away.

Several other boutique options have also debuted within the last two or three years that are so designer-oriented—and with on-trend eateries and lounges—you may find it hard to leave.

The Siren Hotel, a ‘70s-style décor dream in downtown Detroit, is popular with locals who love the pink-infused Candy Bar lounge as well as all-day diner fare at Karl’s, an eight-seat restaurant (Albena) and morning coffee at Populace Coffee. The Apparatus Room at Detroit Foundation Hotel, in downtown Detroit since 2017, boasts high ceilings and lots of glam.

A former Holiday Inn, Trumbull & Porter Hotel—in trendy Corktown—opened in 2018 with plenty of outdoor lifestyle space, Red Dunn Kitchen and the wow-worthy “Rolling Stones Suite,” named for the band that once stayed in it.

Getting There

Flights to Detroit utilize Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), a major hub for Delta Airlines flights but also servicing routes on American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. International non-stops are also in abundance. The airport is 25 miles (about a half-hour drive) from downtown Detroit, or easily accessible via the 261 SMART bus.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Museums’ free-admission days in Detroit save money, particularly if traveling as a group or family. Check Michigan Science Center’s website for news of occasional dates when admission is waived, such as on Earth Day. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Cranbrook Institute of Sciences, in Bloomfield Hills, offers half-off access ($6.50, not $13, for adults; and $5.50, not $9.50, for kids). On the second Sunday of every month, The Wright Museum of African American History is free between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Detroit Historical Museum and Dossin Great Lakes Museum are always free.
  • The “D Discount Pass” saves between 20 percent and 50 percent and 19 Detroit attractions and is available through Visit Detroit.
  • Invest in a daily or weekly DDOT bus pass, which includes unlimited rides over a set period.

For more ways to save money on your trip to Detroit, check out our guide to the best free things to do in the city.

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