When we announced that we would be visiting Detroit, we were not surprised when we were asked, “Why??” We were asked if there were fun things to do in Detroit and if it was safe. The way some people reacted, you’d think we were heading off to war! But that didn’t make us hesitate one bit; we wanted to get to know this misunderstood city.
You know how people always talk about going “off-the-beaten-path” and avoiding “touristy” areas? That’s how we felt about visiting Detroit. Why wouldn’t we want to visit a place that isn’t packed to the brim with tourists (yet)? We could tell that Detroit had a lot to offer, and once we were there, it did not disappoint.
Yes, there are areas that still need work. But overall, the city is expanding, developing, and there’s a buzz in the air that is contagious. A few times while sitting at local eateries, we started conversations with locals and inevitably the conversation always turned to the city itself. They all mentioned (quite proudly) how exciting it was to see their beloved city on the rise.
So we spent a few days exploring: checking out museums, parks, local attractions and, of course, where to eat. We managed to see quite a bit in a short amount of time! We’ve put this post together with the hope that it will show you why you need to visit Detroit now, before everyone else figures out how great it is.
Detroit Has World Class Museums
History, art, music, cars. You name it, they’ve got it. Imagine our surprise when we were standing in front of a Van Gogh painting or looking at the chair that Abraham Lincoln was shot in!
Detroit Historical Museum
This museum focuses on Detroit and the history of southeastern Michigan. There were many exhibits, but our favorite was The Streets of Old Detroit because it felt like we had gone back in time. You literally walk on cobble stone streets and are able to go into recreated stores and shops.
Detroit Institute of Arts
The DIA has a huge collection! It’s galleries hold over 60,000 impressive artifacts, from ancient to contemporary art. It’s no wonder it’s considered one of the top ten museums in the US. The DIA is a must-see in Detroit. The pieces they have are incredible, and even the building itself is gorgeous to walk through.
This was the original house where Berry Gordy lived and recorded his many hits. We were given a guided tour, where we learned about Berry and the history of Motown. We saw photos, costumes, and other memorabilia belonging to many of the greats, including The Temptations, Marvin Gay, and even Michael Jackson. We consider it one of the top things to do in Detroit. Fyi, no photos are allowed inside.
The Henry Ford
Wow, we’re not even sure where to begin with this one. This is unlike any museum we’ve ever been to. The sheer size of it… Make sure you give yourself a whole day to be here. We’re not exaggerating! We saw some really fascinating historical pieces, including Rosa Park’s bus and JFK’s limo. Of course, there were other cars. And trains. And planes. And a stunning collection of furniture (we nerded out when we saw Edgar Allen Poe’s writing desk). Even a collection of agricultural equipment.
Besides the indoor area, there’s also Greenfield Village. This area has 90 historic buildings, including a recreation of Henry Ford’s childhood home, Thomas Edison’s lab, and the Wright brothers’ workshop. Ford was all about American innovation and ingenuity, so to see how he brought these significant events and people to life is really amazing. Oh, and you can ride around the village in a horse-drawn carriage!
We’d heard there was a nice river walk area in Detroit, so that’s actually one of the first things we checked out. It’s a few miles long, and there were people walking, jogging, biking, and hanging out. If you’re visiting Detroit with kids, the RiverFront is a fun area for kids too, as there is a splash pad and carousel. The carousel was handcrafted and features animals native to the Detroit River, like egrets and sturgeon.
There’s also a part of the RiverFront that was turned into wetlands. As visitors walk on the trails through the wetlands, they can read signs that explain how important wetlands are for the Detroit River because they naturally remove pollutants from the water.
The Detroit RiverFront is also a great place to catch a sunset!
Detroit Brings The Outdoors, Indoors
Visitors can experience all kinds of outdoor activities indoors thanks to the many simulators at the Outdoor Adventure Center. Try kayaking down a river, catching fish, or even riding a snowmobile. It’s considered one of the best things to do in Detroit with kids, but don’t worry, adults are sure to have fun here too!
At over 43 acres, Eastern Market is the largest outdoor farmers market in the US. It offers different food and products, depending on the day and season. There are three primary markets, but we were told the Saturday morning market is the best one to visit. It runs year round and has over 225 vendors, so visitors can find all kinds of goodies!
Another big draw for us to visit the market was the amount of street art in the area. Local and international artists have painted murals in all different styles, some whimsical and some with powerful messages. To see more of the murals, click on this post about Detroit Street Art.
Belle Isle Park
This park is on an island that sits on the Detroit River, between the US and Canada. It is considered the largest city-owned island park in the US and was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed New York City’s Central Park. The park has many attractions including a zoo, small beach, golf range, and memorial fountain.
When we were there, the park was getting ready to host the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix so some parts of the island were blocked off. We were still able to stop by a few attractions though. Fyi, it does cost a few dollars to get on the island but once you’re in all of the attractions are free.
Dossin Great Lakes Museum
This museum is all about Detroit’s role in national and regional maritime history and has a lot of really interesting exhibits, including one of the largest collection of model ships in the world.
Belle Isle Aquarium
Famous for its lime-green tile and for being the oldest aquarium in the world, this aquarium has been open since 1904. It’s small, but still a fun attraction for kids. Fun fact: much of the water in the tanks was brought in directly from the ocean.
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
Also known as the Belle Isle Conservatory, it is the oldest continually-running conservatory in the US. There are 13 acres designated for the conservatory and its botanical garden. The conservatory itself is divided into six sections: the Vestibule, the Palm House, the Tropical House, the Cactus House, the Fernery and the Show House (this section has a lily pond garden!).
Try your luck at any of Detroit’s casinos! During our visit we stopped by the MotorCity Casino Hotel. This bright and impressive casino has over 2,800 slot machines, 59 table games, and a 12-table smoke-free Poker Room. Besides all that (as if that wasn’t enough!), the casino also has restaurants, live entertainment, and even a spa!
If you love sports, Detroit is a fun place to be. The city is home to the Lions, Red Wings, Pistons, and the Tigers. While we were in town, the Tigers were playing at Comerica Park. There was lots of great energy as people walked towards the stadium before the game. We didn’t have tickets, but we did watch the game from across the street at a local favorite called Hockeytown Cafe. This sports bar has big-screens and a ton of Red Wings memorabilia.
Do you love lighthouses? Ha! Who are we kidding, of course you do! Everyone loves lighthouses! Well, Detroit actually has a few. We stopped by the Milliken State Park Lighthouse (also known as the Tri-Centennial Park Light) while we were exploring the Detroit RiverFront. We heard there’s also a nice lighthouse on Belle Isle which is the only light in the US that is constructed of marble, but we weren’t able to see it.
Our usually northern neighbor is actually south of Detroit, just across the river. If you’d like to visit the Land of Maple, you can take the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge, or the Blue Water Bridge. Just make sure you have your passport or enhanced driver’s license.
Pro Tip: Click here for Tips To Help A First Time Traveler
Detroit Has Amazing Food
Foodies will love Detroit! In the last few years, the food scene in Detroit has exploded, with many chefs and restaurants winning distinguished and prestigious awards. From fancy bistros to casual cafes, Detroit has something for everyone.
So there you have it, the reasons why we think you should visit Detroit. We hope that this post of top things to do has inspired you to plan a trip to “The Comeback City.” We guarantee that you’ll have a great time!
Have you been to Detroit? Are there any other things to do that you’d add to the list? We’d love to read your comments below! 🙂
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**A big thank you to Visit Detroit for helping us arrange a fun-filled itinerary. Although we were given complimentary passes to some attractions, as always, all opinions are our own.**