Posted: 7/23/20 | July 23rd, 2020
Since the Coronavirus has halted travel for over four months, I thought I would start to share more posts about destinations here in the United States. True, we shouldn’t be doing a lot of travel at the moment but you can always use these tips for later! Today, my Creative Director Raimee of All Abroad shares her tips and advice for visiting Detroit, one of the country’s most underrated cities!
Just north of Lake Erie’s western end, Detroit, Michigan, is a sprawling metropolis home to over four million people. Haunted by the echoes of its past, the city is often overlooked or ignored by domestic and international travelers alike.
Having grown up in the Detroit area, I can understand why those unaware of its charm consider Detroit a blighted city, burdened by debt, crime, and a fleeing population. I assure you, though, this preconception couldn’t be more wrong.
The famed “Motor City” has historically been known for its auto manufacturing sector, its contributions to the early music industry, and its beloved sports teams. Today, through its revitalization, Detroit has taken on a new appeal.
From its world-class museums and its incredible assortment of eateries to its culturally-inspired dive bars and eclectic garage-like music scene, Detroit is one of the most exciting cities in America to both explore and be a part of right now. Its population is motivated, its people are proud, and the suburbs’ rekindled interest in downtown has helped open the door to a new era of prosperity and a growing young population.
To help inspire you to plan a trip, here is my curated list of things to see and do I’d recommend to anyone visiting Detroit:
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
Start your visit with a free walking tour. You’ll get an introduction to the city and its past, learn about its evolution and recent developments, and see the main downtown sights. You’ll also get access to an expert local guide who can answer all your questions.
Detroit Experience Factory offers daily free tours (as well as more in-depth paid tours) that will give you a solid introduction. Just make sure to tip your guide at the end!
2. Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts is a 130-year-old museum located in the heart of Midtown and has something to offer every visitor. There are more than 65,000 works of art here, ranging from classic to more modern and contemporary pieces, spread out over 100 different galleries. It’s a massive space!
While you could easily spend hours here, if you choose your galleries in advance, you can be in and out in two hours without rushing.
5200 Woodward Ave., +1 313-833-7900, dia.org. Open weekdays 9am–4pm (10pm on Fridays) and weekends 10am–5pm. Admission is $14 USD.
3. Relax at Belle Isle
You could easily spend an entire day exploring Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park with a variety of activities and attractions. It’s a popular destination for locals to gather on a sunny day for picnics and barbeques, for hanging out at the beach, or for walking along its various nature trails.
Here are some of my other favorite things to do at Belle Isle:
- Wander the conservatory – The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is a peaceful botanical garden stretching over 13 acres, with dozens of walking paths and greenhouses to explore. Admission is free.
- Hit the range – Belle Island Golf Range is driving range with practice areas for driving, putting, and chipping. A bucket of balls is just $5.50 USD.
- Enjoy the beach – There’s over half a mile of beach where you can swim, lounge, or rent a kayak or paddleboard and soak up the sun.
4. Explore the Eastern Market
The Eastern Market is a huge marketplace with local foods, art, jewelry, artisan crafts, and more. It covers 43 acres and is the largest historic public market district in the United States, dating back over 150 years.
There are three different market days during the week: Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays. It is particularly busy on Saturdays when farmers tend to bring in their poultry, livestock, and fresh produce for sale.
2934 Russell St, +1 313-833-9300, easternmarket.org. Check the website for market days and times. Admission is free.
5. Walk or Bike Along the Dequindre Cut
The Dequindre Cut Greenway is a two-mile urban recreational path that offers a pedestrian link between the East Riverfront, the Eastern Market, and several residential neighborhoods in between. Along the path, you’ll find all kinds of street art, as well as buskers in the summer. It’s a nice place to walk or jog and take in the city.
If you plan on visiting the Eastern Market and the Riverfront (which you should!), consider renting a bike (they’re just $8 USD per day from mogodetroit.com).
6. Check Out One of the Largest Bookstores in the World
Maybe it’s because I love all bookstores, but this is one of my favorite places to explore in Detroit. John K. King Used & Rare Books, located in an old glove factory, is an enchanting host to over one million books.
I love spending time wandering through the rows of strange titles and marveling at the rare editions they have in stock — some are so rare, you have to make an appointment to be allowed to view them.
901 W. Lafayette Blvd., +1 313-961-0622, johnkingbooksdetroit.com. Open Tuesday–Saturday 10am–5pm.
7. Visit the Fox Theatre
The Fox Theatre is the largest surviving movie palace of the 1920s. Built in 1928, and with over 5,000 seats, it continues to host a variety of live productions and events (like concerts, standup comedy, and children’s performances).
The building is a National Historic Landmark, the highest honor given by the National Park Service, and is open for tours in case you can’t catch a performance during your trip. The interior is absolutely stunning!
2211 Woodward Ave., +1 313-471-7000, foxtheatredetroit.net. Tours take place on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and go on sale two weeks in advance. Tickets are $20 USD for tours; ticket prices for performances vary. Check the website for details.
8. Take a Tour of the Guardian Building
You’ll find many architectural beauties around Detroit, but the most prestigious is the 36-floor Guardian Building downtown, located in the Financial District. Completed in 1929, it is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most important Art Deco skyscrapers in the world!
Detroit Experience Factory offers a few free walking tours, including an Art and Architecture tour that covers the Guardian Building if you want to learn more during your visit.
500 Griswold St., +1 313-963-4567, guardianbuilding.com. Open 24/7. Admission to the building is free.
9. Walk Around Campus Martius Park
After a devastating fire in 1805, Campus Martius was created as the de facto center of Detroit’s rebuilding efforts. Covering just over an acre, the park features outdoor cafés and bars, a mini beach, green space, food trucks galore, monuments, and a host of weekend festivals and activities.
In the winter, you’ll find a giant Christmas tree, an ice-skating rink, and a Christmas market. Every time I visit this area of town, I reflect on how far the city has come in the past ten years.
To visit the park, take the light rail to the Campus Martius station.
10. Snap Photos at The Belt
The Belt, named after its location in the former downtown garment district, is a culturally redefined alley in the heart of Detroit. Public art is the driving force behind the redevelopment of The Belt, which has murals and installations by local, national, and international artists. It is part of Library Street Collective’s continuous effort to ensure that artists have a space to create and engage with the public.
To visit the Belt, take the light rail to Broadway station.
11. See the Motown Museum
Motown Records is an R&B and soul record label based in Detroit credited with advancing the racial integration of pop music in the 1960s and ’70s. Best-selling artists like the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Miracles, the Supremes, and many others were on the Motown label. (Motown is a portmanteau of “motor” and “town” since Detroit is known as Motor City.)
Its main office, named Hitsville U.S.A., was converted into a museum in 1985 to highlight the important contributions of Motown to the greater American music scene. It has all sorts of records, awards, and costumes from famous musicians (including Michael Jackson). You can also see one of the recording studios where many of the label’s classic hits were produced.
2648 W. Grand Blvd., +1 313-875-2264, motownmuseum.org. Open Tuesday–Sunday 10am–6pm (8pm on Saturdays). Admission is $15 USD.
12. Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
Henry Ford, a Michigan native and founder of the Ford Motor Company (and prominent anti-Semite), was responsible for kick-starting the automobile industry in the US in the early 1900s.
Today, you can tour the company’s massive museum and learn about the history of the automobile and how it evolved from a novelty to a staple of modern society. The museum has numerous cars (including presidential automobiles), as well as exhibitions on trains, power generation, and much more.
Additionally, adjacent to the museum is Greenfield Village, a semi-separate museum that hosts all kinds of science and agriculture exhibitions that Ford collected over his lifetime. It’s a great place to visit with kids, as many of the exhibits are interactive and educational.
20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, +1 313-982-6001, thehenryford.org/visit/henry-ford-museum. Admission is $25 USD.
13. Visit the Museum of African-American History
Opened in 1965, this is the world’s biggest permanent collection of African-American culture. There are over 35,000 items and artifacts highlighting the history and culture of African-Americans throughout the ages. The museum has exhibitions on civil rights, art, film, and much more.
315 E. Warren Ave., +1 313-494-5800, thewright.org. Open Tuesday–Sunday 9am–5pm and Sundays 1pm–5pm. Admission is $10 USD.
14. Take a Food or Brewery Tour
Detroit is fast becoming a foodie destination. There are tons of delicious restaurants and a growing number of breweries here, kickstarting a foodie renaissance that is putting the city on the map. If you’re looking for an introduction into Detroit’s food and drink scene, take a tour. There are plenty of food and brewery tours that will give you a mouthwatering or thirst-quenching introduction to the culinary and microbrewery scenes.
Detroit History Tours and Detroit Foodie Tours both offer excellent and insightful food tours to some of the best restaurants, while Motor City Brew Tours will introduce you to the best beers Detroit has to offer. You’ll get to eat some wonderful food, try tasty drinks, and meet the chefs and restaurateurs making it all possible!
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for some places to grab a bite to eat, here are a few of my favorites:
- The Peterboro – Mouth watering and inventive Chinese food paired with craft beer and cocktails
- SheWolf – Trendy and upscale Italian cuisine
- Selden Standard – Locally grown and seasonal plates
- Gold Cash Gold – Local food meets Mediterranean-inspired dishes
- Bronx Bar – A classic dive bar with greasy eats
- Sugar House – An intimate craft cocktail pub
- Brooklyn Street Diner – A cozy diner with local food and lots of vegetarian options
Detroit is one of the best up-and-coming cities in the country. With a developing food scene, an affordable cost of living, and more and more things opening each month, I suspect tourism here is only going to continue to grow. Come and visit while you can and beat the crowds. I promise Detroit will surpass your expectations!
Raimee is the creative director for Nomadic Matt and runs the remote work and travel blog, All Abroad. She spent the past 4 years working remotely from cities around the world after leaving a marketing job in her hometown outside of Detroit, Michigan. She now resides in Los Angeles, California where she is social distancing but hopes to someday enjoy all of the comedy shows, live music, beaches, and hikes around the state! You can follow her remote work adventures on Instagram and Twitter.
Book Your Trip to the United States: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on the United States?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on the United States for even more planning tips!
Photo credit: 2 – David Wilson, 3 – sj carey, 4 – Sean Marshall, 7 – wiredforlego, 8 – Ted Eytan, 9 – Jasperdo