With the help of one Henry Ford, Detroit rode the wave of car manufacturing into the stratosphere. During that time, it created impeccable buildings and developed a local culture that put it on the same level as other renowned American cities.
Detroit’s fall from grace has been well-documented, but even in this day and age, news can travel slow. While the world moved on from Michigan’s biggest city, it worked on itself. The city’s food and drink scene has come on in leaps and bounds and its incredible history from cars to Motown has taken on a whole new meaning.
With enough time passing, it’s exceptional museums have become more poignant and there are now many interesting things to do in Detroit. Along with its gorgeous waterfront, it’s leading the way for a new era of tourism in the Motor City.
16. The Heidelberg Project
In 1967, riots swept through Detroit and were some of the most destructive in history. For locals, many were afraid to go out at night and participate in everyday life. That was enough motivation for Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, who had spent the previous years serving in the army.
Now known as the Heidelberg Project, Tyree, with the help of his wife and grandfather, revitalized Heidelberg Street. They did this by painting abandoned homes and adding recycled items to create a large-scale public art piece.
The art is still on display some 50 years later and is one of the most unique attractions in the city.
15. Little Caesars Arena
In Midtown Detroit, the Little Caesars Arena is a multi-sport and entertainment venue. The arena first opened in 2017 and is now the home of the Detroit Pistons of the NBA and the Red Wings who play in the NHL.
Little Caesars Arena is the heart of Detroit’s fabulous sports and entertainment district, simply called The District Detroit. Between both teams playing home games along with regular concerts, you’ll likely have some live action to enjoy here most nights of the week.
You can also sign up for a guided tour to explore the arena and discover how the staff transforms the ice rink into a basketball court in only a few hours!
14. GM Renaissance Center
Known simply as RenCen, the GM Renaissance Center is the global headquarters of General Motors. The center features an incredible collection of seven impressive skyscrapers, all connected to one another.
At the heart of RenCen is Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. It’s the tallest building in town, within 73 floors, standing at 727 feet above the ground. It holds a striking presence from anywhere in the city and is a powerful reminder of Detroit’s past.
A highlight of RenCen is GM World, a fabulous look at the life of General Motors while the attraction also showcases the manufacturer’s latest cars. Additionally, RenCen offers tours and you’re mere steps from the RiverFront.
13. Detroit Historical Museum
Detroit’s story is wide reaching. It covers more than just the development of Ford and becoming the center of the world’s motor industry. You can explore each chapter of the city’s intriguing story at the Detroit Historical Museum.
Visitors can learn about the role Detroit played in the Second World War when the local car factories developed tanks and planes at rapid speeds. Detroit was also a part of the famed Underground Railroad and, of course, at the forefront of Motown.
But with such a reputation within the automotive industry, no stone was left unturned in telling the story of Detroit’s rise to a manufacturing superpower.
12. Fisher Building
Pairing up with the Guardian Building, the Fisher Building helped transform Detroit’s skyline forever. The 1920s were a boom decade for the city and the Fisher Building was one of the most memorable constructions.
In a sign of the times, the skyscraper is remarkably princely with a gilded interior lathered with marble, vaulted ceilings along with intricate facades and frescoes. The details are exceptional and will require sometime to take it all in. It’s led some to rate the Fisher Building as one of the best art déco designs in the United States.
The main entrance will lead you into the stately gallery. You can explore on your own or sign up for a free guided tour.
11. Campus Martius Park
In 1805, a tragic fire ripped through much of the city. Upon rebuilding, Campus Martius Park was placed at the forefront of a new era in Detroit. Today, it remains a must visit with the relatively small park packed with activities, great eats, and festivals.
In the warmer months, you can kick back on the lush lawns and enjoy one of the many community events held at Campus Martius Park. Admire the gardens, art pieces, and fountains before checking out one of the many food trucks that adorn the park.
In the fall, you can take part in the Thanksgiving festivals along with the Christmas tree lighting, while ice skating takes over the park in the winter.
10. Comerica Park
Along with Detroit’s RiverFront, Comerica Park is a summer institution. From Late March to October, the beloved Detroit Tigers play their home baseball games right here.
With the sun shining overhead, baseball (and hotdog) fans converge on the beautiful stadium to take in the American pastime. On your way to the stadium, you’ll likely pass the team’s Walk of Fame, a celebration of famous Tigers throughout the team’s history.
From your seat, you’ll have a great view not only of the game but possibly the entire Detroit skyline, but that’s not the only eye-catching part of Comerica Park. The stadium also has camel rides and a Ferris wheel.
9. Fox Theatre
The crown jewel of arts and culture in Detroit is the elegant Fox Theatre. In downtown, the palace first opened in 1928 as the flagship location for the Fox Theatre Chain. It has an audience capacity of 5,000, making it the largest theater that remains from the Roaring ‘20s.
Now a National Historic Landmark, the theatre has hosted a range of iconic musicians and performers from Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen to Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld. Today, you’ll find a packed calendar of touring artists, comedians, and large-scale productions.
If you’re wondering what to do at night, then you can’t go wrong with an evening at the Fox Theatre.
8. Ford Field
If your team is coming to town, or you simply want a dose of live sport, then head along to an NFL game at Ford Field. The home of the Detroit Lions was built in 2002 and has a max capacity of 65,000. With its fantastic layout, the stadium boasts it offers fans the best views of any U.S. football stadium.
But it’s not just football that brings people to Ford Field. The indoor arena has hosted many major events, including ice hockey, basketball, trade shows and WrestleMania. On the off chance nothing is on when you’re in town sign up for the stadium’s one-hour guided tour.
The tour will take you behind-the-scenes and explore both the stadium and the Lion’s practice facilities.
7. Eastern Market
At the eastern end of the RiverWalk is the Dequindre Cut. This is a two-mile greenway that exists largely underground, showcasing urban art. The trail brings you from the waterfront inland to the Eastern Market.
The market is historic, having run since 1841, making it one of the oldest in the United States. There isn’t much the vendors don’t cover. Browse the endless aisles perusing the wares of over 200 sellers. Find everything from fresh produce and clothes to jewelry and art.
To indulge in some Detroit culture, join the massive crowds that descend upon the beloved market every Saturday. This is the Eastern Market’s busiest day, and it opens at 6am before closing at 4pm.
6. Detroit RiverFront
When the sun is out in Detroit, the RiverFront is a flurry of activity. The section of the city was put at the forefront of Detroit’s revitalization and now includes a range of amenities to enjoy.
The RiverFront runs for 5.5 miles, connecting the Ambassador Bridge with Gabriel Richard Park. In between there are several green spaces to kick back, read a book, people watch or enjoy spontaneous live music.
A great way to experience the Detroit RiverFront is to stroll or ride along the RiverWalk. This 3.5-mile trail will take you from Joe Louis Arena to Milliken State Park by several viewpoints, picnic areas and even a waterfront carousel.
5. Belle Isle Park
An island in the middle of the Detroit River, Belle Isle Park, is a beautiful release from downtown Motor City. You can reach the isle by crossing the MacArthur Bridge. From there, you’ll have a choice of many cultural, natural, and historic attractions.
For many, simply exploring the gorgeous landscapes enveloped by the river is enough. You can hire bikes and small water craft to explore, swim in one of the three lakes on the island, or simply walk along the miles of hiking trails to every corner of Belle Isle.
Other major attractions include the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the 1904 Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, and the Belle Isle Aquarium.
4. Ford Piquette Avenue Plant
Now a National History Landmark, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is your one-way ticket to Detroit’s Brass Era. The plant began operations in 1904 and is the only one of its kind that is open to locals and travelers to visit.
The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant has a heady place in Ford history. It was the first plant purchased by the renowned car brand and was designed specifically to create Ford vehicles. Four years later, Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which was built right here.
The Model T helped Mr Ford complete his goal of manufacturing a mass-produced vehicle, a universal car for the every man. Visitors can explore the plant with many original features, including Ford’s office with many historic cars on-site.
3. Guardian Building
Built in 1928 and complete the following year, the Guardian Building was seen as an astonishingly bold example of art déco architecture. Today, that notion still holds sway. The 40-story building has lost none of its opulent grandeur as it heads towards its 100th birthday.
From the outside, you can admire its light orange bricks that contrast to a city of chromatic skyscrapers. Walk through the memorable facade to see the building’s real highlight, the lobby. Like a scene out of a 16th century church, the lobby has soaring ceilings with intricate mosaics and frescoes that run from side to side.
The floor leads to an altar-esque platform atop a flight of stairs, and you half expect a priest to begin mass at any moment. It’s easy to see why it’s called Detroit’s Cathedral of Finance.
2. Motown Museum
In January 1959, Berry Gordy Jr founded Motown Records. It was a nod to Detroit being the Motor City and the record company would go on a historic run, elevating black musicians, from the Temptations to the Supremes.
The Motown Records’ main office is appropriately called Hitsville U.S.A. In 1985, it was transformed into a museum. Today, you can explore the role of the studio, its contribution to the wider Motown movement and its place in American culture.
As you explore the museum, you’ll have the opportunity to step inside one of the recording studios where history was made. Motown Museum also has a captivating collection of artifacts and memorabilia, including prominent records, trophies, and iconic costumes from several artists, including the one and only Michael Jackson.
1. Detroit Institute of Arts
Set within a conglomerate of over 100 galleries, the Detroit Institute of Arts is an eye-opening collection of prominent works. The institute has over 65,000 pieces of art on display that combine to explore ancient culture as much as the modern day.
The thorough repository represents many regions around the globe, including the African continent, Oceania, and works from early cultures in both Europe and the Middle East. It helps take visitors on a journey back in time to see the role art played in ancient societies and the many differences between humanity all over the world.
To complement the international art, the Detroit Institute of Arts dives into indigenous works from around America and the rest of the continent. After exploring the amazing collection, continue to see the institute’s section on theater and film.