Once the richest city in the world and the heart of the US car industry, Detroit suffered an unprecedented decline in the 20th century. However, things are changing and the city is turning over a new leaf. This is not a centre of heavy industry anymore but a vibrant metropolis doing its best to keep up with the latest trends. The transformation is quite amazing, so if you haven’t been here for a while you’ll be shocked by the way the city looks and lives these days. And if this is your first time in the city, your one day in Detroit will be filled with all kinds of interesting experiences.
What’s the best time to visit Detroit?
Spring is by far the busiest season in Detroit, so if you want to experience the city at its liveliest, this is when you need to visit it. This is especially true for the month of May, when the Detroit Movement Festival takes place and a whole lot of people come to the city to enjoy some excellent music. This is usually at the end of the month, so plan accordingly. However, prices and crowds peak at this time, which is certainly something to consider.
If you want to avoid that, the best time to visit Detroit would be June. The weather is still not too hot, the accommodation prices drop significantly, and there are several very interesting festivals you can visit, so you’ll get a great opportunity to get to know the people here and their way of life.
July and August are quite hot, but offer plenty of outdoors activities, whereas autumn (September-November) also brings agreeable weather. The winters are pretty cold, though, so the best time to visit Detroit would be somewhere between March and June, all things considered.
A few facts about Detroit
It can be argued that Detroit is best known as the fallen centre of the US car industry. In the first part of the 20th century, Detroit was actually the richest city in the world. At the peak of its power, it had exactly 42 car factories which employed thousands of people. Today, only two remain. As a consequence, the population dropped from over one million in 1990 to just 673.000 in 2017.
However, apart from being known as the car city, Detroit is culturally extremely important for the United States, primarily because of its music. The city’s nickname, Motown, comes from the name of a famous record company that was founded there. Furthermore, the list of famous musicians to have originated here includes the likes of Madonna, Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross (and the Supremes), Aretha Franklin and many, many more.
One Day in Detroit Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Detroit. If you are looking for best tours in Detroit be sure to check Get Your Guide tours.
Start your day off in downtown Detroit
So, what are the things to do in Detroit, Michigan? Well, the best way to start your one day in Detroit is to head downtown and do some exploring. See how the city is trying to reinvent itself, do some people watching and grab a cup of coffee to go along with it. Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters is a great place to do just that. You will see many construction sites, as Detroit is in a middle of a rebuilding. It’s quite fascinating to see knowing everything this community has gone through, but this is just the beginning of your tour.
Walk along Detroit Riverfront
After exploring the downtown area, take a walk along Detroit Riverfront. The Detroit River is what separates the United States and Canada, so you’ll essentially be able to take a peek across the border and see what Windsor is up to. But what makes this part of the town so special is the fact that this is where the revival is probably the strongest. What was once an industrial area today allows joggers, skaters and many other people to get out and enjoy the sun. Not to mention the impressive Detroit skyline rising right in front of you, plus the architecturally very interesting Renaissance Centre will be right next to you as you walk the riverfront.
Go to Belle Isle Park
You didn’t think Detroit has so many green areas, did you? But Belle Isle Park is something truly special – almost 1000 acres of recreational facilities, picnic areas, lakes, woods, not to mention the view of Windsor and Detroit you get from here. The island also houses a small aquarium and a zoo, so there is plenty to do and this is one of the best things to do in Detroit with kids. Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is a botanical garden also worthy of a visit, and you can even visit a museum while here – the Dossin Great Lakes Museum will tell you everything about the maritime history of this city and its connection to the Detroit River.
As for getting here, bus number 12 will get you there from downtown in a jiffy and leave you in front of the aquarium. If you’re on the riverfront, however, you can hop aboard the number 67 and then walk just a few minutes until you get on the island.
Back to the city centre for lunch
All that walking through nature must’ve built you an appetite. So, to take care of this issue, head back to the downtown area. You will find plenty of great choices there and in the nearby neighbourhoods, especially Corktown, as the food scene is quite alive and kicking. Batch Brewing Company, for example, is an excellent choice for every visitor who wants to eat well and try some great local beers. If you want some more elegant dining, Lady of the House is very close by, but The Apparatus Room can also be your choice. For some good old pizza, though, head to Supino Pizzeria, a cornerstone of Eastern Market.
Get a free Guardian Building Tour
Since you’re back in the downtown area, you can check out the Guardian Building, one of the most famous skyscrapers in Detroit. A fantastic example of Art Deco, it can be noticed from miles away thanks to its unique color achieved by specially produced bricks which were used to build it. Now, you can learn all about this and much more about this fascinating building when you come here because inside you can get a free Pure Detroit Guardian Building tour. It will take about an hour and will certainly enlighten you a lot, so if you’re interested in architecture this is probably the best free thing in Deroit you can do. Well worth the time, plus it has a nice shop inside.
Visit Comerica Park
You may have noticed it this morning when you were exploring the city centre, but Comerica Park is much more than your average baseball stadium. It’s a genuine theme park with a Ferris wheel, carousel and even a baseball museum. Definitely one of the places to see in Detroit even if the Tigers are not playing, especially because it’s so close to the downtown area. It’ll give you a great feel of how important baseball is to Americans, while the rides are excellent things to do in Detroit with kids, that’s for sure.
Check out Detroit Institute of Arts
Ok, time to get serious now. Straight north from the baseball field, along Woodward Avenue, is Detroit Institute of Art. The distance between the two places is less than two miles, and there’s even a bus you can take (004), so you should be there shortly. Once you get there, you’re in for a treat because the DIA houses one of the best art collections in North America. There is an astonishing number of artefacts to explore, more than 65,000 pieces, to be more precise. Monet, mummies, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, African masks… and the list just goes on and on. There can be no doubt that this is a world-class museum and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Detroit.
A special attraction here is the Center for African American Art, a part of the DIA which is dedicated solely to preserving African American culture and houses around 450 exhibits. Therefore, your visit here will be a very enlightening experience and definitely something you won’t soon forget. A must-visit destination for all art lovers.
End your tour at Motown Museum
Another cultural jewel of Detroit is located about a mile to the north-west from the DIA. Motown Museum (also known as Hitsville, USA) may not look like much at first glance, but the amount of music history this house hides within it is extraordinary. Motown’s founder Berry Gordy bought the house in 1959 and this is where he created all those Motown hits. Costumes and other incredible memorabilia from this era of 20th-century music all await you inside, so music fans will have an absolute field day. But even if you’re not into this type of music you should come here – see why this place is among the top things to do in Detroit!
Detroit at night
You can’t come and spend one day in Detroit and not get out in the evening – there are plenty of things to do in Detroit at night, primarily if you’re looking for some good music. Visiting Bert’s Marketplace is a great way to relax after a long day. It’s a jazz and blues place that has been around for decades, but every evening they spice things up a little with open mic nights and stuff like that. They also serve great ribs here, and you’re very likely to see some famous musician performing or simply sitting in the crowd.
If you want just to chill out with a nice drink in hand, you should visit the Whisky Parlour. It doesn’t get too crowded here, so you can fully enjoy the sense of Detroit around you and soak up the atmosphere. However, if you have some extra energy, head over to the Delux Lounge or the White House. These are some of the most popular party spots in the city, so you’re guaranteed to have a great time.
Mind you, all these places are in downtown Detroit, which makes it easy for you to hop from one place to another without too much trouble. However, Detroit at night offers great fun all across the city, so there are places to visit all over. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is on the famous Eight Mile Road and offers great music and food, so if you want to venture out of the downtown area this is a great destination.
Where to stay in Detroit?
The Detroit Club
712 Cass Avenue, Detroit
If you really want to live it up when you visit this city, The Detroit Club is the place you want to stay in. This five-star luxury hotel in a quite beautiful building has everything you’ll ever need and more. The classic design and the spaciousness of the rooms will only add to your experience, but don’t think for a second there aren’t any modern features here. A salt-water jacuzzi, all kinds of beauty treatments, saunas and perhaps above all good service provide an incredible stay.
The Inn on Ferry Street
84 East Ferry Street, Detroit
For a real trip back in time, book your accommodation in The Inn on Ferry Street. Appropriately enough, it is located in the city’s historic part, so the fantastic design of its interior suits it perfectly. The rooms, the lobby, every corner of this amazing Victorian building is full of elegance and beautiful pieces of furniture. A free breakfast with excellent food is included, and the inn will even provide a shuttle to where you need to go. You really can’t go wrong with this one!
Aloft Detroit at The David Whitney
One Park Avenue, Detroit
Aloft Detroit at The David Whitney is a hotel located in a beautiful historic building right in downtown Detroit. You’ll be amazed by the building’s interior, whereas the rooms are very much modern and more than comfortable. A great bar on the premises offers a whole lot of great cocktails, and Aloft’s re:fuel allows you to grab a bite to eat around the clock. You even have a golf course nearby!
Hamtramck Hotel and Hostel
2699 Holmes Street, Detroit
A nice, clean and cozy establishment, Hamtramck Hotel and Hostel will win you over with the value it offers and its great hosts. Perfectly clean and comfortable rooms make sure you get plenty of rest, and meeting fellow travelers is always an interesting experience. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around this place, so you can be sure you’ll have plenty of fun even if you don’t head downtown.
Day trips from Detroit
Apart from being a fascinating city, Detroit is a great base from which to organize your day trips. You have plenty of potential destinations, that much is undeniable, because you are close to the Great Lakes, a fascinating feat of nature. But apart from that, there is a whole variety of quaint small towns, villages and other cities you can visit, each with some unique feature or two. You’ll be surprised by how important art is in this part of the United States, plus there are still plenty of places where you can enjoy the beauty of nature. Not bad for a state known primarily for its car industry, huh? Furthermore, you can also easily cross the state line and visit Ohio, Indiana or even Canada! To find the best destinations for your day trips from Detroit, all you need to do is click here.
Extra tips for visiting Detroit
If you like to use a bike to get around, you’ll be amazed how comfortable driving one around here feels. There are more than enough bike lanes, plus the traffic is not that bad, so you’ll have plenty of room to navigate.
On the other hand, if you’re with a car and are looking for parking spots in the downtown area, you should try casinos of all places. They actually sometimes offer free parking, so if it’s your lucky day you may very well get a great place to leave your car for literally nothing.
When it comes to tipping, 15% is standard for restaurants, taxis and stuff like that. One dollar will be enough for bellboys and maids in hotels.
Unfortunately, Detroit does have a problem with crime. However, things are beginning to change, especially in the downtown area which is now considered to be quite safe. You would do well not to venture in the suburbs on your own, though, if you’re not a local or don’t have a guide.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).