Looking for things to do in Detroit?
Detroit used to be the center of the American car industry, and a modern city attractive to tourists from around the globe. The city’s fortunes saw a sharp decline in the 1950s, and in the 60s and 70s its glory days were definitely over.
However, Detroit’s been on the upswing for the past several years, and things have improved significantly. While there are still neighborhoods that need a lot of work, the city has managed to reinvent itself.
By combining a rich history and a trendy environment for budding artists, the city has established itself as a hidden gem. What defined the city’s history were the beginnings of the automotive industry. While the many art museums and installations form its artistic environment.
That’s exactly why most of the things on our list will be either tied to Henry Ford and General Motors, or to art and entertainment. There’s something for everyone in the mix. We hope to help you answer the question what to do in Detroit. And we are sure you won’t regret a trip to this beautiful city.
Table of Contents
What to Do in Detroit
The Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts is a MUST for all new visitors of the city. With one of the largest art collections in America, one hundred galleries spread over an area of 658,000 square feet, the DIA attracts many visitors. So many, in fact, that it is one of the most visited art museums in the world. Its first piece was donated way back in 1883. And its collection spans the globe from ancient Egyptian and European works to contemporary art. You could spend days if not weeks exploring this marvelous institute.
The most expansive and impressive is the American art collection. It contains practically a representation of every artistic movement in America. Everything from the founding of the country to contemporary art has its place in the DIA.
Their other collections, including European and ancient art are all thorough surveys of art in their own right. They include ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian material. As well as a wide range of Islamic, African and Asian art of all media.
To this we may add that the buildings that house the Detroit Institute of Arts are themselves pieces of architectural art. The cornerstone of the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance styled building was laid in 1923 and the finished museum was dedicated in 1927. The south and north wings were added in 1966 and 1971 . Both were originally faced in black granite to serve as a backdrop for the original white marble building.
So, whether you are into classical art, ancient culture, or architecture, this place has something for everyone. You can check out their site for more information, work hours and entrance fees.
Belle Isle Park
The Belle Isle Park is a state park in Detroit, the largest city-owned island park in the United States. It is a truly impressive park with many attractions. And a great example of natural conservationist efforts in America. Belle Isle Park is home to the Belle Isle Aquarium, the Belle Isle Conservatory, the Belle Isle Nature Center, the James Scott Memorial Fountain, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and many other monuments and attractions.
The Belle Isle Aquarium was designed by famed Detroit architect, Albert Kahn, and opened on August 18, 1904. It is the oldest aquarium in the country and has served the Detroit community as a beloved attraction for generations. The collection of the aquarium spans the whole world, and features many specimens or collections unique to it. The architectural style of the facilities combines the splendid early 20th century style we saw with the DIA building with all the modern amenities required for safekeeping of the many aquatic animals.
The Belle Isle Conservatory or the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is an exotic and rare collection of plants from around the world. It is divided into four houses – the Palm House, the Cactus House, the Fernery, and the Tropical House. Each section houses exotic plants with very specific needs that are maintained by the conservatory’s careful layout and diligent care for the specimens. A great place for artists, as the unique plant life acts as the most cooperative models you’ll ever see. Beyond that, the conservatory is a great place to enjoy moments in peace and take in all the magic of the exotic flora you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
The Belle Isle Nature Center is located on a five-acre site and surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands. The facility features indoor animal habitats, a bee exhibit, bird observation window, an outdoor native butterfly garden, outdoor classrooms, nature play area and the Blue Heron Lagoon Nature Trail. The direct contact to nature it offers gives welcome relief for Detroit’s population and the nature center has been a popular attraction for many years. It’s definitely a stark contrast to the urban landscape, marked by the automotive industry, that surrounds it.
There is much more to be said about Belle Isle, but we want to leave most of it for you to explore and experience on your own.
The Henry Ford Museum
To talk about Detroit without mentioning Henry Ford is nearly impossible. The man who produced the legendary Model-T has changed the whole of the USA. But his biggest impact was on Detroit.
With modernized production facilities Ford has in his time produced a car for the majority of America. This has led to it becoming an integral part of American culture. In Detroit he raised worker wages and pioneered the ideas of rewarding hard workers, at times doubling their wages. This has produced the initial economic boom in Detroit. Together with his main competitors, General Motors, Ford has established the automotive industry as a central part of Detroit economy.
Although the glory days of this industry are mostly over, visiting the Henry Ford Museum is a must for anyone wondering what to do in Detroit.
This impressive collection contains a generalized survey of technological development in America from the pioneers to the present day. The largest part of it consists of some 200 vehicles. They include the first steam locomotive, the first Ford car, the car president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in, and admiral Byrd’s Fokker.
Greenfield Village is a peculiar open-air museum. Namely, it consists of around 100 historic buildings from the 17th century up to now, from all across the USA. All the buildings were moved from their original location and arranged in Greenfield Village. This place probably has the highest historic-building-to-acre ratio in the US. Some notable buildings include the house in which Henry Ford was born, Edison’s laboratory, and the Wright brothers’ bicycle factory.
There’s likely no other place where you can get this degree of insight into American history in such a small radius. From industrial advancements to scientific and every-day life development, you can see it all in the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
K.OSS Contemporary Art Gallery
K.OSS Contemporary Art is located in Eastern Market, the hip and busting area of Detroit. They are exploring art of the today’s world bringing established world class artists from around the globe. Exhibitions include thought-provoking abstract contemporary art including paintings, sculptures, and installations, with new exhibits presented every two months.
The GM Renaissance Center
Since General Motors was Ford’s greatest rival in his time, it is only fair to mention the GM Renaissance Center. Besides the cultural and economic influence of GM throughout the years, the complex also provides a contrast to what we mentioned so far. It is a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers, the main one of which has been the tallest building in Detroit since 1977. With its futuristic cylindrical design and reflective glass façade, the complex is a centerpiece of the Detroit skyline and a sight to behold. It features several walkways and bicycle paths along the river walk, 1300 hotel rooms, 29 restaurants and many other attractions.
If you are in Detroit this is definitely one of the places you have to visit. It plays a large part in the history of Detroit and is a modern, sleek complex that gives a glimpse of Detroit’s contemporary qualities.
If you ever wondered why people used to dress up when going to the movies you should pay a visit to Fox Theater. The architectural intricacy of this building will give you the perfect representation of that age.
It opened in 1928 as a flagship movie palace in the Fox Theaters chain. At the time it had 5,000 seats and was the largest theater in the city. The theater has a lavish interior featuring a blend of Burmese, Chinese, Indian and Persian motifs.
Beyond many movie premieres and galas in the 20s and 30s, the theater also hosted several popular music artists. This included three performances by Elvis Presley. It also included Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Alice Cooper, and the final performance of Chris Cornell, to name a few.
Michigan Opera Theatre
Opera, musical theatre, ballet, and more is all on offer at the Michigan Opera Theatre. Dating back to the 1970s, MOP brings productions to their stages from around the nation and world. Recent performances include “Swan Lake”, “Sweeney Todd”, “The Nutcracker”, and “The Grapes of Wrath”. Additionally, the theatre has launched “MOT at Home”, a digital program that offers dance and opera programming in the comfort of patrons’s homes.
If you prefer film over live theater, or are just craving a nice Indy flick, then Cinema Detroit is the place to head. Opened in 2013, Cinema Detroit is the city’s first independent cinema and the only theater in downtown that is open seven days a week. Additionally, the theater is non-profit and serves as much as a community center as it does an entertainment venue.
The Tigers, the Pistons, the Redwings, the Lions – Detroit is home to teams from all major sports leagues in the United States. Tickets for games are cheap compared to most other major cities in the USA. Make sure to take advantage of that!
We hope that some of our suggestions will help you decide what to do in Detroit once you are there. But most of all, we hope that you will visit this great city. The attractions we have mentioned are some of the most popular ones. There are many undiscovered nooks and crannies with hidden gems throughout the city.
As always travel safe folks, and we’ll see you on the road!