It’s impossible to start writing about what to see in Detroit and neighborhoods without at least mention the great changes that affected the city known as the Motor City of the USA over time.
Founded in 1701 by a French fur tradesman, Anthoine de la Mother Cadillac – the site where it was built can be still seen in a precise point of the Campus Martius Park, in the heart of downtown – Detroit was at first seat of naval yards and railroad industries, but only thanks to Henry Ford and his revolutionary idea of auto manufacturing it became the protagonist of an exceptional economic boom between the end of 1800 and the first decades of 1900.
In the ‘20s the most part of auto industries (besides Ford, also colossus like General Motors, Pontiac, Chrysler et cetera) moved here seats and production facilities.
In the ‘60s population arrived overpassing 2,5 million and the Motown record label brought out artists of the caliber of Marvin Gave, The Contours, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Marveletts as far as the Jackson Five in the first ‘70s.
Starting from the late ‘60s the crisis of the auto industry and the racial fights following the wave of protests caused by the Civil Rights took Detroit towards a slow and relentless decline, fed – despite the recovery efforts – by the devastating economic crisis in 2008 which dashed – literally – hundreds of thousands of workplaces.
10 years after – today – finally Detroit knows a new rebirth fed by the economic recovery which favored a new and substantial growth of industrial and auto productivity, but also the willing of its citizens to give it back the place and the attention it deserves in the international – tourist and not – outline.
What to see in Detroit and neighborhoods: why deciding to stop in the Motor City for a couple of days
“Detroit. I stay, even when I go”
Forget the sad and dark city of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the fetish buildings, the fear to move behind every corner. Detroit goes further and further from that terrible stop-motion.
It has changed – in better – and it keeps doing it even remaining faithful to its own origins, traditions and culture.
Detroit is Henry Ford and everything this visionary, difficult, unique and in traits crazy man gave origin.
Detroit is music, that music entering inwardly and going away anymore, that one of the Motown record label, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson’s and many other great artists who formed over time thanks to their legacy.
Detroit is architecture, one of the most beautiful Art Deco agglomerates of the country, and art, street art and fun for the whole family. Try to spend a night at one of the many events scheduled at the Eastern Market and you’ll realize what I mean.
Detroit is the “home” of the Mother of the Civil Rights – Rosa Parks – and the great Aretha Franklin. Multiculturalism, ethnic venues from all over the world, independent bookstores, vintage stores and the wonderful Victorian houses spread along the Corktown streets. An area – dangerous and abandoned to itself until 5/6 years ago – that today live a downright rebirth.
Whether you put it as leaving point – Detroit Metro Airport is an important international airport where several European airlines companies fly to, Lufthansa for example – or as stage of an on the road among the Midwest plains and the Great Lakes, give it a chance. It will repay you in a big way!
What to see in Detroit and neighborhoods: 2 days’ itinerary
In collaboration with Visit Detroit – the Motor City tourist official body – I’ve created a two days and three nights’ itinerary which included the best the city and its neighborhoods have to offer.
Then I tested personally the entire path on the site, telling on the social networks (Facebook and Instagram first of all, in the stories highlighted you can find the detailed report of my stay) my experience live, day by day.
Please, find down here the complete itinerary with info tested about what to see and what to do, where to sleep, to eat and go shopping.
What to see in Detroit and neighborhoods: arrival to the city, how to move, where to sleep, tour of Corktown
If you arrive to the city with an intercontinental flight, you can reach the area to collect the rent car – please, find here my Alamo Rent a Car link with a 20% off – using the free shuttles taking directly to the scheduled collecting.
The ideal area to stay overnight and so enjoy a bit more as a local your experience in Detroit is certainly Corktown.
It’s the most ancient old district of the city decorated by wonderful houses and Victorian age buildings and inhabited non-stop from the middle 1800s when the first Irish immigrants arrived.
During the darkest years of the great economic crisis it was a place where one would not wish to be seen, today progressively it has been recovered thanks to a masterly recycling of the buildings and the industrial spaces turned into fashion venues for the young people, open spaces, restaurant and pubs.
My tip is to book a room at the industrial Trumbull and Porter Hotel Detroit, whose story intersects in part with the Corktown’s one. It was born as Holiday Inn Detroit in the years of the auto boom with a perfect position, two blocks far from the Tiger Stadium in Trumbull Street. Then it was turned into an independent hotel – Corktown Inn – and from 2013 completely restored and inspired to the district hosting it.
From here, go on foot through the district, go first towards the West Riverfront Park to enjoy the view of downtown skyscrapers, Detroit River and Canada, exactly on the opposite banks of the river.
Have a stop at the John K. King Used and Rare Book, the biggest independent bookstore of the state – and one of the major ones of the country – a sort of collective memory of Detroit, made of used books, old papers, cultural events linked to the district and vintage objects.
Have a tour of the historic Hello Records vinyl’s store and give yourselves a nice walk along Bagley Street to admire the wonderful Victorian houses on the path.
Stop and admire what remains of the Michigan Central Train Depot, the ancient railroad station, symbol of the urban decay reached by the city in the last decades and today – it seems – in course of restoration. And also have a snack with hamburger – the best in the city, they say – at Mercury Burger Bar’s, right in front of the Victorian buildings known as Corktown’s “postcard”, in Michigan Ave.
Go back to the hotel and take the car.
Just in time to reach the Sunset Point in Belle Isle Park to enjoy the most amazing sunset on the city and the Detroit River.
What to see in Detroit and neighborhoods: day 1 – Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Eastern Market
Early in the morning go to Dearborn, about 20km far from Detroit, to reach the Henry Ford Museum and give yourselves a full immersion into the surprising world of the brilliant and unique Henry Ford, entrepreneur, collector, visionary.
The Henry Ford is not only a museum. It is a collection of emotions.
Cars – among them the first Model T – airplanes, trains, Stradivari, and a series of objects and constructions (strictly original) tied to some of the important moments of the USA history – and probably of the world.
From the presidential Lincoln where JFK was assassinated to the Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks gave life to the Civil Rights movement. From the chair where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated to the aluminum circular houses prototypes created at the end of the Second World War. Passing through the first planes which reached – respectively – the South Pole and the North Pole. And a series of relics tied to the industrial revolution, the economic boom, the recession, et cetera.
As far as arriving to the Greenfield Village, a boundless historic district where over time Ford gathered original buildings from all over the globe – among them the Thomas Edison’s lab, the Wrights brothers’ home and the warehouse where they created their plane, poet Robert Frost’s house, et cetera – and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour to see with one’s own eyes the “mythical” Assembly Line of the Ford Motors, the heart and soul of Henry Ford’s dream.
Reckon a whole day for the tour if you want to visit all the attractions.
You can stop and have lunch at the Eagle Tavern’s, an original post station dating back to 1700 inside the Greenfield Village or at the diners and fast foods inside the museum.
The Ford Museum is opened 7 days a week 9.30am-5pm. Please, look the official website up for further info about the events scheduled on the day of your tour.
To end the day with a flourish give yourselves a walk among the murals in the Eastern Market, in the north-east of Detroit.
It’s an ancient local products market, the biggest one in the United States, dating back to 1891. It’s particularly crowded on Saturday, when farmers arrive to sell their own fresh products, the area is enriched with art galleries, street art paths and malls for the sale of accessories and vintage clothes. Every week theme night events are scheduled – music, food, art – and the entire local community take part into it.
Furthermore, it’s possible to take part into 1hour guided tours to discover the whole area and the murals in the neighborhoods. Please, click here to earn further info about it.
Just one tip for dinner.
Stay in the area and try the Supino’s Pizza: you can choose among the most famous stuffed slices in Detroit or the mythical meatballs and parmigiano. Average prices, good quality, really many locals.
What to see in Detroit and neighborhoods: day 2 – Woodlawn Cemetery, Downtown and Art Deco District, Motown Museum, Great Lakes Crossing Outlets
If you are fond of history and/or American music and want to honor two really great women who made the difference in their respective fields, early in the morning go to the Woodlawn Cemetery – just outside Detroit – to visit Rosa Parks’ grave – in the Freedom Chapel on the left of the main entrance – and Aretha Franklin’s one – she rests in the great mausoleum on the hill, on the basement, second chapel on the right.
If you find difficult to reach the graves, get a map with all the indications at the office at the entrance.
Reach downtown Detroit to admire it and its wonderful Art Deco buildings. Among them the Guardian Building with its windows and Tiffany clock. Free admittance and highly recommended.
Every day from Campus Martius Park interesting guided tours of a couple of hours leave: they allow to discover all the most important buildings in the area. Please, find here further information.
Have a quick and cheap lunch at the Campus Martius Park Food Trucks and go towards the Hitsville District to visit the Mecca of the USA black music, the Motown Museum.
In 1959 Berry Gordy founded the Motown record label with a loan of $800. In the 1970s the Motown had a 2 million dollars’ turnover and he had in his “stable” artists of the caliber of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Supremes, the Jackson Five with a very young Michael Jackson, and many other ones.
The guided tour lasts one hour and half about and will allow you to go over the entire Motown era, its original places, relics, vintage videos and moving “music moments” in the mythical Studio A.
Considering the crowd, it’s better to book the tour on the museum official website, above all if you are going to be here during the weekend.
At this point, you can choose to reach the Detroit Art Institute to admire the monumental mural by Diego Rivera – even 27 panels showing his particular visions of the Detroit Industry – and admire the wonderful collections of Native, African, Flemish and Dutch art.
Or give yourselves some hours shopping at the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, half an hour by car far from downtown Detroit.
End with a flourish the evening with a jazz session at the Northern Lights Lounge.
What to see in Detroit and neighborhoods: a tour by People Mover before leaving
You cannot leave the city without have a tour on the Detroit People Mover before.
What is it?
It’s a sort of elevated railroad looping around downtown, passing among skyscrapers and buildings and then reaching and skirting the Detroit River. 75cent fare per ride and it takes about 25 minutes to cover all the 13 stops of the route.
Every station is decorated with wonderful works by international street artists, a very beautiful project called “Art in the Station”: it aims to awake the attention of citizens to art and the multitude of shapes by which it could express, communicate and connect. It’s possible to take part into guided tours, too.
The Detroit People Mover works Monday-Thursday 6.30am-12 Midnight, Friday 6.30am-2am, Saturday 9am-2am, Sunday 12Noon-12 Midnight.