Detroit, Michigan, nicknamed Motown and the Motor City, showcases the city’s automotive and musical heritage. While downtown Detroit features many of the area’s tourist attractions, you’ll also want to explore some of the suburbs, like Royal Oak and Dearborn, to explore the Detroit Zoo and the Henry Ford.
You’ll find so many fun things to do while visiting Detroit that it might be challenging to decide where to start sightseeing. So here are 11 must-see things to do while you’re there.
1. Charles H. Wright Museum Of African American History
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located in Detroit’s midtown region, explores the cultural heritage of African Americans through permanent and rotating exhibits. Permanent exhibits at the Wright include Detroit Performs, featuring those in music, dance, and theater who reached national and international recognition in the performing arts. Another display, And Still We Rise, provides a comprehensive look at African American resilience throughout the years. As an art lover, I enjoyed the Stories in Stained Glass exhibit, where Samuel A. Hodge, a stained-glass artist, created pieces representing dancers and musicians.
Pro Tip: You can park at the Cultural Center parking lot behind the museum, where the entrance is off John R. Street. Parking here is also convenient for the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Michigan Science Center.
2. Detroit Zoo
The Detroit Zoo, located in the suburb of Royal Oak, sits on 125 acres of natural habitats. Open year-round, you’ll find over 2,000 animals at the zoo, representing more than 200 species. In addition to the animals, you can ride a carousel, watch a movie in the 4D theater, and stop by the Rissman PlayVenture with the kiddos to blow off some steam.
Pro Tip: While you’ll find benches throughout the zoo, one way to reduce your walking is to take the Tauber Family Railroad one-way in your explorations. While you can’t see the animals on the train, our family likes to jump on and take it to the back of the zoo. Then, view the animals walking to the front at the exit towards the end of the day.
3. Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum
The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is the birthplace of the Model T. The building, constructed in 1904, is considered one of the world’s most important automotive heritage locations. They assembled the first 12,000 Model Ts at this manufacturing plant and shipped them by railroad.
In 1910, the Ford Motor Company moved its operations to the Highland Park Plan and sold the Piquette building to Studebaker, where that company used it to build automobiles until 1933.
Pro Tip: Open Wednesday through Sunday, they offer public guided tours at 10 a.m., Noon, and 2 p.m.
4. Detroit Institute Of Arts (DIA)
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), located on Woodward Avenue, features work from the beginning of civilization through the 21st century. You’ll find over 60,000 pieces of art here, so you’ll want to plan your visit. Van Gough’s 1887 self-portrait and Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals are both must-see works at the DIA.
With so much to see here, The GooseChase app is a self-guided scavenger hunt and a fun way to explore the museum with a purpose.
Pro Tip: Take a free 1-hour guided tour that provides an overview of the museum.
5. Hart Plaza
The Gateway to Freedom Sculpture, located in Hart Plaza, is one of the sculptures along the Detroit Riverwalk. Facing Windsor, Canada, it commemorates one of the final stops along the Underground Railroad. Also in the area, at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson across from the Renaissance Center, is a sculpture dedicated to Detroit native and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, known as The Fist.
Pro Tip: The Detroit People Mover, with 11 stops open to the public, including Greek Town and the General Motors Renaissance Center, is a great way to get around downtown Detroit. As you ride, take the time to enjoy the murals you find at each of the People Mover stations.
6. The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford, located in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, offers a variety of experiences — Greenfield Village, the Henry Ford Museum, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.
I still remember the magic and anticipation of my fourth-grade field trip to Greenfield Village. It was magical then and still is today. The village is an 80-acre, open-air museum divided into seven districts. You can visit working farms and see Henry Ford’s Model T district, where you can ride a Model T. In addition, Liberty Craft Works showcases artisan crafts such as weaving and glass blowing. You can also see Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Complex featuring his laboratory to see where he conducted some of his experiments.
The Henry Ford Museum Of American Innovation
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation immerses you in the stories that built America. You can step onto the bus where Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back, see the seat where Abraham Lincoln sat on his fatal night in the Ford Theater, and explore aviation achievements beginning with the Wright brothers.
The Ford Rouge Factory Tour
The Ford Rouge Factory Tour offers two theater experiences and a self-guided factory tour where you’ll see how they make the Ford F-150.
7. Motown Museum
In 1959, Berry Gordy started Motown Records. The Motown Museum is inside the first headquarters of Motown Records. You’ll find Studio A is where they recorded many Motown favorites. The museum also displays the apartment where Berry Gordy and his family lived during the early days of Motown Records.
8. Belle Isle Park
Belle Isle Park is a Michigan State Park urban sanctuary in the middle of the Detroit River. It combines city attractions like museums and aquariums with outdoor nature activities like paddle sports and a nature center.
Belle Isle Aquarium
The Belle Isle Aquarium is the oldest in the United States. I enjoyed the history of the original green-arched ceiling designed to make you feel like you’re underwater. Plan to spend an hour exploring the aquarium.
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
The 13-acre Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory features five horticultural settings — the Palm House, the Tropical, a sunken Fernery, the Cactus, and Show Houses — featuring rotating flowering plants. I love taking photographs here.
Dossin Great Lakes Museum
Dossin Great Lakes Museum tells the story of Detroit’s maritime history in both indoor and outdoor settings. The anchor from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald is on display here.
Pro Tip: While all vehicles entering the park require a Recreation Passport, one isn’t necessary if you’re walking in. Also, the aquarium, conservatory, and museum have free admission.
9. Michigan Science Center
With more than 200 exhibits at the Michigan Science Center, you can easily spend an entire day with the kiddos doing hands-on activities. One of my favorite galleries is the Waves and Vibrations gallery. Our family especially enjoyed the walk-in kaleidoscope and the Seashell Pipes, where we all enjoyed experimenting with sounds and colors.
In addition to the hands-on exhibits, check out the schedule of shows at the theaters. They have shows at the IMAX Dome Theater, the Planetarium, the Toyota 4D Engineering Theater, and the Science Stage.
10. Eastern Market
Eastern Market, open since 1841, is one of the nation’s largest open-air markets. While the farmers market is open on Saturdays, the area around the market offers a diverse mix of shopping and restaurants the rest of the week. In addition, murals cover the walls around the area, making it an exciting place to explore outdoor art.
11. Fox Theatre
Built in 1928, the Fox Theatre is a National Historic Landmark and the first theater in the world to hold custom built-in equipment to present talking movies. Today, the Fox Theatre offers Broadway shows in various genres, including drama, musicals, and comedy.
While you’re in the area, these articles will help you round out your trip: