The Ultimate Travel Guide to the “Motor City:” 72 Hours in Detroit
Updated: Aug 12
Looking for somewhere new to explore? Want a city that has a lot to offer? Detroit is the perfect place to check out! Yes...I know what you are thinking. “Why Detroit?” Yup, many people have asked me that question, thinking it is dangerous or in shambles. Contrary to popular belief, however, Detroit has a LOT to offer!
Detroit is a hidden gem, which is why I have so much love for it. Help with its current revival by making a trip there! Spend your money in a place that has rich history, great food, and even better music. To appreciate #Detroit is to know its history. For example, in 1950, Detroit was the 4th largest city in the country. However, over the past 60 years, it has faced the second largest population decline in the country -- with St. Louis taking the lead. Detroit’s population at the beginning of the new millenium continued to decline, falling to an astounding 25% -- dropping from the 10th largest city in the country to the 18th. From 1950 to 2010, the population declined 60% from 1.8 million to 713,000. This urban decay was a result of many factors including #segregation and the collapse of the #autoindustry, which the city relied on for many years. As of 2018, Detroit’s population is 672,662.
Keep reading this blog post as I will answer some of the most common questions:
How can I spend a day in Detroit? How do I spend a weekend in a detroit?
Is Detroit Worth Visiting?
How many days do you need in Detroit?
What are things to do in Detroit? Where to eat in Detroit?
What foods is Detroit known for?
What is Detroit famous for?
Is Detroit dangerous for tourists? How bad is Detroit?
Read this guide and find out why Detroit is such a special place and how to spend a weekend or a day in Detroit!
Is Detroit Worth Visiting? YES!!!!!!! See why!
Why should you go to Detroit, Michigan?
Detroit is a small city, especially comparatively to NYC. However, it has a lot to offer to keep you entertained.
Detroit’s history is RICH, and it shows in its music. Aside from New Orleans, Detroit probably has the most musically talented population. There is live music happening somewhere every evening!
Detroit is rising up! Downtown has a lot of new developments with new restaurants to try and many events to attend. #supportlocalbusinesses
Great views! I was amazed to discover that Canada is literally on the other side of the river. As a result, you can turn your trip into another mini getaway!
What is Detroit famous for?
Some famous people who originate from Detroit include Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Big Sean, Anita Baker, and Aretha Franklin.
Detroit was the first city in the United States to pave a concrete road; making it easier for cars to travel.
The oldest surviving ginger ale brand in the United States exists in Detroit.
Motown from the late 1950’s and techno from the 1980’s both originated in Detroit.
Check out my guide to exploring this city nicknamed the “Motor City”
PLACES TO VISIT:
What are Detroit attractions?
1. Detroit Historical Museum:
This museum does a great job chronicling the historical timeline of Detroit through the use of detailed exhibits containing walk-in rooms, many rich videos, and plenty of images. For example, you can walk into a room and feel like you stepped into a barber shop from the early 1900’s. They also do a great job representing the development of the auto industry, showing different stages in car manufacturing as well as different car models. They also go through the history of #Motown, showing some of the costumes and playing the music from that era. My favorite exhibit was the #Detroitriots. I could have easily spent all day in this exhibit because of all the video footage of a history I was not familiar with. Videos just make history come alive!
TIP: Although some would say only spend 1-2 hours there, I would recommend giving yourself time as you will get caught up. We stayed around 2 hours but felt rushed because we had a tour booked at the Motown Museum.
TIP: I would plan your day around museums since several museums are located in close proximity to each other inthe city's Cultural Center Historic District (Midtown Detroit). For example, Detroit Institute of Arts (#DIA) is located about 3-4 minute walk from this historical museum. Both The African American Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art are located about 10-15 minute walk from the museum.
2. Motown Museum:
Have you really gone to Detroit if you haven’t gone to the Motown Museum? I think it is a good experience for everyone to check out at least once on a Detroit trip because Motown originated here. Nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A." -- literally the first thing you see when you walk up -- this museum is located at the record label’s former administrative building and recording studio before it moved to Los Angeles. This is not like a regular museum, where you can wander as you please. Instead, you take a guided tour through the house where you learn how the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy. started it all and also get to see memorabilia from various artists.
TIP: You must buy your ticket to the guided tour in advance! Do it sooner rather than later as it often sells out for the day. Check out Groupon as there are ticket sales sometimes.
3. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
This museum was founded in 1965 by Charles H. Wright, a practicing gynecologist who wanted to preserve African American history after visiting a memorial to Danish World War II heroes in Denmark. He started off opening the “International Afro-American Museum” in a house he owned and featured the inventions of Elijah McCoy as well as masks from Nigeria and Ghana he got while visiting there. The following year, he turned it into a traveling exhibit around the state. Today, it features more than 35,000 artifacts and archives, making it one of the world’s largest permanent exhibits on Afican-American culture.
I truly loved the interactive exhibit, “And Still We Rise: Our Journey through African American History and Culture.” It felt similar to the National Museum of African American History and Culture where you can walk through an interactive timeline of history from the painful Middle Passage to the inspiring Civil Rights Movement.
TIP: The museum constantly has events such as concerts and workshops. As such, please make sure to check the museum’s website to plan your visit around them so that you can get to experience the museum and an event. In August, the museum hosts the African World Festival, a free, three-day festival celebrating the culture of the African diaspora.
4. Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts is a must-see! It is considered to be one of top 6 museums in the United States and one of the most visited art museums in the world, and understandably so. For one, it is HUGE with over 100 galleries and 65,000 works of art. I barely scratched the surface during our visit. Although there is a huge global art collection, the American art collection is even more impressive. In fact, their collection for American paintings is actually ranked third among museums in the United States. While at the museum, you must check out Diego Rivera’s multi-walled mural, Detroit Industry. The artwork is composed of twenty-seven panels depicting industry at the Ford Motor Company and in Detroit.
TIP: If you have a student ID, you can get a $6 discount. Also, residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties receive free, unlimited general museum admission.
5. Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
I visited this museum several years back during my first visit to #Michigan with a friend. This is a massive indoor and outdoor history museum named as a National Historic Landmark. It is worth a visit considering that it is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the nation. Over 1.7 million people visit annually - WHOA! You will find many unique items such as President Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theater, the presidential limousine of John F. Kennedy, and the Rosa Parks bus.
TIP: The museum is located in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, which is about a 20 minute drive from Downtown.
THINGS TO DO:
What are things to do in Detroit?
1. Listen to live music
I was quite impressed when I realized the amount of musical talent that existed in Detroit. However, considering that Motown and techno originated here, I should not have been that surprised. There are many spots to check out if you want to listen to live music. It all depends on your mood, the day of the week, and the time of day. For example, if you are looking for a spot to check out for Happy Hour, check out Cliff Bells. There are ½ off draft beer and well drinks and 30% off bar food until 5 PM, from Tuesday through Friday. They have more upscale bar food such as truffle fries and mac & cheese. If you stay after happy hour, you will be able to catch a live jazz set nightly!
If you want a more relaxed setting and a different crowd, go to Floods Bar & Grille. This spot has been serving up soul food, drinks, and live entertainment for almost 30 years. Wednesday nights are when folks come out after work for Happy Hour to listen to a live band and let loose. I liked this spot because it is Black Owned, has great music, and has pretty tasty soul food!
Now, if you are looking for some late night entertainment and authentic blues music, come to Raven’s Lounge & Restaurant. It is a very intimate, laid-back spot that offers South soul food, drinks and live blues acts from Thursday - Saturday from 9 PM - 2 AM. It is clearly a great spot considering that it has been around since the 1950’s and is Michigan’s oldest Blues Bar. It is also one of Detroit's last live blues venues. When we went, the street was deserted. However, the place itself was full because there was a birthday party being celebrated. It felt like being part of a family as they invited everyone to eat food offered for the party, whether you knew the person being celebrated or not. This place is a secret gem that you would typically find from locals or from REALLY doing your research like I did. Make sure to have cash for the small cover charge!
2. Drink with a view at 3Fifty Terrace
What’s better than a drink with a view...especially a rooftop view in the summertime? Nothing really! Rooftop drinking is one of my favorite things to do in the summertime. When in Detroit, 3Fifty Terrace is the way to go! The vibes were right, the DJ played some good tunes, drinks were cheap and the views were gorgeous. I highly recommend checking this spot for a Happy Hour mini turn up before heading to your night spot. You might also learn a dance or two -- like the Detroit hustle!
TIP: Get there early if you want to get a seat as it fills up very quickly!
3. Take a river cruise
I love water. PERIODT. If I can’t be at a beach, being on a boat is the next best thing. Taking a river cruise is a unique way to learn about Detroit’s history and view Detroit from a different angle. We took a 2-hour narrated Diamond Jack River Cruise from the Detroit Rivard (Cullen) Plaza Dock. Unexpectedly, we also got to see parts of Canada without needing a passport!
TIP: Make sure to put your phone on airplane mode when you get closer to the Canada part of the boat ride as international service will kick in!
4. Eat & Judge in the Coney Island Hot Dog competition
When I travel, I love to try foods that are unique to the city. You cannot go to Detroit without trying the Coney Island hot dog. Although the Coney Island hot dog originates from New York, Detroiters truly made it their own -- an all-beef hot dog topped with beanless chili, white onions and yellow mustard (with Greek and Macedonian influences). Completing the Coney Island challenge is considered a rite of passage for every Detroiter. There are two Coney Islands to try: the American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island -- literally right next door to each other. I won’t reveal my personal opinion so you can have an unbiased opinion!
TIP: Come hungry so you can try both of them!
American Coney Island (left) vs. Lafayette Coney Island (right)
5. Turn up on a late night at The Bosco
For those who want to truly turn up, The Bosco is the place to be on a late Thursday night. It is about a 15-20 minute drive outside of Detroit in Downtown Ferndale. Everyone and their mama was at this place. QUITE packed, which made it hard to stand or move around. This is a clear hot spot for locals -- the music was pretty good and there is an overall cool atmosphere.
TIP: Have cash. I recall the cover being pretty high ($20) considering that we got there close to midnight. Hence, I would recommend getting there early.
Places to Eat:
What foods is Detroit known for? Where to eat in Detroit?
1. Floods Bar & Grille
Looking for some tasty soul food and happy hour drink prices? Look no more. Floods Bar & Grille is your spot! I ordered a soul food platter with fried chicken, fried shrimp, mac and cheese and French fries. I found it pretty tasty and the mac & cheese was made just how I like it! Their drinks are strong, if that is what you are looking for. Later in the evening, there is live entertainment. Many people come with their families or come to celebrate special occasions. It is clearly a go-to spot for Black people in Downtown Detroit, especially because there are not really any Black-owned spots in the immediate Downtown area.
2. Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffle
I discovered this place through Travel Noire as I was looking for black brunch spots in Detroit. Interestingly, the spots were much harder to find than I thought. However, Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffle is a must! This was probably my favorite spot to eat during my time in Detroit. If I had time, I would have returned. Owned by former NFL player Ron Bartell, this spot is perfect if you are looking for chicken and waffles as well as some delicious soul food. All the items on the menu have creative names such as “WHAT UP DOE” which is the 3pc fried chicken, 2 waffles, grits & 2 eggs w/cheese. YUM! They even serve Kool-aid! My mouth is salivating just thinking back to the food. It is worth a trip away from Downtown Detroit to what felt like a more local Detroit in the historical area The Avenue of Fashion.
TIP: Come very hungry because you will leave STUFFED and content!
TIP: Make sure to plan your visit appropriately as they close on Mondays.
3. Good Cakes & Bakes
Walking distance from Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles is this amazing bakery, Good Cakes & Bakes. Also black owned, their mission is to provide high quality baked goods that are organic using fresh ingredients. They truly accomplished that! My friends and I loved this bakery so much that we ordered a dozen cupcakes to surprise a friend for her mini birthday party!
4. Coney Hot Dog at Lafayette and America
As I mentioned above, you cannot come to Detroit without trying the Coney Hot Dog. I would recommend trying the original one: an all-beef hot dog topped with beanless chili, white onions and yellow mustard. The two must-go spots are:
American Coney Island: This has been around since 1917. The original owner, Constantine “Gust” Keros came to Detroit from Greece at the turn of the century (through Ellis Island). It is still run by the Keros family. It is considered “Detroit’s Original Coney,” although it looks brand new as it is fully renovated and takes credit cards.
Lafayette Coney Island: Literally next door to American is Lafayette, which opened a few years later by Keros’ brother, Bill after he came from Greece. It became a competition, especially as they use a notably different hot dog and chilli. In comparison to American, Lafayette is still very old school. It looks like your typical old diner with a very simple menu and still cash-only!
5. Nikki's Pizza
Have you ever heard of a Detroit-style pizza? Make sure you do not leave Detroit without tasting it. As a person from New York, I am very picky about my pizza and this was beyond my expectation. Nikki's Pizza is considered Detroit's Best Square Deep Dish Pizza. #Detroitpizza is unique because it is a rectangular pizza baked in a square pan versus a pizza pan. The end result is a chewy pizza with an amazing thick crisp crust!
Keep in mind before traveling to Detroit...
The most confusing part was Detroit’s Airport. It took awhile for my friend and I to find each other considering I came from NYC and she came from Newark. It seemed like we landed in two different airports. This can be explained by the fact that DTW airport has two terminals that are not easily connected to each other. Be advised!
Detroit is only a 4 hour drive from Chicago! That means you can turn this into a 2 in 1 trip if you want, by taking Amtrak, Greyhound Bus or driving.
Canada is literally across the river. Detroit apparently is the only place in America where you can drive south into Canada. The Canadian border is super close. Therefore, bring a passport with you so you can check it out. Unfortunately, I did not have mine, which made me realize the importance of investing in a passport card for circumstances like this. You can make a day trip by traveling to Windsor, Canada.
Many museums and restaurants close on Mondays. If you are expecting to see a lot on a Monday, be sure to be strategic as you may come across some bumps. Also, make sure to search the hours of operation for each location you intend to visit.
How many days do you need in Detroit? Some just spend a day in Detroit. Some spend a weekend. I spent 3 full days and I still found that I did not see everything so I want to go back!
You are probably still wondering: Is Detroit dangerous for tourists? How bad is Detroit?When traveling to Detroit, come with an open mind. I say this because many people have a skewed opinion that Detroit is run-down, poor, and bankrupt. Yes, it faced an urban decay for decades. However, although Detroit is experiencing a revival, it still hasn’t lost its history and culture. It is safe for you to travel as a tourist! Like in any major city, take precautions.