Photo Courtesy of Harry Mtike
While many people still associate Detroit with cars and crime, the Motor City today is undergoing a long-awaited renaissance. The metropolis is filled with innovative restaurants, cool bars, and hip enclaves, and the influx of creative types from cities like New York and San Francisco shows no signs… of abating. Detroit is still some way from its post-war glory days—it was once called the Paris of the Midwest—but everywhere you go you'll be welcomed by resilient locals who love their hometown and are participating in its revival. And when you need to escape and relax in nature, the Great Lakes are at your doorstep.
What to know before you go to Detroit
Detroit is a city of extremes. Winters can be brutal if you’re not used to lake-effect snow or cold temperatures and summers are invariably hot and humid. Spring and fall are the best times to visit. The trees and flowers are in bloom in April and May and everyone has a pep in their step. September and October are great months as well: Locals go hiking or head to the cider mill to enjoy a donut and a drink as they take in the fall foliage.
Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) services the area and flights come from all over the country and world. While public transit does exist in the city, it’s not reliable. This is the Motor City, after all. If you don’t have an automobile, you’re out of luck: Detroit is expansive and getting anywhere takes time, so rent a car to explore. If you’re sticking to Downtown, the People Mover—a rapid transit railway—takes you to points of interest in a nearly three-mile radius. And it only costs 75c for a single ride.
Nothing beats taking a stroll along the Detroit River on a warm June night. Detroit comes alive in the spring and summer and the Detroit International Riverfront, stretching from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle, is host to many festivals and events, such as the Detroit-Windsor International Freedom Festival and the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Head over the Ambassador Bridge and stroll through Windsor, Ontario, considered by many locals to be an extension of the Motor City.
If you want to eat it, Detroit’s got it. The city is teeming with nearly every type of cuisine you can think of: world-famous Coney Island hot dogs, stellar Hellenic eats in Greektown, trendy soul food, authentic Middle Eastern kibbeh that reminds you of your Syrian grandmother, and more. In recent years, the city has seen an uptick in farm-to-table restaurants as well as microbreweries. Restaurant prices are affordable so bring your empty belly and a small amount of cash.
Just because Detroit is a solid factory town doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of culture. The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of the great museums of the world, home to work by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Rodin, and Rivera. In fact, Diego Rivera, accompanied by Frida Kahlo, made the city his second home in the 1930s. You can see his colorful murals paying homage to the city’s industrial heritage all over town. The Henry Ford pays tribute to Detroit’s automobile history and the art deco Fox Theatre, a National Historic Landmark, plays host to concerts and plays. Don’t forget to pay your respects at the Motown Historical Museum, aka “Hitsville U.S.A.” This is where the Motown sound got its start.
Detroit is perfect for families. Hop into your rental car and head to one of the many museums for a bit of culture. The Michigan Science Center is a great spot to take the kiddos for an educational excursion. Metro Beach is a popular place for locals who want to soak in the sun on a clear summer's day.
Detroiters, and Michiganders as a whole, are a friendly and fiercely proud bunch so don’t be surprised if someone says hi and asks what you think of their city. But there are a few tips you should follow to get the most out of your stay: If someone asks you where you’re from, they are genuinely curious and not trying to be rude. Strike up a conversation with strangers, whether a bartender or someone next to you on the People Mover. Detroiters are always happy to help a tourist since the city saw a dearth of visitors for many years. And don’t ever ask for a “soda.” It’s “pop” in these here parts.
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Shandana A. Durrani
Shandana A. Durrani is a Detroit native who lives in Berlin, Germany. She has written for a variety of national and international publications and sites including Condé Nast Traveler, Glamour, MetroLondon, SiIverkris, and TravelSupermarket.com. She lives for travel and exploring local restaurants.