The Motor City gets a bad rap. And understandably so if you know anything about the notoriously unstable history of Detroit.
But Detroit is so much more more than it’s past.
Native Detroiters are dreamers, believers, and some of the hardest working, most passionate people I have ever met. They mercilessly defend their city – and for good reason. Because I must say, this city is pretty darn special. And it is filled with some of the most incredibly resilient, inspiring people I have ever encountered in all my years of travel.
If you want to be inspired, spend a weekend in Detroit.
Growing up across the river in Windsor, Canada, I’ve seen the city blossom in recent years, paving the way for creatives and entrepreneurs alike who wholeheartedly believed in Detroit. Despite this rebirth of the city, the characteristic grit that has defined it hasn’t left. You can see it in the unique architecture. Taste it in the world-class culinary scene. And feel it in the creative instalments scattered throughout the city.
If Detroit isn’t currently on your bucket list, trust me when I say it should be. And I’ll tell you exactly why in this Detroit city guide.
Where to Stay in Detroit
The Detroit Foundation Hotel: This is undeniably one of the best, and coolest, hotels I have ever stayed at. Located inside of the former Detroit firehall, this boutique hotel is beautiful and is home to one of Detroit’s coolest restaurants and cocktail bars: The Apparatus Room. It is centrally located, across the street from Cobo Center, and close to many main attractions.
Aloft Detroit: Located inside one if the most architecturally beautiful buildings in Detroit, the Aloft features huge, clean rooms and is centrally located at Grand Circus Park [and around the corner from District Detroit if you’re in Detroit to watch a sports game].
Shinola Hotel: This hotel is brand new to downtown Detroit, and I haven’t personally had an opportunity to visit yet. I have, however, seen the lobby which is gorgeous, and have heard from others that the rooms and service are top tier. It is centrally located along Woodward, near lots of great shops and restaurants.
Things to Do in Detroit
Catch a Game in District Detroit
Home to all four of Detroit’s major sports teams, the newly developed District Detroit makes it easy to get in on the action. My personal favourite is catching an afternoon game at Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers. However, the brand new Little Caesar’s Arena, which hosts both the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons, is quite the sight to see! And the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field is also closeby.
If you happen to be in Detroit during the warmer months, you don’t necessarily have to buy game tickets to experience the sports culture of the city. You can still tailgate in parking lots, and at bars, with fans before and after Lions and Tigers games.
Eat, Shop & Explore in the Cass Corridor
The Cass Corridor is a great little neighbourhood just north of the city centre, with so many shops worth exploring. Here’s a few of the highlights that can be found on W Canfield St.
Shinola: This is the original flagship store, and a serious pride of the city. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, it is still very cool to visit and browse. They always feature really cool popups, and even have a coffee shop located inside.
Third Man Records: Founded by Jack White of The White Stripes, this record shop is a must-see. They sell an assortment of records, along with other music merchandise.
City Bird: If you’re looking to bring home some unique Detroit or Michigan souvenirs, this place offers the cutest merchandise. I’ve bought so many interesting gifts in here that my friends and family have LOVED.
Learn About Detroit Architecture
There are so many architecturally beautiful and unique buildings scattered around the city. Curbed offers a great resource to help you discover the best buildings in Detroit here.
My personal favourites are the Guardian Building, the David Whitney Building [home to the Aloft hotel I mentioned above], and the Fox Theater.
Take a Walk Down Music’s Memory Lane
The Motown Museum is a must-see for music lovers. Just north of the downtown city core, it is easily accessible by Detroit’s QLine and offers museum tours.
Enjoy One of Many Detroit Festivals
Campus Martius Park, located in the city centre, is the home to many cultural events and festivals. Here, you’ll find attractions including a spectacular Christmas markets in the winter, and a manmade beach in the summer [complete with tiki huts and a drink bar].
Take a look here at their official website for a calendar of events highlighting seasonal attractions in Campus Martius Park, Capital Park, Grand Circus Park, and more.
Go Shopping at Detroit’s Open Air Market
As one of the oldest markets in the US, Eastern Market is open every Saturday year round [and other select days during the summer months; you can check out the event calendar here]. I absolutely love visiting this spot for fresh local produce, and other cool locally-sourced products. Plus, the Eastern Market neighbourhood is super cool, and offers lots of restaurants and shops.
Immerse yourself in Detroit’s Art Culture
The Detroit Institute of Arts is a spectacular building, hosting many famous paintings from artists all over the world. If you’re looking for a premium cultural experience, look no further than the DIA.
Take Instagram Pictures in a Alley Filled with Graffiti
The Belt is an alleyway in downtown Detroit that offers floor-to-ceiling commissioned graffiti. At night, it lights up and hosts some of the most popular bars and nightlife in the city. It is a great spot to stop and take a few pictures.
Stroll Down the Detroit Riverwalk
Detroit has some beautiful riverfront parks and pathways that you can walk along in the warmer months. Here, you can look across the river and see Canada [my hometown of Windsor!], grab an ice cream at a local shop, take a river cruise tour down the Detroit river, or just sit and enjoy the sunshine.
Best Restaurants in Detroit
Perhaps my favourite thing about Detroit is the food culture. So many talented chefs have flocked to Detroit to take advantage of the booming culinary scene. The only downside is trying to prioritize which restaurants to eat at first!
I have had some of the best meals that I have ever had in Detroit. It was so hard for me to narrow down my top picks, because there are so many good restaurants. So, if you have a question about a restaurant that I haven’t included in my list, feel free to message me about it.
Gold Cash Gold: Unique, well-made dishes. Beautiful ambiance. My boyfriend said this is in his top two favourite brunch spots – ever. And has become an absolute go-to for me.
Folk: If you’re looking for a vegan/vegetarian place, go here [although there is some meat on the menu too, and is definitely suitable to all dietary preferences]. I am totally obsessed with this place. After brunch, head next door to The Farmer’s Hand, a really adorable local market.
Rose’s Fine Food: Located just outside the city centre, this is another one of my brunch favourites. The restaurant is so unassuming, and has the most tasty food. If you decide to head here for lunch, keep driving out toward one of Detroit’s most historically affluent neighbourhoods, Indian Village. Here, you can make your way to my next recommendation, Sister Pie.
Sister Pie: Located on the border of The West Village and Indian Village, this bakery is a must-visit if you love pie [or any other baked goods]. I promise, you’ll have the best pie of your life here.
Detroit Institute of Bagels: If you love bagels, go here. Fresh, homemade bagels, and all the toppings/fillings you can imagine.
Lunch & Dinner
Grey Ghost: I love this restaurant. The food is high quality. The cocktails are well thought out and perfectly executed. And the ambiance is gorgeous. They also offer an incredible Sunday brunch [complete with the perfect brunch cocktail menu]. If you want visit Grey Ghost, book a reservation well in advance – it is very popular, and for good reason.
Wright & Company: Another Detroit favourite. I love the tapas-style small plates and very tasty cocktails. Not to mention, the interior is gorgeous. Wright & Co doesn’t take reservations, so you may have to wait for a table. Luckily, they have the most beautiful bar you can grab a cocktail at while you wait to be seated.
The Apparatus Room: Located in one of my hotel recommendations, the Detroit Foundation Hotel, this is easily one of the most beautiful restaurants in Detroit. But, it doesn’t stop there – the food and cocktails are on par with the interior aesthetic. You’ll likely need a reservation here too, so plan ahead.
Lady of the House: Offering a variety of experimental small plates, this charming restaurant is tucked away in the heart of Corktown, and offers unique tasting dishes.
Ima: Looking for ramen in Detroit? This is your spot! Also located in Corktown, along Michigan Avenue, Ima satisfies all your noodle-craving needs.
Ottava Via: Easily the best spot for Italian in Detroit. The ambiance and food at this spot is so on point. I especially love to go here in the summer, sit out on the back patio, and play bocce ball with friends.
Best Drink Spots in Detroit
I love a good cocktail. And let me tell you, Detroit has some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. Here’s a few of my favourite spots.
The Sugar House: This Corktown cocktail bar is an easy favourite for me. In fact, I have had cocktails all over the world and this remains one of my favourite spots to visit. Order from their seasonally-changing cocktail menus. Or sit at the bar, tell the extremely talented bartenders what you like, and they will surely craft you something amazing.
Standby: Tucked away in the Belt Alley, this is a local hotspot and is always guaranteed to be busy. This small, cozy bar has amazing cocktails, and also offers appetizers if you’re looking for a late night bite.
Two James Spirits: This is my favourite cocktail bar to go to in the summer months. When it’s nice outside, they open up the garage doors of the distillery, and you can sit at the wrap around bar, listen to live music, and enjoy cocktails from their extensive drink menu with the sun shining in. They also offer distillery tours and tastings.
Bad Luck Bar: Another must-try in the city, the cocktails at Bad Luck Bar are a bit more premium in price, but the experience is so worth stopping in for [at least] one drink.
Disclaimer: I am not a huge beer drinker. However, I’ve been to the following spots and really enjoyed them.
Motor City Brewing Works: Great beer, great beer garden. This is an awesome spot to enjoy some patio craft brews in the summer months.
Founders Taproom Detroit: The Grand Rapids favourite has recently opened a taproom in Detroit. Founders is an established brewery and offers a ton of beer options, so there is bound to be something for everyone.
Jolly Pumpkin Brewery: A long-running Detroit favourite, this place offers craft beers and pizza. What more can you want? And to add to its clout, it was even good enough for Barack Obama.
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge: A Detroit legend. This jazz bar has been in continuous operation since 1933 and has hosted some of the worlds most famous jazz musicians over the years. Pay it a visit and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time; and then just sit back, indulge in some traditional southern cooking, and enjoy the live performances. [Note: this is in a Detroit suburb, not near the city centre. To get here, I would recommend hiring a cab or an Uber/Lyft].
Cliff Bell’s: If you’re looking for a jazz bar in the city centre, this is your spot. Amazing music, drinks, and food. It’s perfect for a night out, or weekend brunch.
Getting Around Detroit
Walk: If you’re staying in the city centre, you can get most places you want to go by foot. The Detroit core isn’t very big, and is very walkable.
QLINE: If you’re staying downtown and want to get up to the Cass Corridor, Midtown, or New Center, your best option is the QLINE, Detroit’s newly-developed street car that runs up and down Woodward.
Cab/Uber/Lyft: These car hire companies offer a relatively affordable option to get around the city. These will be especially helpful if you’re venturing out to Corktown, where there are less transit options to get there.
Scooter: There are electric scooters everywhere. Just make sure you download the Lime and/or Bird apps ahead of time.
The Most Common Question I Get: Is Detroit Safe?
YES. Absolutely, it is. Like almost any large American city, Detroit has its good areas and bad areas. However, if you know where to go and focus your trip around the city centre, and other areas that I have recommended, then I can assure you that Detroit is as safe as any other major American city.
In fact, I have spent a ton of time here, at all hours of the day and night, and have never once felt my safety was compromised.
It’s Time For YOU To Enjoy The Motor City!
Detroit is truly an underrated gem. It is the perfect cocktail of charm, grit, passion, and innovation that will leave you speechless – and wanting more. Everyone who visits the city falls in love with it, and I am confident that you will too. It is easily one of my favourite cities in the world.
I hope this Detroit city guide is helpful in your planning. If you have any questions about Detroit or the surrounding areas, leave them in the comments or message me.
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