Your full travel guide to Detroit

One of the USA’s most energetic cities, Detroit is a hip and happening mix of edgy street art, futuristic architecture and motor history. Here’s your complete

Team Wanderlust
30 January 2024

Defined by its resilient spirit and vibrant cultural renaissance, Detroit is riding a new wave of development to be the coolest comeback city in the US. From striking street art murals and hip food markets to intimate jazz clubs and revamped hotels, motor city has the perfect blend of grit and urban cool.

How to get there and around

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) is the main international airport, with Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic flying directly from London Heathrow to Detroit.

Once on the ground, hop on the QLine –Detroit’s modern streetcar system. Stretching 3.3 miles along Woodward Avenue, the trams connect key attractions from the Detroit River to Midtown. The FAST buses are also a low-cost way to travel along the city’s main avenues.

Car rentals provide flexibility for broader exploration, allowing you to discover Detroit’s diverse neighbourhoods and iconic landmarks.

If you only do three things…

The Z Parking Garage (Shutterstock)

Explore Belle Isle

At 982 acres, Belle Isle Park is the largest city island park in the United States and serves as a beloved green oasis in Detroit’s urban sprawl. Around a third of the island is a wildlife-rich wooded area with plenty of recreational activities for a leisurely afternoon by the Detroit River.

Rent SUP boards or kayaks and navigate the island’s extensive shoreline, or take a bracing dip in the designated swimming area on the island’s north side. Thanks to Belle Island’s rich history, plenty of unique heritage features and retro attractions can also be found. Look out for the marble-clad art deco lighthouse, an 85-foot Neo-Gothic carillon bell tower, a fancy fountain dedicated to socialite-scoundrel

James Scott, and the Belle Island aquarium – the oldest public aquarium in North America.

Corktown (Shutterstock)

Spy local art at the Z Parking Garage

Murals meet motors at downtown Detroit’s trendy Z Parking Garage and retail space on Library Street. Collaborating with the Library Street Collective, this ten-story parking lot is a surprising art space in the city that adds colour and creativity to an otherwise functional building.

Street art fans can park in one of the 1,275 spaces or simply wander in and admire a collection of eclectic murals, with 130 paintings by 27 international and local artists adorning the concrete walls. The Z is one of many mural spots in Detroit, well-known for its thriving street art scene, with its large, innovative murals adding to the ongoing revitalisation of the downtown area.

Belle Isle (Shutterstock)

Wander through Corktown

The oldest neighbourhood in Detroit, Corktown, was settled in the 1840s by Irish immigrants from County Cork in Ireland and has since evolved into a veritable hipster hotspot and cultural hub. While many of the original, Federal-style rowhouses built by Irish settlers remain, change is coming to Corktown as companies like Ford are investing heavily in revitalising historic structures.

For foodies, trendy restaurants, cocktail bars and locally-owned cafes abound, with innovative chefs pushing the envelope on exciting culinary offerings. Slow-cooked, Southern-style barbecue with a Michigan twist can be found at local favourite Slows Bar BQ. Also on Michigan Avenue, Cork & Gable offers Irish-European comfort food and an extensive brunch menu in a light-filled industrial space.

Post dinner, cosy up at the bar at the Two James Distillery and sample made-in-Detroit libations like Old Cockney Gin, Dr Bird Rum and field-to-bottle Rye Dog whiskey.

Three museums to visit

Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) is a non-collecting cultural hub that blends visual, literary, music, and performing arts. Housed in a former auto dealership, MOCAD is uber-responsive to trending and social issues, placing it at the forefront of contemporary culture in the city. Its ever-changing exhibitions showcase diverse perspectives and mediums, fostering dialogue around emerging societal issues. Its commitment to avant-garde expression and community engagement also makes it a vital player in Detroit’s exploding cultural renaissance.

Motown Museum

Motown Museum (Shutterstock)

The Motown Museum in Detroit is a sonic time capsule with a culturally significant collection of Motown music memorabilia, including photos, costumes, and artwork. Set in the unassuming blue and white Hitsville U.S.A. building, this is where record mogul Berry Gordy lived and crafted the soulful sounds of icons like Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. With a considerable renovation underway, you can still tour studio A, where music history was made in the 50s and 60s, as they prepare for their $55 million expansion, due to launch in 2024.

Charles H. Wright Museum

Located in Detroit’s Midtown neighbourhood, the Charles H. Wright Museum celebrates African-American culture, history and resilience through an impressive collection of over 35,000 artefacts. Along with a busy events programme, the museum houses informative and interactive exhibitions on African art and instruments, Ancient and Early Modern African history and inventions by African Americans. Their long-term exhibition – And Still We Rise, documents the experiences of the enslaved during the Middle Passage and the heroism of the Civil Rights Movement.

Foodie highlights

Eastern Market (Shutterstock)

Detroit’s booming food scene reflects the city’s diverse history and wide-ranging cultural influences. From corn dog classics and downtown dining to innovative culinary creations, the gastronomic landscape is ever-changing in Motor City. With buzzing new restaurants, food halls and trendy pop-ups opening across the city, you’re spoiled for dining choices in D-Town. See You Tomorrow is one of Detroit’s newer offerings, serving simple, soulful brunches, including golden-brown chicken waffles and smoked salmon croquettes.

In downtown Detroit, Willow is the city’s first black-owned craft cocktail bar, shaking up speciality drinks with a speakeasy Southern flair. Mad Nice serves gourmet pizzas that need scissors to cut into pieces, along with pasta and fresh oysters. It’s an eclectic, contemporary take on Italian meets coastal California cuisine that discerning foodies will love. Already highly rated, the newly opened Le Suprême serves decadent fare like tuna carpaccio, escargot a la bourguignon, seafood towers, and fragrant moules frites.

The Whatcha Wanna Eat Food Hall is The city’s first black-owned food hall and community hub, with nine local food vendors offering everything from BBQ and Tacos to smoothies and ice cream. A cornerstone of Detroit’s food culture is the historic Eastern Market. As one of the oldest and largest public markets in the U.S., Eastern Market features a range of fresh produce, artisanal products, and diverse culinary offerings.

Three foods to try

Coney dogs

Credit: Shutterstock

The best Detroit Coney hotdogs are the subject of much debate among locals, so you’ll just have to try them all.

Served at legendary spots like Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, these chilli-drenched and onion-topped dogs are a local culinary speciality that has become a beloved part of the city’s food culture.

Detroit-style pizza

Credit: Shutterstock

Detroit-style pizza has gained cult-like status and is characterised by its distinctive square shape, thick crust, and crispy edges, cooked to perfection.

Local favourite Buddy’s is credited as the birthplace of Detroit-style pizza, with its blue steel pans synonymous with this delectable deep-dish pizza.

Other boxy pizza hotspots include Loui’s in Hazel Park, Como’s Restaurant and Amar’s, home of the hottest pie in town – the Ghost Pepper Pizza.

Boston Cooler

Credit: Shutterstock

Despite its New England namesake, the Boston Cooler is a Detroit’ pop’ original. Made from a blend of specifically Vernor’s ginger ale with vanilla ice cream, it’s a fizzy and creamy fusion soda shake that dates back to the late 1800s.

These unique, frothy drinks can be found at ice cream parlours and bars across the city, including at casual dining joint, the Mercury Burger Bar, in historic Corktown.

Three places to stay

Detroit Foundation Hotel

The Detroit Foundation Hotel, housed in the former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, effortlessly fuses historical features, modern design and locally crafted furniture.

Offering luxurious accommodations in the renovated 1920s firehouse, this centrally located hotel has preserved its firehouse heritage features, including original poles and arched fire station doors.

For dining options, the Apparatus Room, once the fire department’s garage, is now an upscale restaurant serving locally inspired dishes.

Trumbull & Porter

This renovated hotel blends industrial chic and contemporary comfort in Detroit’s coolest neighbourhood – Corktown district.

Situated in a 1912 building, there’s an eclectic style here with concrete floors and piping contrasting with bespoke furniture and an impressive local artwork collection by local artists.

Stylish rooms and suites reflect Detroit’s creative and gritty spirit, while the on-site restaurant, Red Dunn Kitchen, serves locally inspired cuisine.

The Siren

On Detroit’s main drag, the charming Siren Hotel is housed in Detroit’s Wurlitzer Building and offers.

This boutique hotel captivates with its Art Deco design and thoughtful restoration, preserving the building’s rich heritage and Italian Renaissance architecture.

Guests can feast on multi-course chef’s tasting menus at the minimalist Albena restaurant or sip craft cocktails at the speakeasy, pink-hued Candy Bar.

Feeling inspired?

To start planning your own trip to Michigan, head to the official Michigan Tourist Board website.

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