Let’s cut to the chase about Detroit, Michigan. Is Detroit dangerous? Yes, Detroit is dangerous, but Detroit is also safe. Just like any other city in the world, Detroit can be just as safe or unsafe depending on where you go and what decisions you make as a traveler.
With that out of the way, you should really visit Detroit.
I loved witnessing the city’s juxtaposition of new and abandoned, its portrayal of beauty and sadness and hope all at once. Detroit is slowly rising from the ashes, but hasn’t quite made it yet. It’s a a hidden gem, and could really use our help.
Not sure what to do, where to go, where to eat in Detroit? I got you! Enjoy this guide to Detroit for answers to those questions and more.
Note: Local Michigan friends helped plan my Detroit attraction list, which means everything shared in this post is triple-verifiably trustworthy. Anything I recommend and you do not enjoy means you have very poor taste. (Just kidding!)
***Scroll to the end of this article for a Google Map of places to visit in Detroit.***
Where to Stay in Detroit
I’m an AirBNBperson, so I suggest finding an AirBNB either in downtown Detroit(especially if you don’t have a car), or a Detroit suburb. I stayed in Pleasant Ridge, a quaint suburb 14 miles north of downtown Detroit for both comfort and affordability. If you opt to stay in downtown Detroit, it will cost you more. Other cozy suburbs to stay in just outside of Detroit include Ferndale and Royal Oak.
If you’re a hotel person, check out this Curbed article for their top hotel picks.
Getting to Detroit
You can fly into the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport(DTW), which is approximately 21 miles or 30-45 minutes from downtown Detroit proper, and is the airport I used. You can also fly into Windsor International Airport (YQG) in Canada located near the border of Detroit.
If you choose the Canadian route, expect a long wait at either border-crossing bridge. If you take public transportation across the border, it will take even longer.
Getting Around Detroit
I highly recommend renting a car in Detroit (it’s called Motor City for good reason). The rental prices are reasonable, and having a car will make your life easier. From DTW, it took me 45-minutes to arrive just north of the city proper with a rental car. It will take you less time without rain or traffic.
If you don’t want to rent a car, you’ll pay a heft of money in taxi or Lyft / Uber fees going to and from the airport. There is no public transportation to connect you between cities and suburbs in Michigan, so car transportation is a must.
Parking and Public Transportation in Detroit
Driving and parking in Detroit is easy. I parked next to my destination near the Detroit Tigers Stadium on a day game during a holiday weekend AND got free parking because it was Sunday.
On all the other days, parking fees are reasonable. Detroit uses the Park by Plate system, which lets you input the license plate of your car and pay at either a solar-powered kiosk or with a mobile app. You can pay by phone even if you don’t own a smart phone.
If you don’t feel like driving downtown, you can take the People Mover, which is a monorail system that does exactly as its literal name suggests. I did not take the People Mover, but I hear it’s a great option for downtown exploration and only downtown exploration.
If you need to get anywhere else besides downtown Detroit, you can take the DDOT bus. The DDOT system is notoriously unreliable, so prepare for possible setbacks.
You can also rent a bike in Detroit, but take precaution while riding. Detroit is by no means a “bike town,” so drivers are not necessarily aware of bicyclists at all times. Be hyper aware of your surroundings on a bike in Detroit.
WHERE TO EAT IN DETROIT
BREAKFAST / BRUNCH
Detroit knows how to do brunch. In my opinion, Portland, Oregon does it best, then the San Francisco Bay Area, and Detroit is heading in the right direction. Here are my favorites.
– Parks & Rec Diner
With a 1940s parks and rec charm and crazy good seasonally rotating menu Parks & Rec Diner, stands at the top of my brunch list. I heard so much about the cinnafetti rolls, and was disappointed when they weren’t being served the day I went. On the other hand, the savory cheddar pancakes topped with pulled BBQ chicken and caramelized onion were pretty darn tasty.
Gluten-free and vegan friendly.
My second favorite brunch spot was Toast, which I ate at twice since it was near my AirBNB. I loved their cinnamon challah bread, and drooled over their other toast options such as asiago, apple-walnut, and jalapeno-cheddar challah. I recommend ordering either of the meals I had: the Chicken ‘n’ Waffle Benny (Benedict) or the Blind Date Omelet (bacon, scallions, dates, and Havarti cheese). The Bacon-Fried Rice was just okay, so I’d stick with another side, like toast.
– The Hudson Cafe
In the heart of downtown Detroit, The Hudson Café is a great option with large proportions and decent prices. I recommend the corned beef hash with two poached eggs, but regret my decision to ask for a side of their famous red velvet pancakes. Would you dump syrup on a slice of red velvet cake? Because that’s basically what I did. Just ask for buttermilk pancakes instead.
Gluten-free and vegan friendly
LUNCH / DINNER / DESSERT
– Vinsetta Garage
Just north of Detroit is a great spot called Vinsetta Garage. This popular restaurant was built from the oldest car garage East of the Mississippi River. Great atmosphere, great menu, and huge list of adult beverages. I sat at the bar so I wouldn’t have to wait (solo traveler tip!), and ordered an oatmeal stout on tap along with the famous tikka fries and a side of tortilla soup.
Bonus: The women’s bathroom floor is covered in laminated pennies! I have no knowledge of the men’s decor.
– Rock City Eatery
Please go to Rock City Eatery and order the Duck Poutine with a fried egg, it’s amazing. What is Poutine? A plate of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, a Canadian delight. It sounds like food for drunk students, but when it’s done well, wow. Rock City Eatery’s version was one of my favorite dishes from the whole trip. Add it to your list!
Side note: The Rock City Eatery server mistook me as a food critic, which I found both flattering and amusing. When I told him I was a blogger, he did not seem impressed.
– Coney Dogs
Novelty alert! If you really want to experience Detroit, order a couple of classic Coney dogs with everything from Lafayette Coney Island. It’s open 24/7 and perfect after a night of drinking (so I hear). Coney dogs are a thing in Detroit. One Coney dog with everything will cost you under $2, and take 60 seconds or less to consume. They’re even approved by Adam Richman of Man vs. Food!
During my visit, a Michigander urged me to drive 40 minutes for “the best Coney dog” at Lipuma’s Coney Island located in small town Rochester. I wasn’t going to do it for a small hot dog topped with thin, beanless chili, smelly onions, and cheap deli mustard. But don’t let my description deter you! Coney dogs are an experience you can’t miss.
– Slows Bar BQ
Slows Bar BQ was on my must-eat list. It claims to be the best BBQ in Detroit. Unfortunately I couldn’t wait an hour to be seated on my last day in town, so I had to skip. If you love BBQ, add this one to your list. Just remember there is always a long wait, so plan accordingly.
– Mercury Burger Bar
I don’t claim to be much of a burger person, but Mercury Burger Bar does have some pretty tasty fries and beer on tap. I’ve been told their shakes are amazing, too, if that’s your thing. After an evening of drinking cocktails (alone) at Sugar House across the street, this place definitely hit the spot in terms of salty snack.
– Treat Dreams
I’ve had some pretty good ice cream in Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; and the California Bay Area. Detroit tries hard with Treat Dreams, an artisanal ice cream shop that wants to be great. To be fair, the ice cream is good. But the flavors could be more pronounced. I sampled the Peanut Butter & Jelly, Fruity Pebbles, Lemon Cookie, and Peanut Butter Nutella & Bacon flavors (I have no shame in holding up a line for sampling) and they all had a similar base taste. If you’re into normal flavors, they have those, too, I just like the fun ones.
Vegan (dairy free) friendly
WHERE TO ENJOY A BEVERAGE IN DETROIT
I love coffee, and try to sniff out the best in each new city I visit. Here are the best coffee shops in Detroit!
– Germack Coffee Roasting Co
My favorite cup of coffee came out of Germack Coffee Roasting Co in the Detroit’s Eastern Market area on Russell Street. They don’t serve anything fancy, I just really like the quality. I bought a pound of their Bike Lane roast to take home with me, and the finished home-brew was delicious.
– Great Lakes Coffee
If you’re looking for an artsy, hip(ster) hangout or can’t decide between coffee or beer, Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company is your place. They’re famous for the 50/50, a half-beer half-nitro cold brew coffee delight, which I can highly recommend. Along with coffee, they serve beer on tap and wine. I visited the location in Midtown on Woodward, which was a pretty large space, but there are other locations you can check out.
– Astro Coffee
I heard raving reviews about Astro Coffee located in Detroit’s Corktown, which remained high on my list to try. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance. They feature rotating coffee roasters from around the country, and (I hear) their sandwiches, salads, pastries, and other small bites are really tasty and fresh. Also, Corktown is a really cute hipster area you should check out, and the abandoned Michigan Central Train Station is just around the corner.
BEER / WINE / COCKTAILS
Oh, libations! Detroit’s got those, too. Here are a few of the best places to enjoy your poison of choice.
– Batch Brewing Company
Detroit isn’t quite known (yet?) for its breweries, but I stumbled upon the Batch Brewing Company, and had a great time. I drank a couple of beers at $5 each and found both the indoor and outdoor atmosphere quite desirable. Batch Brewing also offers a pretty impressive food menu that goes beyond fries and burgers. If you love the vibe of hipster breweries and reasonably priced craft beer, this place is for you.
– Motor City Brewing Works / Jolly Pumpkin Pizza and Brewery
If you’re craving both pizza and beer, head over to Motor City Brewing Works or Jolly Pumpkin Pizza and Brewery. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit either location, but I heard good things about both joints.
– Sugar House
Into cocktails and mixology? Visit Sugar House in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. They offer a seasonally themed menu about once a quarter, with drinks created by the bartenders themselves. I visited during their CORKTOWN CARNIVAL SUMMER theme and enjoyed drinks inspired by Cracker Jacks and the Pirate Ship Ride. The drinks here are definitely more expensive than others ($11-14) so consider it a luxury stop.
– B. Nektar Meadery
I wanted to so badly to try the mead at B. Nektar Meadery located in Ferndale, just north of Detroit, but I kept missing their business hours. For those who’ve never tried mead, it’s honey wine, and a bit on the sweeter side. B. Nektar Meadery also serves ciders and beer, if that’s more your jam. I’ve only read wonderful things, so check them out and let me know about your experience!
WHAT TO DO OR SEE IN DETROIT
Detroit Public Events
Enjoy sports, live music, or shopping? Detroit’s got you covered….
– Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)
Check out Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers Stadium. It’s actually quite beautiful – and intimidating with those Gargoyle Tigers – from the outside. You could probably find some reasonably priced tickets. Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, after all!
– The Fillmore / The Fox Theater
– Eastern Market
Detroit’s historic Saturday Eastern Market is HUGE (and not in the exaggerated Trump way). The market has been alive in Detroit since 1891, and up until a few years ago when Whole Foods opened, was the central place for locals to buy market items! I was so sad to miss the market on Saturday. With over 225 market vendors it’s gotta be amazing!
From June – September, there is a Sunday Street Market that features local artists, cooks, jewelers, and musicians, and on Tuesdays a more scaled-down version of the market is held. Check them out, and let me know about your great finds!
Part of Detroit’s revival is in the dozens of art projects throughout the city. There is so much history and culture in Detroit. Seeing it through local art was my favorite experience.
– The Heidelberg Project
You could spend hours at the The Heidelberg Project in Detroit looking at the neighborhood’s unique outdoor art display. The project began in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton, who wanted to turn a largely abandoned neighborhood into art. What you’ll find there today is a polka dotted street, a Superman flying from a house window, heaps of abandoned child’s toys, adorned fences, painted drooping clocks, stuffed animals attached to things, and more. Google “Heidelberg Project Detroit” to see images of the past and present display.
WARNING: The Heidelberg Project is located in a neighborhood that is not particularly safe, so don’t leave anything in your car and pay attention to your surroundings.
– Eastern Market
Detroit’s Eastern Market is technically a monster Saturday market for shopping of all things (which I sadly missed out on), but it’s also great for street art viewing any time. The mural-laden buildings go for blocks, so depending on your walking pace, you could stroll around for a couple of hours. I ran into a Cadillac with its nose affixed to concrete that went straight up into the air. It’s off the main path, so you’ll have to look to find it.
– Detroit Institute of Arts
I really wish I had made time to see the Detroit Institute of Arts. With an art collection ranked among the top six in the United States, it’s probably worth a visit… If you’re into art museums.
Detroit Abandoned Buildings
Confession: I developed an overnight obsession for abandoned buildings while visiting Detroit. I learned that this type of love is a thing, and it has a name: urban exploring. I’m joining the club.
– Michigan Central Train Station
The abandoned Michigan Central Train Station (1913-1988) is featured in a few Hollywood movies (Transformers, most recently) so you may recognize the building. A fence surrounds the perimeter and the original broken windows have been placed, however it is still a glorious site to see. The contrast of then and now is what fascinates me about abandoned buildings. From buzzing with life, to crumbled and forgotten. Located in Corktown, this is a must-see. Just be careful about parking. It’s a busy area and can be prone to break-ins.
– Packard Automotive Plant
The Packard Automotive Plant (1903 – 1954) is eerie as f**k and HUGE at 3.5 million square feet. It’s the largest abandoned factory in the world. A Peruvian investor purchased the factory in 2013, but he’s done nothing with it thus far. I freaking loved exploring it even though I did feel pretty alone and a little unsafe with my sister’s DSLR camera and eventually ran back to my car.
Know what’s awesome for you? As of August 2017, you can take a 90-minute guided tour of the Packard Plant through Pure Detroit for $40. I’m so jealous of the opportunity you all have now! My experience creeping around alone nervously (and technically, illegally) would have been totally unnecessary.
– Belle Isle Children’s Zoo
The abandoned Belle Isle Children’s Zoo (1895 – 2002) can be accessed via car bridge to Belle Isle Park. It will cost you $9 for an out-of-state daily pass to enter Belle Isle Park, so consider checking out the other attractions while you’re there (i.e. beach, conservatory, aquarium, golf course, Great Lakes Museum, and more).
To find the zoo’s point of access, you’ll need to do some research online first. I did not do this ahead of time, and regretfully did not find the zoo. I had limited cell phone service on the isle, so I had no way of navigating.
Greektown wasn’t exactly my favorite spot, but it was absolutely hopping with people at night. If you’re into casinos come to Greektown to get your gambling fix. Or people watch from an outdoor restaurant. Or grab some sticky sweet baklava from the Astoria Pastry Shop.
– Golden Fleece Restaurant
As a fan of Greek food, I was very excited for dinner at Golden Fleece Restaurant. I ordered my standard Greek food favorite, a chicken gyro wrap, which they call a sandwich. The patio outside was a great vantage point for people watching, and generally pleasant. My food looked great when it arrived. It’s hard to mess up a chicken gyro wrap. But then I took a bite and something tasted off. Something about the tzatziki sauce… like… ranch dressing? Later I came to find that Hidden Valley Ranch is a thing in Michigan, and that was probably what I was eating. Consider this your warning. It’s not authentic.
– Astoria Pastry Shop
For those with a sweet tooth, don’t miss Astoria Pastry Shop. I hear it’s busy no matter when you come in, but even so the chaos isn’t too overwhelming. Take a ticket when you walk in, check out the cases, and wait for your number to be called. The pastry offerings are extensive, ranging from Italian cannoli to cinnamon rolls to Greek baklava. They serve ice cream, too, if that’s more your jam. I ordered one walnut roll and baklava. Sticky, crunchy, sugary heaven.
There is so much to do in Detroit, I hope you explore beyond my suggestions! But at the very least, if you check out a handful of the places I mentioned, you’re bound to have a great time.
Are you a local Michigander, or ever been to Detroit? Did I miss anything? Tell me about your experience in Detroit in the comments!
All Detroit recommendations can be found in this Google Map: