The Best Things to do Downtown Detroit – And a Few Beyond
Summer is here! And that means it’s time for Michigan summer vacations.
It’s the perfect time to visit Detroit.
But what to do in Detroit?
From restaurants and shops to unique neighborhoods, Detroit is full of delightful surprises.
Biking, walking tours, kayaking, live music, culture – in addition to serendipitous urban spaces – make this city a that’s fun to explore with friends or family.
Exploring Detroit on foot will let you discover the little spots that aren’t even on Google maps.
Read on to see how we spent our time and our suggested things to do in Detroit area.
Table of Contents
Things to Do Downtown Detroit, MI
Start In the Center of the City with a Visit to Campus Martius Park & Capitol Park
Campus Martius Park
800 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
Campus Martius Park in the center of downtown changes with the seasons.
In the summer, it’s an urban beach with sand, toys, a bar, and more.
In the winter, it’s an ice rink and winter wonderland.
There’s one word for Detroit summers – dreamy.
Resident DJs play on the weekends as people dance and vibe out to the music by the beach. The city is so alive and will engulf you right into its chill atmosphere.
We’ve visited Campus Martius both on summer weekends and during the week. Although the crowd differs greatly between the two times, the consistent dreaminess remains.
Winter in Detroit? Absolutely!
To visit Detroit in the Winter and holiday season has become a tradition for our family. One year they had a walkable pine tunnel lining Woodward Ave that smelled like Christmas itself. Another year it was light tunnels.
Each year, Santa awaits families in several locations around the area and the entire destination is bursting with interactive holiday cheer.
You can expect markets, restaurants, and coffee shops, all pop-ups amongst the bustling buildings. It truly feels like another wonderful world.
But it doesn’t stop during the holidays or summer. You can visit this area throughout the year and there will always be something magical happening.
We happened on this spot in Capitol Park on our recent visit. We arrived for dinner and stayed past sunset because their patio feels like a cozy set you’d see in a movie or at someone’s perfectly currated backyard party.
Lights span across the whole park lighting up the night as if it’s just for you. The drinks were gorgeous and the food was tasty.
Make it to the Riverfront
No trip to the Motor City is complete without a stop at the riverfront.
The Detroit Riverfront should win an award for creating a space where people want to be.
Gorgeous walkways, beautiful gardens and parks, and plenty of trendy seating options go on for miles.
Any spot you pick to start is gorgeous. A couple of our favorites, though, are in front of The Renaissance Center and at Mt. Elliot.
If you visit The Renaissance Center, head outside to the river where you’ll be greeted with lounge chairs, a splash pad, and the bright blue of the Detroit River.
You can walk, bike, rollerblade, or however you like to saunter, over to Mt. Elliot from this location where you’ll run into a carousel on the way.
At Mt. Elliot, you’ll love the ship splash pad, a hilly green space, and tables to stop and eat or chill. And this is all on the chill days!
Many days out of the year, the Riverfront is popping with events and fun things to do.
Head to Belle Isle State Park
Belle Isle is an island between Detroit and Windsor and is a part of Detroit. You can get there by bridge.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Detroit on Belle Isle:
– Nature Center
– Huge burlap bag slide
– Boat launch sites and club
– Biking trails
– A pier
– Sunset park
The Island is a state park so during peak months you’ll need the state park pass or you’ll need to pay.
During off-peak months the park is free to visit. You’ll want to check their website to plan your trip as some attractions are open at certain times of the year.
You can make this stop a full day trip of activities or just pop over for a bit and take in the wonder for a short moment, picnic, or sunset.
However long you spend on Belle Isle, beware, you’re going to fall in love: with the architecture, with the beauty, with the city.
Want to know more about Belle Isle? Read more here.
You’ll like it because of the graffiti art, it’s below street level, and it takes you out to the Eastern Market.
If you’re lucky, you’ll go on a day when fun activities are happening as well. Like concerts, pop-up bars, yard games, and more.
FIVE sheds of fresh stuff to choose from – it was sensory overload in the best kind of way. This is why Eastern Market repeatedly tops lists of things to do in Detroit.
If you visit the Saturday Market, find that cinnamon roll lady from the thumb and stock up on those delicious morsels. Wish we would have brought home more and frozen them!!
But, the Eastern Market district is actually more than just the “market” or the sheds.
Intertwined on the surrounding streets are so many shops restaurants, coffee shops, local businesses offering amazing goods and services, and wrapped around all of this are Murals in the Market!
You haven’t experienced Eastern Market until you’ve seen this portion as well.
So, if you haven’t yet, it’s just another great reason to get back there soon!
Kayak the Canals
Detroit River Sports
14601 Riverside Boulevard, Detroit, MI 48215
We had no idea that Detroit canals were a thing until our recent visit.
These canals have been a part of Detroit’s story since at least the time of the Underground Railroad.
Located adjacent to the Detroit River near the northern end of Belle Isle, visitors today can paddle the canals on a guided tour, learning the history of the canals as you go.
We toured with Detroit River Sports and were impressed with the information provided by our tour guides about the canals and the helpful hints they gave to the new paddlers in our group.
They also offer nighttime glow paddles and trips for advanced kayakers as well.
The trip was about 2.5 hours from start to finish. Highly recommend.
Admire the Guardian Building
The Guardian Building
500 Griswold Street, Detroit, MI 48226
This art deco masterpiece isn’t just for architecture buffs. (Though enthusiasts beware – you might be knocked off your feet.)
Detroit is home to some incredible feats of architecture from the early 20th century, and a huge favorite is the Guardian Building.
While a majority of the building is leased to local offices, the breathtaking lobby is open to the public 24/7. You could even sign up for a tour in pre-covid times, and we anticipate them returning soon.
The Guardian building is a celebration of Native Peoples and Aztec cultures, and you can find beautiful details in the tilework that point to these cultures. There is something to notice everywhere you look.
Drive the Streets of Indian Village
Indian Village is a historic neighborhood in Detroit that’s worth driving through, or if you have time, walking through.
Many notable historic people have lived here, like Edsel Ford, and the homes are reflective of affluent early 20th century Detroit.
We stopped at The Red Hook in neighboring West Village for coffee and pastries before exploring the amazing homes that span so many architectural types from 1895-1920’s.
Look for Murals Everywhere
Looking for free things to do in Detroit? Go mural hunting!
Public art is a part of Detroit’s story and journey. It is the voice of the people in visual form.
I’m no artist, but ArtPrize has taught me a lot about what art can do for a city, and Detroit has applied that lesson, too.
Stroll down the BELT or Murals in the Market and you’ll see what I mean.
The Belt is a re-developed alley connecting Grand River and Gratiot Avenue between Broadway and Library Street in downtown Detroit. If you’re looking for a cool parking spot, park in the nearby Z Lot and you’ll be greeted by 130-foot-wide original murals on every level.
Just walking around Detroit, you’ll encounter a lot of art, including architecture. Get ready to walk!
Plan to spend part of a day just walking around the city to take in what the city is saying, what it’s all about, and plan to learn along the way.
We roller-skated in Downtown Detroit, y’all!
With a DJ!
With the twinkling lights of the city and buildings as our vibe setter!
This Midway activity is SO MUCH FUN. It took a second to feel comfortable on skates again, but after a few turns around the rink, we were golden.
We’ve already got plans in the works to get back there again this summer.
Visit the Siren Hotel – And Take Those Selfies
The Siren Hotel
1509 Broadway St, Detroit, MI 48226
The Siren Hotel is an experience, one of those hidden gem things to do in Detroit.
You’ll step into another time when you walk through the doors and may not want to leave.
The architecture is breathtaking, the decor memorizing, and the cafe’, restaurants, bars, etc. keep the atmosphere inviting.
Inside The Siren gem:
– Coffee Shop/Cafe’
– The Candy Bar
– Karl’s and Albena Restaurants
– Magazine and gift shop
– Lounge area including vintage furniture (even a bed!)
– Music and venues (Sid Gold’s Request Room and Paramita Sound)
– Barbershop (Social Club Grooming Company)
– The Roof (rooftop bar and view of the city)
– Stay at the hotel
Give Yourself Time for the Museums
DIA – Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202
The DIA is another place you’ll want to experience while in town. Just being inside of the building inspires.
If you do visit, don’t miss the famous, gigantic, Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals on two walls of the inner courtyard.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Located on Wayne State University’s campus, the Museum of African American History is the world’s largest permanent exhibit on African American culture.
It is a compelling place to learn about the African American experience and celebrate what it means to be African American.
Detroit Historical Museum
5401 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202
The Detroit Historical Museum is the only museum dedicated to telling the area’s history.
Go back 300 years in the history of the Motor City in the permanent exhibits such as The Streets of Old Detroit.
Rotating and visiting exhibits round out your trip.
2648 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48208
Music lovers will dig a trip to Motown Museum.
Come stand in Studio A, where some of your favorite historic musicians recorded their hits. View artifacts and become inspired.
Pretend It’s Just the Kids Having Fun at the Outdoor Adventure Center
Outdoor Adventure Center
1801 Atwater St, Detroit, MI 48207
The Outdoor Adventure Center took us by surprise!
The DNR managed to put the great outdoors in the middle of downtown Detroit – great news for kids.
The kids loved the experience simulators and hands-on exhibits at the Outdoor Adventure Center. I loved the low price tag.
I’d say this place is good for kids up to age 12.
Plan to spend at least a few hours playing, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and practicing archery when you visit.
One of the Classic Things to Do in Detroit: Catch a Game
I’m talking sports last because most people know that Detroit is home to major league sports teams.
But many people drive in for a day, cheer their team, and then leave.
If you have the chance, stay a little longer and start exploring. The neighborhood near the new Little Ceasars Arena, Brush Park, is undergoing major revitalization right now and it’s amazing to see these historic mansions in various states of transformation.
It’s a great time to cheer for your team and cheer for Detroit, too.
Detroit Tigers Baseball – they play at Comerica Park
2100 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Detroit Lions Football – they play at Ford Field
2000 Brush St, Detroit, MI 48226
Detroit Red Wings Hockey – they play at Little Caesars Arena
2645 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Detroit Pistons Basketball -they play at Little Caesars Arena
2645 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Things to Do in Detroit …Beyond Downtown
Make a Pit Stop in Ferndale
About nine miles north on Woodward Ave is Ferndale, one of Detroit’s funkiest suburbs. If you love shopping local, and love good food, you must stop in Ferndale.
We only had a couple of hours to spare, so we hit up the top of our list – The Rust Belt.
We are not normally big shoppers, but we all found things we HAD to have from The Rust Belt, where unique, artisanal and designer come together in one place.
We lunched across the street at Como’s Pizza and were served the BEST gluten free pizza we’ve ever experienced in our lives. No contest. They know how to do Detroit style pizza. And everything else.
There are so many other unique shops to peruse and we wished we had an entire day to hang out in Ferndale.
Ferndale is home to many popular festivals and events, so whatever weekend you visit, you’re bound to find something exciting happening.
Spend a Morning at the Detroit Zoo
8450 W 10 Mile Rd, Royal Oak, MI 48067
Like just about everything in Detroit, the Detroit Zoo is historic.
Nearly 100 years old, the zoo was built to have a “cageless” feel for both the animals and visitors. This gives the Detroit Zoo its beloved park-like feel.
Notable parts of the Detroit Zoo include the Arctic Ring of Life, The Polk Penguin Conservation Center, and the Wild Adventure Zone.
Be sure to stop at the famous Rackham Fountain, which includes beautiful bear sculptures.
Learn All of the Things at the Henry Ford Museum
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124
Squeezing in all of the things to do in Detroit on one trip is pretty much impossible. Even folks that have lived near the city are discovering new and cool places to visit almost daily.
Putting the Henry Ford Museum on your visit list is a must, though.
This staple attraction in Metro Detroit has been hosting visitors for decades and we don’t see why that would change anytime soon.
The Henry Ford Museum is also the site of Greenfield Village (see the next stop on our list) and makes a great day trip for families.
Lest you think that the Henry Ford Museum is all about cars and the man Henry Ford, let me share about our visit.
Yes, there are Model T automobiles in this large indoor/outdoor history museum, and yes, you will learn about Assembly Lines and Henry Ford.
But, you will also be transported to unexpected worlds, including a retro 50s round aluminum house, a world of numbers brought to life (Mathmatica), and special exhibits.
Restaurants and gift shops round out a trip to the Henry Ford.
Plan to spend a full day at this destination if you can. The Henry Ford Museum is an indoor attraction.
Do All of the Things at Greenfield Village
Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum
20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124
Greenfield Village is a collection of buildings — workplaces, homes, working farms — that were either moved to the site or re-created on location. The Village is made up of seven historic districts:
– Working Farms
– Model T
– Railroad Junction
– Main Street
– Edison at Work
– Porches & Parlors
When you visit, you’ll be walking through over 300 years of history from the United States and beyond.
Encounter people dressed from past eras demonstrating crafts from their time – weaving, glass blowing, pottery-making, printing, and more.
Some experiences even allow you to participate and get hands-on with the old-time innovations.
Definitely take a ride on the steam engine, model T, or carriage if you can.
You’ll also want to find and play on the playground built for children of all abilities, the Donald F. Kosch Village Playground.
Designed to look like a 1930s construction site, the playground is a mixture of new play elements and real historical objects, including a 20-foot long boiler tunnel and 1931 Model AA truck.
You can get a combo ticket to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village or just visit Greenfield Village on its own. Either way, plan to spend a full day at this stop in Detroit’s suburbs.
Pro Tip 1: Dress for the weather when visiting Greenfield Village. Getting from one attraction to another will take you outdoors, where you’ll spend most of your time.
Pro Tip 2: Check their website when planning a visit – Greenfield Village is not open every day of the week.
Coffee Shops in Detroit
Have you even experienced a city if you haven’t done the coffee? I think not.
Coffee shops are everywhere in Detroit, most unique in atmosphere, and worth the cup.
Here are some of our favorites to get you started:
West Village: 8025 Agnes St, Detroit, MI 48214
Ferndale: 220 W 9 Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220
Downtown: 2761 E Jefferson, Detroit, MI 48207
Where to Stay in Detroit, MI
We LOVED our room at the DoubleTree – Fort Shelby.
I mean, it came with a fish for the kids to feed!
As a family of five, it’s hard to find hotels in cities that can accommodate us. But our 2-room suite had more than enough space for us to spread out.
And since it was located just a block away from the people mover, we could get around the city without driving and worrying about parking.
Another spot we’ve stayed in Detroit and can recommend for its great location is the Hilton Garden Inn on Gratiot. We parked and walked almost everywhere downtown.