Things to Do in Detroit
As the second largest metropolitan area in the Midwest after Chicago, Detroit and its surrounding urban area is home to over four million people. It's a major cultural center known for its thriving music scene and significant contributions to the world of design and architecture.
With headlines like this to boast of, it isn’t hard to see why many people love to visit Detroit every year. There’s plenty to see and do here, from museums and sightseeing attractions to delicious restaurants and iconic landmarks. If you’ve ever visited the city, then you know just how busy it will keep you. If you’ve never visited before, then you’re in for a treat you won’t soon forget.
Here are 11 family-friendly Detroit activities to fill your time on the next trip you take to our beautiful city. Work your way through this full list, check off just your favorite highlights or use it as a guide to track down your own favorite spots off the beaten path. Either way, you’re sure to have a memorable experience with some of the best things to do in Detroit.
1. Catch the Sights on Belle Isle
In the middle of the Detroit River that separates the state of Michigan from Canada, you’ll find Belle Isle — a 982-acre island that’s been cultivated as a state park. The island is a beautiful piece of nature in the midst of a busy city, but there’s also much more to see and do here than just bask in nature.
Here on Belle Isle, you’ll also find the Belle Isle Conservatory, which is a greenhouse surrounded by acres of gorgeous botanical gardens you can browse at your leisure. The Belle Island Aquarium also operates on the island and is one of the oldest aquariums in the country. Belle Isle Nature Center is another highlight, inviting visitors from near and far to get up-close and personal with Michigan’s wildlife. Additional attractions include the Dossin Great Lakes Museum — showcasing maritime life and history — a golf course and a beautiful swimming beach.
2. Get Some Fresh Air While Enjoying the Detroit World of Art
If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in Detroit, why not enjoy the vibrant art scene our city has to offer? Detroit is home to many outdoor art installations, but two standout pieces are worth making an effort to see during your visit:
- Detroit Institute of Arts: Stop by DIA to spend a few hours, or even a whole day, exploring different painters, periods and styles. This museum, founded in 1885, has one of the largest and most historically and culturally significant art collections in the country. It boasts a diverse collection of artworks, with pieces representing European, modern, graphic, Native American, African American, Islamic and ancient art — and much more. Rotating exhibits continually bring in new works, and the beautiful Beaux-Arts building, designed by Paul Cret, has been called a "temple of art."
- Dabls MBad African Bead Museum: The Dabls MBad African Bead Museum is nearly an entire city block that’s been turned into an art installation dedicated to the heritage of African Americans. Using traditional African beads, artist Dabls MBad’s installation features mosaics, murals and sculptures all along a city block, as well as a museum that catalogs and explains the history of the very same beads used to create the art.
- The Heidelberg Project: The Heidelberg Project — an outdoor art project started by Tyree Guyton in Detroit’s east side and since carried on by many other artists and volunteers. The goal of the project was to transform a poverty-ridden neighborhood where many families, children and residents felt unsafe walking down the streets to a place where every home was a work of art and people could enjoy living. Today, if you walk down these streets, you’ll see houses painted in beautiful colors and patterns in a cheerful explosion of beauty and creativity.
3. Rock Out to Some Live Music
Detroit’s music scene has never been livelier, as they consistently attract big-name music acts coming through on tour while also boasting plenty of local up-and-coming talent you can often catch around town, as well. When you come by, we recommend checking out who’s playing at The Magic Stick. This legendary Detroit rock room is located in a former bowling alley, where the lanes have been removed to make room for a stage, pool tables, a bar and a huge dance floor.
If the weather is fine and you’d rather hang out at an outdoor concert venue, then Detroit also has plenty to offer in this vein, including the events you’ll find at New Center Park. Not only is New Center a beautiful park located in the midtown area, but it’s also known for the large number of special events it hosts. Just a few of these events include outdoor movies, theatrical performances, family events and of course plenty of live music and concerts. Check out who’s playing when you’re in town or feel free to wander the park — even if no one’s playing — to enjoy a bit of greenery in the middle of the city.
Or check out Detroit's large arenas, where powerhouse concert tours stop by throughout the year:
- Little Caesars Arena: New to Detroit as of late 2017, Little Caesars Arena is where fans throng to cheer on the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons at home. It's also a great place to find music superstars of all genres who are rocking out on arena tours. Little Caesar's headliners have included Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, the Jonas Brothers and many more.
- DTE Energy Music Theatre: Formerly the Pine Knob Music Theatre, the DTE Energy Music Theatre is located in nearby Clarkson, Michigan, and is one of metro Detroit's favorite places to go in the summer. DTE is one of the top-selling outdoor concert venues in the world and brings in fans from all over to hear their favorite singers and bands perform. Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Linda Ronstadt and Motown's own Diana Ross all once performed here nearly every summer. Recent performers have included the Smashing Pumpkins, Mary J. Blige, the Dave Matthews Band and a host of other all-star acts.
4. Get Out on the River With Detroit River Sports
When you’ve got a city set on the river like Detroit, it would seem a shame to not take advantage of this perfect opportunity. While there are beaches along the river for swimming, such as the one you’ll find on Belle Isle, we’ve got a different activity in mind for this experience. If you’re looking for family-friendly things to do in Detroit, why not take the kids and go kayaking down the river?
At Detroit River Sports, guests have the opportunity to experience guided kayak tours up and down Detroit’s waterways. Enjoy a trip to Belle Isle, explore the city’s historic canals or even go on tours set at sunset or on the nights of the full moon for a truly unique experience. Each separate tour comes with a recommended skill level that you’ll want to pay attention to, ranging from beginner to expert, and kayaks and paddles are provided. All you need to bring is your enthusiasm and natural excitement for adventure.
5. Enjoy Some Exercise With Wheelhouse Detroit
You can always explore Detroit by car, and walking is an option, as well. Arguably the very best way to see and experience Detroit, however, is to explore it by bicycle. When you visit Wheelhouse Detroit, you can choose how you want to see the city. Rent a bike to strike out on your own and ride wherever strikes your fancy, or keep things a little more structured and go out with one of the guided tour groups Wheelhouse Detroit regularly hosts.
There are tours for everyone, and you’ll always know the difficulty level and projected length before you choose which one might be right for you.
6. Browse the Stacks at John K. King Used & Rare Books
When it comes to exploring Detroit, no trip to our beautiful city would be complete without stopping in at John K. King Used & Rare Books. Selected by Business Insider as one of the world’s best bookstores, this gem is one place you won’t want to miss. The store is located across four floors of what was once an abandoned glove factory building and is today home to over a million books that stock the shelves. With a second location in Ferndale, it’s now easier than ever to experience the incredible atmosphere of this Detroit classic.
While there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you’re a book lover shopping for your next read, there’s also a lot to enjoy if you’re a fan of antiques and rarities from the past. The rare book room holds more than 25,000 treasures, including first editions, autographs, fine books and bindings, maps and ephemera. Whether you’re looking to read up on philosophy or gardening, to grab a picture book for the kids or find some classic sci-fi for yourself or to grab something gently used or much rarer, there’s something for every book lover here. This also makes a great thing to do indoors in Detroit if the weather is too poor for outdoor activities.
7. Do Some Outdoor Shopping at the Eastern Market
These days, every city and town has an outdoor market to boast about, and we’re happy to see so many of them popping up. But here in Detroit, we’re especially proud of our Eastern Market, one of the largest and oldest year-long public markets in the country.
Keep your eyes open as you browse the streets of our market district, and you’ll stumble across everything from fresh produce, spices and meats to fresh-cut flowers, handmade jewelry and crafts and one-of-a-kind works of arts. Be sure to double-check the hours and days that the market is operational before you go, however, as these will differ depending on the season. Don’t forget to grab a map, too, as you’ll need this to navigate the incredible number of stalls, sellers and streets.
8. Experience Some Architectural History at the Guardian Building
The towering Guardian Building in the financial district demonstrates Detroit's innovative history in architecture and design. This historic skyscraper was completed in 1929 and is noted for its bold and eye-catching Art Deco style. Originally known as the Union Trust Building, the skyscraper has since been nicknamed the “Cathedral of Finance” due to its gorgeous and sumptuous design that features a three-story vaulted lobby, striking mosaics, murals and multiple towers and spires.
Today, visitors can take guided tours through the building as they enjoy the beautiful design and learn about the architecture, the Art Deco movement and this skyscraper’s significance in history.
9. Grab Some Brunch at Some of Detroit’s Best Eateries
No matter what city you’re visiting, one of the best ways to both enjoy the sites and get a taste for the local food scene is to grab brunch. On top of being more budget-friendly than dinner, brunch also commonly features many fresh foods, from crepes and avocado toast to salads and wraps.
If you’re out sightseeing in Detroit and looking to grab a quick bite early in the day, there are a few spots we know you won’t want to miss out on:
- Brooklyn Street Local: At Brooklyn Street Local, you’ll find a restaurant that’s focused on community feel and locally sourced ingredients — a recipe for success in our book. While we’re highlighting this restaurant as a perfect brunch spot, they’re also open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No matter what time you make it there, you’ll always be able to find something delicious. Just a few of the brunch features you’ll find on their menu include banana walnut pancakes, grilled cheese and spinach and feta omelets.
- La Dolce Vita Restaurant: If you’re looking for the restaurant that’s been awarded the title of “Best Patio in Detroit” multiple times, then you’ll want to stop by La Dolce Vita Restaurant. La Dolce Vita serves up classic Italian cuisine for both dinner and lunch, but perhaps one of their biggest draws is their famous Sunday brunch. Every Sunday from 11 to 3, La Dolce serves up bottomless Bloody Marys and mimosas, as well as favorites like steak and eggs, seasonal fruit crepes and fettuccine Florentine. You can enjoy it all while listening to the sounds of live music on the patio.
- Honest John's: For those scouring Detroit for a casual restaurant offering a down-home feel and breakfast all day, the place to be is Honest John’s. Honest John’s has cemented a much-beloved spot in the heart of Detroit residents by serving up tasty American classics and staying open until the wee hours of the morning. Enjoy your breakfast foods at any hour of the day, or stop by for Sunday brunch starting at 9 a.m. Just a few of the breakfast and brunch items you can enjoy here include smothered hash browns, breakfast burritos, blueberry pancakes and chicken and waffles.
- TRIA: A Dearborn favorite located right up the road from The Henry Ford, TRIA is an excellent restaurant option offering upscale American cuisine. Offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night options every day of the week, TRIA truly has something for everyone. Stop by for a happy hour from 3 to 6 Monday through Friday for food and drink specials!
10. Explore the World of Middle Eastern Cuisine
You might not expect to find the delicious tastes of Middle Eastern cooking in a city in the snowy American Midwest, but that’s exactly what you’ll get in metro Detroit. Dearborn, in particular, is home to one of the highest concentration of Middle Eastern Americans in the United States, many of whom immigrated in the mid-'90s to work in the auto industry. The culinary flavor that Middle Eastern chefs bring to the region is delicious and unparalleled.
- Al Ameer: This Dearborn restaurant serves up a variety of authentic Mediterranean cuisine. Of the five initial Middle Eastern restaurants that started up in the area in the 1980s, only Al Ameer and one other remain. Al Ameer offers farm-fresh fruits, vegetables and meats in dishes from tabouli salad to pita and hummus to juicy, flavorful shawarma and kebabs. The restaurant has been featured multiple times in Eater.com's annual list of the 38 best restaurants in America.
- Shatila Bakery: This longtime Dearborn bakery was featured in the culinary magazine bon appétit and is not to be missed. Dessert lovers can feast on iconic buttery, nutty, honey-drizzled baklava treats, and the bakery also offers luscious, cheesy pastries like knafeh and katayef, along with a variety of other pastries and cookies. Shatila's thick, creamy Middle Eastern ice cream has received an award from Saveur, and the bakers even make custom wedding cakes. They recently opened a new location in West Bloomfield.
- Sheeba Restaurant: This wonderful Dearborn restaurant offers authentic Yemeni cuisine. One of its signature dishes is a stew called fahsah, which includes lamb and potatoes and is served in a bubbling hot clay bowl alongside traditional Yemeni bread. Lamb and chicken haneeth platters also allow guests to savor a type of Yemeni fare that is traditionally cooked with palm fronds. Sheeba offers an array of familiar Middle Eastern dishes like hummus, falafel and kebabs, too, as well as delicious Yemeni tea.
- Al Chabab: Al Chabab, founded by a chef who fled Aleppo just before the outbreak of civil war, offers traditional Syrian fare in the heart of Dearborn. The rich history of that famous Silk Road city infuses the dining atmosphere, and local foods like Aleppo chilis give the cuisine a unique, spicy flair. Stop by Al Chabab to try mohamara, a unique Aleppian take on hummus that's made of peppers, pomegranates, local nuts, olive oil and spices. Or fill up with lamb or beef pies, baba ghanoush, meat, eggplant and cherry kebabs or kibbeh, a dish of raw meat with spices that puts a Middle Eastern twist on steak tartare. Sheep's head is also an option for the adventurous palate.
- Bucharest Grill: Here, you can enjoy a range of food styles, from traditional Romanian dishes to Middle Eastern classics like shawarma and American favorites with a distinctive twist. Even the briefest glance at their menu shows diverse offerings like beef shawarma, falafel wraps, quesadilla sticks and stuffed grape leaves. With five different locations to choose from, you should have no trouble finding them. Whether you’re hanging out Downtown or in Corktown, Rivertown or Milwaukee Junction, there's a Bucharest Grill near you.
11. Kick Back With a Few Drinks
After a day of shopping and marveling at all the art and architecture of Detroit, spend the evening relaxing in one of these breweries.
- Detroit Beer Co.: If you’re looking for things to do with kids in Detroit, you may think this item is off the table. But while you can certainly enjoy the Detroit Beer Co. with an adults-only party, there’s plenty for the kids to enjoy here, as well. You can find the Detroit Beer Co. in the historic Hartz building right in the heart of Downtown Detroit, making it conveniently close to plenty of other exciting spots. Detroit Beer Co. features seven to nine house brews daily, and the rotating selection makes it easy to try something new every time you visit. You’ll also appreciate the full menu of appetizers and entrees. There’s even a kids' menu, so everyone can find something to enjoy.
- Motor City Brewing Works: This Detroit favorite was constructed out of discarded scrap metal and salvaged equipment from Detroit's renowned industrial past. The brewery features handmade brick-oven pizzas and handcrafted draft beers, and the local art on the walls lends a homey touch to the ambiance. Seasonal beers rotate through the menu regularly, and the regular flagship selection, featuring beers like Ghettoblaster and Motor City Pale Ale, offers local flavor that no beer lover should miss. A cozy taproom and deck seating offer options for fresh air or an intimate indoor setting.
- Eastern Market Brewing Company: Eastern Market Brewing Company often offers live music, and local food trucks park outside to offer convenient and delectable snacks. This brewery is dog-friendly, so visitors with canine friends can enjoy a beer or two with the dog in tow. Be sure to try the signature Elephant Juice beer, or get a flight to sample several of the craft beer varieties on tap.
- Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery: This fun spot is known for its sour beer, but they also offer dozens of other beers on tap, and their pub food staples like pizza, truffle fries, chicken nachos and curried potato chips make for the perfect ending to a long day of exploring. If mixed drinks are more your speed, know that they have a cocktail menu as well.
- Brew Detroit: The largest brewing facility in all of Detroit, Brew Detroit also offers a variety of small-batch craft beers. Try your hand at pub games like darts, foosball and shuffleboard, sample a flight of new beers, or sip some wine while relaxing in a dog-friendly, laid-back atmosphere in Detroit's historic Corktown District.
Plan Your Visit to Detroit Today
This list can’t even begin to cover all the fun things you’ll find to do in Detroit, but if you’re planning a visit to our beautiful city, you could do worse than to visit fantastic sites like these.
As you plan your tour of Detroit, don’t forget to include a day to visit us at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, dedicated to celebrating America’s ideas and innovations. It's a great place to start if you plan on hitting multiple Detroit museums, and it's a perfect activity for kids and adults alike. There's enough to see and do to keep everyone entertained — including Greenfield Village, where 80 acres have been dedicated to preserving famous sites of innovation and ingenuity from our past, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, where visitors can see the assembly line in action.
No matter what you plan to do on your trip to Detroit, we can’t wait for you to visit our city and join the millions of other guests who have taken the time to learn about Detroit's inspiring history of innovation.