Detroit, Michigan, often referred to as the “Motor City”, has a rich history and culture. Founded in 1701 by French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Detroit grew into a major port city and an industrial and economic center, largely fueled by the automobile industry in the early 20th century.
With the success of the auto industry, Detroit became the fourth-largest city in the U.S. by 1920. However, in the 1950s the city began facing urban decline, resulting in significant population loss and financial struggles, including declaring bankruptcy in 2013. Despite its ups and downs, Detroit has made a major cultural impact, especially on music as the birthplace of Motown and techno.
Today, Detroit is focused on revitalization efforts through renovating historic buildings, updating infrastructure, and attracting new residents. The city offers diverse neighborhoods, world-class museums and performing arts, major sports teams, and an iconic waterfront along the Detroit River. Detroit continues to be recognized globally as a center of innovation and creativity.
Detroit has a diverse range of vibrant neighborhoods across the city, each with their own distinctive character. Here are some of the most notable neighborhoods for visitors to explore:
The heart of Detroit surrounding Woodward Ave and Jefferson Ave. This is the city’s central business district, home to offices, sports stadiums, theaters, restaurants, and more. Don’t miss Campus Martius Park, the riverfront, and landmarks like the Renaissance Center.
Midtown Detroit, centered around Woodward Ave and Warren Ave, houses many of the city’s cultural institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Public Library main branch, and the Detroit Historical Museum. The neighborhood is also home to Wayne State University.
Historic Corktown along Michigan Ave is Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. It’s filled with preserved 19th century architecture, trendy restaurants and bars, and sites like Michigan Central Station.
This public market and food district near downtown has vendors selling fresh produce, meats, and specialty foods. Explore on Saturday when the area is bustling and filled with additional artisans and food trucks.
Greektown along Monroe St features restaurants, bakeries, and shops carrying Greek cuisine, goods, and culture. The neighborhood’s casino resorts also offer gaming and entertainment options.
North of Midtown, New Center has notable Art Deco architecture, including the Fisher Building. Home to corporate offices, it also hosts dining and Green Garage urban sustainability center.
Points of Interest
Detroit is home to many famous attractions that highlight the city’s unique history, architecture, and culture. The world-renowned Detroit Institute of Arts museum (DIA) boasts significant art collections spanning eras and genres. Located in the city’s cultural center, the DIA houses nearly 70,000 artworks including pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, and Diego Rivera.
Another top destination is the Motown Museum, found within Hitsville U.S.A., the original headquarters of Motown Records. This landmark museum documents Detroit’s vital influence on popular music through exhibits and restored studios where artists like Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and Stevie Wonder recorded their iconic hits.
Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, offers beautiful natural scenery with attractions ranging from an aquarium and conservatory to hiking trails, picnic areas and athletic fields. Known as Detroit’s island oasis, Belle Isle provides a scenic urban retreat popular for outdoor recreation and events.
Additional famous sites include the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation with its fascinating industrial exhibits, and the Detroit RiverWalk, a scenic riverside promenade offering panoramic city skyline views. These and other top attractions showcase Detroit’s unique offerings in the arts, culture, architecture, and history.
Detroit has numerous parks that provide green space and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. Some of the most notable parks include:
Belle Isle Park
Located on Belle Isle in the Detroit River, this 982-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted offers beautiful natural scenery, landmarks, recreational facilities, and events. Popular spots include the James Scott Memorial Fountain, the Belle Isle Conservatory and Aquarium, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and the beach.
Campus Martius Park
This public square in the heart of Downtown Detroit has become a central gathering place. The park features performance spaces, a seasonal ice rink, restaurants, and public art installations. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument stands at the center of the park.
Situated near Highland Park, this 296-acre park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers and contains a public golf course, cultural center, nature trails, athletic facilities, and picnic areas set among scenic landscapes. The Merrill Fountain stands at the main entrance.
In addition to these major parks, Detroit has over 300 public parks offering amenities like nature trails, gardens, playgrounds, sports fields, and recreation centers throughout various neighborhoods. Belle Isle, Palmer, Riverfront, and Rouge Parks are part of the city’s system of linked greenways.
Colleges & Universities
Detroit is home to several major colleges and universities that serve both local students and those from across the country and globe. Some of the top institutions in Detroit include:
Wayne State University – Founded in 1868, Wayne State is a public research university located in the heart of Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood. It is the third largest university in Michigan with over 27,000 students from across the U.S. and 80+ countries. Wayne State has 13 schools and colleges offering over 350 academic programs. Well-known programs include business, engineering, medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and social work.
University of Detroit Mercy – Established in 1877 by the Society of Jesus, University of Detroit Mercy is a Catholic university made up of three campuses. It has over 100 academic programs in liberal arts, health professions, engineering, business, law, architecture, community service and more. Around 5,000 students attend Detroit Mercy.
College for Creative Studies – Founded in 1906, CCS is a private undergraduate and graduate college focused on the visual, performing, and literary arts. It has a student body of around 1,400. CCS offers Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in majors like advertising design, crafts, entertainment arts, transportation design, and more. It also has Master of Fine Arts programs.
In addition to these major institutions, Detroit is also home to Marygrove College, Wayne County Community College District, and satellite campuses for Michigan State University and other colleges. The city’s centralized higher education options are a draw for students seeking an urban campus environment.
Major Highways and Freeways in Detroit
Detroit is connected regionally and nationally by several major interstate highways and expressways:
- Interstate 75 (I-75): I-75 is one of Detroit’s most important north-south freeways, connecting the city to destinations like Toledo to the south and Flint to the north. This highway provides direct access between Detroit and markets throughout the Midwest and South.
- Interstate 94 (I-94): Traversing Detroit in an east-west direction, I-94 links the city to Ann Arbor in the west and Port Huron in the northeast. It is a critical route for traffic into and out of Detroit.
- Interstate 96 (I-96): This major highway runs northwest-southeast through Detroit, connecting the city to other important urban centers like Lansing and Grand Rapids. I-96 is another vital freeway supporting economic links and mobility.
- Lodge Freeway: Known formally as M-10, the Lodge Freeway is an important commuter route providing north-south transportation through Detroit’s west side. It links to other freeways like I-94 and I-75.
Combined with state highways like M-39 and US-12, this robust freeway system enables efficient transportation into, out of, and around Detroit for both passenger and commercial vehicles. The network has played an integral role in shaping metro Detroit’s development.
Sports in Detroit
Detroit is home to several professional sports teams across the major leagues. The city’s passion for sports contributes significantly to its culture and civic pride.
The Detroit Lions are the city’s National Football League team. They play at the indoor Ford Field in downtown Detroit, which opened in 2002. While the Lions have struggled in recent decades, they have a long history going back to 1929 and were one of the early teams when the NFL was first founded.
For Major League Baseball, Detroit has the Tigers who play at Comerica Park. The Tigers have won 4 World Series championships in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984. Some legendary players like Ty Cobb and Miguel Cabrera have played for the team.
The Detroit Pistons basketball team plays at Little Caesars Arena in Midtown. They have won 3 NBA championships in their history, in 1989, 1990 and 2004. The Pistons had a memorable rivalry with the Chicago Bulls in the late 1980s and early 1990s during their Bad Boys era.
Detroit is also home to the NHL’s Red Wings, one of the most successful and iconic hockey franchises. The team plays at Little Caesars Arena and has won 11 Stanley Cup championships, the most of any American NHL team. The Red Wings great tradition includes legends like Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman.
The Detroit Pistons even had a short-lived professional soccer team, Detroit City FC. Though the team folded in 2012, its supporters group Detroit City Futbol League formed a new semi-pro club that currently plays at suburban Keyworth Stadium. This contributes to the vibrant soccer culture and following in the Metro Detroit area.
Overall, Detroiters are known for their diehard passion and dedication to their hometown sports teams across various leagues. The teams and their storied histories are a point of pride and add excitement, entertainment and community to the city.
Arts & Culture
Detroit has had an enormous influence on music, art, design, and food in the United States.
The city is famously known as the birthplace of Motown, the record label founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959 that rose to prominence with iconic artists like The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and many more. Hits like “My Girl”, “Dancing in the Street”, and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” put Detroit’s take on R&B and soul music on the map. Motown left Detroit in 1972, but its musical legacy and former headquarters, Hitsville U.S.A., remain attractions.
Detroit was also pivotal in the development of techno music, emerging as a hub in the 1980s with DJs and producers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. The electronic music genre’s minimalist, mechanical sounds reflected Detroit’s environment. Techno went on to gain popularity globally, especially in Europe. The city’s electronic music festival, Movement, has been held annually on Memorial Day weekend since 2000.
In visual art, the Detroit Institute of Arts houses significant collections encompassing everything from European masterworks to contemporary pieces. Diego Rivera’s famous Detroit Industry murals depicting Ford factory scenes are a prime attraction. The Heidelberg Project, started in 1986, is a large outdoor art installation made of repurposed objects that aims to transform community spaces.
On the culinary side, Detroit-style pizza is a point of pride. Baked in rectangular steel trays originally meant for industry, the pizzas have a crispy thick crust, toppings like pepperoni and brick cheese to the very edge, and sauce layered on top. Other Detroit specialties include coney dogs – hot dogs smothered in chili, mustard, and onions.
Detroit has seen major revitalization efforts and new development projects in recent years as the city continues its resurgence. Downtown Detroit in particular has been transformed with the construction of new sports arenas, hotels, residential buildings, and other commercial projects.
Some key recent developments in Detroit include:
- The new Little Caesars Arena, home to the NHL’s Red Wings and NBA’s Pistons, opened in 2017 anchoring the 50-block District Detroit development. This $1.2 billion project is helping revive the area between downtown and Midtown.
- Bedrock Detroit, owned by billionaire Dan Gilbert, has invested over $5.6 billion to renovate historic skyscrapers and build new developments downtown. Projects include the 28-story Hudson’s site skyscraper, the tallest building constructed in Detroit since 1993.
- The Shinola Hotel opened in 2019, representing a $150 million investment in new hospitality and retail space downtown. Shinola and other developers are continuing to convert old buildings into boutique hotels.
- The Monroe Blocks development broke ground in 2018, with plans to construct two commercial towers and four residential midrises on the eastern edge of downtown.
- In 2021, the State of Michigan approved a new $1.4 billion development transforming unused land at the former site of the failed Wayne County Consolidated Jail project. Plans call for a criminal justice complex, affordable housing units, a hotel, and more.
- The East Riverfront development has brought 5.5 miles of public spaces and parks along the Detroit River. Ongoing projects like the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park are expanding riverfront recreation.
- The QLine lightrail along Woodward Ave launched in 2017, spurring Transit Oriented Development (TOD) of housing, offices and more along the route.
Detroit’s population fell to its lowest point in 2010 but has been growing over the last decade, as people are attracted to new housing and development opportunities remaking the urban landscape.
Detroit has seen both triumph and hardship throughout its rich history, but the city continues to reinvent itself and push forward. Once the beating heart of American industry, Detroit faced serious decline starting in the 1950s, culminating in the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in US history in 2013. However, this proved to be a turning point – the city has since emerged leaner and more vibrant.
Revitalization efforts in recent years have restored historic buildings, brought new development, and strengthened neighborhoods. Detroit is building an economy rooted in innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. It celebrates its diverse cultural heritage through music, arts, food, and more. Parks and greenways make Detroit more livable. Major reinvestments in the downtown and midtown areas make the city feel alive and energetic.
Detroit acknowledges its complex past and the challenges that remain. But its grit and determination to forge ahead are inspiring. The city faces its future with cautious optimism and a vision for growth. Detroiters are fiercely loyal to their community and are working hard to usher in Detroit’s next chapter. The city’s resilience and the passion of its people ensure that the Motor City still has abundant energy left to tap.