Detroit is a city in recovery with a very strong and fascinating history.
I stayed in downtown Detroit. It wasn’t a bad location but transportation in Detroit isn’t one of Detroit’s strong points so there were a lot of Uber rides.
Downtown Detroit is a contrast of abandoned buildings and new city life. There are historical buildings, abandoned buildings, vacant lots here buildings once stood, buildings being given new life and some very expensive buildings, all intermingled. There are green spaces, swings for adults, free entertainment and lots of places to eat in the city itself. A walk around the city makes for an interesting opportunity to appreciate architecture new and old.
Detroit doesn’t seem to do tourism that well so I had to do a lot of my own research. If you are planning a trip to Detroit research heavily before you get there.
The outstanding highlights were the Motown Museum, the Detroit Historical Museum and the Henry Ford Museum.
I happened to be at the Motown Museum on the 60th anniversary of Motown Records where Berry Gordon (founder) was there to make a big announcement. I was lucky to get a ticket given you really do need to book a ticket ahead and it was such a monumental day. Tickets were less than $20US. The tour is very interesting and gives insight into the development of Motown Records. It was very moving to be standing in the same recording studio that Aretha Franklin, Steve Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, a Lionel Ritchie and many more have stood and made records. There is an original Michael Jackson glove and Fedora (donated by Michael himself) on display. The piano on display in the recording room was restored with the help and support of Sire Paul McCartney. This company was before its time promoting female executives and valuing what people could offer, not what their past was. I took an Uber from downtown Detroit to get to the Motown Museum which was under $10US.
Close by (under a 30 minute walk) is the Detroit Historical Museum which was free to enter (with donations gratefully accepted). This Museum is three floors of amazing stories, artefacts and information. It is a definite must see. It is located on the Wayne State University campuses. There are several places that you could visit while on the campus. This is one of the top places to visit.
I took the opportunity to also visit the Detroit Institute of Arts on the Wayne State campus which was interesting and had some particularly interesting art pieces. My favourite pieces were the bronze pieces. They have a very good restaurant that was very good value.
If you are in Detroit you should not miss the Henry Ford Museum. Put aside two full days and get the ‘access all areas’ pass for $78US. This Museum has some of the most historical displays that you will never see anywhere else. I took an Uber to get there which cost just under $20US.
Part of the full ticket is a tour of the Ford F-150 production plant (I now want an F-150). It was awesome to see how they put together the F-150s layer by layer, which explains why it is so darn hard to work on anything on my car when an item I want to work on is generally one of the first things they have probably put on a car!
I had expected uniforms but all the worker were wearing their own clothes and shoes. The plant was particularly orderly and clean. It was a good insight into just how fast a car can be assembled. Dead set, if you are waiting weeks or months for a new car it is definitely the shipping you are waiting for because they assemble a full car in under an hour.
In the Henry Ford Museum itself I saw the car President Kennedy was assassinated in, the chair President Lincoln was assassinated in, the car Reagan was thrown in after an attempted assassination, model T Fords either assembled or in parts, the actual bus that Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man in that started the civil rights movement, an original diner, one of the biggest trains in the world, steam engines, bikes, a tiny pod house (why did this never take off), planes, tractors, antique guns and many other items of historical significance. It is a view into the collector (perhaps hoarder) and visionary that Henry Ford was.
The Greenfield Village is also part of the access all areas ticket. The Greenfield Village is a collection of houses and buildings of historical significance that Henry Ford brought to the site and made a village from. It has a working steam train that you can take a ride around the village on, a horse drawn carriage and model T Ford rides that are available to get around the village. These are fun forms of transport to take you back in time.
Many of the buildings in the village have been restored to what they were back in time. You can go inside Henry Ford’s family home, Thomas Edison’s home and his various workshops, the home where Heinz (ketchup and beans) products were first made and the Write Brother’s home and bicycle shop. There are many many more homes, working gardens and buildings including the oldest windmill in America which stands tall on the grounds. The steam train, horse drawn cart and the model T Ford rides are free with the access all areas but are very reasonable on price if you purchased a cheaper ticket.
Outlet shopping is approximately a $40US Uber ride as it is quite a way from downtown Detroit. Definitely worth visiting if you like outlet shopping.
At the waterfront at downtown Detroit you can look across the river to Canada. There are vehicle bridges going over to Canada. There is a great waterfront walk that goes for kilometres along the waterfront. There is a park where families play with their kids. I kept to the city area of the pathway as I had been advised not to go much further on my own. The path connects with a great walkway that takes you under a large number of bridges, some in use, some not. There is unique wall art along this walk on the foundations of the bridges. Families ride their bikes and it is a well used path. When you walk further through the city you will also see more great wall art on buildings. Detroit is known for its bicycle culture in the warmer months, no helmets required.
I booked a Hotel through the QANTAS app. Things are not always what they seem when you book online. Cleaning of the room didn’t happen every day, there were police cars either travelling through or parked in the Hotel parking lot regularly, the plumbing had a lot to be desired, the ‘free’ breakfast that was included had almost nothing with nutrition in it and I am not sure that it was as safe as the pictures on line depicted. I ended up putting a door stop under the door each night so I could sleep. If you are booking a hotel in Detroit pay the extra and get a reputable and safe hotel with a good brand name you know. You can’t put a price on feeling and being safe.
I am in two minds about whether or not I would recommend people travel to Detroit to explore the city. On one hand you will never get to see the things that you see at the Henry Ford Museum, which was exceptional. And you also won’t get the Motown Museum experience anywhere else l either. If those are the experiences you are looking for the Detroit should be a bucket list destination. If those things don’t interest you then perhaps choose a different destination.