Detroit: Where To Go And What To See In 48 Hours

28 June 2015
Read Time: 4.6 mins

Detroit's balmy evenings are ideal for strolling on riverside paths and sitting on brew pub decks. That is, after you've visited the landmark exhibition Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit (until July 12), at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which explores the year the artist couple spent here in the 1930s.

The city has been decaying for decades, but is now in the early stages of an exciting renaissance. "Detroit is finally coming back" is the constant refrain from upwardly mobile young people who cycle around Motor City and frequent its new bars, cafes and designer shops.

And this month, Virgin Atlantic introduced a daily, year-round Heathrow-Detroit flight, in an expanded partnership with Delta.

Touch down

Detroit is one of the main hubs for Delta which, along with Virgin, flies here non-stop from Heathrow.

 The city's driverless train track (images: Getty)

As a city dedicated to the motor car, public transport is lamentable. Bus No.125 connects the airport to downtown, but it's infrequent, and makes 125 stops en route.

A new shuttle van operated by Skoot departs every 30 to 45 minutes but it's best to reserve ahead. McNamara Ground Transportation Center can advise about taxis – around $US60 ($A72) to downtown – and car hire.

From their hub at the sail-roofed Rosa Parks Transit Center, city buses serve major thoroughfares like Woodward (No 53) and Michigan Avenue (No 37). The basic fare is $1.50. Construction of the new M-1 Rail streetcar along Woodward Avenue is due to finish in late 2016.

Get your bearings

This city's glory is its setting on the mighty River Detroit that separates the US from Canada. Downtown is roughly encompassed by the People Mover, a driverless overhead train that does five-kilometre city loops every four minutes ($0.75).

 The city on the river

The main thoroughfare is Woodward Avenue, which goes north to the museum district and increasingly gentrified Midtown. The old Corktown neighbourhood, west of downtown, and the vibrant Eastern Market are accessible by bike, bus or on foot.

The tourist office on the 10th floor at 211 W Fort Street (9am to 5pm weekdays, closed weekends) is a convention bureau but it will give you a Visit Detroit guide and a good map.

Check in

The Inn on Ferry Street at 84 E Ferry Street occupies several Victorian mansions in leafy residential Midtown. Rooms are comfortable and elegant, and the buffet breakfast is generous. A free shuttle runs within an eight-kilometre radius. Double rooms from $169, B&B.

Westin Book Cadillac, downtown at 1114 Washington Boulevard, has revived one of Detroit's landmark 1920s skyscrapers. The standard rate for a double, without breakfast, is $270. Rooms on higher floors have good views and less noise.

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Day One

Take a ride

The flat terrain and riverfront bike path make cycling easy and fun. Wheelhouse Detroit at 1340 Atwater Street (10am to 8pm Monday to Saturday, 11am to 5pm Sunday) rents bikes for $15 for two hours (half price Tuesday and Thursday) or $25 for a half-day.

 MacArthur Bridge, gateway to Belle Isle

Whizzing east along the riverfront for 15 minutes brings you to MacArthur Bridge, which crosses over to Belle Isle, an island park where you can visit the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory (10am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday) and the Beaux Arts aquarium (weekends 10am to 4pm), both free of charge.

Alternatively, take the Dequindre Cut Greenway, a 1.5-kilometre sunken disused railway, exuberantly decorated with graffiti that emerges near the Eastern Market.

Lunch on the run

In down-to-earth Detroit, two hotdog diners on West Lafayette Boulevard command a passionate local following. Despite its name, Coney Island Dog is a Michigan institution and you must pop in to either the American at No.114 (open 24 hours) or the pleasingly grungy Lafayette at No.118 (8am to 4am) to spend a couple of dollars on a sausage in a bun heaped with mustard, chilli sauce and onions. At the Lafayette, the sole waiter balances multiple dishes up his arm – pure theatre.

Window shopping

An ardent campaign has been successfully waged to revive the Eastern Market. Every Saturday (6am to 4pm), its four blocks hum with local farmers, artisan food producers and quirky craftspeople.

 Detroit is in a process of revival

Free samples and lively conversation are part of the experience. Look for the man at the Creme Detroipolis stall selling delicacies made from sweet potato.

A cluster of idiosyncratic shops on West Canfield Street, in the bohemian Cass Corridor area of Midtown, includes Shinola at 441 (open daily 10am to 7pm Monday to Friday, to 6pm Saturday and 5pm Sunday). Here, the workshop and display room have beautifully hand-made bicycles, watches and leather goods.

For unusual table linen and retro curiosities, visit Nest at No 460 (11am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 5pm Sunday), while City Bird next door (same opening hours) sells gifts and stationery including Moleskine notebooks costing $11.

An aperitif

Join the hipsters at the stylish circular bar in the tasting room of the first distillery to operate in Detroit after Prohibition. Skilled bartenders at Two James, 2445 Michigan Avenue, Corktown, create seasonal cocktails with vodka, gin, whisky and bourbon distilled onsite (1pm to 1am Friday and Saturday, to 8pm Sunday, 11pm or midnight Tuesday to Thursday, closed Monday).

Dining with the locals

The throngs of diners at Wright & Company at 1500 Woodward Avenue prove that downtown Detroit is on the rise 4pm to midnight Monday to Wednesday, 4pm to 2am Thursday to Saturday, closed Sunday).

Looking at the heritage building you'd never guess that on the second floor a local chef serves sharing plates of smoked rabbit rillette, sriracha chicken skewers and raw brussels sprout salad, costing $8-$10 each. The no-reservation policy means a wait at weekends – that's best done at the long vintage bar.

Day Two

Sunday morning: Go to church

With an azure sea scene, lighthouse in stained glass, carved anchor motifs and its window in the form of a ship's compass, there's no mistaking the theme of the Mariners' Church at 170 Jefferson Avenue. It is sited at the tunnel to Canada – apt considering it was once a stop on the Underground Railroad for fleeing slaves.

 Church meets city in central Detroit

Though independent, the church follows the Anglican liturgy and is celebrated for its organ and choral music, which can be heard at the 11am service.

Out to brunch

The Hudson Cafe at 1241 Woodward Ave (8am to 4pm weekends) takes its name from the citu store that dominated this block. The cafe serves dishes such as French toast with warm maple syrup, voodoo eggs benedict, corn cake with chorizo, cheese and a piquant sauce, each for less than $10. Be warned, waits can be long.

Take a hike

An easy stroll through the city shows the wonders of Detroit's architecture in its heyday. The Art Deco Penobscot Building at 645 Griswold Street, adorned with native American motifs, presides over Campus Martius, a central piazza where people come to relax and eat from food trucks.

The Guardian Building at 500 Griswold Street stands out with its astonishing colours and geometry, inside and out. Continue south across Hart Plaza to the Gateway to Freedom, a riverside statue of fugitive slaves looking across to Canada.

Cultural afternoon

At the end of last year, the treasure house that is the Detroit Institute of Arts at 5200 Woodward Avenue was saved from being sold by the bankrupt city council. Among a splendid collection on permanent display is the courtyard covered with Diego Rivera's frescos, Detroit Industry, which was painted in the Depression and features heroic workers and icons of capitalism (10am to 7pm weekends, closed Monday; 9am to 4pm Tuesday and Wednesday, 9am to 10pm Thursday and Friday; $8).

Icing on the cake

Join the army of baseball fans at Comerica Park for an essential Detroit experience. Tickets for Tigers games are always available and start at $12. Don't worry if you don't know your short stops from your pinch hitters, enjoy the beer, nuts, and fireworks.

Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Detroit.

This article was written by Susan Griffith from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Susan Griffith

Susan Griffith is a freelance editor and writer who has specialised for more than 30 years in writing books and articles about travel, especially working and volunteering abroad.