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Free Things to Do in Detroit, Michigan

Detroit by Night - What to do in Detroit for Free

Next up on my discovery of North American cities is this guest post by Madeline from Madeline Rae Away.  She’s sharing her tips for the best free things to do in Detroit Michigan, which sounds like a cool city to explore!

Detroit may not be on the top of your list for American cities to explore, but there is more than enough to pique your interest here!  The city is moving on from its unstable past, and urban renovation is starting to make a huge difference to the city.  There are plenty of free things to do in Detroit to help you get under the skin of the city and to enjoy it without splashing the cash.

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Free Things to do in Detroit – The Detroit Riverfront

One of the prettiest areas of downtown Detroit is the riverfront. The riverfront has been completely transformed in recent years, as part of the Detroit revitalization project.

Here’s where you’ll find lots of green space and newly paved paths perfect for walking, biking, or exercising – all while looking at Canada in on the other side of the river.

As you walk along, you’ll see a diverse landscape that encapsulates everything that is Detroit: skyscrapers, industrial areas, and plenty of trendy new greenspaces – a true indicator of the city’s recent gentrification.

If you are interested in learning more about Detroit, the Detroit Experience Factory offers free walking tours along the Detroit riverfront, along with other free tours in the city.

Detroit Riverfront - Things to do in Detroit for Free
Detroit Riverfront – Things to do in Detroit for Free

Visit a Beach (in the middle of the city)

In the summer, you can enjoy a beach right in the heart of Detroit. The Beach at Campus Martius Park opens in the warmer months, and features real sand, lounge chairs, a beach bar, and (hopefully) sunshine. It is one of the best spots to visit in Detroit in the summer and with a little imagination you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a Caribbean beach!

Belle Isle Conservatory

Belle Isle is an island outside of Detroit’s city centre that is home to almost 1000 acres of park space and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. This conservatory is beautiful and is home to many rare and exotic plants.

Belle Isle is about 10 minutes by car from the centre of Detroit, and on the island you’ll also find the Belle Isle Aquarium, the Belle Isle Nature Center, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

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Free Things to do in Detroit – Go Graffiti Hunting

Detroit is full of street art.  The coolest graffiti in Detroit can be found at The Belt, which is a narrow alley filled top-to-bottom with street art right in the heart of Detroit. Make sure to visit The Belt at nighttime too, where the entire alleyway lights up and it turns into a popular nightlife scene.

Other great spots for graffiti hunting include Eastern Market and Corktown.

Graffiti in The Belt - Free Things to do in Detroit Michigan
Graffiti in The Belt – Free Things to do in Detroit Michigan | Credit Madeline Rae Away

Eastern Market Detroit

Eastern Market is a sprawling market located in the heart of Detroit. It is home to the best open-air market in the city, where you’ll find locals and tourists alike visiting the popular Saturday morning markets.

Eastern Market is constantly hosting pop-up events like Christmas markets and other seasonal markets, so make sure you check their event calendar for details the latest events.

You can find lots of good restaurants here, including some budget eats. This Detroit city guide has more information on what and where to eat in Detroit.

This spot is also one of the best places in Detroit to tailgate a sports game, which brings me to my next suggestion…

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Tailgate a Sports Game

You don’t have to attend the game to get into the team spirit in Detroit. Detroit sports fans love to tailgate Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions home games – and concerts too!  In case you haven’t experienced tailgating before, I would describe it as a pre-game party where people gather, eat, and drink.  It’s often done in the back of their vehicle in a parking lot with music playing. It normally just turns into a big parking lot party – sounds like fun, right?

Head to Eastern Market or Greektown to get in on the action and see how much Detroiters love their sports teams. Or simply walk into any parking lot surrounding Comerica Park or Ford Field and feel the spirit of Detroit.

The Spirit of Detroit

Speaking of The Spirit of Detroit, there is a statue with this name located right in the city centre. Commissioned in the 1950s, it has become an iconic landmark in Detroit is definitely worth a quick stop by while you roam the city center.

The Spirit of Detroit - Free Things to do in Detroit Michigan
The Spirit of Detroit – Free Things to do in Detroit Michigan

Free Things to do in Detroit – Third Man Records

Third Man Records was launched by Jack White – lead singer of The White Stripes – in 2001 in Detroit. If you’re a music fan, this is a spot you can’t miss. The shop is home to music memorabilia, records, and other novelties and has become a staple of Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood.

Detroit Guardian Building

The Detroit Guardian Building is a National Historic Landmark, and easily one of the most magnificent buildings in Detroit. Built in the 1920s, this gorgeous art-deco building is right in the centre of the city. Just walk in and take a look at the intricate tiles on the ceiling – they will blow you away.

Detroit Guardian Building - Free Things to do in Detroit
Detroit Guardian Building – Free Things to do in Detroit | Credit Madeline Rae Away

Downtown Detroit Parks

Detroit city centre is littered with small parks that are always hosting events that you can stop by to enjoy.  Even if there aren’t any special events while you’re in town, the parks are still worth checking out even if it is just to have a nice spot to sit in the city centre.

During the winter holidays, many of the city center parks are home to the most beautiful Detroit Christmas Markets which are a must-visit in December!

Here’s a few parks to add to your list: Campus Martius Park, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park, New Center Park.

Dequindre Cut Greenway

The Dequindre Cut Greenway is a paved urban biking and walking path.  This unique pathway lies below street level and offers a really cool urban exploring route.

Along the two-mile-long greenway, you’ll see lots urban art installations and graffiti, abandoned buildings, and new ones too. It shows the perfect contrast between what Detroit once-was and is now.

If you’re looking to explore Eastern Market, this is a great pathway that connects the central Detroit Riverfront to Eastern Market.

Heidelberg Project

Located about 10 minutes by car from the Detroit city centre on Detroit’s East Side, the Heidelberg Project is an art installation in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The project began in the 1980s, when the artist returned to the street he grew up on, Heidelberg Street, and barely recognized the devastation he saw. This project is a literal depiction of the plight experienced by this city over the decades and is a must-see in Detroit.

Part of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit
Part of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit

Shinola Flagship Store

Shinola, home to Shinola premium leather good, watches, and bicycles, is an iconic part of Detroit’s comeback story. All the goods are designed and manufactured in Detroit, and the brand has become a staple of the city. The flagship store, located in the Cass Corridor shopping district, is worth visiting – even if it is to just window shop!

About the Author

Madeline is a Canadian ex-pat who followed her heart across the world and is currently based in Malmö, Sweden. She runs the blog Madeline Rae Away, where she shares her passion or seeing the world through travel guides, ex-pat tips, and other stories about life in Sweden.  You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest too.

I am certainly adding Detroit to my list of cities in the USA to visit!  What do you think?  Is are there any other free things to do in Detroit that you would recommend?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.

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Last updated: May 2, 2020

 

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