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How to spend 14 hours in Detroit

From breakfast through to after-dinner cocktails, here's our guide to spending 14 hours in Michigan's biggest city.

Photographs By Lucy Hewett
Published 5 Oct 2019, 06:00 BST
Eastern Market
Eastern Market.
Photograph by Lucy Hewett

8am: Breakfast at San Morello

Downtown’s Shinola Hotel makes a meal of breakfast — in the best way. On a sunny day, sit under the in-house Italian restaurant’s striped awning on bustling Woodward Avenue, order your eggs a la carte and witness the city waking up. If necessary, an additional caffeine kick is on hand around the corner at minimalist suntrap Madcap Coffee.   

10am: Head to Eastern Market

Recent years have seen warehouses and water towers in the historic market district bedecked with vibrant, politically charged murals; 125 have been created since the Murals in the Market street art festival began here in 2015. Explore solo or book a guided bike tour with RiDetroit. The area comes alive with produce vendors and thronging locals on Saturdays year-round, and Tuesdays and Sundays in summer. Grab a classic Coney Island hot dog from one of the stalls, or head to Gather, a restaurant specialising in locally sourced ingredients cooked over a wood-fire grill.  

1pm: Choose an art museum 

Among the first artists to make blighted city blocks their canvases in the 1980s was Tyree Guyton. His colourful installations of found objects festoon the vacant lots of Heidelberg Street, the road he grew up on. Another was Olayami Dabls, who bedazzled a depressed neighbourhood with mirror mosaics and transformed it into the MBAD African Bead Museum. Another option is a free guided tour (1pm, Tuesday-Sunday) at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Midtown. Its world-class collection, which includes Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals, was narrowly saved from the auction block during the city’s bankruptcy.     

3pm: Take a tour

Private or group tours with the history buffs at City Tour Detroit will illuminate the city’s pivotal role in the Underground Railroad, celebrate famous scions, like the boxer Joe Louis, share Prohibition Era tales of smuggling, and map out the industrial boom-and-bust that shaped the Motor City. One chapter that needs little introduction is the birth of Motown music in the 1960s, which can be experienced in a sing-a-long museum tour of record label founder Berry Gordy’s headquarters and recording studio on West Grand Boulevard.   

Motown Museum.
Photograph by Lucy Hewett

5pm: Swing by Midtown

Many locals can still scarcely believe that Detroit’s renaissance has even spread to the once-notorious Cass Corridor. In a few short years, dozens of microbreweries and local retailers have set up shop. Highlights include Third Man Records, the recording studio, vinyl press and music emporium opened by Detroiter Jack White in 2015, and the beloved bakery Avalon International Breads.

6pm: Explore the River Walk

Broken sidewalks and concrete silos have, over the past decade, given way to a 5.5-mile, landscaped promenade that’s the ideal way enjoy the Detroit River and glimpses of Canada on the far shore. Pick up a MoGo bike to visit Belle Isle, Detroit’s answer to New York’s Central Park (landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted designed both), pausing for photos at the James Scott Memorial Fountain and Sunset Point. 

8pm: Dinner at Wright & Company

This is one of Detroit’s best restaurants, holding its own amid a sea of new Downtown openings since 2014. It doesn’t take any reservations, so bank on a wait at the bar — no great hardship, as there’s theatricality aplenty in the elaborate cocktails and moody industrial decor. The owner also runs The Sugar House — regularly ranked among the country’s best bars — in Detroit’s ultimate hipster hood, Corktown.

10pm: Cocktails at The Belt

The Belt, an alleyway in Downtown’s former garment district, is the place to be at sundown. Join the Millennials sipping al fresco cocktails at The Skip, and look up to appreciate the murals and bold slogans by Detroit-based art gallery Library Street Collective. Later, slink below ground to the neon wonderland of live music venue Deluxx Fluxx, or duck into new mixology mecca Bad Luck Bar, a few blocks away.    

Read our Detroit city guide

Published in the October 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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