First Timers 72 Hour Guide to Detroit

Story By: Sarah Bence


Detroit is a city you can visit again and again and always find something new. But there’s a first for everyone! If this is your first visit to Detroit, get ready to be amazed at the diversity, creativity, and history of this classic American city.

This 72 hour itinerary takes first time visitors through some of Detroit’s best spots – from exploring downtown, to seeing the art scene, and learning why this city has nicknames like “Motor City,” “Renaissance City,” and “Hockeytown.”


How to get to Detroit

It is easy to drive to Detroit from many places in the Midwest (and even Canada!).

You can also fly into Detroit via the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW). This is an international airport and is in the top 20 busiest airports in the United States. DTW is a hub for Delta Airlines, which introduced CareStandard in 2020 and the commitment to keep travelers safe during the pandemic.

Detroit is also accessible by bus, or three daily Amtrak trains.

Detroit Metro Airport

Photo courtesy of Delta Airlines


How to get around Detroit

Once you’re in Detroit, how do you get around? Detroit’s called Motor City for a reason, and car is the easiest way to travel Detroit, especially if you want to explore the metro area.

You can rent a car from DTW or various locations in metro Detroit, and you can also use Uber to get around within the city.

It’s also possible to see Detroit on foot. Downtown Detroit is very walkable, and there are many paths like the Detroit Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut that connect various neighborhoods.

For public transportation, you can also traverse Detroit by the QLine. The QLine is a streetcar system that opened in 2017, and is popular among commuters and tourists alike.


When to visit Detroit

You can visit Detroit any time of year!

Keep in mind that it gets cold in Michigan in the winter – with many days in December to March below freezing. However, Detroit is gorgeous in the snow, and there are plenty of things to do in Detroit in the winter.

In the spring and summer, Detroit warms up and the many green spaces and gardens bloom, and kayaking at Belle Isle becomes an option.

In fall, the colors are bursting and there are plenty of farmer’s markets, metro area apple orchards and pumpkin patches to enjoy.


Where to stay in Detroit

Detroit is home to many world class hotels, including luxury hotels, boutique hotels, and budget options, too.

For this Detroit itinerary for first timers, it’s best to choose a hotel in downtown Detroit. This will situate you walking distance to many of Detroit’s best attractions.

Aloft Detroit hotel lobby

Photo courtesy of Aloft Detroit

Some downtown hotels to pick from include:


Photos: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy & Pure Detroit Downtown

Food. Music. Muscle Cars. Sports. Art. Culture. Outdoors. Nightlife. In Detroit, it's never hard to find your vibe.
Inside the Guardian Building

Day 1 – Get to know Detroit’s Downtown

It’s your first day in Detroit! Check into your hotel, and spend the day getting to know downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods on foot.


11am: Brunch at Hudson Café

Get a late start to the day after your arrival with brunch at the famous Hudson Café. This downtown breakfast-all-day spot is on Woodward Avenue, opposite the old Hudson’s Department Store which is currently being rebuilt into one of Detroit’s tallest buildings.

This popular restaurant often has a line out the door, so make reservations. The wait is worth it, though, because the Chunky Monkey pancakes and Cinnabun swirl pancakes are to die for.


12pm: Shop along Woodward Avenue

Next, spend a couple hours window shopping along Woodward Avenue, the main drag downtown. There are many well-known favorites, like The Nike Store, Lululemon, Madwell, and others.

Be sure to also spend some time at local businesses run by Detroiters, such as Detroit is the New Black, or charity-based The Detroit Shoppe.

This is also a good time to admire some of Detroit’s stunning architecture, such as the David Whitney Building or The Guardian Building.



2pm: Explore Detroit’s riverfront

Let your walking lead you downtown to the Detroit riverfront. From here, you can see skyline views of Windsor, Ontario, as well as Instagram-worthy shots back toward Detroit.

Be sure to spend some time at The Monument to Joe Louis, and the Hart Plaza, before taking a stroll along the Detroit International RiverWalk.


3pm: Check out a downtown museum

In the afternoon, carve out a couple hours to see one of Detroit’s famous museums. There are quite a few museums in Detroit (and we’ll save the art museums for tomorrow), so picking one might be hard.

The Motown Museum and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History are both classic picks, though, and easily accessible by Uber or driving from the riverfront.


6pm: Grab some Detroit-style pizza for dinner

It’s dinner time on your first night in Detroit, so there’s an obvious choice: Detroit style pizza!

Detroit is known for its signature pizza with a thick, crispy crust, and the tomato sauce striped over the cheese (it’s incredible, we promise).

Buddy’s Pizza invented Detroit style pizza way back when, and is still going strong. Try their downtown location for dinner.


8pm: Finish the night with games and drinks

The day’s not over, and let’s make your first night in Detroit end with something fun. Head to Ready Player One, another old-school arcade bar downtown with plenty of beers on tap.


Photos courtesy of: Bill Bowen

Come for the pizza, automobile history and Motown soul. But stay for the breathtaking murals.
Eastern Market flower day

Day 2 – Explore Detroit’s Art Scene

Day two of your 72 hour itinerary is all about getting to know Detroit’s arts and culture scene. Detroit is home to some world-famous art museums, as well as an expansive street art community, and some edgier community art initiatives.


9am: Eastern Market

Spend your morning at Eastern Market, one of the must-see destinations within Detroit. The Eastern Market is the largest outdoor farmer’s market in the United States, and it’s also a beloved Detroit institution that’s fed Detroiters since 1841.

It’s best if you plan your second day in Detroit for a Saturday, because the Saturday Market that runs from 6am to 4pm has to be seen to be believed.

Definitely allocate an hour to exploring the murals around Eastern Market, many of which are painted each year during the Murals in the Market event. And before departing, grab brunch at one of the many Eastern Market restaurants.



1pm: Heidelberg Project

 After Eastern Market, drive a few minutes to the nearby Heidelberg Project. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The Heidelberg Project is a world famous public art installation, created by Tyree Guyton from found objects along the street he grew up on.


2pm: Detroit Institute of Arts

In the afternoon, head over to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) where you can spend a few hours admiring more traditional art.

The DIA is a must-visit during your first trip to Detroit. It showcases Impressionist, Expressionist, and American paintings, as well as a regularly rotating exhibition. There are also often interactive events so be sure to check their calendar before your visit.



6pm: Dinner at The Whitney

Dinner on your second night will similarly be a celebration of Detroit art. From the DIA, you can walk to The Whitney. This is one of Detroit’s most luxurious restaurants, located in a beautiful mansion built in the 1890s.

After dinner, head to the Ghost Bar, also inside the David Whitney Building, for some craft cocktails (and even a few spooky stories).


Photos courtesy of: Bill Bowen and Jo’s Art Gallery

The birthplace of American muscle cars with a reputation for having the best sports fans around, Detroit pride is palatable anywhere you go.
Comerica Park tiger statue

Day 3 – Meet Detroit’s Icons

Dedicate your third and final day in Detroit to discovering two of the city’s most iconic themes: cars and sports, of course! Detroit is known not only for its rich automotive history, but also as being the only city in the United States where all four major sports teams play downtown.


10am: Visit one of Detroit’s car museums or experiences

This morning is all about getting to know Detroit’s automotive past – and present.

There are many auto museums and activities to choose from. For a classic choice, drive or take an Uber to the Henry Ford Museum, where you can also explore Greenfield Village’s 80 acres of immersive experiences. For a museum closer to downtown, tour the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, where the Model T was created.



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A post shared by The Henry Ford (@thehenryford)


If museums aren’t your thing, but you still want a taste of Detroit’s auto history, take a tour in a vintage Model A car with Antique Touring (available in the summer months). And if you want to see what Detroit’s auto scene is like in modern times, take a wander through the GM Renaissance Center, where cars are always on display.


1pm: Grab lunch at a Detroit favorite

It’s time for lunch, and your choice of restaurant might differ depending on which museum you chose to explore. But if you’re in the Entertainment District, hit up Hockeytown Café – a totally hockey-themed restaurant that will get you in the mood for the afternoon’s activities.


3pm: Get ready for a game – or play one yourself

Detroit is home to professional teams in each of America’s four major sports: baseball, hockey,  football, and basketball.

If you’re visiting during baseball season (April through October), catch a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park. During basketball season (October through March), see the Detroit Pistons do their thing at the state-of-the-art Little Caesars Arena. Little Caesars is also home to the Detroit Redwings – Detroiters go wild for hockey (that’s why the name “Hockeytown” is trademarked) and you’ll see why if you get tickets. And finally, if you’re in Detroit during football season, tailgate or nab some tickets to see the Detroit Lions play at Ford Field.

If you’re not visiting Detroit during a home game, no worries. You can still get a feel for the city’s sports culture by watching an away game at one of Detroit’s best sports bars.

For those who prefer to play themselves, try fowling (football + bowling) at the Fowling Warehouse in Hamtramck. Fowling might not be a major four sport, but it’s definitely a Detroit specialty.

8pm: Head home (with some take out)

It’s the end of your third day in Detroit, so it’s time to head home. Grab dinner to go at the stadium or sports bar. Little Caesars, Comerica, and Ford Field are all known for their great dining options.



Photos courtesy of: Bill Bowen and The Henry Ford

In Detroit, rejuvenation only takes 72 hours. This city's uncrushable spirit is both infectious and inspiring.
Bartenders at Detroit Vineyards Tasting Room

Have more time in Detroit than expected?

Three days is enough time to give you a taste of Detroit, and experience the highlight reel. But chances are, after 72 hours in Detroit you’ll want to come back!

When you do, there are plenty more things to see. After seeing the city’s “must-visits,” you’ll have the freedom to explore more off the beaten path activities like the murals of Mexicantown, the flavors of Detroit Vineyards, Detroit’s theater scene, and more.


Travel looks different during the pandemic. Go Safely in Detroit.

Visit Detroit and many local businesses have taken the Go Safely pledge. This includes pledging to wear a mask, social distance, wash hands, use cards instead of cash, keep things clean, and stay at home when sick.

Visitors are encouraged to do the same, and also keep up to date on local travel guidance, and changing regulations on museum and restaurant opening.

When it is safe to travel to Detroit, you can still enjoy this itinerary, with appropriate adjustments. Focus on outdoor activities (like Eastern Market, the Detroit Riverwalk, Greenfield Village, and the Heidelberg Project), get take out from restaurants to eat in a park or at your hotel, and wear masks to shops, museums, and sports games.


Photos by: Michelle Gerard




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