Explore metro Detroit's cultural character through its history museums and places and spaces that are automotive, artsy, ethnic and even animalistic.
Detroit museums and Detroit attractions are for more than just elementary school kids on field trips, and we have a place for every interest. Car lover? We’ve got you covered at a few museums. Motown fanatic? We have the original Motown house. Detroit art museums, science museums, nature centers, and African American culture museums – has it all.
1. Detroit Art Museums and Classic Detroit Museums
Detroit has more than a world-class art museum. We have an entire museum dedicated to American Innovation. We can take you back in time to Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers’ homes, or to walk through the studio that produced musical legends like Stevie Wonder. And we have the only museum in the world dedicated to Arab American history and culture. Buckle up (and not just for the auto-related museums) – you have a lot to learn in Detroit museums!
The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn is one-of-a-kind. In addition to housing iconic American items such as the chair Lincoln was assassinated in and the Rosa Parks bus, this museum focuses on American Innovation at its finest. From assembly lines and the Dymaxion House to planes, trains and automobiles, The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation will have you learning about the past and getting inspired for the future.
Greenfield Village is a part of The Henry Ford complex, but it is a world of its own. Nearly a century ago Henry Ford brought dozens of historic structures to this 80-acre site, and the nation’s first outdoor museum was born. Step foot in the lab where Thomas Edison had his light bulb moment or the workshop where the Wright brothers taught us to reach for the sky. The authentic sights and sounds of American living will have you tapped into your can-do spirit!
Detroit Institute of Arts
Not to brag, but the Detroit Institute of Arts houses great artwork from Van Gogh, Degas, Rembrandt, and Renoir. And we have the world-famous Diego Rivera mural. Talk about a Detroit art museum. Located in Midtown, this Detroit staple has concerts, workshops, special exhibits and a movie theater on top of all the great artwork.
Detroit Historical Museum
The Detroit Historical Museum is exactly what it sounds like – a detailed, comprehensive history of Detroit. You can walk through the streets of old Detroit, learn about the history behind the Detroit riots, and see all the businesses that sprouted from Detroit. You’ll learn things you never knew about The D.
Diana Ross. The Temptations. Michael Jackson. They all started here in Detroit. And we’re lucky enough to be able to walk through the house and recording studio where they sang their hearts out at the Motown Museum. This is a unique museum (by tour only), and you better believe you’ll have to sing and dance.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Located in Midtown near the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Wright is dedicated to exploring and celebrating African American history and culture. This museum also offers concerts, plays, film screenings, lectures and children’s programs throughout the year.
Michigan Science Center
The Michigan Science Center is an interactive museum in Midtown. A perfect museum for kids in Detroit, the center also hosts after hours events for you to explore the museum solo (and with drinks).
Arab American National Museum
The Arab American National Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and culture of Arab Americans. How lucky are we to have it in Detroit? Check out this museum to learn about Arab Americans coming to and living in America, and making an impact.
Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus
Michigan’s Holocaust Museum will give you the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust in the context of world history. Learn about Jewish Heritage, the rise of Nazism, the concentration camp system and the postwar period. You may even get to hear a lecture from a living Holocaust survivor.
Ford Piquette Avenue Plant
The Ford Piquette Plant is where the Model T was born. If you’re a car fanatic, this is a must see in Detroit. Walk the floors of the factory and see where Detroit’s inventive and innovative mindset began.
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
If modern, funky and unique art is more of your scene, be sure to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Located near the Detroit Institute of Arts, you could make a whole day for yourself checking out drastically different types of art in this Detroit art museum.
Red Bull House of Art
The Red Bull House of Art in Detroit is a unique art gallery where live-in resident artists are provided all the space they need to create their masterpieces. There are open exhibitions throughout the year – definitely more unique from the traditional art museum experience.
Automotive Hall of Fame
The Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn lets you celebrate all of the people whose automotive innovations changed our lives forever. This is a perfect complement to a trip to The Henry Ford or the Ford Piquette Plant.
N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art
The N’Namdi Center offers space for local artists to share their work. If you’re in Detroit looking for local art and Detroit flavor, this is your spot.
Dossin Great Lakes Museum
Located on Belle Isle, Dossin Great Lakes Museum teaches all about Great Lakes maritime history, including how the Great Lakes have played a role in Detroit’s industrial and social history.
2. Detroit Attractions
Detroit is loaded with art, architecture, science and cultural attractions. So where do you start? If you’re with your kids, Detroit attractions for the family include the Detroit Zoo, Sea Life Michigan Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center Michigan in Oakland, plus the Outdoor Adventure Center and the Belle Isle Aquarium if you’re staying downtown. If art and architecture are more your style, then you can’t miss the off-the-wall Heidelberg Project (it’s an entire neighborhood that has been converted into an art installation, and it’s wild). You’ll also need to take some tours at the auto baron homes. And don’t miss some Detroit originals such as the Parade Company and Eastern Market.
Outdoor Adventure Center
The Outdoor Adventure Center lets you explore the great outdoors from the comfort of indoors, perfect for those of you who aren’t interested in trekking it in the wild. Learn to fish, hunt, hike and more. The OAC bring Up North to downtown and is a great Detroit attraction for kids.
The Heidelberg Project is a street full of houses that have been converted into art installations, each with their own theme. It’s a unique twist on the classic Detroit art museum. Although the exhibit is constantly changing, the project can always guarantee to satisfy you if you love the weird, the wacky and the totally off-the-wall things in life.
The Detroit Zoo is better than your neighborhood zoo. We have the largest penguinarium in the world (fun fact: if you’re bored at work you can watch a live feed of the Detroit Zoo penguins). There’s also a ton of after hours events that involve biking, movies, and drinking — what more could you want.
If you’re a hands-on type of learner, be bold and try glass blowing! At The Glass Academy in Dearborn, you can attend workshops, classes and themed events during the holidays.
Pewabic Pottery is a National Historic Landmark in Detroit. Interested in art history? Then this is your place. Tiles made at Pewabic Pottery can be found on notable buildings in Detroit and around the country, including the Guardian Building, Shedd Aquarium, Detroit People Mover stations, Comerica Park and Herald Square in New York City.
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House
Entering Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is like stepping back in time. You can explore the real home of a prominent American auto baron family, who lived here through a thriving America, depression, and a world war. See all of the furniture, rooms and gardens completely intact on the shores of Lake St. Clair.
Meadow Brook Hall
Meadow Brook is another auto baron home for you history buffs out there. Home to the wife of auto pioneer John Dodge, Meadow Brook is especially spectacular during the holidays, when you can take holiday walks through the home and garden.
Historic Fort Wayne
Historic Fort Wayne is a Civil War-era fort along the Detroit River, which was built to be a critical component of defense in case war broke out against Canada. The Fort is only open to the public on special occasions and on Detroit’s birthday, so if you’re in Detroit on the right day, learn about war history in Detroit.
The Parade Company
You watch it every year on TV, and now you can see the floats and characters that grace us with their presence during America’s Thanksgiving Parade in real life. The Parade Company tour is one of a kind – explore 3,000 costumes and the world’s largest collection of papier-mache heads of local icons and celebrities.
Although Eastern Market is a super popular farmers market today, it has been around for over 100 years. Explore this area for iconic Detroit restaurants and quirky old buildings and shops.
Belle Isle Aquarium
The Belle Isle Aquarium is the perfect complement to your day spent on the island. Learn about the animals that swim the Great Lakes and the Detroit River.
Polish Art Center
The Polish Art Center is the only place in Detroit to learn about Polish history, culture and art. This is also a great place to grab souvenirs for your friends and family – they have the largest selection of Polish gifts outside of Poland!
Sea Life Michigan Aquarium
Sea Life Michigan Aquarium is located at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, so after you drag your kids around shopping with you, treat them to an underwater wonderland of sea creatures. This aquarium is always a crowd pleaser.
Legoland Discovery Center
Another attraction located at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, let your kids explore and create with Legos. At Legoland Discovery Center, you might even start building yourself.
3. Museums in Detroit: Detroit History
We are a city filled with ethnicities from around the world, including Middle Eastern, African, Polish and Italian heritages. And we sure have a lot of cultural attractions to show for it! Explore Detroit history and diversity with a few of our cultural attractions.
Detroit was the last stop for many escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad before they went to Canada, and you can still visit some of these stops today, including Second Baptist Church and First Congregational Church of Detroit. While you’re walking along the riverfront, be sure to stop and admire the “Gateway to Freedom” Memorial. And if you’re in Midtown, the Detroit Historical Museum and The Wright Museum both have exhibits dedicated to this moment in history.
Detroit is full of black history. Aside from learning about the Underground Railroad, we have an entire museum dedicated to the subject at The Wright. The Henry Ford has programming every week in February focusing on a different aspect of black history, and you can also step onto the Rosa Parks bus where she famously stood her ground against segregation. The Detroit Institute of Arts has a renowned African art collection, and the African Bead Museum has works of art created from beads that originated in Africa. The Bead Museum has a very Instagrammable wall on the outside of the building made entirely with beads. And don’t forget to make a stop at the Motown Museum, where so many black musicians got their start in the music industry at Motown Records.
Detroit has become a hot wedding destination. No wonder – we are filled with beautiful, historic churches! We have churches that functioned as Underground Railroad stops (how many cities can say that?). Art history fanatics can explore Gothic Revival, Baroque, Romanesque and Byzantine architecture styles, and visit a large concentration of Polish churches. Many still say Mass in Polish!
Arab American History
If you want a taste of Arab American culture, visit Dearborn for some of the most authentic Middle Eastern dining options in the county. Dearborn is also home to the Arab American National Museum, the only museum of its kind in the world. The Islamic Center of America was established here in the 60s, and serves as a place of worship and education about Arab American culture.
Movies Made in Detroit
Detroit has been a hot spot for filmmaking. Aside from the recent film with the same name as the city, Detroit has also been home to the production of the Transformers movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Deadpool, and Why Him? Walk around the streets of downtown where famous celebrities such as Ben Affleck (!) and Mark Wahlberg (!!!) created some of our favorite movies.