Culture + Style

Motor City Magic is on Full Throttle at These 5 Detroit Must-Do’s

A long-overdue and much-deserved renaissance over the last few years has filled Detroit with a newfound — and enticingly intoxicating — energy. The city’s inherent never-say-die spirit makes it the ideal destination for a traveler who loves to see the underdog finally get the upper hand.

Here are some not-to-be-missed Detroit attractions.

The Guardian Building

Not only does Detroit house one of America’s most renowned art collections, it also lays claim to an impressive collection of architecture. The crown jewel is undoubtedly the Guardian Building.

Designed by famed architect Wirt C. Rowland in 1920 for the banking group Union Trust, the “Cathedral of Finance,” as it was once known, was completed in 1929 — just in time to fall victim to the stock market crash and the Depression.

Luckily it was bought by a group of investors who maintained the structure and renamed it the Union Guardian Building.

Don’t let its lackluster exterior fool you. The interior of this National Historic Landmark is an art deco masterpiece, and the exquisite vaulted ceiling, colorful murals and complex, colorful tile work will give your eyes a workout.

It’s open to the public, so you can take a peek inside its ornate lobby anytime, or do yourself a favor and book an edifying — and free — tour with Pure Detroit.

Detroit Institute of Arts

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Catch a cultural event at Detroit Institute of Arts. (Photo: Alamy)

While the city’s efforts to renew itself have led to many new and noteworthy sightseeing options, Detroit’s most longstanding and lauded attraction is the Detroit Institute of Arts. The museum houses one of North America’s largest and most respected art collections.

Skeptical that Detroit could harbor such a cultural mecca? Spend just a few hours walking among Diego Rivera’s captivating murals, Van Gogh’s self-portrait or Caravaggio’s intense oils, and any doubts will be put to rest.

With more than 65,000 works exhibited among 100 galleries, the museum is one of America’s most comprehensive testaments to human creativity.

Shopping on West Canfield Street and Beyond

Perhaps one of the most obvious signs of a city’s renewal is the ever-growing availability of boutique and high-end shopping opportunities. Head to the 400 block of West Canfield Street to experience firsthand Detroit’s slow-but-sure economic upturn.

The area’s most upscale offering is Shinola, creator and purveyor of fine watches and leather goods. A visit by President Barack Obama in 2016 boosted the store’s — and Detroit’s — hip factor.

Other hot shopping spots include clothier Filson; City Bird, which features décor and jewelry by local artists; and rocker Jack White’s music store, Third Man Records Cass Corridor.

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Shop for local goods at Eastern Market. (Photo: Alamy)

Two miles east of West Canfield, Detroit’s Eastern Market provides a one-of-a-kind shopping experience of a different sort, including local fruits, produce and baked goods. This year-round historic center is the largest public market district in America and has been running since 1891.

Detroit’s Riverfront Area

For a little more than a decade, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has been working with the local government and locals to revitalize the city’s riverfront area. Today their efforts are clearly bearing fruit (or at least a lot of plazas and green space).

See the gentle side of Detroit and go for a stroll along the RiverWalk. Stop at the Garden Rooms, an outdoor space (there are no actual rooms) that showcases public art installations, like murals and sculptures, before heading on to Rivard Plaza for a carousel ride.

Finally, check out a waterfall or reel in a fish at the Department of Natural Resources Outdoor Adventure Center, where visitors explore Motor City’s wild side through exhibits that focus on Michigan’s great outdoors.

Motown Museum

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Tune your ear at the Motown Museum. (Photo: Getty Images)

While the city is most famous for being the historic center of America’s automotive industry, to music lovers it will forever be known as the hit-making hometown of Motown, one of the world’s most distinct musical styles.

The Motown Museum is in genre-founder Berry Gordy’s former home and recording studio. Established in 1959, Gordy’s Motown record label went on to nurture such great talents as the Temptations, the Jackson 5 and the Supremes.

Knowledgeable guides lead you through the museum, where you’ll see artifacts like the studio’s original recording equipment and musical instruments used by legendary artists. Chances are, by the end of the tour you’ll be humming the refrain of at least one Motown classic.