A Beginner’s Guide to Detroit: Motor City USA

By: Mary Quinley

July 4, 2013

Eons after massive ice beds melted and long-necked creatures ceased to roam, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and comrades paddled their canoes onto the shores of le detroit (the strait). It was July 24, 1701. With the savvy French fur-trader Cadillac at the helm, the ambitious bunch cut down oak trees to build a fort, and a church they named St Anne’s.

Take advantage of our new route to Detroit, aka Motor City USA, Motown and The D – and experience a similar sense of exploration with the help of our beginner’s guide. For starters, there’s the GM Renaissance Center. This global headquarters for General Motors touts seven interconnected skyscrapers, a 73-story hotel and plenty of spots to dine and shop. Rent bicycles, savour triple-scooped ice cream cones, and ride the carousel on the RiverWalk while waving to our Canadian friends to the south. Yes, a sliver of Detroit is the only place on USA soil north of Canada.

The Essential City Guide to Detroit

Hockeytown Cafe, Detroit © Mary Quinley

The not-just-for-kids Belle Isle, a short trek from downtown, is America’s largest city-owned island park and a popular spot for picnickers and freighter-watching souls. With snippets of Windsor, Ontario on one side and The D’s skyline on the other, the almost 1,000-acre isle features a maritime museum, conservatory and golf course. Minutes from the island’s bridge, more than 250 independent merchants sell their wares at Eastern Market.

The Essential City Guide to Detroit

Greektown, Detroit © Visit Detroit, Vito Palmisano

For lots of folks, Detroit sports rule. Three pro venues – football, baseball and hockey – are downtown, with the pro basketball team located in a northern suburb. Pubs, microbreweries and eateries – from casual Coney dog joints to elegant fine diners – furnish lively backdrops to celebrate a hometown victory.

The Henry Ford | The Essential City Guide to Detroit

The Henry Ford, Detroit © Visit Detroit, Bill Bowen

The Henry Ford in Dearborn is so big you’ll need days to see it all. Short on time? Watch the final assembly process of a pick-up truck, ride in a Model T, and peek at the limousine that USA President John Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated. See more automobile-themed stuff at the Detroit Historical Museum and Michigan Science Center.

The world-renowned Detroit Institute of Arts, Opera House, 1920s Fox Theatre and Orchestra Hall are a fraction of the city’s finest entertainment. Music buffs should stop by Hitsville U.S.A., the birthplace of Motown Records established by Berry Gordy in 1959.

Mexicantown | The Essential City Guide to Detroit

Mexicantown, Detroit © Mary Quinley

Remember the 18th century St Anne’s? You’ll find the eighth and current neo-Gothic church in the midst of a vibrant, cafe-bakery-shopping-filled Mexicantown, whereas Greektown is your best bet for cravings like saganaki or scordalia, or to try your hand at poker in the Greektown Casino.

Sure, Detroit has had its share of hiccups spanning the decades. But guess what? The latest buzz on the street lauds The D as America’s Great Comeback City. Now that’s determination.

Header photo: Skyline from Windsor © Visit Detroit, Vito Palmisano

Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights from London to Detroit. Book your flight today and enjoy the best of Motor City, and beyond.

Do you know Detroit well? Where do you go when you’re in town? What would be your tips for a first-time visitor?


Mary Quinley

Mary Quinley is an award-winning journalist who writes for magazines, newspapers and online publications. She is the author of the book 52 Ohio Weekends: Great Getaways and Adventures for Every Season. Mary resides in Metro Detroit most seasons. In the winter, she heads to southwest Florida to enjoy beach towns, back roads and happy hours. Family and friends are priorities 24/7.

Categories: Our Places