There are numerous things to do in Detroit, covering a wide range of interests. Belle Isle, an island park in the city, is a treasure trove of free attractions, including a nature center with animals and an aquarium. There are many parks for visitors to spend some time relaxing and playing in. There are free tours in several parts of the city and festival at different times of the year. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
1.Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
© Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the country’s oldest continuously running conservatory, is home to many different rare and exotic plants from across the globe. The conservatory is divided up into five distinctive areas: the Show House, the Sunken Fernery, the Cactus House, the Tropical House, and the Palm House. Plants that produce food, such as oranges and bananas can be seen in the Tropical House. Spread out over thirteen acres shared by a Lily Pond and the formal gardens, the Conservatory and Gardens are open from 10:00am until 5:00pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
900 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-821-5428
2.Belle Isle Park
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The Belle Isle Park is an island park encompassing nearly one thousand acres of Detroit and features cultural, environmental, and historic resources that generations have loved. Among the many different amenities and facilities at the park are the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the Belle Isle Nature Center, the Belle Isle Aquarium, the James Scott Memorial Fountain, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. Belle Isle Park is open each day from 5:00am until 10:00pm, with various hours of operation for facilities like the aquarium and nature center. The public park is managed by the Belle Isle Conservancy.
300 River Place Dr, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-331-7760
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Many of Detroit’s most popular east riverfront highlights can be found at the Cullen Plaza. These include the inlaid map of the area’s Detroit River made out of granite, the beautiful Cullen Family Carousel, a sculptured glass map of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, lush landscaping, a children’s play area, and playful fountains. The plaza is also home to the RiverWalk Cafe, as well as the Wheelhouse Detroit, which is a bike shop that offers bike rentals, service, retail, and tours. The RiverWalk Cafe and the carousel at Cullen Plaza are open during the warmer months of the year.
1340 Atwater St, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-566-8200
4.Detroit Historical Museum
© Detroit Historical Museum
The Detroit Historical Museum shares the history of the Detroit region, as is the only museum to do. The Signature Exhibitions at the museum are its permanent exhibits, showcasing over three hundred years of the rich history of the city. Five permanent exhibits opened in 2012, which include the Kid Rock Music Lab, the Allesee Gallery of Culture, Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy, the Gallery of Innovation, and the Legends Plaza. There is also the Streets of Old Detroit, Frontiers to Factories: Detroiters at Work, America’s Motor City, and Doorway to Freedom: Detroit and the Underground Railroad.
5401 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202, Phone: 313-833-1805
5.Detroit International Jazz Festival
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The Detroit Jazz Festival is the city’s free annual jazz festival held during Labor Day Weekend every year. The festival is held at Campus Martius Park and Hart Plaza in Detroit. Each year, the Detroit International Jazz Festival features a lineup of over sixty different performances, which are made up of performance as diverse as the jazz genre itself. There are also often spontaneous late-night jam sessions, as well as other activities and events. The festival has changed named over the years, starting out as the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival, then the Detroit International Jazz Festival, and now The Detroit Jazz Festival.
1 Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI 48226, Phone: 313-469-6564
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The Detroit RiverWalk is a stretch of the riverfront stretching from the Gabriel Richard Park to the Ambassador Bridge, which is approximately five and a half miles. Many people visit the riverfront to walk, bike, run, or simply spend time with friends and family and take advantage of the all the riverfront has to offer. Attractions situated along the Detroit riverfront include open greens spaces, pathways, pavilions, plaza, and park. All of which are connected by the Detroit RiverWalk. The riverfront also features residential areas, retail shops, restaurants, and a marina. The Detroit RiverWalk is the work of the Conservancy.
7.Dossin Great Lakes Museum
© Dossin Great Lakes Museum
The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is located on Belle Isle and is focused on telling the story of the region’s Great Lakes, along with a specific emphasis on the role the city of Detroit has played in the maritime history of the region and the country. Exhibits housed within the museum share over three hundred years of the rich maritime history of the region, from shipping fleets ruling the waterways to the various roles the Detroit River and the Great Lakes have played in the region’s social and industrial history. Exhibits include the championship hydroplane Miss Pepsi and Built by the River.
100 Strand Dr, Belle Isle, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-833-1805
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The Eastern Market is one of the country’s largest and oldest public markets open year-round. The Saturday Market offers more than 225 vendors and cooking classes for visitors of all ages. This market has been a tradition in Detroit for over 125 years and strives to make the city happier, wealthier, and healthier. The market is every Saturday, from 6:00am to 4:00pm. The Sunday Market is 10:00am until 4:00pm, from June to September. This is more of a street market than farmers market, featuring artists, musicians, jewelers, cooks, and more. The Tuesday Market offers free fitness classes.
2934 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-833-9300
9.Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum
© Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum
The Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum lets visitors take a walk through a timeline of mechanical history. Guests can explore vintage coin-operated machines, unusual nostalgia, video game crazes, oddities, and macabre throughout the museum’s five thousand square feet. Visitors of all ages can play a variety of games and earn tickets that can be redeemed for a large selection of prizes. There is also a cafe offering snacks and free wireless internet, as well as several photo booths and rides for children. The Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum doesn’t charge a fee for admission. Souvenirs and t-shirts are also available.
31005 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48334, Phone: 248-626-5020
10.The Dequindre Cut Freight Yard
© The Dequindre Cut Freight Yard
The Dequindre Cut Freight Yard is a go-to destination in Detroit during the summer for outdoor fun and libations. The Dequindre Cut area is a gathering place, home to retail shops, and a place for entertainment, all built out of nine shipping containers that have been repurposed. The Freight Yard includes entertainment, a wine and beer gardens, a Detroit-based market created by the Build Institute, and food trucks by the people of Yum Village and Brut Detroit. Visitors can check the Facebook page for the Dequindre Cut Freight Yard for hours, vendors, food trucks, and entertainment schedules.
Dequindre Cut Greenway, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-566-8200
11.Grand Circus Park
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The Grand Circus Park was first established back in the 1860’s. The five-acre park now is an anchor for an expanding residential district in the city and is a gateway to the entertainment district of Downtown Detroit. Surrounding the park are several popular attractions in Detroit, such as The Fillmore, the Little Caesars Arena, Ford Field, the Detroit Opera House, The Fox Theatre, and the Comerica Park. Grand Circus Park features a dog park, art, monuments, two historic fountains, gardens, and seating areas. Free events are also hosted in the park throughout the year, including music, street performances, and live theater.
Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
12.The Heidelberg Project
© The Heidelberg Project
The Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan is an outdoor art environment located in the heart of the urban city. It is also a Detroit-based community organization that is working hard to improve neighborhoods and lives of the people who live in them through art. People can come and tour the area of outdoor artwork for free, as its it open for visitors to explore any time, any day, no matter what the weather. It’s recommended, however, that guests visit during the day to provide more respect to the people who live in the neighborhood. Closest parking is on Heidelberg Street’s south side.
3600 Heidelberg St, Detroit MI, 48207, Phone: 313-458-8414
13.William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor
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The William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor is an oasis within the urban environment of the city of Detroit. It is also the first urban state park. Located along the banks of the Detroit River, the park offers a range of activities for visitors, including fishing, walking trails, picnic areas, and more. Situated in the heart of the city, William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor is part of the Detroit RiverWalk and also features a wetland area and a harbor for boats. It’s conveniently located close to several city attractions and eateries as well.
1900 Atwater St, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-396-0217
14.Mt. Elliott Park & Pavilion
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The Mt. Elliott Park and Pavilion contains a water feature with a Great Lakes schooner theme. This water feature is made up of water cannons that children will love to use, wind chimes, and water cascades, as well as several additional interactive features. The park also includes beautifully landscaped grounds, winding pathways, fishing piers, restrooms, and good lighting. There is also the Mt. Elliott Park Fun Shop, which offers sandwiches, snacks, drinks, towels, outdoor toys, and sunscreen. Visitors can also find unique gifts showcasing Detroit artisans and artists. Mt. Elliott Park is designed as a universally accessible park.
110 Mt. Elliott St., Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-566-8200
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The Belle Isle Nature Center is situated at the Belle Isle Park, a beautiful island park, and provides an ideal place for natural, environmental, and educational experiences for those visiting or living in the Detroit metro area. The Nature Center offers an opportunities for visitors to get up close to wildlife native to the state of Michigan and have an inside look at a real beehive among other activities. There is also a window for bird observation and a deer encounter that lets guests watch the fallow deer and learn about the history of these deer with Belle Isle.
176 Lakeside Dr, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-852-4056
16.The Belle Isle Aquarium
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The Belle Isle Aquarium was the world’s third largest aquarium when it first opened back in the year 1904, and is America’s oldest aquarium. It also originally had water shipped in directly from from the ocean. The aquarium today features a unique collection of various fish species. It still boasts one of the world’s largest collections of air breathing fish and is home to North America’s only known collection of each of the seven different species of gar. The free admission Belle Isle Aquarium is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 10:00am until 4:00pm.
3 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-402-0466
17.New Center Park
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The New Center Park js a unique space of green in the southwest corner of West Grand Boulevard and Second Avenue, across from the Fisher Building. The park hosts free movie screenings, live theatrical shows, and other events each year from the month of June through the month of August. New Center Park is open to the public on weekdays from eight in the morning to dusk until typically around the middle of October. Special events and movie screening take place during the evening during the summer season. No outside drinks or food are allowed in the park after 3:00pm, and no pets.
2998 West Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202
18.Gabriel Richard Park
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The Gabriel Richard Park is a beloved city park in Detroit, located on the easternmost part of the Detroit RiverWalk. The park has been enhanced by the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy by adding a pavilion and plaza along the banks of the river. The riverfront park is a serene oasis featuring fishing outlooks, a contemplative labyrinth, butterfly gardens, a playful fountain, and lush landscaping.There is also a birding station with four scopes for spotting wildlife, two of which are handicap accessible. The station includes an interpretive panel that identify various birds that visitors may see along the river.
7130 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit, MI 48207, Phone: 313-566-8200
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The GMRENCEN Tour is a free public tour of Detroit’s landmark GMRENCEN. Visitors can explore the center and learn about the rich history of General Motors and its connection to Detroit. The complimentary tours last approximately in hour in duration and are offered Monday through Friday, twice day at 12:00pm and at 2:00pm. Tours of GMRENCEN are limited to twenty-five guests per tour and permit people on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visitors are advised to arrive for the tour at least ten minutes before the tour is supposed to start. Tours leave from the Jefferson Lobby.
400 Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48243, Phone: 313-568-5624
20.Sanders Candy Factory Tour
© Sanders Candy Factory Tour
The Sanders Candy Factory Tour is a great tours for visitors of an age, and the best part is that it is free. During the guided tour, guests will watch a video presentation, get a glimpse of the chocolate factory from the observation walkway, and free samples of deliciously sweet chocolate. These tours last around an hour in length and include a visit to the Chocolate and Ice Cream Shoppe. Guided tours are offered by appointment. Visitors can also do a self-guided tour with no appointment, viewing the candy kitchen during the shop’s regular hours of operation.
23770 Hall Rd, Clinton Township, MI 48036, Phone: 586-464-5411
21.The Detroit Experience Factory
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Visitors to the city of Detroit, Michigan can take advantage of the Detroit Experience Factory’s free tour along the riverfront for an opportunity to learn even more about the city. The tour shares some of the history of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and the Detroit River. Information includes prohibition history, the construction of the RiverWalk, and the Underground Railroad. The Detroit Experience Factory tour happens every Sunday and leaves at 2:00pm from the Cullen Plaza. Tours last around one hour in duration and cover a tad bit more than half of a mile.
440 Burrough St, Detroit, MI, Phone: 313-962-4590
22.Annual African World Festival
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The Annual African World Festival draws in more than one hundred and fifty thousand people to the grounds of the city of Detroit’s Wright Museum of African American History. The free festival is a three-day event for the whole family. It features various performances, African dance and drumming, crafts, arts, poetry, ethnic foods, hundreds of different vendors, and other events for visitors of all ages. The Annual African World Festival usually takes place during the middle of August, offering festival activities each day of the festival from eleven in the morning until eleven at night.
315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48202, Phone: 313-494-5800
23.Batman v Superman Tour
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Batman v. Superman was the biggest movie project to come to the state of Michigan, and to Detroit in particular. The film project used around forty different locations throughout the city during its five months of shooting in Detroit. Not every locations used in filming is a part of a major scene, but with several playing a significant role, efforts have already been made to capitalize on their potential for tourism. An app has even been made to help visitors take a self-guided tour of around a dozen filming locations. Locations used include the Detroit Public Library, the Masonic Temple, and the Guardian Building.
24.Experience Detroit Self Guided Tours
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The Experience Detroit Self Guided Tours are several different guides for visitors that allow them to easily find the city’s best things to do and attractions in the metro area of Detroit. Each of the self-guided tours let people explore at their own pace and discover what exactly makes the city unique. Visitors can choose tours based on location or type of tours. Tour types include architecture, culture and art, history, downtown, scenic drives, automotive heritage, and many others. All guests need to to is select a tour, jump in their car, and simply go find the spots.
25.Garlic & Music Festival
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The Garlic and Music Festival offers free admission and guests of all ages are welcome. The festival is a weekend of sounds, sights, scents, and tastes. Visitors can try incredibly garlicky food, summer cocktails, and cold beer. There is also an assortment of lawn games, the Kidz Zone, and other family fun. The Gourmet Alley at the Garlic and Music Festival provides a variety of garlic-inspired dishes and a number of fully-stocked bars. There’s also other food besides garlic, such as barbecue and other festival fare. Guests can listen to some of the best local artists as they enjoy their food as well.
25 Best Free Things to Do in Detroit
- Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Photo: Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
- Belle Isle Park, Photo: Courtesy of Molly - Fotolia.com
- Cullen Plaza, Photo: Courtesy of John McGraw Photog - Fotolia.com
- Detroit Historical Museum, Photo: Detroit Historical Museum
- Detroit International Jazz Festival, Photo: Courtesy of s.botkinphotography - Fotolia.com
- Detroit RiverWalk, Photo: Courtesy of lindaparton - Fotolia.com
- Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Photo: Dossin Great Lakes Museum
- Eastern Market, Photo: Courtesy of s.botkinphotography - Fotolia.com
- Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, Photo: Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum
- The Dequindre Cut Freight Yard, Photo: The Dequindre Cut Freight Yard
- Grand Circus Park, Photo: Courtesy of veyka - Fotolia.com
- The Heidelberg Project, Photo: The Heidelberg Project
- William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, Photo: Courtesy of Chris - Fotolia.com
- Mt. Elliott Park & Pavilion, Photo: Courtesy of wedninth - Fotolia.com
- Nature Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of www.gg24.de - Fotolia.com
- The Belle Isle Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of Maridav - Fotolia.com
- New Center Park, Photo: Courtesy of heshixin - Fotolia.com
- Gabriel Richard Park, Photo: Courtesy of Dick - Fotolia.com
- GMRENCEN Tour, Photo: Courtesy of helgidinson - Fotolia.com
- Sanders Candy Factory Tour, Photo: Sanders Candy Factory Tour
- The Detroit Experience Factory, Photo: Courtesy of John McGraw Photog - Fotolia.com
- Annual African World Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Showcaze - Fotolia.com
- Batman v Superman Tour, Photo: Courtesy of DragonImages - Fotolia.com
- Experience Detroit Self Guided Tours, Photo: Courtesy of John McGraw Photog - Fotolia.com
- Garlic & Music Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Reddogs - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of ehrlif - Fotolia.com