Detroit isn’t for the faint-hearted -- this sprawling former hub of music and motors is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and it shows. Entire neighborhoods are boarded up; others have so few residents that services have been cut off entirely. Crime levels are through the roof, as is unemployment. However, amidst the sorry state of affairs are a few glimmers of hope -- the arts scene is growing and a few brave creative souls are moving into dilapidated areas attracted by rock-bottom property prices.
Downtown’s glamor is predominantly restricted to two places -- the Renaissance Centre/General Motors complex and the Detroit Tigers baseball stadium. There is some interesting architecture and downtown isn’t especially neglected, but it’s not that interesting either. Catch a birds-eye-view by hopping on the People Mover monorail.
The Heidelberg Project is an idea spawned by an artist who turned an entire block of derelict homes into a vision of community creativity. Polka-dotted houses sit next to those covered from porch to roof in soft toys and unique installations made from household items found in empty structures. One still-lived-in property has been turned into a giant guestbook by its owners and is now covered in names and messages from worldwide visitors.
There are some excellent museums and galleries in Midtown. The urban-chic Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in an old car dealership. The Wright Museum of African American History and Detroit Art Institute are also well worth a trip.
For nightlife, the university district feels safest and has some cool bars and music venues.
Unsurprisingly for the automobile manufacturing capital of America, Motor City is a terrible place to visit without your own vehicle. One of the city’s biggest attractions, the Henry Ford Museum, in nearby Dearborn, is incredibly hard to reach by public transport. However, for an insight into the industry, it is a must. Detroit is very spread out and not a place to wander on foot. There are buses to many parts of town which can be intimidating if you are traveling alone, though most locals will be fascinated by a tourist in Detroit and want to chat! The bus station downtown is a hangout for some shady characters but it is well policed. Detroit is served by air, long distance buses and rail. Its freeways also connect the city with the rest of the state and beyond.
Music fans won’t want to miss the small but fascinating Motown Museum in the original Hitsville USA building, where the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder belted out hits in the infamous Studio A. Tours of the studio and offices are run by fast-talking musical guides who will gladly demonstrate the infamous Motown recording techniques.
Detroit hostels are rare, but staying in a hostel here is likely to offer a personal touch and plenty of advice for things to see and do safely.
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