There's a reason Detroit is viewed as a symbol of resilience, and as it emerges from the latest setback—the COVID-19 pandemic—the city once again proves its strength. Detroit's motto: "Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus," which translates to "We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes," was penned after the great fire of 1805 that nearly destroyed it all—and it's still relevant today.
Over the years, the city has faced challenge after challenge, yet it remains a vibrant home to residents and a draw to out-of-towners looking for excitement, entertainment, arts, culture and dining. As Detroit stages its next comeback, here are some of the top activities and destinations to seek out.
One of the more eagerly awaited events is the reopening of the Belle Isle Aquarium. The oldest aquarium in the country, this beloved landmark got a complete makeover during the shutdown, with $1.2M in upgrades. In addition to new species and habitats, it's also home to more than 50 tanks filled with aquatic species from across the globe. The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory has also reopened, and Belle Isle's outdoor, 982-acre island park is available all year to wander and revel in its natural beauty.
Easily overlooked, but not to be missed is The Dequindre Cut Greenway, a local favorite for recreation as well as graffiti gazing. The below-grade, two-mile stretch is an urban pedestrian path that links to other area hot spots, including the Detroit Riverfront and Eastern Market. And, while you're in the area, definitely do hit up the Saturday Market, which is open weekly, year-round and features a variety of vendors selling baked good, meats, fresh flowers, produce and local art.
Speaking of art, there are murals galore along the corridors surrounding the Market, in addition to those seen along the Greenway. Also check out the Z Lot Garage, with 500,000 square feet of commissioned artwork by artists from around the world. There's also Lincoln Street Art Park, as well as many others around town. There are, of course, the famed Diego Rivera murals inside the DIA, as well as a number of exhibitions. Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020, running through January 2022, is a celebration of all things car design, including a selection of vehicles that exemplify both artistry and innovation. Another highlight is Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite, showing from October 2021 through January 2022, plus the museum's permanent collection, always on display.
Highly anticipated is the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, set to wow visitors from October 2021 through February 2022. To add to the intrigue, its location is yet to be disclosed as of this writing, but is planned to be held at "a secret venue situated in the heart of Detroit" that will be announced prior to opening. The massive digital installation features 60,600 frames of video, 90,000,000 pixels and 500,000 cubic feet of projections—all displaying Van Gogh works.
If you're still feeling artsy, there are plenty more nearby stops for your itinerary, including Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD), and N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. The latter is the focal point of the Sugar Hill Arts District, a two-block section in Midtown Detroit punctuated by mixed-use developments and arts-related businesses.
And, that brings us to neighborhoods. When visiting Detroit, it can be hard to narrow down what to do and where to go. While Midtown is arguably the focal point, with its art attractions, theaters, specialty shops and craft restaurants, there are also a number of surrounding districts that each have their own flair.
Greektown is known for its bars and nightlife, as well as a casino and old-world Greek fare. Hamtramck is a hipster's mecca with its thrift stores and dive bars, plus there's Polish food to sample and the eclectic Hamtramck Disneyland to explore. Mexicantown, southwest of Detroit proper, has authentic Mexican taquerias, bakeries, grocers, and laid-back bars for sipping margaritas, plus the El Museo del Norte, which showcases Latino/a art. Then there's Corktown, which has been earning some hype over the last several years. It's quickly becoming a go-to for foodies, with barbeque, deli sandwiches, brews and a host of international eats, from Thai to Irish to German to Japanese.
All of this is just a small peep into what Detroit has to offer. Go to visitdetroit.com to customize your trip!
Allison Kay Bannister, a West Michigan resident since 1987, professional writer since 2002 and GVSU alumna, recently launched her own freelance writing business. Allison enjoys travel, art, dance, food and exploring world cultures—and, of course, writing about all these and more.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.