You could spend weeks exploring ever-changing Detroit, with its quirky independent shops, edgy galleries and jazz clubs. But if you want to motor out of the Motor City for a while, there’s plenty more to discover in the vicinity. 

Beyond the urban buzz, you’ll find charming small towns that move at a satisfyingly slow pace and national parks filled with wildlife. The Michigan city’s northerly location means you can easily hop over the border to Canada too. Whether you’re an art lover, a beer fiend or a family seeking adventure, here are five of our favorite day trips from Detroit.

Gallery of Ford Automobiles at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan
See artifacts of American culture at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn © Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Learn about US innovation in Dearborn, Michigan  

A stone's throw from Detroit, Dearborn is home to the Henry Ford Museum, one of the finest in the country. The complex is less like a museum and more like a mini town, so you could easily spend a whole day here – probably two. Its focus is American innovation and culture, and featured artifacts include the rocking chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated, the limo in which John F. Kennedy was killed and the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.

The adjacent Greenfield Village comprises historic buildings shipped in from all over the country, reconstructed and restored, such as Thomas Edison's laboratory from Menlo Park and the Wright Brothers' airplane workshop.

A trip to Henry Ford is bound to work up an appetite, and Dearborn is a hub for Middle Eastern food. Make time to feast on stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush and shawarma at laid-back Al Ameer Restaurant.

How to get to Dearborn

Dearborn is about 13 miles from the center of Detroit, a 20-minute drive. You can also get a SMART bus from Downtown to the Dearborn Transit Center – the journey takes about 40 minutes, with a further 20-minute walk from the bus station. 

17 free things to do in Detroit

Historic buildings along Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor's college crowd has imbued the small city with a cool, arty vibe © Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock

Plan an artsy escape in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Liberal and bookish, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, and the college crowd has imbued this small city with a cool, arty vibe. You’ll find some first-rate galleries here, including the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which holds works by big names such as Picasso and Andy Warhol. Hundreds also descend on the city for the free Ann Arbor Art Fair each July: During this time, the streets are lined with tents displaying paintings, prints, photography and sculptures.

Meanwhile, the walkable downtown is loaded with bookstores, brewpubs and free-trade coffee shops. Though it shares space with plenty of swish farm-to-fork places, veteran Zingerman's Delicatessen is still the top spot for lunch. It’s known for belly-busting sandwiches filled with plenty of house-made ingredients. 

How to get to Ann Arbor

Amtrak trains from Detroit come through Ann Arbor three times daily, and the journey takes a little under an hour. The train station is just northwest of downtown, in New Center. If you’d prefer to drive, it’ll take around 45 minutes.  

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People on the wooden Marsh Boardwalk in Point Pelee National Park
Situated on a peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, compact Point Pelee National Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise © Chiyacat / Shutterstock

Discover a bounty of birdlife in Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada

A city break in Detroit puts you within kissing distance of Canada, so it would be criminal not to road-trip across the border. Southeast of the city, on a peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, compact Point Pelee National Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise. 

It’s home to more than 390 species depending on the season – colorful songbirds arrive in spring, and visitors come to see them swirl above the water during the Festival of Birds. Trekking, biking and kayaking are all top ways to explore the park, which is a patchwork of marshland, forests and sandy beaches. It's also a Dark Sky Preserve, so check the park website for evening events before returning back to Detroit. 

How to get to Point Pelee National Park 

The drive from Detroit to Point Pelee National Park is about 40 miles and takes just over an hour. Don't forget your passport to show at border control.

Group of people toasting beers at a pub
Grand Rapids has more than 80 breweries, many offering tours, taprooms and tastings © franckreporter / Getty Images

Soak up some craft beer in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids has earned a reputation as “Beer City USA” for its top-notch craft brews. Sud connoisseurs can follow the Beer City Ale Trail, which hits up more than 80 breweries, many offering tours, taprooms and tastings. Founders Brewing Co is among the largest and most popular, and its All Day IPA has become a national hit – there’s regular live music at the taproom, which also has a Detroit location.

A thriving food scene has built up around the beer-makers too. Brass Ring Brewing specializes in small-batch ales and whips up its own bites, its menu featuring updated comfort-food classics like beer cheese with the house's Golden Ticket Ale. Sovengard also gets top marks for its seasonal Scandi-inspired menu and its chic setting. 

How to get to Grand Rapids

It’s just over two hours by car from Detroit to Grand Rapids. Around halfway along the route is Lansing, Michigan’s historic state capital, and it’s worth making a pitstop here for the contemporary Broad Art Museum. Though a bus route runs between the cities, the journey time is more than double.

Discover the USA's best craft breweries

The Bavarian style riverplace shopping Plaza in Frankenmuth
Frankenmuth was settled by Lutheran immigrants from Germany’s Franconia region in the mid-19th century © csfotoimages / Getty Images

Get a dose of German heritage in Frankenmuth, Michigan

This cutesy town looks like it’s been picked up in Germany’s Bavaria and plonked down in east-central Michigan. The place was settled by Lutheran immigrants from Germany’s Franconia region in the mid-19th century, and their culture is still alive and well, with half-timbered buildings and snug restaurants dishing up German cuisine. Get to grips with the past at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, a former hotel that now houses displays on the area’s Bavarian heritage. 

Here the food is hearty and the beer plentiful. Oktoberfest is an annual highlight, and the town has become beloved for its family-style fried-chicken dinners. Tuck into one with all the trimmings at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant or Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth.

How to get to Frankenmuth 

It’s a little less than 100 miles from Detroit, with a driving time of about 90 minutes. There are no sensible routes via public transport, but you could avoid a single-day round-trip by overnighting at the charming Bavarian Inn Lodge. 

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This article was first published Sep 3, 2020 and updated Dec 25, 2021.

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