Amazing art, cool cars, history-changing music – Detroit rocks for many reasons, including its budget friendliness. While you’ll have to pay up for accommodation, the abundance of free things to do and the relatively low cost of food and transportation help defray expenses.
Here are our top tips for stretching your dollars in the D.
Keep an eye out for deals on airfare
Detroit Metro Airport is big, with lots of flights and competition. It’s a Delta Air Lines hub and a Spirit Airlines base, and loads of reasonably priced tickets pop up for flights here – in fact, the airport was recently named one of the USA's best for affordable domestic fares by Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Take the SMART bus from the airport
The airport is about 20 miles southwest of the city, roughly a 25-minute drive. Taxis cost $55 or so; Lyft and Uber can be a tad less.
But there’s a much more economical option if you’ve got the time. The FAST Michigan SMART bus (#261) swings by both airport terminals – North and McNamara – and then runs with limited stops along Michigan Ave to downtown. The trip costs $2 and takes an hour, with buses departing every 30 minutes or so. That leaves a lot of extra beer money in your pocket compared to taxis and ride shares.
Use public transportation if your visit revolves around the city center
Let’s be honest: having a car is the quickest, easiest way to get around Detroit’s sprawl, and often it’s the only way to reach far-flung neighborhoods. But you can make do with public transportation if you’re sticking mostly to downtown, Midtown and other central areas for your lodging and sightseeing.
Compared to renting a car, public transit is a bargain. For $5 a day, the Dart Pass allows unlimited rides on Detroit’s QLine streetcar and all buses. The QLine glides through the heart of the city past many hotels, top museums and entertainment venues, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and Fisher Building. And the aforementioned SMART bus is useful to get and from the airport.
The MoGo bike share program, as well as Uber and Lyft, can fill in the blanks to reach some of the outlying sights.
Visit in spring or fall to save money
Late May through August is Detroit’s peak season, when lodging can be more expensive. Winter is actually the cheapest time to go, but the cold weather blows. Spring (especially April and early May) and fall (September through November) hit the sweet spot, when good deals and fair weather converge.
Consider staying at a hostel
Detroit has two quality ones: Hostel Detroit is in Corktown near buzzy cafes and nightlife, and Hamtramck Hostel is farther out, some six miles north of downtown, in an area where budget-friendly Polish, Bangladeshi and Yemeni eateries abound. Both hostels work best if you have a car; Hostel Detroit is a bit more convenient if you’re without wheels.
Look for lodging beyond the core
Move away from Downtown and Midtown, Detroit’s central districts with the most places to stay, and prices tend to be lower. Try neighborhoods like Corktown, just west of downtown and chockablock with cool-cat bagel shops, burger bars and distilleries, and West Village, east of downtown, where historic homes and folksy small restaurants pop up on leafy streets. Most accommodations in these areas are apartment rentals, so you can save additional money by self-catering some of your meals.
Graze through Eastern Market
Eastern Market lays out a six-block spread of lip-smacking wares every Saturday year-round. Vendors sell veggies, cheeses, cream pies, smoked fish, apple cider and just about anything else you could want. From June through September, a scaled-down market takes place on Tuesdays, and there's a craft market with food trucks on Sundays. Show up any day of the week and you’ll find bargains at the cafes and specialty shops that flank the grounds – just follow your nose to chow on fresh-roasted peanuts, chocolates, coffee and barbecue.
Browse for cheap eats in Mexicantown, Hamtramck and Dearborn
Certain areas are especially bountiful for top-notch cheap eats. Mexicantown shows how it’s done. Located southwest of downtown, next to Corktown, it brims with inexpensive Latin restaurants. Bagley Street is the main vein.
In north Detroit, Hamtramck has a smorgasbord of budget eats. Bosnian, Bangladeshi, Polish and other cuisines cook in pots here, reflective of the many immigrants who have settled in the community over the years.
In nearby suburban Dearborn, Middle Eastern food, especially from Lebanon and Yemen, is the low-cost specialty. Warren Avenue, Michigan Avenue and Schaefer Road (which connects the other two) are particularly plentiful.
Find the food trucks
Quite a few food trucks ply the city streets, offering mighty plates of soul food, Middle Eastern fare, tacos and more for reasonable prices. In warmer months, popular spots where trucks congregate include Eastern Market, Cadillac Square and Beacon Park, especially at lunchtime. Check Street Food Finder for locations.
Check for museum discounts
The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau provides discounts to various museums and tours. Past deals have included 20% off admission to the Wright Museum of African American History, Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and more.
If you're visiting the top-drawer Henry Ford Museum, look into buying a combination ticket for its various attractions – if you pay full price for the Museum of American Innovation, for example, you then get half off the Rouge Factory Tour. There are similar savings for Greenfield Village.
Take advantage of free sights
Detroit is particularly well stocked with freebies in the art and architecture realm. Blow your mind gaping at street art in Eastern Market and the Grand River Creative Corridor, and at the Heidelberg Project and the Belt, all of which cost absolutely nothing. Add in explorations of art deco eye-poppers like the Fisher Building and Guardian Building, and again the price tag is zilch.
Daily costs in Detroit
Hostel room: $30–40 (dorm bed)
Basic room for two: $85–150
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $80–160
Public transport ticket: $5 day pass
Coney (hot dog): $3–4
Dinner for two: $30–60
Pint of microbrew at the bar: $6
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