Travel Misconceptions: Detroit

Travel Misconceptions - Detroit, Michigan

One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.

My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.

So, I’m starting my first ever guest posting series about these travel misconceptions we find throughout our lives and epic journeys. I’ve asked a few writers to talk about their own misconceptions and perhaps how they were proven wrong in their travels.

Without further ado, I’m happy to introduce the next guest poster on this blog – Anne from TravelTheGlobe4Less – talking about her time in Detroit, Michigan. Take it away Anne!


Detroit has a bad reputation. The subject of ‘Eight Mile,’ it’s famous for drugs, murder and a failing economy. What people fail to hear about is its thriving music scene, vibrant sport life and incredible architecture.

Wandering the empty streets of downtown, it’s hard not to be saddened by the sight of huge decadent buildings crumbling into disrepair, empty shopfronts, the lack of bars and restaurants and the sheer number of homeless people. Hotels resemble ghost towns with their deserted lobbies, and it must be the only Starbucks I have ever visited that has no queue!

Few tourists pass through yet this is a city with soul, one of the founding stones of blues and 1960s dance hits, home to Eminem and Kid Rock.

It’s a city with heritage, synonymous with Ford and the car industry. Many a man got rich on the opportunities to be found here in the 1920s, and the evidence lives on in antebellum mansions lining the shores of Lake St Clair. Nearby, rows of spacious Victorians lie cheek to cheek with overgrown empty plots where houses have been mown to the ground leaving the odd coca cola can languishing in the grass and rubble.

It’s hard to imagine the excitement and bustle of parties in the Roaring Twenties or Swinging Sixties such is the sense of decay in some of the areas surrounding the Motown studios.

Travel Misconceptions - Detroit, Michigan

Not everything has died here, however. Locals are fiercely proud of their city, quick to show you the attractions and talk about the city’s history. In the suburbs you will find quaint, picket fence streets with charming homes reminiscent of ‘Back to the Future’ scenes. In Ann Arbor, a vibrant University town, a huge football stadium (at around 109,000 it is bigger than anything in the UK Premier League) hosts college football games which take on almost hysterical reverence.

In Frankenmuth you can visit the largest Christmas store I have ever seen. Wander the aisles for a themed tree ornament to perfectly showcase any of your interests whether it be skiing, sailing or even your loved one! Bronners is huge, fun and a somewhat surreal experience in August! Don’t just stop there though, Frankenmuth has a quaint high street which looks like a setting from ‘Gone with the Wind’ with sweet tea shops and quirky gift stores to steal your pennies.

This is a side to Detroit no one hears of (certainly not on my side of the pond). Cookies, Christmas and candies don’t make great TV I guess, but this is a city that’s wormed its way into my heart, that makes me want to return to explore further.

If you like sport, you can take your pick of basketball, baseball, ice hockey and American football games. I was made an honorary Tiger fan by my friends and couldn’t help but be impressed by the huge tiger sculptures guarding the gates of Comerica Park. I like to think that my wearing of a Tigers shirt helped propel them to the top of the league!!

You can also catch bands at the stadium or head over the river into Canada to Caesars for some music action. The music legacy continues albeit a little less in your face.

Now if you do feel a little nervous, you could always allow your pals to persuade you that a good day out is to head to the shooting range. For the record, every shot I took was a head shot!! (Jason just pinched my paper in the shot below!) Don’t let my antics put you off though.

Travel Misconceptions - Detroit, Michigan

The city may be notorious, it may have bad areas (what city doesn’t?) but never did I feel threatened (other than after a trip to White Castle for a late night takeout) other than by a sense of loss for the heart of the metropolis, a shadow of the former automobile capital it once was.

Disclaimer: My last visit to Detroit was in 2012 so times may have changed!!

Anne is the founder and editor of TravelTheGlobe4Less. If she isn’t travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 70 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to show you that luxury travel is possible no matter your budget. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest


Travel Misconceptions - Detroit, Michigan

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Mimi McFadden
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19 Responses

  1. I went to Detroit once and honestly I didn’t think it was much different than where I’m living, Buffalo. Media plays mind games with people 😉 tell
    People only negative and that’s they will forever believe

    1. The media is a powerful tool and sadly it instills a lot of fear into the public these days – especially when it comes to generalizations about which places are “dangerous” to travel to. Glad you found Detroit to not be much different from where you’re living either!

  2. Mimi and Anne, thank you for this beautiful article about travel adventures in Detroit. I really didn’t think any vibrancy was left to that city. All I heard was there were no grocery stores willing to stay open within the heart of the city, and that it was full of crime, decay and sadness. I’m so glad to see that there is some light and happiness beaming outward from an otherwise dim situation.

    1. Thank you for reading Denay! I’m glad some of the misconceptions around Detroit could be discussed by Anne – I believe it to be a city that’s on its way to a comeback, and there are still so many great experiences to have in the Motown capital as she talked about here. 🙂

  3. I have always wanted to go to the snow mitten shaped state. Michigan. Detroit is on my list to visit. I have a friend that is from Michigan and I hear so many good things about it and it makes me want to visit even more. I am a huge fan of architecture. The pictures look amazing! The views are breath taking. Thanks for sharing your point of views on Detroit. I can’t wait to visit.

  4. We love to travel but seriously have never considered Detroit…maybe I should add it to the bucket list! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Yay awesome!! Go for it and be sure to share some photos and update as I would love to hear some of the positive stories of regeneration

    2. Ditto to what Anne said! I haven’t been there myself yet, but I would say Detroit looks like a great visit. And it’s where Motown was essentially born – so that alone I’d say is worth it!

  5. I’ve never been to Detroit but I do hear all of the stereotypes when people talk about traveling there. I know a few people who live there and it doesn’t at all seem to fit those stereotypes when they share their photos and pictures. I appreciate that you try to break travel stereotypes on your blog, Mimi! And thanks for the great write-up on Detroit, Anne!

    1. Marlynn you are so welcome. Yes I can remember looking aghast when I first met people who lived there. That was before I visited and they showed me great bars, restaurants and quaint villages. Not at all what I was expecting but such a pleasant surprise!

  6. Thank you for this post!!! I was born in the Detroit area and grew up in West Michigan. I live in Virginia now, but I have many fond memories from my childhood of visiting friends and family in the Detroit area as well as trips to Frankenmuth, including Bronners! Detroit is improving and I can’t wait to visit again some day!

  7. I’m from the west side of Michigan and wanted to share that Detroit is so different these days. People are invested in their city, people are moving there because they see potential, and yes, there is blight and there is poverty but there is amazing space for opportunity there and a community that is resilient and wants to see it rise again. There are wonderful restaurants like Rubbed, The Huron Room, Parks and Rec Diner, Mabel Grey – whose chef was just nominated for a James Beard Award, and cultural institutions like the DIA and Detroit Zoo and the Henry Ford (Dearborn but still…) and Eastern Market. Anyway, all of that to say that yes, you’re right, Detroit has so much to offer!

    1. Kate, I’m delighted to hear this as it is 3 or 4 years since I was last there and I always felt the city had much to offer and it was a shame so much beauty (those gorgeous buildings downtown) were being left to ruin when they could be turned into something amazing. Maybe it is time for a return visit!

  8. Virgin Atlantic have recently started flights from the Uk to Detroit so they clearly see the potential. Thanks for featuring me!

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