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List of Free Things to Do in Detroit

Cheap or Free Family Fun


Bad-to-dismal economic news has Metro Detroiters thinking twice before spending money, especially for entertainment. No matter your budget, however, it is still possible to have a great time in Detroit and its surrounding areas. To help you think outside the box, here is a list of cheap or free things to do in Detroit.

Local Museums

Micro Bat in Cranbrook's 'Bat Zone'
Photo © Laura Sternberg, Licensed to About.com

Twenty-eight museums participate in the Detroit Adventure Pass. The program allows you to get as many as four free tickets to a Detroit-area museum by checking in at your local library within seven days of a planned visit. As might be expected, some of the area's biggest museums do not participate, but several do, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Cranbrook Institute of Science and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

While you'll undoubtedly drop a coin or three while wandering among the exhibits, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills requires no admission fee. It is a unique attraction with dozens of historic, coin-operated oddities and side-show exhibits.


Metro Beach
Photo © Ri Pizza
As might be expected, the Great "Lake" State has plenty of swimming holes and beaches. The state also has plenty of parks with rolling lawns of green, forested preserves and playgrounds. Note: Most beaches and parks in the Metro-Detroit area require some kind of vehicle-entry permit.

Downtown Detroit has another option: RiverWalk, a wide, cement pathway for biking, skating and walking that has the Detroit River bordering one side and a greenway on the other.

Public Gardens and Nature Areas

Wetland area at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor
Photo © Laura Sternberg, Licensed to About.com

In the Metro-Detroit area, if you want to stop and smell the roses or take a hike through the woods ala Thoreau, there are several parks, nature areas and gardens from which to choose.

Small Airplanes

Plymouth-Canton Mettetal Airport
Photo © Laura Sternberg, Licensed to About.com
Many local airports, such as Mettetal Airport in Canton, have picnic benches set up for a bring-your-own lunch and a great view of small planes taking off and landing. It is also possible for kids to get a free airplane ride.

Factory Tours

Morley Candy Factory
Photo © Laura Sternberg, Licensed to About.com
Whatever your pleasure -- cars, teddy bears, chocolate -- there is probably a factory in the Detroit area that produces it. Several factories give guided tours that are absolutely fascinating:

Festivals and Fairs

2002 Woodward Dream Cruise
Photo by: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images News
No matter the season or month, there are plenty of festivals and fairs scheduled in the Metro-Detroit area. While some require an admission fee, many are free. Just show up and partake at ice festivals in Frankenmuth, Plymouth and Rochester; holiday parades in downtown Detroit; and art fairs throughout the Metro-Detroit area. Some of the free favorites are GM River Days, Pontiac's Arts, Beats & Eats and, of course, the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Shopping Malls

Center Atrium at Somerset Collection
Photo © Laura Sternberg, Licensed to About.com
Hey, if it's good enough for local teenagers....

Michigan in general and the Detroit area in particular have some of the nation's first and best shopping malls. Despite the majestic use of marble, soaring skylights, occasional concerts and innovative play areas, there is no admission fee to take a stroll or sit a spell at any Detroit-area shopping center. Of course, the mall also provides a place to take a break from Michigan's volatile weather.

Art & Architecture

The Wave, an Organic Sculpture by Maya Lin
Photo © Elizabeth R. Rose, Licensed to About.com
Whether you take a walk through downtown Detroit or travel to one of its surrounding suburbs, you can discover public art by nationally renowned artists and classic examples of Art Deco and Italian Renaissance architecture:
  • A walk through downtown Detroit will bring you up close and personal with several famous statues, including the Spirit of Detroit and the 24-foot bronze arm by Robert Graham that was meant as a monument to Joe Louis. Detroit is also home to several buildings designed by notable architects Albert Kahn, Wirt Rowland and Louis Kamper.
  • The University of Michigan is a treasure trove of public art, including The Wave by Maya Lin, the artist who designed the Vietnam War Memorial.

Free Sailing Lessons

University of Michigan Sailing Club
Photo © Madhumati Ramesh
The University of Michigan's Sailing Club gives you the chance to try sailing and take a few lessons for free. On Saturday mornings, the sailing club, located on Baseline Lake in Dexter, allows visitors to simply sign up for a free sailing lesson (or two) with a club member.


Geocaching is a relatively new sport that involves finding a hidden cache, which ranges in size from a film canister to a peanut-butter jar, by plugging in its coordinates into a hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS). The best cashes, as you might imagine, are those hidden in nature areas, parks and cemeteries. That’s because the game is not all about finding the “treasure;” the journey is half the fun as you explore different neighborhoods and nature areas throughout the Metro-Detroit area.
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