The sprawling industrial city of Detroit, the oldest city in America's Midwest, began life as a trading post when French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac landed on the banks of the Detroit River in 1701 and established a fort. He was later removed because of bad conduct, but unlike its outpost commander, the settlement of Detroit was flourishing. In 1796 Detroit officially became American, and by the early 19th century had already earned a reputation as a centre for the manufacturing industry, particularly kitchen ranges. As most people now know, however, Detroit did not go on to become the stove-making capital of the world. The city is renowned as the automotive centre of the globe, birthplace of the motorcar and home to some of the nation's top brands. Originally automobile empires were established by Detroit families like Ford, Olds, Chevrolet and Dodge, which have become household names, thanks to the invention and perfection of the motor vehicle production assembly line, which began in Detroit.
It is not only hard work and industrial enterprise that drives Detroit, however. The city in southeast Michigan is also famous for the Motown record label, founded by former autoworker Berry Gordy Jr, which has introduced the world to stars such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, the Temptations and Diana Ross, to name but a few.
Modern 'Motown' Detroit is a little decayed and shabby, having suffered a decline in fortunes, but efforts are being made to increase the city's appeal as a tourist destination, and there are several attractions worth seeing. In the downtown area new hotels and restaurants are appearing to complement the sports stadium, and there is a focus on the arts, particularly in the city's historic theatre district. The Renaissance Center, a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers, provides the best views of downtown Detroit.
Henry Ford, the son of a farmer, built his first car in Detroit in 1896. There was nothing too amazing about this feat, because cars had been around for some time. What was unique to Ford's invention was the moving assembly line, which enabled him to literally put the world on wheels. Henry Ford's legacy is found at every turn in his hometown, Detroit, so it is unsurprising that the city's most popular and prominent tourist attraction was founded by him in 1929. The Henry Ford Museum is spread over more than 36 hectares (90 acres) in Dearborn, just outside of metro-Detroit, and encompasses five different venues. Together they bring the whole American experience to life, using exhibits, demonstrations, programmes and re-enactments to showcase American life and its people. Ford amassed most of the exhibit collection, including tens of thousands of ordinary objects, items associated with illustrious Americans, and numerous inventions documenting technological advances. Among the exhibits is the limousine in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Edgar Allan Poe's writing desk, and George Washington's camp bed. For lovers of Americana this attraction is a joy.
Car buffs the world over are drawn to Detroit's Automotive Hall of Fame, close to the Henry Ford Museum in Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, which is the public programme and exhibition centre for the worldwide motor vehicle industry. The venue features entertaining and enlightening exhibits about the people who drive the industry. Visitors can indulge in interactive events like designing their own car and taking part in safety demonstrations. Even those who do not consider themselves petrol heads should enjoy a visit to this attraction; one can hardly explore Detroit without gaining some insight into the car manufacturing industry upon which the city was built.
The Detroit Historical Museum, in downtown Detroit, allows visitors the chance to tour the scope of the city's history, from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac's landing on the banks of the Detroit River through to the city's emergence as an industrial capital. In the museum it is possible to walk through the streets of Old Detroit and explore 19th-century shops. Visitors can also find out about Detroit's role in the 'underground railroad' that helped slaves escape from the South. The interactive Glancy Trains toy train exhibit delights young and old. The museum is an interesting time travel exercise and provides a good general overview of the city's history, with some fascinating exhibits.
One of America's largest fine arts museums, the Detroit Institute of Art boasts more than 100 galleries, displaying a collection of about 65,000 works, ranging from mummies to Matisse, and Asian antiquities to American Impressionists. The Institute of Arts is conveniently situated in downtown Detroit, along with many of the city's top attractions. The highlights of the permanent exhibition include masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Bureghel the Elder, Botticelli, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and Caravaggio. From January till May the Film Theatre screens an impressive selection of international films and shorts, and the museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions and special events.
Detroit's famous Motown sound (described as part church gospel and part jazz, merging the saintly and the secular) originated in two simple buildings on West Grand Boulevard, downtown, at Hitsville U.S.A. Visitors can see the original control room and recording studio where stars like the Jackson Five, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder made hit records between 1959 and 1972. The museum also contains some costumes worn by the stars and Motown founder Berry Gordy's apartment, still as it was in the 1960s. This attraction is great fun for music fanatics, particularly lovers of this particular genre, and captures the spirit of the period in Detroit very well.
Detroit has a humid continental climate with warm, humid summers and very cold winters. Mid-summer average temperatures can rise as high as 83°F (28°C), while in the coldest month, January, the mercury usually stays well below freezing point. Rainfall is spread fairly evenly over the year with a few inches being recorded each month. Snow usually falls between November and April.
There is not much in the way of public transport in Detroit, and the Motor City is still geared resolutely towards the car. Driving is not too challenging and parking is relatively easy to find, but rush hours should be avoided. To hire a car drivers must be 21 years old and have a valid driver's license; sometimes an International Driving Permit is also required. However, should one choose to rely on public transport, the People Mover is an elevated monorail that provides a quick and easy way to get around most of the downtown area, while DOT buses operate a meagre inner-city service and the SMART buses serve the suburbs, but service is sparse on weekends. Taxis are a convenient form of transport and can easily be found or ordered by phone.
Sport, the history of the automobile, the distinctive Motown sound, and a rather unique downtown riverfront, are some of the reasons why people choose to holiday in Detroit, the bustling major metropolis of the state of Michigan. Motor City has fallen on rather hard times, but efforts are being made to revitalise the great city as a tourist destination.
Travel to Detroit to worship at the automotive shrines of the Cadillacs and Fords, to catch a show in the renowned Woodward Avenue theatre district, to experience the vibrancy of the Motown legend, to watch a game at the Comerica Park Stadium, to eat, drink and be merry in Greektown, but also to tick a major box in your exploration of the great cities of the US, and to see one of the most powerful industrial centres in the world. Detroit may have become something of a symbol of urban decay in the US, but even this dilapidation is fascinating to some visitors, with photographers lured by the street art and the greenery that has overgrown parts of the city.
Hordes of visitors descend on Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, held each January, but unless you are car obsessed or work in the industry it is more pleasant to visit the city in the summer months, between June and August.
Michigan boasts some wonderful sandy beaches on its western coastline, winding along Lake Michigan. Some of the best of these, with miles of sand and wild dunes, are near the ferry port town of Ludington. The Ludington State Park offers 14 miles (23km) of hiking and biking trails in beautiful virgin forests and dunes, miles of sandy beach and three campgrounds. There are several other popular beach resort towns along Michigan's west coast, within easy reach of Detroit, which are known as 'The Riviera of the Midwest'. Silver Lake resort boasts its world-renowned living sand-dunes and the what is known fondly as the world's smallest newspaper. Grand Haven has a magnificent boardwalk along its spectacular beaches lined with restaurants, marina facilities and shops. Holland, as one might expect, has a Dutch flavour inherited from its founder, a Dutch clergyman. St Joseph, in the south, has a famous lighthouse and a French fort to explore.
The city of Ann Arbor in southeast Michigan, 45 miles (72km) west of Detroit and just north of the Ohio border, is home to the University of Michigan, one of the country's top universities. The city and surroundings have a great deal to offer visitors in the form of historic and cultural attractions. Ann Arbor's downtown area is extremely vibrant with never a dull moment, from live music shows to a plethora of libraries, galleries and museums, restaurants offering everything from romantic dinners to café society, some of the country's best bookstores, and often a street party.
Among the many museums of interest is the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, housed in a 100-year-old firehouse, which features more than 250 interactive science and technology exhibits. There are numerous restored 19th-century houses and farms to visit for a taste of life in days of yore, and even an original old main street blacksmith shop still operating in the satellite town of Manchester. Museums in the area cover everything from geology to classic cars, early American manuscripts, dentistry and old fire-fighting equipment. On the university campus the Natural History Museum contains the state's largest collection of dinosaur fossils and a planetarium features a 360-degree domed screen offering weekend stargazing shows.
The small resort towns of Saugatuck and Douglas are close enough together to be considered one holiday destination. Popular for weekend getaways from Detroit and Chicago, the towns are located along the shore of Lake Michigan, in the southwest of the state. The area is known for its eclectic and artistic feel, with dozens of art galleries, and plenty of good restaurants and bars. Saugatuck-Douglas offers a number of activities for visitors, including fishing, hiking, sailing, golf, bowling, horseback riding, kayaking, dune buggy outings and lake cruises. There are also some small sandy beaches that offer scenic spots for swimming and sunbathing.