Detroit has one of the most distinguishable skylines in America. Whereas most cities boast modern glass towers, we tout our historic, gritty, and architecturally significant one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Unlike most cities, Detroit does not currently have an observation deck for visitors to rise above the clouds and see all of these amazing buildings, so we have to find our own ways to do so. All of the locations listed here offer amazing views of the Motor City, and best of all, they're FREE.
Sunset Point is the most obvious location on this list. On any given evening, whether it be raining, sunny, or snowing, you will find people from all walks of life sitting on the grassy nole and perched on the rocks where the land meets the Detroit River. This popular spot on the banks of Belle Isle offers astounding views of Windsor and downtown Detroit silhouetted by the setting sun and the river flowing towards Lake Eerie. This is one of two spots on Belle Isle that made this list, but believe it or not it is my second favorite of the two, so hold tight!
Riverside Park has always been a favorite of mine. In the warmer months, you will find dozens of cars pulled right up to the water, lawn chairs taught from the asses of drunk Detroiters drinking beer and liquor while taking in the immaculate view. Not only does viewing the skyline from the southwest give you a refreshing take, but you also have a breathtaking view of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit River. There’s a chance that Riverside Park will cease to exist if Matty Maroun builds his new bridge next to the Ambassador, so get there before it’s gone!
Z Parking Garage
The Z Lot is yet another location that will no longer have the spectacular view that it boasts today in the near future. Dan Gilbert announced that he will be building the tallest building in Michigan on the land that Hudson’s used to occupy, blocking the view you see in this photograph. That’s at least a year or two out, so you have plenty of time to get there before it’s gone! The Z Lot is a public parking garage with security, but it is very common to see civilians lurking around the rooftop and the security guards are very accommodating.
Belle Isle's Lake Muskoday is by far one of my favorite views in all of Michigan. After strolling around the lake for a few minutes you would hardly believe that you’re in the biggest city in the state, and the only reminder of that is the skyline rising over the horizon on the far end of the murky lake. In the summer, stunning sunsets backdrop the Renaissance Center, One Detroit Center, and Penobscot Building. In the spring, flowers are planted across the banks of the lake, which is very beautiful. In the winter you can venture out onto the ice to get even closer to the skyline, which feels much further away than the 4 miles it actually is. Always be careful if you choose to go out onto the ice, as I fell through in the winter of 2015 and it wasn’t very fun at all.
It’s no hidden secret that Windsor has one of the best views of our beautiful city. It is by far the best place to go if you are in search of panoramic views of the Motor City, and their new and improved riverfront will greet you with open arms. Be sure to try and avoid peak-travel times when traveling to Windsor, as many Canadians commute to Detroit for work, causing backups in the tunnel and on the bridge.
The People Mover
Alright, so this one isn’t free, but if you can’t save up 75 cents to take a ride on Detroit’s most inefficient 3-mile train-loop, I don’t know what to tell you. The People Mover will take you all around downtown, giving you great views of a number of historic buildings and the Detroit River. Although it may not take you where you need to go, I would say it’s well worth the three gumballs you would have to give up to ride it.
Hart Plaza / Detroit Riverfront
Hart Plaza is a common meeting point in Detroit, especially in the summer. Lots of different festivals call the plaza home during the warmer months, most famously Movement, an electronic dance music festival, and the Detroit International Jazz Festival. Hart Plaza offers great views of downtown, and because it's so close to the heart of the city you really feel dwarfed by the sheer size of buildings like the Renaissance Center and One Detroit Center. Hart Plaza eventually runs into the Detroit Riverfront, which stretches for miles along the Detroit River and can take you all the way from Belle Isle to West Riverfront Park. In the summer, riding bikes down the riverfront is a fun way to get out, exersize, and take in great views of the city.
Orchestra Place Parking Garage
The Orchestra Place Parking Deck on Parsons Street is another parking garage with stunning views of downtown. This structure is in the Cass Corridor, and it offers cheap parking for the Orchestra Hall around the corner and the University of Michigan Detroit Center right next to it. I have wandered up into the structure a number of times to take in the view and the attendants are always very courteous. Because this structure is in Midtown, it is somewhat removed from downtown so you can see most of the taller buildings of the city, and with far more density than most locations.
The Spoke Streets
If you are at all familiar with the landscape of Detroit, you know that it has 6 spoke streets that will take you to every corner of the city. Fort, Michigan, Grand River, Woodward, Gratiot, and Jefferson all start in the center of downtown and will eventually take you outside the city limits. Each of these thoroughfares originated as fur-trading routes that Native Americans used hundreds of years ago, and not much has been put in the way to obscure the view from any portion of each of these roads. From Delray to Corktown, the Grand River Creative Corridor to Midtown, Eastern Market to the new developments on Jefferson, you can’t go wrong taking in a view down any of the spoke streets.
William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor
Milliken State Park is one of two state parks in Detroit, and it is definitely one of the more unique stops on the Detroit Riverfront. The park was Michigan's first state park in an urban area, and the DNR has controlled the property since 2004. Not only does the park offer fishing and boat slips, if you climb to the top of the big hill in the center of the park you will be rewarded with stunning views of the skyline. In the summer, the hill's grass gets long and lush, making it a perfect place for a picnic. In the winter, snow covers the hill, creating the perfect sledding spot for those who dare brave the cold. No matter what month you visit, you won't be disappointed with Detroit's first state park.