Photo credit: Paula Turner

Photo credit: Paula Turner

If you came to Detroit, Michigan, to gawk at all the shiny new cars at the North American International Auto Show, you might be penny pinching to save for a new vehicle. But even if you come in summer for a Tigers game, in fall for a Lions game or winter for the Red Wings, you can find plenty of free activities for a budget family vacation.

Learn about the history of Detroit and how it became the Motor City at the Detroit Historical Museum.

Belle Isle


This 2.5-mile island park was desiged by Frederick Law Olmstead, of New York’s Central Park fame. Right now, you can drive for free to the park from the MacArthur Bridge,

Photo credit: Bill Bowen

Photo credit: Bill Bowen

but soon there will be a fee for cars entering the park. However, you can still go for free if you walk or bike over the bridge. There is a public beach, playgrounnd and picnic facilities.

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, in Belle Isle, is also part of the Detroit Historical Society. Open weekends only, the museum explores Detroit’s maritime history.

Belle Isle Aquarium

Open Saturdays only, the small aquarium has live feedings during its public hours.

River Walk

In nice weather, head to the Detroit River, where you can cycle or walk along the wide path.

Eastern Market

Saturdays, head to Eastern Market, a 6-block public market where you can rub shoulders with local chefs and farmers. You can sample jams, produce and cheese without spending a penny – but you may want to pick up food for an inexpensive picnic lunch. This can be combined with a visit to the River Walk.