Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from my visit to Detroit. I’d heard great things about the city from fellow travel bloggers Hecktic Travels and LLWorld Tour: Detroit is the comeback city, regeneration is happening… and there’s an amazing BBQ joint. That last point is usually enough to take me to any city, regardless of scare stories.
And boy are there plenty of scare stories – mainly from the mainstream media and always highlighting that Detroit is the most dangerous city in the United States of America. It’s not an unfounded claim – Detroit is number 23 on the world list of cities by murder rate; it tops the charts for being the most violent city in the USA and, of course, there are those stories that revel in the details of the city’s financial downfall.
Hell, even Eminem cashed in on Detroit’s bad reputation with the movie 8-Mile.
So, I’m not afraid to admit that I had more than the usual amount of butterflies in my stomach when my Amtrak train rolled into Detroit station.
First impressions of Detroit
Having travelled to many developing countries, I’m familiar with the signs of poverty and having visited a fair number of places with challenging crime problems, I’m no stranger to places that have below average safety.
Yet I didn’t get a derelict, dangerous vibe from Detroit – not for a second.
Sure, the city, with weeds standing tall between the cracks in the pavement, was in desperate need of a date with a lawn mower, and the electricity poles were at angles that spoke volumes about the lack of money for repair, but given that Detroit has stared down the barrel of bankruptcy, it’s doing pretty damn fine all things considered.
Is Detroit Safe? The hard, cold facts
Before I arrived in Detroit, I did some research and most of the advice fell into two camps.
There were, of course, the scaremongering, doomsday predicting naysayers – a bit like this:
There was even an article by a woman on a reasonably reputable website declaring that any woman visiting Detroit is destined to be drugged, kidnapped and enslaved into prostitution. I’m intentionally not linking to that story because it’s the epitome of everything I hate about alarmist travel advice on the web.
Fortunately, there was also a sufficient stock of positive articles that took a more rounded view and had the same general theme: stick to the safer neighbourhoods and you’ll be fine.
The problem was, most of those articles didn’t list which neighbourhoods were safe.
Not helpful, particularly given it’s the top question on potential visitor’s lists.
I tried to do my own research on the subject, but I really struggled to get my hands on reliable statistics about Detroit on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis, which is a shame because, just like Mexico, Detroit’s high crime levels are not representative of all parts of Detroit – some neighbourhoods are much safer for visitors than others. Likewise, simply quoting the overall crime statistics isn’t helpful either because they’re not representative across the city.
The best statistics I found are here, and to some extent include a breakdown on a place by place basis. But they are by no means definitive and complete.
In the end I did a lot of my trip planning based of my research on Wikitravel (not my usual go-to resource) and together with conversations with locals, I decided I would visit (and did visit):
Is Detroit safe? Don’t listen to people like Robert
One thing Detroit’s not short on is opinions about Detroit’s safety and I happened to have the misfortune of bumping into one of the more emotional (rather than fact) based opinions when I arrived in the city.
Travelling without a car, I decided to play it safe and order a ride with Uber to take me from the Amtrak station to my hostel. Within seconds Uber confirmed that Robert (not his real name) was on his way. Phew.
Clutching my iPhone inside my jacket pocket and tap dancing against the cold I watched as locals were collected by loved ones. “Hi,” one woman smiled. “Hi,” I smiled back. “Enjoy your visit,” said an older man, “Have a nice stay,” said his wife. Stealing furtive 30-second glances at my phone, my inner suspicion wondered if it was a ploy – was this unanticipated niceness a prelude to a bag…or body snatch?
I waited impatiently – nervously – but nobody did anything but smile, welcome me to their city and go about their day.
And then Robert arrived.
I’ve recently written about the faces of Uber and the many wonderful stories I’ve heard from drivers. But Robert was different. Don’t get me wrong, he was a charming man filled with good intent, who drove a fancy SUV and dropped me off at exactly the right spot, but he was just another example of the kind of person who shouldn’t be giving travel advice.
“Take this mace,” he said as we pulled up at my hostel.
“Why?” I asked, wondering if it was a joke. As we’d driven through the streets of Detroit from Downtown to Corktown, I’d not seen any carjackings, nobody had been murdered, there were no burning buildings, there wasn’t a single gang hanging around – even Eminem had, apparently, had long left town.
“You’ll need it,” Robert replied and I looked at him with a slight frown. I’ve never carried Mace. To me it feels like carrying fear in your pocket. And I don’t want to live like that. I certainly don’t want to travel like that.
“Seriously?” I asked. I looked around the area and saw nothing that made we worry. In fact, had I been dropped into this part of Detroit without knowing the city I was in, I’d have described it as a 1/10 on the fear scale. It looked like a slightly overgrown version of suburbia.
“I wouldn’t let my daughter walk alone during the day in this neighbourhood, let alone stay here,” Robert said. He couldn’t have been more serious and for a solid few seconds I considered taking the mace. But then I remembered a crucial fact: en-route to the hostel Robert had confessed he’d not been in this part of Detroit (Corktown) before.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past five years on the road, it’s never to take travel and safety advice from someone who’s never been to a place. Just because Corktown wasn’t the safe suburb of Detroit where Robert had chosen to live didn’t de facto make it unsafe.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” I reassured Robert as I got out of his car.
And, d’you know what. I absolutely was.
Real versus perceived danger
I’m not going to lie to you, there are still some very dangerous parts of Detroit. However, for the average visitor who is likely to place themselves in Downtown or Corktown (where a lot of creative types have chosen to base themselves) Detroit doesn’t present a real risk of danger. Sure, don’t flash your cash or wander drunk through the streets alone at night. And certainly don’t go looking for trouble or go searching for the burned out, derelict neighbourhoods you see on the news. I wouldn’t add 8-Mile to my list of sights either. But, visit with your sensible head on and you’re going to be fine.
I’ve talked before about the differences between real and perceived danger (my article about visiting Naples is a good example) and the fact is that most instances of danger exist in our mind – in that moment when a man puts his hand in his jacket pocket and pulls out his phone, but we’re expecting to see a knife; in that moment when we hear fast footsteps behind us and brace, ready to be mugged, when it’s just a jogger trying to get past.
I had a couple of those moments in Detroit, where my imagination created a sense of danger that wasn’t real but after a few hours in the city, my mind started to calm. Person after person, smile after smile, no matter how far Robert’s worm of doubt had worked itself into my brain, it was hard pushed to compete with the friendliness, openness and welcoming vibe that came from the locals.
Surviving three nights in Detroit
Within an hour of being in Detroit and during my quest to find an open supermarket on a Sunday I manage to wander out of the safe neighbourhood where I was staying into the neighbouring area which, by the admittance of the local guy I was with, was somewhat sketchy. Maybe I was lucky; maybe I’d built up a whole stack of good travel karma. But, guess what – I survived.
The following a day, I wandered around Downtown, Mid-Town and Greek Town with a map in one hand and my iPhone in another, navigating the sights. And, guess what – I survived.
One evening, I walked a few block – in the dark – to a local bar with a travel buddy for a few beers with the locals and, guess what – I survived.
I took no special measures and I survived.
Higher than the crime rates: local friendliness rates
Crime statistics aren’t the only thing that are high in Detroit – the friendliness of the local people is also performing way above the national and global average.
From the cops in the coffee shop who insisted that I go ahead of them in the line to the waiter who gave me the full truth, with a full smile, that it wasn’t customary to add ketchup to my Coney Dog (I did ask), to the Vietnam vet on the monorail who shared a synopsis of his life story – it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to a place where the people have been so warm and welcoming.
The bar I visited was no different – the barmaid, her daughter, a local firefighter, a yoga teacher, another Vietnam vet, a biker and a bunch of local business men one by one came over and introduced themselves. They each had a story – about Detroit, about their live and about their passion for their city. In turn, they wanted to know what I thought of Detroit.
I love it here, was my answer. Hand on heart, honest to God truth.
I’ve found throughout my travels that it’s the people who have the least or have suffered the most who usually offer the friendliest smiles and most welcoming arms. And this was absolutely true in Detroit.
Not a single person tried to rob me, con me, scam me or cheat me – things that have all happened in other countries, some of which you’ve probably visited.
Nobody shouted at me, bumped into me, cursed me or sighed at me – things that have all happened in other countries, places where some of you live; places where I’ve lived.
Even Robert, my first Uber driver, as unfortunate and inaccurate as his advice had been, had my best interests at heart.
So, is Detroit safe?
I can’t and won’t promise that you’ll have a safe and trouble-free trip to Detroit because crime rates are high and if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, things can go wrong.
However, although crime may be common in Detroit, the genuine warmth you’ll find radiating from the people is rare. And for that reason above all, I’d return to Detroit and I’d encourage you to consider putting this down but certainly not out city on your travel wish list.
Tours of Detroit
If you’re thinking of visiting Detroit and you’d prefer to have a local show you around, there are plenty of tours to choose from. Here are a few to check out:
Detroit Urban Adventures: visit the landmarks and find out about the city’s rise, fall and renewal. Click here to read reviews on TripAdvisor
Detroit Segways: a sightseeing tour on two wheels. Taking a Segway is some of the most fun you can have anywhere IMO! Click here to read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Where to stay in Detroit
On a budget: Hostel Detroit: Detroit has one hostel but the fact it had any hostel at all was inspiring. I stayed here and as well as well as having all the wonderful facilities of a hostel (kitchen and cool people to chat to), the hostel is run by a group of people who love Detroit and know their city inside out.
If you’re looking for the local scoop on where to get the best food, which bar has Mystery Monday (everything costs a dollar and you get whatever comes out the fridge) and where the go/don’t go areas are, you’re in the best place to find out.
Tip: the hostel is based in Corktown (a place where I felt safe) and it was within walking distance of local shops and restaurants.
Click here to read reviews and check prices on HostelWorld.
Hotels in the centre of downtown:
The following hotels are perfectly situated for Greektown and the Theatre District:
- Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney. Read reviews and check prices on TripAdvisor.
- The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. Read reviews and check prices on TripAdvisor.
- MGM Grand Detroit. Read reviews and check prices on TripAdvisor.
- Hotels within downtown but close to the Riverfront:
- Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Centre. Read reviews and check prices on TripAdvisor.
- Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverside. Read reviews and check prices on TripAdvisor.
Have you been to Detroit? What did you think of the city? Let me know in the comments below.
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125 thoughts on “Is Detroit Safe? The Answer From Someone Who’s Been”
Love Detroit! I’ve been going there all my life. Never a problem. My grandmother lived there and thought it was utopia back in the day. As the city changed, she still never had a problem even as a vulnerable old lady. If you get drunk and want to start an argument, you can find trouble. But just be a smiling tourist and you will get smiles back. Very friendly midwesterners and there are also people from all over the world. You can also tour the Ford assembly plant in Dearborn and see how hard autoworkers work. Hoping the neighborhoods can come back like downtown, midtown, and other areas have. Crime is now more in the outer west side and east side neighborhoods, 6 mile 7 mile, 8 mile, and happens mostly among people who know each other. Most of the city was built in the 1920s. Indian Village, Boston Edison, Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, among others are gorgeous old neighborhoods. But if you travel around you will also see several square miles of shocking abandonment. You can see beauty and ugliness right next door to each other. Artists use abandoned buildings as their canvass. Mural capital, not murder capital.
My wife and I spent several days in Detroit last month. We stayed at a historic inn located within easy walking distance to downtown. We felt safe where we stayed. We had never been to Detroit before, and so we didn’t do much walking around at night. But we were comfortable walking about during the daytime, and driving to many places at night. Everyone we met was friendly. Some folks wondered why we came up from Florida to visit Detroit. I’ve long been curious about the city, and heard that it’s going through a revitalization. Having visited Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the past, I love seeing former grand cities brought back to life. Detroit has a ways to go; there are a lot of abandoned buildings. But it’s clear that significant efforts are being made to turn things around. I was pleased that many formerly abandoned buildings with beautiful architecture are being renovated instead of destroyed. We took a walking tour downtown that took us into some of those buildings (“The Multilingual Detroit Downtown Tour”). We also visited Eastern Market, the Edsel Ford home, and Detroit Institute of Art (a gem). Founder’s Brewing Company was close to where we stayed; they have great beer and good food. We stayed at 234 Winder St Inn; can’t say enough good things about it and the hospitality of the owner. Lots to do in Detroit. The next time we visit we want to see Corktown and Belle Isle. Also the Motown Museum which was closed. Like much of the city, it was undergoing renovation.
Hi Gregg, thanks for taking the time to leave such a great comment and thanks for the extra suggestions for places to see in Detroit. I agree, it’s a fantastic city. I’ll check out that Inn next time I’m there, it sounds amazing!
I’ve been to Detroit many times over the past 20 years both for business and pleasure. Probably at least 50 times. I’ve stayed at the Renaissance Center, the Ponchartrain, and in the suburbs. Ive hung out on the riverfront, in cork town, Greek town etc. I’ve never had a problem. Never was scared. Always cautious though – just as I am in Chicago. Detroit has some gorgeous architecture, phenomenal food and great history. Great city if you love cars and any of the aforementioned. Don’t be scared there – just be smart, as you should be in any large city. Everyplace has bad parts of town and bad people.
Hi Brian, thanks for the inside info. I completely agree 🙂
Is 28 Grand apartment building in Detroit safe live? My son ei he living there while he attends Wayne University.
Hi Lucy, I visited as a tourist so I’m afraid I can’t help. Some of the local residents who stop by this post might be able to help. Good luck.
28 and grand is very safe in fact downtown and Midtown are probably the safest areas in Detroit I live in Detroit’s southwest/Mexicantown area where safety can be questionable but still a decently relatively safe area if you know where to go and not to go.
Hi, thanks for wading in with tips. I have edited the comment as part of it did not comply with my content policy – please email me if you want to discuss.
I’m a professor at WSU and I’ll echo the other comments that this area is very safe. On top of that, the WSU police have very good response times and active patrolling.
Thanks for sharing, Shawn – good to hear from an academic on the topic.
I have been accepted in WSU. I have heard bad things about Detroit from my American friends and I am afraid whether I go there for study or not. Is it really safe there?
Hello Jo. Your article was touching. Maybe I’m emotional today, but it bright tears to mi eyes. I’ve lived in Detroit for majority of mi life. We get a bad rep, but for the most part we are friendly and look out for one another…. I appreciate your honesty and transparency here. There are many good places to eat west, east, and Southwest Detroit! If you’re ever back here I can send you a list!!!!!
Awww, thanks Shamie. I had a wonderful time in Detroit – you have a city to be proud of 🙂
I lived in Detroit for 18 years born & Raised. I was the only white family on my block even though there’s mixed n my family. I grew up at 7 mile and Livernois and never had major issues. We had our trash cans caught on fire for 2 years in a row we put cameras around the house no one did anything again. Sherwood Forest is actually a great neighborhood to live in.
I hope to move back to Detroit hoping to find a sweet deal in the 6 mile- Livernois area. I wouldn’t advise going to the a Eastside unless you’re going to work or something like that.
I personally encountered more issues outside of the city, don’t get wrong there’s bad people in the city as well.
Like I said I’m Caucasian and I didn’t get jumped or robbed in the city. A white suburban kid stole my shoes in the winter one year and people in the city helped me out.
Thanks for sharing your local experience, Devian. I hope you find the deal back in the city that you’re looking for.
I’m a local east-sider and have to say that it’s not bad over here either. EEV is turning around and so is Morningside. Things are nice along Jefferson and up here by Hamtramck too. Sure, spots like Ravensdale need help, but Brightmore is on the West Side and that’s way hairier.
Thanks for the tips, Devon.
It’s a shame white privilege runs so far and wide to places they know nothing about. No matter where you travel the world there are some places that are not safe if you are not safe. If you move about your life thinking that you know everything and everything is about you then you reap what you sow. Don’t believe everything you read or hear in the papers ignorance is far and wide. Am I safe coming to wherever you live? And what is your idea of safety? Do you believe that police presence makes you safe? To be a white man or woman in 2019! Speak some truth in your Articles talk to the people who live where you are visiting sometimes you need to leave your own observations behind. Did you ever think about what causes such a blithe in the city? It does not come from the people who live in the run down houses which happened to be rented by black folks and owned by a white man who does not care to take care of his property. It is not a renter’s job to Upkeep outside of someone else’s property if you want it beautiful then you should plant your flowers yourself. People who don’t have an high incomes do not have the luxury of planting flowers on the front lawn. Think people! Think. What does safe mean to you? People living in the city don’t feel safe themselves because they do not have the privileges that everyone else has. Schools for a quality education. Affordable healthcare for all. Affordable quality childcare. Affordable insurance rates. Before we think about Our vacation destinations we should start caring about people who live in those places that we are visiting. That includes Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Mexico, any place where they have those luxury resorts. The beautiful spots that you like to visit but you won’t leave the resort area. While we think about taking a vacation destination The majority of the population is thinking about how are they going to take care of their families. We should start caring about people who live in those places that we are visiting. That includes Puerto Rico, Jamaica. We need to start caring about people.
You don’t know me so I’m going to move past the white privilege slur and the various other offensive comments you’ve thrown at me which, incidentally, fly in the face of your last sentence – that we need to start caring about people. Anyway, I wrote this article from the perspective of a tourist. Of course tourists can never fully appreciate the complicated factors that make up local demographics as well as soci-economic and political conditions. However, visiting as a responsible tourist can provide a positive impact on the local economy if managed well by the tourists and the city’s tourism board. I’m not claiming I’m perfect or this article is but I’ve written it with good intent to encourage responsible visitors – it’s different to the myriad blog posts about the best Instagram spots to get selfies with abandoned buildings in Detroit. So, I hope local residents can read my article through that lens. I really enjoyed Detroit and hope the city continues to improve and thrive.
I hadn’t been to Detroit in years. I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life. I’ve heard the horrors of infamous Detroit.
As a teenager in the 80s I frequently visited Joe Louis Area and Cobo Hall to see many big hair bands. No problems, ever. But as I got older, so did Detroit and the closest I got was by reading all the negativity in the newspaper.
I most recently took 30 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students to Detroit on an overnight field trip. Had plenty of chaperones but we went on a riverboat cruise, ate at Pegasus in Greektown, rode the people mover, went to a Tigers game and the zoo! We had a fantastic time and can’t wait to go again!
Shannon, that is such a lovely, positive story. I will have to take a riverboat cruise next time!
Born, raised, honeowner who works in Detroit. I ***LOVE*** my City and have nothing but good things to day. When I leave, I cannot wait to return….there is a warmth here that is unpsralleled ANYWHERE else (maybe the South voukd slightly compare).
I will say this to all visitors – Greektown is no longer safe. It is May 2019 and I have just informed my family that after dark, that part of town is off limits! Every neighborhood is different and yes you can read reviews like this with a grain of salt but in reality you need to check the local news, local radio, check online bloggers, newspapers, and make the decision for yourself.
Neighborhoods change and honestly, no online comment section or Uber driver should be making serious security decisions for YOU.
There is no such thing as “safe” – all it takes is ONE murder, shooting, stabbing, rape, or robbery and a place is no longer “safe”. This includes so-called safe spots….duh.
I’ve had more problems outside of the City than in – I’m a local and I would not live anywhere else! It is friendly affordable and the weather is not too bad…there is no other place I’d rather be!
I love that you love your city. You’re right about things changing and to check at the time you visit. You’re also right that it only takes one crime for a place to be unsafe but that is the same the whole world over. Thanks for sharing your inside info.
What areas are safe to live in moving to here soon in a few months. Looking for family friendly area I have a 2 year old.
Avoid living in the City of Detroit proper. There is no area even somewhat safe in the city itself. It’s much safer with much better schools in suburbs such as Troy, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, or the “Pointes” off to the east.
Oh geez, chill on the Greektown drama. That neighborhood is just as safe as it’s been for years.