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Best Hidden Gems in Detroit

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As one of the oldest cemeteries in all of Michigan, the Elmwood Cemetery has been around since 1846. The cemetery began on a modest stretch of 42 acres (16.99 hectares), doubling in size over the years to a sprawling 86 acres (34.8 hectares). Lush vegetation and majestic groves of towering trees make this a serene and peaceful place to visit. You can see a special memorial for Civil War soldiers where a flag is flown continuously in their honor. Other notable memorials include famous governors, mayors, abolitionists, prominent businessmen and many others. The beautiful garden which surrounds these graves has been awarded a Level I accreditation by the Morton Arboretum and the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program. To truly recognize the historic significance of the cemetery, go on one of the two free Tombstone Tales Guided Walking Tours.

Built for memorial purposes, the William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse is a fluted tower of Georgian marble that stands a proud 80 feet (24.38 meters) tall. The lighthouse is named after William Livingstone, a mariner and president of the Lake Carrier's Association, who improved the shipping lanes and channels of the Great Lakes region during his time on the board from 1909 to 1925. Designed by the famed architect, Albert Kahn, whose other works can be found around the city, the lighthouse was built in 1929 and dedicated in 1930. The light from the bronze lantern room atop the lighthouse can be seen from as far as 15 miles (24.14 kilometers) away.

The Guardian Building, constructed in 1929, is one of the most recognizable landmark buildings in the Detroit skyline. Bestowed as a United States Historic Landmark, this stunning piece of architecture towers more than 490 feet (149 meter) over Detroit's heart. The opulent Art Deco structure has 36 floors with interiors that are actually just as impressive as the façade. It's home to many financial firms and hence it has rightly earned the epithet 'Cathedral of Finance'. Irrespective of how busy one's schedule is, locals as well as tourists find time to step-in and admire the colorful beauty of this architectural marvel.

One of Detroit's most famous art institutions, this is one of the few potteries that has been in operation since the era of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The 1903 Tudor Revival Building is a National Historic Landmark and a living museum preserving and displaying the work of founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton and subsequent Pewabic artists. Distinctive handcrafted ceramic wares produced here are part of many public buildings, homes and museum collections. Make sure to stop by the gallery to catch changing exhibits of the ceramic arts.

This charming urban oasis is tucked away in the downtown area of Detroit. Lafayette Greens is an urban garden which offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, with manicured lawns, vegetable gardens, an abundance of flowers, art sculptures and even patio seating with umbrellas. A sensory garden, it encourages visitors to touch, smell and feel the different variety of plants including exotic varieties like lavender. Best of all, the produce grown here is all donated to a local food bank.

Established in 1995, this grass-roots music museum opened on the northwest side of Detroit, in the heart of gospel music country. The Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to national and local gospel artists. It also highlights the role the gospel tradition played in the development of Motown singers. The museum relies primarily on donations. The museum is open for tours by appointment only.

For a unique art experience, check out The Heidelberg Project (HP). Started as a way to introduce art to a rundown, underprivileged neighborhood, it is now a growing movement to beautify and add art to local low-income communities. On Heidelberg Street you will find a stretch of painted houses and yards that each take on a different artistic theme. A lot of the homes recycle trash and turn it into art installations. The best way to experience The Heidelberg Project is to park and simply walk the street yourself.

This gorgeous aquarium was built in 1904 by well-known architect, Albert Kahn. It was the oldest continuously open aquarium in the United States until 2005 when it was closed. Reopened in 2012, the aquarium has flourished with the help of various organizations that merged to become the Belle Isle Conservancy. Steeped in history, the Belle Isle Aquarium is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts style building with a grand entrance that incorporates the Detroit emblem and two spitting fish in a stone façade. The viewing gallery offers large tanks teeming with aquatic life, a swordfish mosaic, and an arched ceiling adorned in sea foam glass tiles reminiscent of being underwater. Both saltwater and freshwater species are found here, most notably native fish from the Great Lakes area.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Scarab Club, built in 1928, is a vivid example of protomodern, Arts and Crafts architecture. The boxy brick building sits alone among parking lots east of the Detroit Institute of Arts in the Cultural Center. It is a private club with a gallery and frequent shows open to the public. The club was founded in 1910 as the Hopkin Club, named after Detroit's first renowned painter, Bob Hopkin. The second-floor lounge has ceiling beams signed by local and national artists including Diego Rivera and Norman Rockwell. The art displayed is highly eclectic. Annual member shows include everything from photography and sculpture to poetry readings and concerts.

A fascinating feature of the Cultural Center is the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. Opened in 1921 and expanded in 1963, the library is made of white Vermont marble. Designed by Cass Gilbert, architect of the US Supreme Court building, the building is in Italian Renaissance style. Murals and stained glass add to the grand effect. The main part of the library has a wide range of books and documents. It also houses special collections, including the Ernie Harwell Collection, E.Azalia Hackley Collection and the Burton Historical Collection, a wealth of local history and genealogical information.

Dating to the 1840s, Mariners' Church of Detroit was modeled after seamen's chapels on the East Coast of the United States. The Gothic structure has services on Sunday morning and at noon on Thursdays. It is often the site of funerals of Detroit civic notables. The church's mission is to serve Great Lakes sailors and their families, and nautical images festoon the interior. Bells toll whenever a life is lost on the lakes. They most famously rang 29 times in November 1975 with the sinking of an ore ship in Lake Superior, an event immortalized in the popular Gordon Lightfoot song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Come by to offer your prayers or to be simply enchanted by this mystic place.

Getting any kind of mass transportation up and running is an uphill battle in Detroit. The Detroit People Mover is a start. It was supposed to be the center of a citywide light rail system. Instead, it has remained isolated since it was built in the 1970s as a downtown elevated loop. It's a great way to tour downtown, and it works well as a quick way to skip around the downtown area for business people, shoppers and sports fans. If you wish to look at the city from a different vantage point then get aboard The Detroit People Mover for a thrilling experience.

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