20 Cities in Michigan

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Michigan is home to some of the Midwest’s largest cities and most serene coastal towns. Nicknamed the Great Lakes State, Detroit is one of the most recognised cities in Michigan but you will also find many more urban metros and cities in Michigan worth exploring. 

From its fascinating capital city to its various towns and cities shaped by European immigrants and their traditional cultures, Michigan is a pretty exciting state to visit, with many experiences and attractions that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States. Here are the best cities in Michigan to visit.

Cities in Michigan

Top Tours

Detroit Red Wings NHL Game Ticket at Little Caesars Arena
Map of cities in Michigan.

20 Michigan Cities

1- Detroit

Explore undiscovered beauty of Detroit
Detroit tops the list of largest cities in Michigan.

Known as “Motor City” or just “The D”, Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and the second-largest city in the Midwest region after Chicago.

Detroit was first settled in 1707 and became a global industrial hub during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, attracting the likes of Henry Ford and the Dodge Brothers to set up shop in Detroit.

Following several economic downturns during the 1970s and the decline of Detroit’s auto industry, the city fell into ruin for decades but recent urban projects have revived it and it’s once again a flourishing tourist destination in the Midwest.

Few cities in Michigan can rival Detroit’s cultural, historical and entertainment offerings.

The Motor City is home to the Fox Theatre, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. 

Recommended tours:

2- Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Scavenger Hunt: Ann Arbor Adventure
One of the best cities in Michigan for a university vibe is Ann Arbor.

The charming city of Ann Arbor, 44 miles (70 km) west of downtown Detroit, is a research and educational hub and the fifth most populous city in all of Michigan.

Land speculators who first settled Ann Arbor in 1824, John Allen and Elisha Walker Rumsey, decided to name their newly settled city “Annarbour”.

The city is perhaps best known as the home of Michigan University’s main campus, a global leader in STEM research, and the oldest and largest public university in the Great Lakes State.

A visually stunning city in Michigan, it has a lively and youthful atmosphere and enough attractions, such as the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Michigan Stadium. 

Recommended tour: Ann Arbor Scavenger Hunt: Ann Arbor Adventure

3- Traverse City

aerial view of the marina in traverse
Going cruising or sailing is one of the fun things to do from Traverse City.

Dubbed the “Cherry Capital of the World”, Traverse City is among the most populated cities in northern Michigan and is one of the largest producers of tart cherries in the United States.

Traverse City has hosted the annual National Cherry Festival since the event’s inception back in 1925, attracting more than 500,000 visitors and cherry lovers to the city every July.

The city also hosts the annual Traverse City Film Festival.

It is home to award-winning wineries and attractions such as the Mission Point Lighthouse and the Dennos Museum Center for visitors to discover.

Recommended tours:

4- Grand Rapids

Architecture Of Grand Rapids - old and new buildings
Grand Rapids is one of the cities in Michigan to tick off your to-visit list.

The second-largest city in Michigan in terms of population after Detroit, Grand Rapids was the childhood home of former US President Gerald R. Ford.

Grand Rapids is in the Great Lakes State’s western region, a city of museums and art galleries.

Its busy beer brewing scene has earnt it the nickname “Beer City”. 

A fast-growing metro in the Mid West, Grand Rapids is also home to one of Michigan’s most impressive dining and shopping scenes outside Detroit.

Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. 

5- Lansing

capitol building at night in lansing
For history and culture, Lansing is one of the best cities in Michigan.

Steeped in history and culture, the city in Michigan’s south-central region is the Great Lakes State’s official state capital despite only being Michigan’s sixth most populated city.

Lansing lies about halfway between Detroit to the east and Grand Rapids to the west and is home to museums, art galleries and over a dozen wineries, breweries and distilleries.

With world-class attractions such as the Michigan State Capitol, the Michigan History Center and Hawk Island Park, Lansing is an exciting destination to add to any Michigan travel itinerary.

6- Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo Scavenger Hunt: Kalamazoo Fun
Home of the second-oldest newspaper in the state, Kalamazoo is one of the interesting cities in Michigan to explore.

45 minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan and halfway between Detroit and Chicago, Kalamazoo is an educational hub home to Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College campuses.

Kalamazoo was initially settled as “Bronson” back in 1829 before undergoing a name change seven years later in 1836.

Kalamazoo’s name derived from a native Potawatomi word first recorded in a British report dating back to 1772.

The city is famous in American pop culture as the birthplace of the iconic Checker Taxi taxicab company and Gibson Guitars.

Kalamazoo is known for producing everything from windmills and cigars to stoves and automobiles throughout the city’s colourful past.

Modern-day Kalamazoo is a popular tourist hub in the Midwest region thanks to attractions such as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the Kalamazoo State Theatre and the scenic Kalamazoo River Valley Trail, all top-notch venues to explore in Kalamazoo.

Recommended tour: Kalamazoo Scavenger Hunt: Kalamazoo Fun

7- Holland

Historic Architecture Of Holland
Holland is on the list of cities in Michigan to explore for a dose of Dutch culture.

First settled by Dutch immigrants (no surprise!) and nicknamed the “Tulip City”, Holland is among the Midwest’s most colourful cities and is renowned for its uniquely Dutch architecture, attractions and appearance.

The city is a busy tourist destination during spring and winter, hosting festivals and events such as the annual Tulip Time Festival and European-esque Kerstmarkt, which brings festivities such as live music, carollers and parades to the streets of downtown Holland.

Holland’s Windmill Island Gardens, Holland State Park and Nelis’ Dutch Village make the city a delightful travel experience no matter what time of year you decide to visit.

8- Muskegon

The most populated city on Lake Michigan’s eastern shores, Muskegon is a charming port city that serves as Michigan’s unofficial sailing and cruise shipping capital.

With over 26 miles (42 km) of unobstructed and unspoilt lakeshore to discover, Muskegon is a busy summertime destination among vacationers from across the Midwest, no doubt drawn to Michigan’s largest amusement park just outside downtown Muskegon.

Muskegon’s impressive array of landmarks and attractions to explore include Michigan’s Adventure, the USS Silversides Submarine Museum, the Muskegon Museum of Art and Muskegon State Park, making Muskegon among Michigan’s best places to vacation for families travelling with kids.

9- Saginaw

On the shores of Michigan’s Saginaw River, the city in Michigan’s central region is the birthplace of American music icon Stevie Wonder.

It serves as the gateway to Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.

Saginaw was first settled in 1819 and was a strategic trading post and military fort before the region’s booming lumber industry drew more and more settlers to Saginaw, growing into what is today one of Central Michigan’s larger cities.

When it comes to places to visit in Saginaw, the city has a few, with the Saginaw Art Museum, Temple Theatre and Japanese Cultural Center all fantastic attractions to stop at. 

10- Bay City

A short drive north of Saginaw is the city of Bay City, a picturesque coastal destination perched along the shores of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, roughly 120 miles (193 km) from downtown Detroit.

Bay City has a population of roughly 32,000 residents.

It is split in half by the Saginaw River, requiring travellers to use the city’s four bascule drawbridges to access its eastern and western neighbourhoods.

The city is home to a decent line-up of attractions for a city its size, with the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum, Delta College Planetarium and Bigelow Park among Bay City’s most popular destinations.

11- Ypsilanti

Home to the leafy campus of Eastern Michigan University, the city of Ypsilanti in the Great Lakes State’s southeast region is a modestly-sized destination just 14 miles (22 km) from downtown Ann Arbor.

The city was originally settled back in 1823 by Major Thomas Woodruff and is named after Demetrios Ypsilantis, a Greek military officer who became a war hero during the Greek War of Independence.

Despite its interesting name and vibrant student population, Ypsilanti is also a busy destination because of its proximity to Detroit, with the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum and the Michigan Firehouse Museum both worthwhile venues to visit in Ypsilanti.

12- Marquette

City Hall In Marquette
Marquette cities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

On the shores of Lake Superior, Marquette is the most populous city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a major ore shipping hub for the nearby Marquette Iron Range, the state’s largest iron ore deposit.

Marquette is home to the main campus of Northern Michigan University, which provides this mid-sized Midwest city with a lively nightlife scene and a general youthfulness that you’d expect to find in a much larger city.

Surrounded by picturesque natural attractions like Marquette Mountain and the Presque Isle Park, the city provides travellers a healthy mix of upper Michigan culture, history and the great outdoors.

13- Escanaba

Affectionately known simply as “Esky”, the city of Escanaba on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the unofficial gateway to the Escanaba River State Forest and the Hiawatha National Forest.

Escanaba is 111 miles (178 km) from downtown Green Bay and was initially settled by land surveyor Eli P. Royce in 1863, with the city’s name derived from a nearby 19th-century Ojibwa village.

Today the third-largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Escanaba’s attractions include the historic Sand Point Lighthouse and the nearby Fayette Historic State Park.

14- Manistee

Bordered by Lake Michigan, Manistee River and Manistee Lake, Manistee in the Great Lakes State’s western region is a former lumber town that used to be home to more millionaires per capita than any other US city.

Manistee was settled back in 1841 by John and Adam Stronach, and spurred by the riches of its 19th-century logging boom, Manistee’s wealthy residents built lavish mansions throughout the city, many of which still stand today.

Despite the city’s relatively small size, Manistee is a popular destination along the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, with the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts and the Vogue Theatre two excellent attractions worth visiting. 

15- Cadillac

With over 500,000 acres (202,343 ha) of national forest and a historic downtown district, Cadillac is a scenic outdoor-centred destination along the shores of northern Michigan’s Cadillac Lake.

Cadillac is the second-most populated city in northern Michigan, after Traverse City.

Europeans arrived during the latter stages of the 1800s.

Apart from treating outdoor enthusiasts to some 200 miles (322 km) of hiking trails and pathways, Cadillac is also home to a range of one-of-a-kind tourist attractions, such as Caberfae Peaks and the family-favourite Cadillac Sound Garden.

16- Alpena

Home to one of the world’s largest shale quarries, a key ingredient in producing raw cement, Alpena has always been industrial-focused since its early logging days.

The city has a population of about 10,000 people.

It is right at the head of Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay, a body of water that’s as scenic as it is treacherous to navigate.

Although Alpena is pretty isolated in northern Michigan in terms of proximity to other larger cities, it’s surrounded by some of Michigan’s best beaches and the International Dark Sky Park-designated Rockport Harbor State Park.

Swing by the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the Alpena Civic Theatre, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Thunder Bay Theatre to get the most out of this idyllic northern Michigan city.

17- Frankenmuth

Roughly 75 miles (120 km) from Lansing and about 90 miles (144 km) outside Detroit, Frankenmuth is a colourful Midwest city known for its rich German heritage.

Nicknamed “Michigan’s Little Bavaria”, the city was shaped largely by the many German immigrants who settled in the region during the 1800s, bringing their traditional Bavarian-style architecture and love for beer brewing.

The city hosts festivals and events throughout the year celebrating Frankenmuth’s German roots and is a popular destination because of its almost fairytale-like appearance.

18- Mackinac Island

Mackinac Bridge Cruise
Mackinaw City is one of the best cities to live in Michigan.

Mackinac Island is a fairly small resort town atop a 4.35 square mile (1,126 ha) island of the same name in Lake Huron, roughly 3 miles (4.8 km) offshore from the Michigan mainland.

The native Odawa people inhabited the city/island before the British officially settled the island with the construction of a strategic fort during the American Revolutionary War.

Ballooning in size over the summer months, Mackinac Island is among Michigan’s most popular vacation destinations.

Cars are banned from the island’s streets in favour of horse-drawn carriages, making it one of Michigan’s most charming places to visit.

Recommended tour: Mackinac Bridge Cruise

19- St. Joseph

The city of St. Joseph, or just “St. Joe” for short as the locals call it, is a fairly small city 90 miles (144 km) from the Midwest’s most populated metro, Chicago.

St. Joseph has excellent beaches, restaurants and shopping districts, so much so that the city is known as “The Riviera of the Midwest”.

While St. Joe’s beaches certainly are spectacular, the city’s attractions, such as the Silver Beach Carousel and Box Factory for the Arts, makes St. Joseph one of the must-visit cities in Michigan. 

20- Saugatuck

The fascinating city of Saugatuck on Lake Michigan’s eastern shores is a Michigan city known for its buzzing arts scene and natural beauty, attracting artists and beachgoers from across the Great Lakes State and beyond during the summer months.

Saugatuck was established as “Kalamazoo Village” in 1830 by William C. Butler before being renamed in 1868 following the town’s postmaster’s suggestion of the city’s current name.

Today, this Michigan city is a popular tourist spot.

It is home to the Oval Beach, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts and the Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum, cementing the city’s reputation as a must-visit Michigan destination. 

Looking for the best cities in North America? Check them out here:

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Mark Westwood is a Seattle-based writer who writes for various online blogs and travel websites. In 2017, he went on a 12-month road trip across the USA visiting many iconic landmarks and small towns along the way. Having explored over 20 countries, his favourite places to date are along the west coast of the USA but he is happiest anywhere where there are mountains and ocean.