Located just outside of Detroit in the suburb of Dearborn, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village combine to be one of the best attractions in all of Michigan – and they’re the largest indoor/outdoor museum in the country. With loads of historic artifacts and buildings (yes, you read that right) you’ll learn something new every time you visit. If you plan to hit both, you can easily spend a full day here, so check out all the highlights ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
The indoor portion of the indoor/outdoor combo, this large history museum focuses on American industry and life. It began from Henry Ford’s personal collection of artifacts, but has expanded far beyond that in the decades since it was founded. Even the exterior of the building is historic as it incorporates facades of Philadelphia landmarks like Independence Hall.
Inside, you’ll find an enormous exhibition space full of vehicles, trains, machinery, and other items. As befitting a museum originally owned by one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, there’s a large collection of vehicles on display ranging from early designs to the classic cars of the ’50s and ’60s to newer designs.
Also of note is the collection of retired presidential limousines. The most famous one is the car in which John F. Kennedy was riding when he was assassinated.
One of my favorite artifacts is known as the Rosa Parks bus. It’s the bus that Rosa Parks was riding when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. You can climb inside and even sit in the same spot if you wish.
If you grew up singing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song, you’ll love a close-up view of one of the famous Weinermobiles.
I’ve always been fascinated by Civil War history, so one of the most interesting artifacts to me is the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot.
There’s also a long-standing exhibit about American home life with music and pop culture items from various decades. Believe me when I say that the first time I felt old was when I came across my childhood GameBoy in a glass case here several years ago.
Special exhibitions at the Henry Ford Museum
The Henry Ford has temporary exhibit galleries that host a variety of short-term special displays (usually charged in addition to your main admission ticket). I’ve seen everything from Pixar displays to a Titanic exhibition there, so check out what’s available when you’re planning your visit.
Dining at the Henry Ford Museum
Lamy’s Diner has a classic mid-century diner feel. With comfort foods, milkshakes, and donuts on the menu, you can have a sweet treat or a hearty meal while enjoying the old school soda shop counter. Admission is required to access Lamy’s.
The Michigan Café has your typical food court service. It offers lighter options like salads and sandwiches and hot foods like burgers and hot dogs. You can also get a variety of beverages, including a refillable souvenir mug. Admission is required to access the café.
The Plum Market Kitchen provides locally sourced food and beverages. You can get Zingerman’s coffee or pastries (an Ann Arbor icon) for breakfast or grab one of the heartier sandwiches, soups, or salads. Admission is not required to dine at the Plum Market Kitchen.
This outdoor living history museum was the first of its kind in the United States. Here you’ll find almost 100 buildings from different periods in American history. Most were relocated from their original spots and arranged in a village-like setting where visitors can stroll the grounds and step inside them. Costumed performers in period garb offer information in several of the buildings and add a little bit of historic flair to your visit.
Note: Greenfield Village typically closes from January through mid-April.
One of my favorites is the Wright Brothers’ original bicycle shop that was transported up from Dayton, Ohio. You can walk through the sales area and their workroom in back where they tinkered with their designs.
Some famous houses were also brought into the village with Noah Webster’s and Robert Frost’s among the most prominent. Greenfield Village also features a replica of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park facilities that was built from the same plans. History buffs will love seeing the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law in Illinois.
I’ve always loved stopping into the glassblowing workshop to watch crafters designing beautiful works of art using historic techniques.
If you’ve ever wanted to take a ride in a Model T, you can do that here too. A whole fleet of them take passengers around the streets of Greenfield Village. If the Model T isn’t your thing, you can hop a ride on a horse-drawn trolley, or the park’s train. Kids will also love the small carousel.
Events at Greenfield Village
Greenfield Village hosts a variety of events throughout the year celebrating holidays, history, and local culture.
Civil War Remembrance
Every year during Memorial Day weekend, Greenfield Village honors the soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. Battle reenactments take place on the greens with the reenactors camping out in the village all weekend long. Period music and crafts are offered, and there are special exhibits and hands-on activities for visitors.
Salute to America
In the days surrounding the Fourth of July, Greenfield Village celebrates Independence Day. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays special concerts with patriotic music in the village’s Walnut Grove
World Tournament of Historic Base Ball
The baseball we know and love today looks a little different than it did in its early days. Every August, historic teams play a tournament in Greenfield Village playing with the rules, equipment, and styles from the 1860s. It’s quirky, charming, and a must-do for anyone who loves baseball.
Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village
On select nights in October, Greenfield Village celebrates Halloween with a historic flair. Costumed characters stroll the grounds, jack-o-lanterns and other decorations light up the pathways, and the Headless Horseman gallops through the streets. Special entertainment and food options are offered, and many visitors come in their own costumes.
Each December, Greenfield Village comes to life with period Christmas décor. Warming fires dot the pathways and carolers and performers in period costumes join the visitors as they stroll through the chilly night. Santa makes an appearance as well. A small ice skating rink is available and fireworks traditionally cap off the night.
Dining at Greenfield Village
The Eagle Tavern is Greenfield Village’s premiere dining location. Dating back to the mid-1800s, it serves up hearty Michigan based meals using recipes handed down for over a century. The atmosphere is wonderful and it really feels like you’re stepping back in time.
A Taste of History is a more casual spot for food in Greenfield Village. It still has a focus on historic and local foods, but it’s a bit cheaper and counter service. You ca sample hearty farm foods, carb load at the baked potato bar, or try homemade pies. Some of the dishes available are based on recipes included in the museum’s archives.
For a different kind of historic food, grab a meal at Mrs. Fisher’s Southern Cooking which commemorates Abby Fisher. She was a enslaved in the South before being freed and was one of the first African-Americans to publish a cookbook. Several of her recipes are recreated at this restaurant and you’ll love her version of southern favorites like red beans and rice and breaded chicken.
For an elegant break, try the Cotswold Cottage Tea. Clara Ford was inspired by her visits to English gardens and this little tea spot reflects that. You can have a full tea service or try the light snacks while relaxing in the gardens.
The Owl Night Lunch wagon is a bare bones food stand. You can grab hot dogs, local brand Better Made chips, and drinks on the go here.
The Frozen Custard is actually my favorite spot in the village. If you haven’t had frozen custard before, it’s semi-regional to the Midwest and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s basically a richer, creamier version of soft serve ice cream and it’s the perfect treat on a hot day.
For a different option for sweet treats, check out the Carousel Confections located by the – surprise! – carousel. You can get ice cream, Sander’s sundaes, floats, and popcorn.
Rouge Factory Tour
The Ford River Rouge complex is Ford’s most storied manufacturing center. It’s more than one square mile, has its own docks on its namesake Rouge River, and hundreds of miles of train tracks. Over the decades it’s produced some of Ford’s most famous vehicles including the Model T, Mustang, Thunderbird, and F-150. It was even visited by Diego Rivera when he was designing his famous Detroit Industry murals for the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Visitors can tour the production facility making trucks with guided tours departing from the Henry Ford complex. Visits include 3D video with interactive seats taking you through the manufacturing process. The highlight is a view into the assembly building from a catwalk circling the production floor. From here, you can see workers fitting out cabs for the F-150s, adding the trim, doors, and other parts at a maximum speed of one truck per minute.
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Greenfield Village and Museum are the most favorite places that I love to visit. When I was young I went there every year, sometimes twice. Now that I live a distance from the there I can just enjoy the wonderful memories of The Henry Ford, but hope that I can get there this year. It is such a memorable place to be.