Belle Isle Park: The Jewel of Detroit

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Every summer we travel back to Michigan, so we can visit family, and have vacation. Summer of 2019, our middle daughter brought along her boyfriend Sam. He likes to visit aquariums, so we thought it would be memorable for us to take him to visit America’s oldest aquarium!! Belle Isle Park Detroit is home to America’s oldest, Belle Isle Aquarium.

Map of Belle Isle Park Detroit

Belle Isle Park Detroit is an island located on the Detroit River, between the United States and Canada. Full of history, visiting is a must, and part of our Things to do in Detroit Summer Edition! 

A Little History of Belle Isle Park Detroit

Flag Pole on Belle Isle Park Detroit

Belle Isle was purchased from the Campeau Family, by the City of Detroit, in 1879. They began development of a park, and it opened to the public on May 10, 1880. Gradually, attractions were added, and Belle Isle, was appropriately named the “Jewel of Detroit” for it’s range attractions. 

Historic Belle Isle Casino

Over the decades, Belle Isle Park was home to an athletic field house, horse stables, and even a casino! Some buildings are still around, but not in too good of condition. And others are well kept, like the casino. 

In 2014, Belle Isle Park Detroit became the 102nd Michigan State Park as part of a lease agreement with the City of Detroit. It’s still home to many events, including the Detroit Grand Prix. 

How Our Day Began

In order to make Sam’s visit special, Anna wanted him to experience her favorite places. Therefore, this included some of the best places to eat. 

Outside of Dan & Vi's Pizza Deli

Our day began taking Sam to Dan & Vi’s, an iconic pizzeria and deli with the best sandwich we’ve ever had. You can read all about their impact on Detroit’s community in our blog post here. 

How We Spent Our Day at Belle Isle Park Detroit

James Scott Memorial Fountain

You can find many places to picnic on the 982 acre island, but we chose to take our Dan & Vi’s near the James Scott Memorial Fountain, which was built on the island back in 1925. There’s a great view of the Detroit Riverfront, and you may even see a freighter go by.

Belle Isle Park Detroit Pinterest image

The kids had fun taking pictures in front of the fountain, and being goofy.

Dossin Great Lakes Museum at Belle Isle Park Detroit

First we headed to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. Growing up in a boating family, and living on the water for many years, I can’t believe it took me this long to visit the Great Lakes Museum. 

Canoe exhibit inside Dossin Great Lakes Museum in Belle Isle Park Detroit

Dossin Great Lakes Museum is full of history, artifacts, and hands on fun for all ages. Here you can not just learn about the Great Lakes, but also about life along the Detroit River, including lots of history about Belle Isle. 

Gothic room of City of Detroit III passenger ship

One of my favorite things inside, is the Gothic Room from the City of Detroit III passenger ship. The woodwork is stunning. 

Not a huge museum, but with all the hands on things to do, you could spend quite a bit of time inside. It took us a little over an hour, even though some wanted to stay longer. 

Belle Isle Aquarium at Belle Isle Park Detroit

Next up was the Belle Isle Aquarium, which I previously mentioned, is the oldest aquarium in America. It was built in 1904, so it’s not some big grand aquarium. But still surely worth a visit. 

Fish in tank at Belle Isle Park Detroit aquarium

Although small, Belle Isle Aquarium is known for it’s collection of all 7 species of gar in North America. The only one in the world. 

Also known to be home to one of the largest air breathing fish collections in the world. 

Teens at Belle Isle Aquarium

After walking through the aquarium, be sure to check out a couple of the hands on activities in their education room. The day we went, it was hot outside. The aquarium is not air-conditioned, therefore can get pretty warm inside. 

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory at Belle Isle Park Detroit

The conservatory, originally known as the Horticultural Building, also opened in 1904 with the aquarium. It is currently the oldest, continually operating conservatory in the United States.  

The conservatory, is home to “the largest municipally owned orchid collection in the country.” Many of these exotic orchids had been saved from Britain throughout World War II.  

Cactus house at Belle Isle Conservatory

Inside, the conservatory is divided into houses, each with it’s own climate. So you can find many different plants, flowers, trees and more, from all over the world. 

Gardens at Belle Isle Conservatory

The conservatory also includes an outdoor gardens area. We didn’t take the time to walk through, because they were having a wedding rehearsal. What a gorgeous place for a wedding!! 

William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse

Built in 1929, the lighthouse can be found at the north end of the Belle Isle. The nation’s only lighthouse built of marble, and one of only two memorials. Sadly, we did not make it over to that part of the park the day were there, but I will definitely go back to see it. 

Belle Isle Nature Center at Belle Isle Park Detroit

Another place we didn’t have enough time to visit is the nature center, which is run by the Detroit Zoological Society. More hands on learning, including a deer encounter. Once we go back, we will share all about it! 

Final Thoughts on Belle Isle Park Detroit

In addition to all the things mentioned above, you can also participate of many recreational activities on the the island. Such as biking, walking, boating, swimming, and more. All info can be found on their website.

Over the decades, we’ve been to many of Michigan’s state parks. Therefore, I must say, Belle Isle Park Detroit gives you a glimpse of just about all Michigan has to offer in their state parks!! A true Michigan gem, and must visit! 

Park Hours

Open year-round between 5 a.m.-10 p.m.

Hours for individual attractions can be found by going to each link, as they change periodically. 


For just $12 (or $6 for motorcycles) a year, the Recreation Passport enables Michigan-registered vehicles access to more than 100 state parks and recreation areas, state boat launches, state forest campgrounds and state trail parking lots. Nonresidents pay $34 for an annual pass, or $9 for a day pass.

For more Michigan fun, check out:

Things to do in Detroit: Summer Family Edition

Ford House: Home of Edsel and Eleanor Ford

Places to Visit in Michigan’s Thumb

Experience History in Greenfield Village

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26 thoughts on “Belle Isle Park: The Jewel of Detroit

  • June 22, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    Looks like fun. We always check out aquariums when we travel. Our favorite so far has been Atlanta. But, never been up to Michigan. And that orchid collection is gorgeous, how cool is that?

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:43 am

      I’ve heard great things about the one in Atlanta. Still need to get there. And the orchids are beautiful!

  • June 23, 2020 at 2:10 am

    This looks like a cool place to visit. I’ll check it out if I’m ever in Michigan!

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:42 am

      Hope you get to visit Michigan.

  • June 23, 2020 at 7:49 am

    Belle Isle looks like a really wonderful place to spend a day, or longer if you do all the hands-on things. I would definitely have to see the orchid collection. Those are among my favorite flowers.

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:41 am

      You could definitely spend more than one day here! I need to go back!

  • June 23, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    I didn’t know there was so much to do in Detroit. We will have to make a trip out there.

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:40 am

      And there is so much more!! Totally worth a visit!

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:40 am

      Yeah, but I hope you get to visit one day!

  • June 24, 2020 at 5:05 am

    really good post Julie! I feel Detroit is an underappreciated city when it comes to tourism!

    • June 26, 2020 at 11:44 pm

      Detroit is lovely! If there’s ever a chance I somehow end up there I’ll check out the park 😊

      • June 28, 2020 at 8:36 am

        Hope you get to visit!

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:39 am

      It sure is! Which is why I love to share about it!

  • June 25, 2020 at 3:03 am

    This sounds like a fabulous place to spend a day. I’d love to visit the conservatory. I love orchids!

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:39 am

      Yes, you would love it! So much to see!

  • June 25, 2020 at 5:59 am

    oh wow I love this place and aquarium too !! nice post

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:38 am

      Thank you! The aquarium is quite stunning!

  • June 25, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    A great article, thank you for doing the research and including cost, times, etc. Sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing!

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:38 am

      You are welcome! Happy to help!

  • June 26, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post. My daughter loves to travel and I think Belle Isle Park is a wonderful place to visit.

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:37 am

      Thank you! It is a really great place to visit!

  • June 27, 2020 at 10:42 pm

    All of your posts make me want to add Detroit to my must-visit list!

    • June 28, 2020 at 8:36 am

      It is a must visit!! Hope you get there!!

  • June 29, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Some fun stuff in Detroit! We also love visiting museums when we travel. So much to learn from them.

  • July 5, 2020 at 1:39 am

    It sounds like there is so much to do at Belle Isle Park. My wife dearly wants me to visit Michigan, and it sounds like such a fun place to be in the summer months. I am a big fan of museums and aquariums, so I think you have helped sell me on it!

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