August 20, 2018

Things You Should Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is a large museum outside of Detroit full of artifacts and exhibits about America’s history and innovation. It’s a huge, three-building complex. I was a tad overwhelmed when I planned a visit during my family’s great Michigan road trip, to be honest. To save you a little worry, here are some things to know before your visit.

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to The Henry Ford as part of a hosted visit through Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What to epxpect

What is The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is a complex of three spaces: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (which I’ll refer to as The Henry Ford from now on), Greenfield Village, and Ford Rouge Factory Tour. We made it to two of the three places on our one-day visit. And that one-day visit? That could’ve been (should’ve been) two days.

Mill at Greenfield Village
A mill at Greenfield Village, an outdoor living history space with seven areas to explore. It’s part of The Henry Ford complex. 

History is the focus at The Henry Ford, but not in such a narrowly defined experience as “history museum.” This places feels alive. I’ve never been to anything quite like The Henry Ford. It’s not just cars and transportation. Innovation, mathematics, and a fun display on pop culture through generations are all a part of the museum.

Neon Signs and Lamy's Diner at The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford had artifacts from various eras in American history. The blue railcar behind the signs is a restaurant.

Greenfield Village is an epic living history experience with actors, landmark buildings, and cool experiences like riding in a Model T. 

Model T at Greenfield Village
I loved the picturesque Main Street at Greenfield Village. Guests can pay a little extra to ride around in in a Model T.

The factory is the lone place we missed on this visit. There just wasn’t enough time. 

How much time do you need at The Henry Ford

It’s going to depend on your family. We split our visit between Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford. Our visit was in the summer, so we chose to go to Greenfield Village the first thing in the morning.

Greenfield Village re-enactor at a jewelry store
We peeked in a jewelry store at Greenfield Village.

We last until lunch time before the heat was too much. We had spent about three hours at Greenfield Village, which was not adequate to see everything. It did allow a decent amount of time for playing at the playground, so factor that into your planning if you have young kids.

Flight exhibit at The Henry Ford
There’s a large exhibit about flight at The Henry Ford. There’s an area to make your own paper airplane and then test them out.

The Henry Ford was where we spent the bulk of our day, and I feel like we got a good look at everything that interested us in the hours we wandered around there.

What will kids like at The Henry Ford?

This is totally going to be just my opinion. What’s interests your kids could be quite different from mine. 

Wright Bros. bicycle shop at Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village is divided into seven districts. My favorite was Main Street, with its shops and lawn games.

Don’t skip the Wright Cycle Shop (the actual place where the Wright Brothers dreamt up their flying machines), the playground, and watching artisans in action (including glass-blowing, weaving, and pottery). 

Playground at Greenfield Village
The Greenfield Village Playground isn’t your typical playground. The kids loved it.

There’s also working farms, a steam locomotive, and a ton more historic buildings (obviously). We missed Thomas Edison’s lab and I imagine that was a mistake. I was hot and wanted out of the summer sun, please forgive me.

The Henry Ford has so many stellar artifacts that bring American history to life. We got to sit on the same bus that Rosa Parks protested on, and pose in a Model T.  If you love cars, trains, agriculture, history, or design, this is your kind of place.

Interactive exhibit on assembly lines at The Henry Ford
In “Made In America: Manufacturing,” the kids and I joined an assembly line to make cars. It was a fun way to learn about manufacturing for the kids.

Being at the museum with kids, though, I’d have to say the more hands-on an exhibit was, the more they liked it. The “Heroes In The Sky” exhibit had a space for kids to make model airplanes and test them, for instance. “Made In America: Manufacturing” was another good one – we participated in an assembly line to build toy model Ts. And if you have a train fanatic, there is a miniature railroad to watch.

Tips from a parent

Women's suffrage exhibit at The Henry Ford
Resting in the women’s suffrage exhibit jail.
  • – Bring a stroller or wagon if you have young kids. The complex is huge.
  • – You park at one place and can get to the museum and Greenfield Village by foot. 
  • – You can bring a small amount of food and drinks with you. You’ll definitely want water bottles. There are restaurant options in the complex. Some restaurants have themes to them, which is fun, but I was a little underwhelmed with our experience at the 1940s diner called Lamy’s Diner.
  • – The frozen custard at Greenfield Village is to die for.
  • – There’s a playground at Greenfield Village by the carousel. It’s a lot of fun for them, though a little word of warning, they can get a little wet there. 
  • – There aren’t a whole lot of buildings with air conditioning at Greenfield Village (you’ve got to love authentic history, right?). Cool off in the gift shop.
  • – Plan on spending a little extra. My kids loved riding the train, for instance, but it’s extra, as is the Model T rides. 
  • – It helps to know when demonstrations begin in Greenfield Village. And then, if you’re like me, disregard those times and just try to keep up with your kids.
  • Greenfield Village is a seasonal attraction, so know that it’s closed from Jan. 1 through April 14.
Things to know before taking your kids to The Henry Ford & Greenfield Village #Detroit #Michigan #museum #familyvacation #familytravel #tips

If you go

The Henry Ford Complex

Where: 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich.

Find out about special events here.

Read more about things to do in Detroit

Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about Detroit museums:

Detroit Museums For Families

“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts

Where To Stay Near Detroit

What To Expect At The Motown Museum – Oct. 5

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