Harlem in New York is considered one of the northernmost areas of Manhattan. There are not many tourist attractions in Harlem, however, if you want to experience the “real” New York with a rich cultural history, it is worth visiting.
Along with one of the main streets of Harlem, Martin Luther King Boulevard, there are several shops, restaurants, and the famous Apollo Theater.
This colorful area of Manhattan can be explored using the subway or sightseeing buses. So, here in this article let’s know about 18 things to do in Harlem. See these below…
History of Harlem
To best discover Harlem and its very rich history, you will have the opportunity to take a tour of the neighborhood with a local guide.
This will take you on a discovery of the architectural, musical, and artistic riches of this unmissable district of New York!
Depending on the time of year (summer or winter), the walking tour varies between 2 and 3 hours.
Having a guide with you will allow you to fully understand the history of this district known throughout the world, and to make the most of the visit thanks to his very good knowledge of the area (not to mention the recommendations he can give you! )
The history of this famous quarter is very interesting, but a bit tragic. To really understand Harlem in New York, you should definitely take a walking tour. The history dates back to 1626 when immigrants from Holland began to settle in this part of the city.
At the end of the 19th century, the quarter began to change. You will notice a trace of those times in the beautiful architecture.
After the real estate crash in the 1930s, many wealthy residents left the area, and immigrants from the US South began to move to Harlem in search of work. There are tour bus stops in the area, which is very convenient if you do not want to stay here for a long time.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the discrimination present in the southern United States pushed many African-American families to move to the northeast of the country.
The real estate crash of 1904 and the climate of racism still very present led African-Americans to regroup in Harlem. In the decades that followed, Harlem truly became the cradle of 20th-century African-American culture.
By the 1970s, many residents left Harlem to escape poverty, and only the poorest and least educated people had no choice but to stay. Totally abandoned, many areas of Harlem became slums, and the neighborhood’s crime rate soared.
From 1970 to 1990, Harlem was a place that housed an extremely poor population. Nearly 2 in 3 households had an income of less than $10,000 a year, and the area’s crime rate was among the highest in all of the United States.
Many buildings were disused and walled up, garbage littered the streets, and the neighborhood was rightly suffering from a disastrous image.
It was in the 1980s that major renovation projects were launched to bring the wealthiest classes back to Manhattan. For Harlem, the changes amplified from the 2000s.
Central Harlem and East Harlem were completely renovated, and ethnic diversity progressed greatly. In 2001, Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States, even chose to set up his office on 125th Street in the Harlem district.
Today, Harlem is as safe a neighborhood as the rest of the country, and in which the crime rate is lower than that of other large cities like Chicago or Detroit. In recent years, Harlem even seems to be experiencing a new golden age.
New real estate projects, often luxurious, are regularly launched, rents are exploding and the district seems to be on the verge of truly becoming a bourgeois sector of New York.
18 Best Things To Do In Harlem
Harlem is known around the world as a hotspot for African-American culture. It is also a district that benefits from a very important historical heritage.
Many churches and cultural buildings today contribute to making Harlem a unique neighborhood.
In total, more than 700 buildings in the district are classified as historical and architectural heritage. So, see the 18 things to do in Harlem.
1. The Apollo Theater
Harlem plays a special role in the musical development of the United States. One of the important local attractions is the Apollo Theatre.
Every week, the Apollo Theater hosts an Amateur Night where you can help determine the winner with a round of applause or a whistle.
Located at 253 W 125th Street, this famous venue is a historic venue for jazz and black American music in general.
Since the end of the 1990s, this place has managed to regain much of its former prestige, notably with the organization of events such as It’s Showtime at the Apollo (the night of amateurs), where young talents are invited to perform on stage.
If you’re a true music lover, take the popular gospel tour in Harlem. Book tickets in advance, as it is not customary to enter the church on an unexpected visit.
Tours are organized on Wednesdays and Sundays. Legends like James Brown, and Aretha Franklin were the stars of this show. Spanish Harlem is one of the most famous songs by Aretha Franklin.
2. El Museo del Barrio
If during your visit to New York you want to learn more about Latin culture, El Museo del Barrio is the ideal place. Also, if you have the New York Pass or the New York Sightseeing Flex Pass you can enter for free.
Founded by the artist and teacher Raphael Montañez Ortiz in 1969, this museum was created with one goal: to end the marginalization that many Boricua (Puerto Rican) citizens suffered in New York City.
The Museo del Barrio aims to spread and celebrate Latin American culture, and at the same time become a cultural reference in the city.
The Museo del Barrio de Harlem is openly considered one of the most important Latin American art museums in the United States for the quality of its collections, which have works of art from the Caribbean and Latin America from more than 800 years ago.
This is one of the historic sites you can visit while you think about what things to do in Harlem. It one of the dynamic museums in NYC, in the sense that there are usually special exhibitions on the culture of each country.
There are events such as live performances by Latin groups, workshops on various topics, films on a special theme, etc.
3. Live Jazz at Bill’s Place
For the jazz fans, this is the spot to be. Reserve a spot here and get to appreciate quality jazz music in a special setting.
Bill’s Place is Harlem’s just true speakeasy that has been in present since the 1920s during the Prohibition time.
Be reclaimed in time at this little and comfortable joint with live jazz music from renowned craftsmen, for example, Bill Saxton, the Harlem Jazz King who possesses the spot. Pay attention to the alleviating tunes that will totally suffocate you into the music.
No liquor is served in this way you are permitted to bring your own alcohol. Appreciate incredible exhibitions at a reasonable cost.
4. Central Park Conservatory Gardens
In many cases, a guided bike tour allows you to explore some of the less touristy parts of town while enjoying a little adventure on wheels.
Central Park is a fun way to explore Harlem and its surroundings (eg Central Park or the Bronx) without having to take public transport (sometimes crowded) or take long walks in central park that strain your feet at the end of the day.
The great Central Park, a meeting point for tourists and New Yorkers especially during the summer months, also comes, of course, to the Harlem neighborhood.
The usual entrance of tourists is through Midtown and few are those who arrive here after a walk of more than 10 kilometers to the north.
Between 106th and 110th streets you will find Harlem Lake, a beautiful part of the park, less crowded than the more touristy areas of Central Park.
Directly on Harlem Hill is one of the favorite spots for park runners, plus here you can fish or just sit and relax on a bench by the water. In the northeast corner of this park, there is a beautiful man-made lake named the Harlem Meer.
These tours of Harlem and its surroundings are accompanied by a guide who will take you to the most emblematic places of the historic African-American district of New York and other nearby points of interest, combining art, culture, music, and sport.
A very entertaining alternative to the classic sightseeing tour, from which you will get a whole new vision of Harlem.
5. Graffiti Hall of Fame
It is said that the art of graffiti originated in Philadelphia but developed in New York. The most complex artwork is around every corner.
Every house, every block, every neighborhood has its own unique style, from the Hall of Fame in Harlem to the walls in Coney Island.
It is here that you can see the already iconic works of the famous graffitist Banksy and many other famous street artists. Here you can enjoy the Harlem culture.
Many of the wall murals are commissioned, such as the birds in Upper Manhattan, organized by the Audubon Mural Project in collaboration with Audubon and the Gilter Art Gallery. This art object is designed to draw attention to the threat of climate change on the planet.
6. Abyssinian Baptist Church
This church is probably the oldest and most famous of all Baptist churches in the city. Founded in 1808 and located on 138th Street, the Abyssinian Baptist Church has today become a privileged place for people who wish to come and attend an authentic gospel mass.
This Abyssinian Baptist church is one of many built-in Harlem around the turn of the 19th century.
Built-in 1808 by 16 African Americans, with the help of Pastor Thomas Paul, today its senior pastor is Calvin O. Butts. It is located north of New York on 138th Street and can hold up to 4,000 people.
This type of celebration has become the quintessential attraction of Harlem and the one that attracts the most tourists to the area.
They usually take place several days a week, but if you can, the best option to attend is on Sunday, the traditional day of celebration and when most people attend these events.
It is also important to know that free entry, is surprising as it may seem. Also, if you read our article “Things to do in New York for Free”, you will discover many things to do in the city without spending a penny.
These masses, organized in Afro-American evangelical Protestant churches, have even developed a musical style of their own: the gospel.
The celebrations are deeply felt by worshipers and community participants and are presented as a fantastic spectacle for those unfamiliar with it. It is typical that on one or more occasions, all participants join in the emotional chanting.
You might just end up joining in the fun and even being part of it. The magnetism they give off attracts everyone who walks through the doors.
7. Marcus Garvey Park
Marcus Garvey Park is a park in the borough of Manhattan, New York.
It is located in the north Harlem district. With an area of 8.16 hectares, the park interrupts Fifth Avenue, which is relayed by Mount Morris Park West along the park.
The latter is bordered by 120th Street, 124th Street, and to the west by Madison Avenue. Its maintenance is ensured like that of Central Park, also located a few streets further south by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
This place is a gathering place for the locals of Harlem and is a good way to see the locals go about their daily lives. If you’re lucky you might even see an amateur baseball game.
The park was originally called Mount Morris Park, in reference to the neighboring neighborhood of Mount Morris. But it was renamed in 1973 in memory of Marcus Garvey during John Lindsay’s tenure.
The park was opened to the public in 1840 but was already part of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 which provided for its construction in its cadastral system.
8. American Cuisine at Red Rooster
The Red Rooster is owned by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. Located on Lennox Avenue, this restaurant has become one of the most popular addresses in Harlem. You can taste Comfort Food, an American-inspired comfort food.
If you consider yourself a foodie and enjoy spending time traveling for new culinary traditions, there’s no doubt that a Harlem sightseeing tour is one of the must-do experiences.
These types of tours will allow you to taste the local cuisine for the first time. If Harlem food manages to find a place in your heart, you can later return to the neighborhood to do your own food tour and continue tasting the best African cuisine.
In the section ‘Where to eat in Harlem’, you will find several suggestions to help you get started.
With a guide, you’ll learn about the characteristics of the Soul Food style (associated with the African-American community in the South) as well as traditional dishes from West African countries (very popular in Harlem’s Little Senegal neighborhood).
And the best part is that there will be food tastings during the guided tours of Harlem! Will you be able to resist this awesome plan?
9. Strivers Row
This series of three rows of terraced houses built between 1891 and 1893 is recognized today as one of the masterpieces of New York architecture.
These houses located on 138th Street were built back to back, and share the same interior courtyard.
Their nickname comes from the fact that these houses attracted “hard workers”. Henry Pace, a historical figure in the NYC neighborhood and founder of Black Swan Records, notably lived in one of these houses.
Built towards the end of the 19th century, Strivers Row represents a series of three rows of common houses located in the west of Harlem.
Intended for the white bourgeoisie, several personalities of the time such as Eubie Blake, Adam Clayton Powell Jr, and Fletcher Henderson settled in this emblematic place.
10. The National Jazz Museum
For jazz enthusiasts, this museum located on 126th Street will be an obligatory point of passage during a visit to Harlem.
The Jazz Museum brings together large collections of books, photos, documents, and of course recordings of this musical genre which has received its letters of nobility in this district.
Temporary exhibitions are organized to pay tribute to certain artists, and concerts also take place regularly on weekday evenings.
11. The Cotton Club
Another mythical place in this district, this jazz club in New York, created in 1920 and in which very great artists such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong have distinguished themselves, is still active on 125th Street.
You can listen to jazz and gospel while enjoying your lunch or dinner, and you can even dance salsa and Latin jazz if you feel like it.
It is one of the mythical places of this district. This jazz club was created by boxer Jack Johnson and is still open to the public. Many African American artists perform here.
12. Mount Morris Historic District
One of the best places to visit in Harlem is the historic district of Mount Morris where the famous and beautiful “brownstones” are located.
These row houses from the 19th and 20th centuries owe their name to the brown brick used to build them and stand out, among other things, for their beautiful entrance stairs.
This district was declared a historic landmark in 1971 and is located in the square formed by West 118th and 125th, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Fifth Avenue.
This area is also home to Marcus Garvey Park, a perfect park for relaxing or having a picnic, located on Mount Morris Hill.
13. Harlem Studio Museum
Located on 125th Street, this fine arts museum founded in 1968 is today considered to be the very heart of the district.
The collections presented pay homage to 19th and 20th-century African-American art in all its forms. Many works by artists from West Africa and the Caribbean are also exhibited there.
This fine arts museum is considered the heart of Harlem. It exhibits more than 1,600 pieces, most of which are African-American works.
The Studio Museum also hosts conferences and shows that attract many tourists. It is located at 429 W 127th Street.
14. Walking Across The George Washington Bridge
The only bridge in New York that crosses the Hudson River is located in the heart of Harlem and is one of the most important monuments in the area.
A walk on the bridge that connects New Jersey with Harlem is certainly a good idea.
The 1,451-meter-long George Washington Bridge offers a spectacular view of the New York skyline and New Jersey’s Palisades National Park. If you continue slightly north from the bridge, you will reach Fort Tyron Park.
15. Columbia University
It’s not every day that you get to walk around the campus of one of the top ten universities in the world. It is also not very common to see the largest Anglican cathedral in the world.
If you visit Harlem, don’t miss the chance to see them, and they are close together.
The Visitors Center is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
At end of the week, bunches are allowed to visit the Morningside grounds on their own utilizing the independent visit; in any case, an ongoing Columbia ID is expected to enter all structures with the exception of St. Paul’s Chapel.
16. The Hamilton Grange
Go for a stroll around Hamilton Heights which is an area in the northern piece of Manhattan.
The area has been recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.
It involves apartments built with limestone and brownstone the period somewhere in the range of 1886 and 1931.
Take in the rare and lovely view of the Romanesque, Beaux-Arts, and Queen Anne-style engineering utilized in the developments.
A large portion of the houses is three-and four-story block column houses springing up behind raised stone porches.
This place is named after alexander hamilton, as he spent his life’s last two years living in this place. The house was moved two times inside Harlem prior to getting to its super durable area in St. Nicholas Park.
Hamilton, however renowned, wasn’t the social figure that he is today post-melodic, and large numbers of the rooms were enriched as best antiquarians could figure.
A ground floor is a notable place recounting the tale of Hamilton’s life. A film about his life and heritage plays too.
The Hamilton Grange is situated at 141st St. between Convent Ave. furthermore, St. Nicholas Ave. Visiting the Hamilton Grange is free. Directed visits, the best way to go higher up, are at 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 2:00 PM.
17. Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market
This is a market for African diaspora handicrafts, all handmade. You will find everything from handmade figurines to clothing typical of African-American culture.
Of course, there is also many hair braiding shops. Is there anything more typical than an African American hairstyle?
Likewise, although less typical, you will find some urban clothing brands, a great place to do unimaginable bargains.
On weekends, it is usually very crowded, because, in addition to entertainment activities, some stalls organize raffles to win products.
18. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a Puerto Rican writer, book nut, and guardian of a broad assortment of Black writing, craftsmanship, and composing.
He moved to Harlem in 1891 and turned out to be essential for the Harlem Renaissance development.
In 1926, the 135th Street part of the NYPL bought his assortment and selected him as a caretaker. As Shoemaker of Harlem Heritage Tours expresses, “the Schomburg Center is the most careful and exceptionally regarded asset of data and memorabilia relating to individuals of Black and Latino plunge.” with regards to this honor, Langston Hughes’ remains rest underneath the floor of the Schomburg Center.
Best Time To Visit Harlem
Stressed over travelers running or shutting long periods of Harlem while arranging your excursion?
The best chance to visit Harlem would be the point at which you can totally absorb the experience and not stress over such problems.
The climate of Harlem is positive alongside the best exercises during this specific time in Harlem.
In the event that you are contemplating when to go to Harlem, come visit Harlem at its best time where you can make an important encounter without stressing over little issues.
Harlem is at its most fiery when the weather conditions are charming and local people and guests are getting a charge out of time outside. The ends of the week are the most energetic, both constantly.
During the pinnacle vacationer season, you might find that cafés, jazz clubs, galleries, and notable locales are a touch more swarmed than on work days.
Sunday is the most active day of the week in Harlem as local people are making the rounds, getting a charge out of early lunch, shopping, and for some, going to chapel.
FAQ Things To Do In Harlem
Following are some of the commonly asked questions on things to do in Harlem.
Is It Dangerous To Visit Harlem In New York?
Perhaps because of its past or history, there is a perception that Harlem is not safe to visit. It is true that in the past it was quite a troubled area.
The fact that the region’s population is historically Hispanic and African American has led to many racist conflicts. Today it is possible to find some glimpses of it, although the area has evolved a lot in recent years.
Although progress is evident, we recommend visiting Harlem during the day. Nightlife can be a bit different and although nothing is usually going on, you may experience some issues.
Generally, the answer is that Harlem is safe, although within the neighborhood, as is the case everywhere, there are more troubled areas.
What To Visit In Harlem In New York?
The great diversity of architectural styles and the various sites that have marked the history of New York has made this district an important tourist spot in Manhattan. Some major Harlem heritage sites were renovated to accommodate tourists.
This is particularly the case with the illustrious Apollo Theater, which now welcomes nearly one and a half million visitors each year. Harlem is even today an integral part of the circuit followed by tourist buses, and every Sunday morning, many visitors flock to the NYC neighborhood to attend a gospel mass in Harlem.
Harlem’s main street, 125th Street, has become a major thoroughfare in Manhattan, just as busy as the other major streets of New York. In this avenue, it is the whole of the history of Harlem that you will be able to discover.
It is in particular on this street that you will find the Apollo Theater, the Studio Museum, and many artists practicing Street Art.
Harlem, while not one of New York’s most touristy neighborhoods, offers tourists things you won’t find anywhere else in the city. The charm of Harlem is different from the rest.
Whether it is for the culture, the warmth of the people or the amount of things to do here, a visit of at least a morning is essential. There are plenty of guided tours in New York, but whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to experience this neighborhood up close.
Where To Eat In Harlem?
Harlem’s food scene is so diverse that you’ll find just about anything you’re looking to eat on the neighborhood’s wide avenues.
On Sundays, in addition to gospel masses, it is typical to eat the famous Harlem brunch with the family.
This type of brunch has become so popular in Harlem that many families come to eat it in its entirety after church services.
The demand for this new food in the region has led many restaurants to specialize solely in this area.
Try the traditional “soul food”. Most of the dishes come from the southern states of America (Louisina, Mississippi, etc.). This is a fairly dense food: fried chicken, sweet potatoes, beans, and more.
An interesting place where President Obama hosted one of his events is called the Red Rooster one of the soul food restaurants (on the corner of 126th Street and Lenox Avenue).
Reservations need to be made weeks in advance, but one day I was lucky and was seated at a table after only 15 minutes of waiting.
A few streets further on is the wonderful Sylvia’s restaurant with a very rich history and food for the soul.
Go to the Shrine at the corner of Adam Clayton Boulevard and 134th Street for some live music and a great atmosphere.
What is Harlem Best Known For?
Harlem is referred to globally as the Black Mecca of the world, yet the Harlem community has been home to many races and ethnic gatherings including the Dutch, Irish, German, Italian, and Jewish.
Harlem residents were initially settled by the Dutch in 1658, yet were generally farmland and lacking region for roughly 200 years.
In this significant area of New York thus socially rich, many spots can be visited, particularly to find the historical backdrop of gospel and jazz.
If you prefer walking around Harlem, this walking tour might be for you. It is organized on Sundays and is an excellent introduction to Harlem and gospel culture.
You will also visit gospel services at the cathedral church. You will end this tour with a delicious brunch at a local restaurant.
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