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    What to see in Harlem? Itinerary among the attractions of the African American district of New York

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    Martí Micolau

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    In the north of Manhattan is the Harlem neighborhood, where history, street art, musical inspiration and an animated religiosity have met and coexisted for decades. There are many reasons of interest: come on museums celebrating the Spanish-American community ai murals along the streets where the African American community has struggled to assert their identity and culture, come on theaters where Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson and Louis Armstrong played at churches where every Sunday the most musical and powerful gospel voices in New York rise. 

    In this article I will give you some tips on how to organize a Harlem itinerary, trying to show you the places of cultural, popular and gastronomic interest that can make you an experience as authentic as possible in this New York neighborhood.


    • Harlem: where it is and how to get there
    • What to see in Harlem: recommended itinerary
      • The apollo theater
      • The Studio Museum
      • Malcom Shabazz Harlem Market
      • The Museum of the Neighborhood
      • Strivers’ Row
    • Is Harlem Dangerous?
    • Attend a gospel mass in Harlem
    • Where to eat in Harlem: soul food in New York
    • Where to sleep in Harlem?

    Harlem: where it is and how to get there

    The Harlem district is located north of Central Park, in the area known as Upper Manhattan, and more precisely between 155th Street in the north and 96th Street and 110th Street in the south. The area is accessible by subway and is well connected to Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

     The heart of Harlem is on the 125th Street so I suggest you take the metro (line A, B, C or D) and get off at the stop called '125th Street'. From the subway station just take a few steps and you will arrive at one of the most symbolic places in Harlem: theApollo theater. Also on 125th Street you will find it Studio Museum and within easy walking distance of two of Harlem's most famous restaurants: the Red rooster e Sylvia’s.

    What to see in Harlem: recommended itinerary

    Here are some tips on how visit Harlem with info and suggestions on the most significant attractions in the neighborhood.

    Other attractions in the area? If you have some time before immersing yourself in the neighborhood you can also reach the famous and prestigious one Columbia University (116th Street / Broadway) e l’impressionante St. John the Divine Cathedral (1047 Amsterdam Ave) in neo-Gothic style. You may not have known that, but it is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Both are located on the outskirts of Harlem, to the west, between the center of the district and the Hudson River.

    The apollo theater

    Harlem landmark, theApollo theater is located at 253 West of 125th Street. The theater opened in 1914 under the name Hurtig & Seamon's New Burlesque Theater, but it was in 1934 that it took the name of Apollo Theater, later becoming one of the most representative artistic centers of the black cultural movement called Harlem Renaissance. From a theater for burlesque performances open only to whites, it became a stage and springboard for black artists in search of fame: Ella Fitzgerald made his debut here in 1934 at the age of 17 during one of the Amateur Nights that still make this place famous today, while Jimi Hendrix won first prize in a competition for amateur musicians in 1964.

    In addition to the already mentioned, Billie Holiday, James Brown & The Famous Flames, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill are just some of the names of artists who began their careers performing at the Apollo Theater. I would say that a photo under the red sign of the theater is essential!

    The Studio Museum

    the historian Studio Museum is located at 144 West 125th Street, but is closed at the moment (December 2018) and a new museum will open soon. The museum's objective is to enhance the contemporary art works by African American artists and to support the work of emerging artists.

    Despite the closure of the museum galleries, the activity continues and temporary exhibitions can be admired at the Studio Museum 127 at 429 West of 127th Street from Thursday to Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00.

    Malcom Shabazz Harlem Market

    Going south, not far from the 116th Street subway stop for red lines 2 and 3, you will find the Malcom Shabazz Harlem Market. It was in this very area that he gave his fervent speeches Malcom X, a key figure in the struggle for civil rights of African Americans. Strolling through this market you will find African-American-style items, clothing and crafts. The market is open from 10am to 00pm by entering 20 West 00th Street.

    The Museum of the Neighborhood

    If I say Harlem, the first thought goes to the black community that has inhabited this neighborhood for decades. But actually East Harlem it hosts a large Latin American community, which over the years has become increasingly popular. The Barrio Museum, at 1230 5th Avenue (therefore farther from downtown Harlem, along the Museum Mile) collects works of art and organizes exhibitions, performances, educational programs and events to enhance Latin American and in particular Caribbean culture.

    The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 11:00 to 18:00 and Sunday from 12:00 to 17:00. Admission costs $ 9 for adults and $ 5 for students and seniors. Children under 12 enter for free.

    Strivers’ Row

    The northern part of Harlem, although a little less known to tourists, is very elegant and worth a stroll. By subway, you can get off at 135th Street near Saint Nicholas Park and City College of New York. You are in historic district of Saint Nicholas, commonly known as Strivers’ Row. Between 138th and 139th Streets, the red and gray brick buildings built between 1891 and 1893 are among the most important examples of XNUMXth century New York urban architecture - a godsend for photography lovers traveling to Manhattan.

    Is Harlem Dangerous?

    Formerly known for its high crime rate, Harlem is no more dangerous today than other areas of New York and certainly deserves to be visited. Obviously, to visit it safely, it is better not to venture into the less touristy areas alone when it gets dark, but this recommendation is always valid. I recommend that you visit it on a Sunday (or Wednesday) so that you can join one gospel mass celebrated in one of the many churches in the neighborhood. And by the way… here are some tips.

    Attend a gospel mass in Harlem

    You're in the black neighborhood of New York… like giving up one gospel mass?

    Among the most famous churches in which to go to see and above all hear a real sung mass is the Abyssinian Baptist Church at 132 Odell Clark Place. It is located in the north of Harlem and is among the churches that attract the most tourists on Sundays, in addition to the Baptist believers who regularly attend the parish. The church could therefore be quite crowded and it is likely that you will have to arrive well in advance to find a place. Other popular and generally less touristy places where you can attend a gospel service are there Bethel Gospel Assembly, la Canaan Baptist Church, il Greater Refuge Temple and First Corinthian Baptist Church.

    Gospel Mass with Harlem tour

    It is important to remember that you are attending a religious service and therefore it is essential to be respectful, dress appropriately even if it is summer, do not leave before the end of the mass (sometimes even two or three hours!) and possibly do not take pictures or videos. All this will help you to truly enter the captivating and extraordinary atmosphere of this unique and unforgettable experience. To learn more, read our in-depth study on Harlem Gospel Masses.

    Where to eat in Harlem: soul food in New York

    What better place to taste the American soul cuisine if not Harlem? We recommend two of the most famous restaurants in the neighborhood, but the choice in the neighborhood is certainly not lacking if you want to taste fried chicken, grilled ribs, grilled prawns and breaded catfish.

    • Il Red Rooster Restaurant of Harlem is located at 310 Lenox Avenue, off the famous 125th Street. It is one of the restaurants in the chain opened by renowned chef Marcus Samuelson. In addition to the offer of a typical cuisine, this place is famous for the live music that entertains diners every evening. You can stop for brunch on the weekend from 10am to 00pm, for lunch Monday to Friday from 15am to 00pm, or for dinner from 11pm to 30pm during the week. On Fridays and Saturdays you can eat until 15pm.
    • Not far away is another iconic Harlem restaurant: located at 328 Malcolm X Boulevard, the Sylvia’s Restaurant The Queen of Soul Food boasts of serving authentic soul food since 1962 and also in this case the musical accompaniment is not lacking: Gospel brunch on Sundays and live music every Wednesday.
    • If you don't like crowded places, you can try too Harlem Shake (373 Malcolm X Blvd).

    Where to sleep in Harlem?

    If once anyone would have advised you not to look for a hotel in these parts, today it can be said without fear of being proven wrong that sleeping in these parts during a holiday in Manhattan is a solution to be seriously considered! For specific advice on Harlem, I refer you to our in-depth analysis on the various neighborhoods where to find accommodation in the city of New York. 

    Advice on where to sleep in Harlem

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