Complete Tour Guide About New York City, USA

The Harlem district is the birthplace of jazz. Located in Manhattan north of Central Park, Harlem is mostly occupied by a Latin and the African-American community. This neighborhood has long been considered a ghetto, and for years Harlem had a bad reputation. This negative image was due to the 80s and 90s when drug problems were frequent. But over time, Harlem has become an attractive district where tourists like to spend a little time. In this article, find all the essential information to visit Harlem: history, activities to do, the best restaurants in the area, and some practical information.

To read also: the districts of New York.

History of Harlem

The village of Harlem was founded in 1658 by Governor Pieter Stuyvesant, who gave him the name of Nieuw Haarlem about the Dutch city Haarlem. This area was renamed Harlem in 1664 when the English captured New Amsterdam. At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, this district of New York was marked by a countryside: large families owned land and Alexander Hamilton, a politician, also owned a large estate, now called Hamilton Heights.

In 1873 Harlem became part of New York City, and over time, new homes and large homes were built, and sports equipment was installed. Gardens also appeared.

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A few years later, many African Americans decided to settle in Harlem. The causes? The real estate crash between 1904 and 1905, the rise in rents in New York, or even racism. This new presence caused the Harlem revival, and African-American culture emerged in several fields: literature, painting, and music.

Today, Harlem is considered the birthplace of jazz, and its population has grown over the years. During your passage in this district, you will be able to discover several cultural places, churches, trade.

A specific provision

Although it is a separate district, Harlem is divided into three different sectors :

  • West Harlem, which stretches between Fifth Avenue and Saint Nicholas Avenue.
  • Central Harlem: bounded by Saint Nicholas Avenue to the west, Fifth Avenue to the east, 155th Street to the north, and 110th Street to the south.
  • East Harlem between the banks of the East River and Fifth Avenue.

Visit Harlem: what to do in Harlem?

Harlem is the must-see jazz and music district in general, but this district also concentrates on some interesting sites. Here is an overview of the main things to see and visit in this neighborhood.

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The Abyssinian Baptist Church

This Abyssinian baptist church is very well known. It was founded in 1808 by 16 African Americans. Today, this church attracts many tourists eager to discover the oaths of Calvin O. Butts, the church’s senior pastor since 1989.

The Strivers’ Row

Built between 1891 and 1893, the Strivers’ Row represented a series of terraced houses arranged in three rows. The houses were built back to back and share the same interior courtyard. During 1940, the majority of the places fell into ruins and were transformed into unique dwellings. Most of the interior decor has been lost, but the exterior has remained intact.

The Studio Museum Harlem

Visiting Harlem means visiting the Harlem Studio Museum! Considered the heart of the neighborhood, the Studio Museum Harlem is a fine art museum that exhibits African American works. In total, more than 1,600 pieces are on display.

Besides the exhibitions, the museum also hosts conferences and shows that attract both locals and tourists.

The museum is located: 429 W 127th St, New York, NY 10027.

The Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market

During your stay in Harlem, I advise you to take a little tour at Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, the largest African market in the city where you can find all kinds of products (clothes, objects, fabrics …).

It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and its address is 52 W 116th Street.

The Cotton Club

The Cotton Club was a legendary place for African American artists in the 20s – 40s. Today, the Cotton Club is still open to the public and welcomes many artists of very different genres.

The address is: 656 W 125th St, New York, NY 10027.

The Apollo Theater

Here is another very famous place in Harlem: the apollo Theater located at 253 W 125th Street. The decoration of this room is very traditional, and for more than 70 years now, this place has been a benchmark in jazz.

  • Today, this Theater organizes evenings whose aim is to bring on stage young talents still unknown. This evening is called “Amateur Night”.

Gospel music

The gospel masses are both a pleasure for the ears and the eyes. Religious songs of African-Americans, the principal instruments accompanying them are the organ, wind, and harmonium. Gospel songs are also accompanied by body movements.

Attending a gospel mass is an essential activity! However, do not forget that these masses are a moment of meditation and not a spectacle.

The jazz museum

If you like jazz or if you want to know more about this style of music, go to the jazz museum where you will see a complete collection (photos, documentaries, books…). Even if the place is small, it is rich in discoveries!

  • Concerts are sometimes held during the week. Do not hesitate to consult the museum calendar to find out more.

The address of the museum is the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 104 E. 126th Street, Harlem, New York, NY 10035.

Stroll on 125th Street

Visiting Harlem also involves exploring 125th Street. On this famous street, the whole history of the district is concentrated. You will find there the Studio Museum, the Apollo Theater, but also shops and restaurants. It is also on this street that you can discover street art.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Branch of the New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture brings together everything related to Black culture. You will find numerous documents on thinkers and artists. Sometimes exhibitions, conferences, and events are organized.

Where to eat in Harlem?

When you visit the Harlem district, I advise you to taste the African American food called “Soul Food”. On the menu? Sweet potatoes, fried chicken, beans … The restaurant Red Rooster Harlem at 310 Lenox Avenue is an establishment that will allow you to taste these famous dishes! But remember to book in advance!

If all tables are reserved, try Sylvia’s Restaurant located at 328 Malcolm X Blvd. This property offers African American cuisine. Here you will discover Soul Food!

Do you like burgers? Meet at Harlem Shake, a restaurant that offers a varied menu and will take you back to the 1940s and 1950s thanks to its retro decoration!

Where to go out?

One of Harlem’s must-see outings is that listen to gospel in a church. It’s a decisive moment!

Where is the Harlem district?

Harlem district is located north of Manhattan between the Hudson River, the East River, and the Harlem River. Here is a map to find it well:

You now know everything about the Harlem district. Now go and discover this district for yourself. You will not be disappointed! Good discovery!

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