This uptown New York City neighborhood caught the public’s attention in the 1920s with the Harlem Renaissance—an explosion of African-American art, literature, and music. Though it has been subject to gentrification, the district remains a cultural powerhouse with jazz clubs, theaters, and soul food restaurants tucked away among old brownstones.
Many tourists in New York City find themselves strolling the streets of Harlem. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (125th Street), Harlem’s main thoroughfare, holds many of the area’s top attractions including the Apollo Theater and the Studio Museum in Harlem. But to really get to know this part of Upper Manhattan, explore in the company of a tour guide. Walking tours focus on different aspects of its musical heritage—think hip-hop, Harlem gospel, and jazz—as well as Harlem’s history.
Other Harlem tours revolve around food, movie and TV filming locations, and the district’s swing-dance scene. Many tours make stops at notable religious structures, including the as-yet-unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the lively Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the Rockefeller-built Riverside Church.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Harlem is a must-visit for fans of African-American culture.
- Wear comfortable shoes and expect to do quite a lot of walking, as Harlem covers a relatively large section of Upper Manhattan.
- Curb ramps are commonplace, making much of Harlem accessible to wheelchair users.
How to Get There
Harlem is located in Upper Manhattan. The New York City neighborhood begins at the northern boundary of Central Park between Fifth Avenue and Manhattan Avenue. Harlem’s east-west boundaries widen as you travel north, eventually extending from the Harlem River all the way to the Hudson River. To get to the heart of Harlem, ride the A, B, D, 2, or 3 train to 125th Street.
When to Get There
Harlem is fun to explore at any time, though the subway trip is probably best avoided during the crowded morning and evening rush hours. On Sundays, you can hear the strains of gospel music emerging from the neighborhood’s many places of worship. Friday and Saturday evenings are best for nightlife.
Key Historic Sights in Harlem
For a glimpse into the Harlem of old, head for Strivers’ Row, also known as St. Nicholas Historic District. Situated on West 138th and 139th Streets between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards, this row of elegant 19th-century townhouses has been home to countless historic figures including Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake. Harlem also boasts what is arguably New York’s most glorious cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine—an immense stone construction blending Romanesque, Gothic, and neo-Gothic elements.