Manhattan Neighborhoods: Harlem

For decades, Harlem was a notorious neighborhood and NYC visitors avoided visiting the area. Harlem was known as a dangerous neighborhood, filled with crime, violence and poverty, and this image was supported by many films. However, since the 1990s, the neighborhood was renewed and renovated, and it is currently a safe and fashionable neighborhood filled with chic restaurants and cafes and many places of interest.

Things to Do in Harlem

Harlem Gospel Tour

Independent or organized tours in Harlem churches on Sunday are a popular (although controversial) tourist attraction in the neighborhood. Tourist organization such as Harlem one Stop and Harlem Spirituals will guide to the Sunday Mass at the local churches, where you will be listen to a charismatic priest’s sermon and to the gospel choir.

harlem gospel choir

image: Mate Toth/Flickr

Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater is one of the most famous music halls in the US, earned its place in history thanks to performances by African-American artists including Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and many others. The Apollo Theater is a registered historic building and you can join a guided tour to learn about its history, architecture and culture. Also, you can listen to new musicians and stand-up comedians at the weekly amateur night.

Studio Museum

The Studio Museum was founded in 1968 to exhibit African and African-American art and its influences. The museum’s permanent collection includes over 1,700 works of art in various media including painting, photography and installation. In addition to the changing exhibitions, there is the special project called Harlem Postcards, where artists are commissioned to turn the neighborhood landscape into a postcard size artwork.

Eating in Harlem

Harlem is mostly known for “soul food” restaurants, serving Southern dishes with West-African influences, but with its recent revival it became a home for high-end restaurants and quality espresso bars. For authentic soul food, visit Amy Ruth’s at 113 W 116th St. for Mac & Cheese, Waffles and fried chicken. The restaurant is packed during lunchtime and it is recommended to make reservation. Red Rooster is a styled chef-restaurant, opened by African-Sweden star chef Marcus Samuelsson, offering eclectic American food influenced by the chef origins. Reserving a table is mandatory and it is recommended to arrive on time. For Senegal-style cheap eats, visit Sokobolie on 2529 8th Ave and 135th and have flavor-rich, satisfying dishes and curries.

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