Harlem In New York: Things To Do And To See
Harlem is a neighborhood of Manhattan located north of Central Park between 96th and 155th Streets. Divided into 3 sectors, West Harlem, Central Harlem and East Harlem, this district was for a long time a very infrequent area of New York, and is still struggling today to break away from its bad reputation. However, thanks in particular to the efforts of the town hall, Harlem has undergone a real transformation and is today an attractive district in which tourists can spend a particularly pleasant time! If you don’t know what to do in New York and want to discover the emblematic district of Harlem, its history and its landmarks, follow the guide!
The History Of Harlem
Originally, Harlem was a small village founded in 1658 by Dutch Governor Pieter Stuyvesant. At that time, this place was called Nieuw Haarlem, in honor of the city of Haarlem, located in the Netherlands. The name Harlem was adopted a few years later, in 1664, when the British took control of New York.
Until the middle of the 19th century, Harlem remained a small rural town which housed large estates, and where some large landowners lived. At the time, Harlem and New York were connected primarily by the steamships that sailed the East River. It was not until 1831 that the first streetcar line was completed and made it possible to truly make a link with New York. During the second half of the 19th century, the district experienced a phase of very clear decline, and the large landowners left the area.
The Birth Of A New York Neighborhood
It was in 1873 that Harlem truly became one of New York’s boroughs. After this attachment, the population of the district increased rapidly, and from 1880, the arrival of the aerial metro further accelerated the urbanization of the district. At the end of the 19th century, real estate developers predicted that Harlem would become a very upscale neighborhood in New York, and many bourgeois houses were built. Over the years, Harlem has grown to include cultural venues like the Harlem Opera House, and green spaces like the gardens at Riverbank State Park.
Harlem: A Middle-class Neighborhood Turned Ghetto
In the 1890s, the abundance of property available on the real estate market and the delays in the arrival of the subway in Harlem caused a sharp drop in prices. As a result, many people from much lower social classes, including Italian and Irish migrants, were able to settle in Harlem. The district which was still a bourgeois place a few years ago, quickly became one of the poor districts of New York.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the discrimination present in the southern United States pushed many African-American families to join 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.
To better discover Harlem and its very rich history, you will have the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Harlem district 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 and is available from €46 per person.
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 Rebirth Of Harlem
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, rubbish littered the streets, and the neighborhood was rightly suffering from a disastrous image.
It was from the 1980s that major renovation projects were launched to bring the wealthiest classes back to Manhattan. For Harlem, the changes increased from the 2000s. Central Harlem and East Harlem were completely renovated, and ethnic diversity greatly increased. 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.
Is Harlem Considered A Dangerous Neighborhood?
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.
Shops are springing up again in the streets, and big brands like H&M, Banana Republic and Starbucks no longer hesitate to settle in the neighborhood. Harlem has even become a very popular tourist spot! In this emblematic district of New York and so culturally rich, many places can be visited, especially to discover the history of gospel and jazz . In fact, Harlem is where you’ll find some of New York’s best jazz clubs !
What To See And Do In Harlem?
Harlem is known around the world as a hotspot for African-American culture. It is also a district which benefits from a very important historical heritage. Many churches and cultural buildings today contribute to making Harlem a unique district! In total, more than 700 buildings in the district are classified as historical and architectural heritage.
The great diversity of architectural styles, and the various sites that have marked the history of New York have made this district an important tourist spot in Manhattan. Some major Harlem heritage sites were renovated to accommodate tourists. This is particularly the case of the illustrious Apollo Theater (which I will tell you about a little later), 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 neighborhood to attend a gospel mass in Harlem. If you visit the Harlem neighborhood do not miss not the main street, 125th Street, which has become a major thoroughfare in Manhattan, just as lively as the other main streets of New York! In this avenue, you can discover the whole history of Harlem: Apollo Theater, Studio Museum, and many artists practicing street art.
The Apollo Theater
Located at 253 W on 125th Street, this famous performance hall is a historic place 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, with the organization of events such as Amateur Night at the Apollo, where young talents are invited to perform on stage.
Amateur Night at the Apollo takes place every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and admission is available from $30 per person. Don’t hesitate to book in advance, I guarantee you will have a memorable time, whether you are with family, friends, couple or solo!
Go to the Apollo Theater:
- By subway via the A, B, C and D lines to the 125th Street station
- By bus via lines 2 and 3 to the 125 Street Lenox station
Harlem: Discover The Cotton Club
Another mythical place in this district, the Cotton Club is one of the most famous jazz clubs in New York! Created in 1920 by boxer Jack Johnson under the name Club Deluxe, this club 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.
Hours of operation :
- Monday, Thursday and Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight
- Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Go to the Cotton Club: by metro via line 1 to station 125 St
The Abyssinian Baptist Church
This church is probably the oldest and most renowned of all Baptist churches in the city. Founded in 1808 and located on 138th Street, the Abyssinian Baptist Church has today become the favorite place for people who wish to come and attend an authentic gospel mass.
Opening hours: daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Go to the Abyssinian Baptist Church:
- By subway via lines 2 and 3 or B and C to the 135th Street station
- By bus via lines 1, 5 and 99
The 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 on this musical genre which has received its letters of nobility in this district. You will obviously find many great jazz celebrities such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker.
Temporary exhibitions are organized to pay tribute to certain artists, and concerts also take place regularly on weekday evenings. Remember to find out in advance directly on the National Jazz Museum website about the events taking place to be able to attend.
Hours of operation :
- Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Go to the National Jazz Museum: by subway via lines 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 to the 125th Street station
The Studio Museum Harlem
Located at the corner of 5th Avenue and 125th Street, this fine arts museum founded in 1968 is today considered to be the very heart of the Harlem district. The collections presented pay homage to 19th and 20th century Afro-American art in all its forms. Many works by artists from Africa and the Caribbean are also exhibited there.
If you have the opportunity to discover the district of Harlem, I really advise you to go through this museum where you can learn a lot about African-American art and society but also participate in the promotion of the work of black artists. such as David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall or Julie Mehretu.
Opening hours: daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Strivers’ Row is a series of three rows of terraced houses built between 1891 and 1893 located in the western neighborhood of Harlem. Built by several renowned architects, these Italian Revival and Georgian townhouses are recognized today as some of the masterpieces of New York architecture.
Originally intended for the white bourgeoisie, these houses located on 138th Street were built back to back and share the same interior courtyard. The name Strivers’ Row comes from the fact that these houses at the time attracted “hard workers”. Henry Pace, a historical figure in the neighborhood and founder of Black Swan Records, notably lived in one of these houses. If you want to discover a part of the real Harlem, I advise you to take the time to pass by this charming street.
Go to Strivers’ Row: by subway via lines B, C to the 135th Street station
Harlem: Discover The Malcolm Shabazz Market
Last stop to discover in the Harlem district: the Malcolm Shabazz Market. The largest African market in New York City, you will find here all kinds of fabrics and objects of all kinds: sculptures, wooden objects, music, food, you will find everything and above all something to keep a nice memory of your visit to the Harlem district! Most of the stalls are run by immigrants from West African countries, so you will be guaranteed the authenticity of the products. This semi-covered market is a warm, colorful and authentic place where you can way to discover a real little corner of Africa!
Opening hours: every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Go to Malcolm Shabazz Market: by subway via lines 2 and 3 to the 116th Street station
Where To Eat In Harlem?
During your visit to Harlem, you can taste the Soul Food, the traditional African-American cuisine. Sylvia ‘s Restaurant on 126th Street is one of New York’s best places to experience Soul Food. For example, you can try cornbread, spicy pork ribs or fried chicken
The Red Rooster is owned by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. Located on Lenox Avenue, this restaurant has become one of Harlem’s most popular addresses. You can taste the Comfort Food, an American-inspired comfort food.