Things to Do in Harlem | A Self-Guided Tour
This is a self-guided tour and Harlem visitor’s guide intended to aid the visitor in discovering things to see in Harlem, places to eat, sleep, hear gospel music and finding his or her way around. The focus is on finding inexpensive ways to experience this great neighborhood, though it does provide an array of price ranges. Directly below a self-guided walking tour of Harlem. To skip to the other sections, simply click on the links below. This tour should take you just under 2 hours and the total walking distance is about 1.5 miles or 2.2 km. We also have a more detailed GPS-enabled tour of Harlem. If you are looking for a tour guide, do check out our daily guided, pay-what-you-like Harlem Walking Tour.
Where is Harlem?
Events in Harlem
Food and Entertainment
Be sure to check out our other free, self-guided New York tours as well as our Guide to New York on a Budget. If you are interested in a gospel experience in Harlem, then check our blog post on hearing gospel music in New York City.
This is an interactive map. You can expand or shrink it. Click the right-hand corner box to enlarge it.
(Stop A) – Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (map)
Here is where we start our self-guided Harlem walking tour. Opened and financed by New York City leaders, Arturo Schomburg and Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Hall) in 1905, this Center features a main exhibition hall; smaller lecture rooms; and a center designated as one of the City’s foremost public libraries. Once upon a time, there stood a huge mansion in a ‘townhouse style’ in the block where Schomburg Center, currently, stands. The mansion belonged to Madam C.J. Walker, first female self-made millionaire; inventor of the straightening comb; developer of pomades, cosmetics, and hairdressing for African-American hair care. Click here for more information.
(Stop B) – Abyssinian Baptist Church 132 W 138th Street (map)
Founded in 1808, considered a ‘mega-church’; once lead by Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., one of America’s first civil rights activist. Abyssinian is a popular place for visitors to take in a gospel service. Also, check our blog post on hearing gospel music in New York City.
(Stop C) – Strivers’ Row 138th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Avenue)
A ‘three-row’ radius of ‘townhouses, which are better known as ‘brownstone-homes.’ If you never thought Harlem living could be spacious and luxurious, think again. Some of the key players in the Harlem Renaissance and civil rights movement lived in upscale homes within the Strivers’ Row.
(Stop D)- Harlem Walk of Fame 135th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. and Frederick Douglass Blvd. (map)
Fitting to have a walk of fame on a self-guided Harlem walking tour. On the north side of the street, you will see embedded in the sidewalk about six or so diamond-shaped plaques with famous Harlem residents such as singer Ella Fitzgerald, activist Malcolm X, author James Baldwin, and others.
(Stop E) – New York Police Department 32nd Precinct 250 West 135th Street, (mid-block between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Blvds.)
This location has been the home of one of New York City’s oldest police precincts dating back to the colonial days of 1664. The current building was built in 1937. Be sure to look at the plaque at the top of the building, where you will see a British politician and a Native American Indian.
(Stop F) – Former location of Small’s Paradise, 2294 ½ Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. at 135th Street
One of the most popular nightspots during the Harlem Renaissance and the Roaring Twenties, because of Ed Smalls, owner, and operator knew how to cater to both white and black audiences with cabaret, blues, and jazz musical performances. Today, this spots hosts a restaurant from the chain International House of Pancakes.
(Stop G) – Harlem YMCA 180 W 135th St
Young Mens’ Christian Association has been a ‘life-saver” for many young men who were ‘new’ to New York City Malcolm X stayed at the 135th Street location after moving to Harlem from Omaha, Nebraska in the 1950’s. He would later become Malcolm X, a cherished religious and Civil Rights leader and activist.
(Stop H) – Doug E’s Restaurant – 2245 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd,/corner of 132nd Street (map)
Unfortunately, Doe E’s Restaurant has closed. However, we have left it as a stop for those who would like to know where it is, since it lies along the path of this self-guided tour.
Want Chicken N Waffles? Want Fish N Waffles? Well, come and get ‘em. Doug E. Fresh, o, ner and operator, is better known as the original ‘beatbox’ of the 1980’s and 1990’s. He used to have hit rap records. Now, he has chicken and waffles. You can see one of our groups standing in front of the legendary rapper’s establishment sometime in summer 2013. Check out our article on finding soul food in Harlem.
(Stop I) Shiloh Baptist Church – 2226 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd (corner of 131st Street) (map)
This church is a smaller church with a really big heart for gospel music and soul-stirring sermons. Visit this church on a Sunday morning at 10:30 am for the Gospel Inspirational service.
(Stop J) – Triangle of great soul food restaurants
A triangle of great soul food, you have three fabulous restaurants where one can delight in a good bite or two, all within less than half a block from each other.
- Sylvia’s House of Soul Food 328 Malcolm X Blvd between 126th and 127th Streets
Decades oid abd world fanmous, Harlem would not be the same without this restaurant. To learn the history of this iconic Harlem restauant, click here.
- Corner Social Restaurant 321 Malcolm X Blvd at corner of 126th
A newcomer to the Harlem restaurant scene, it’s sure to become a favorite ‘social corner’ in Harlem.
- Red Rooster Restaurant 310 Lenox Avenue between Malcolm X Blvd between 126th
A mix of traditional American food and diverse culinary appeals to the “New Harlem” scene
Click here for more information on getting soul food in Harlem.
(Stop K) – William Clinton Foundation 55 West 125th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues
Founded in 2001, originally established in Harlem, former President Clinton influenced a real-estate ‘sky-rocket’ when he established this office. The general thought was if Clinton could work in Harlem, then Harlem was for everyone.
(Stop L) – Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building 163 West 125th Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.’s Statue
Named for America’s first Congressman of African-American descent built-in 1972; at the corner of 125th Street.
(Stop M) – Hotel Theresa Corner of 125th Street/Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.
Harlem’s first luxury hotel. Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed there during his visit to New York City; Fidel Castro stayed there during his visit to New York City.
(Stop N) – Apollo Theater – (253 West 125th Street) (map)
World-famous music hall, opened in 1914 originally, later re-named, Apollo Theater. Amateur Night has been hosted for several years on Wednesday nights at 7:30 pm. BE GOOD OR BE GONE! Read more about the Apollo Theater here.
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Harlem received its name from the Dutch. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, Harlem is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Harlem was largely farmland and belonged to the descents of Dutch, French and English settlers during the seventh and eighteenth centuries. African Americans migrated to Harlem around the 1900’s during the Great Migration.
The Harlem Renaissance
Harlem is probably known best for its cultural heyday period from 1919 to the 1930’s. The Harlem Renaissance was a defining period for African Americans who many migrated from the South fleeing Jim Crow Laws. During this period Harlem was a cultural center for writers, activists, artists, musicians, poets and intellectuals looking for a place to freely express their voices and talents. Harlem discovered such celebrated writers as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and James Weldon Johnson.
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HOW TO GET TO HARLEMHarlem stretches across the Manhattan river to the East/Harlem River above Central Park. There’s East Harlem (Spanish Harlem, or “El Barrio”), which occupies 5th Avenue to the East/Harlem River, and West Harlem, which includes the neighborhoods of Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights. Many of Harlem’s most sought after sights are within walking distance of 125th street and Lennox Ave. We recommend using this Google map for directions to the center of Harlem.
TIP: If you are considering using a New York bus tour company to get around NYC, keep in mind that several of the hop-on, hop-off buses have stops in or at the border of Harlem. Be sure to read our post comparing the different New York bus companies.
Many subway lines pass through the neighborhood. The (A, C, and 1) go up the West Side to Manhattanville, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, Inwood and Fort Tryon Park. The (2 and 3) go up Lenox Ave more or less in the center, and the (4, 5, 6) on the East Side. The (B and D) go up 8th Ave and St. Nicholas Ave along with the (A and C) as far as 155 St, then go under the Harlem River to Yankee Stadium and other stops in the Bronx. The A and D and the 4 and 5 are fast express trains during the day, as the A and D whiz passengers from 59 St directly to 125 St, while the 4 and 5 go from 86 St to 125 St in one stop.
By commuter train:
Metro-North Railroad has a station at 125th St and Park Ave with easy connections to and from the Hudson Valley and Connecticut. See the By train section on the main New York City page for more info.
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Famous Things to See in Harlem
The Apollo Theater 253 West 125th St (map)
The world-famous Apollo Theater has been a staple in the Harlem community and has featured performance giants for generations, such as swing era greats – Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie to soul singers- Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Gospel Acts-Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson and the Clark Sisters. Even young comics like Richard Prayer and Redd Foxx got their start at the Apollo. It was also the home of Showtime at the Apollo, a nationally syndicated television variety show which showcased new talent from 1987 to 2008.
Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem 328 Malcolm X Blvd
Looking for a great place to eat in Harlem? A popular yet affordable place that’s rich in culture and history? Why not head up to Sylvia’s Restaurant in the heart of where the Harlem Renaissance took place. Sylvia’s is simply a must have to really experience the Harlem culture and is surprisingly reasonably priced for the entire family. Check out our blog post on soul food in Harlem and consider both our Harlem Walking Tour as well as our Harlem Food Tour. Find out more things to see with our self-guided Harlem tour.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 515 Malcolm X Boulevard
The Schomberg is widely known and recognized for his vast collection on the history of black life.
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Events in Harlem
- National Jazz Museum 104 East 126th St. Suite 2D. New York, NY 10035
Committed to keeping jazz alive.
- Harlem Week Annually Last week in July – Last week in August
Offers over 100 events, music, cultural films, sports and kids’ activities
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Churches in Harlem – Gospel Music
Coming out of the African American religious experience, gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music has remained close to its roots and the best place to hear the soul-stirring music is in African American churches.
We recommend that you read our post on how to experience gospel music in New York without a costly tour. This article is full of helpful tips to prepare you for a church service as well as providing alternative options.
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GOSPEL CHURCHES IN HARLEM
- Abyssinian Baptist Church – 420 W 145th Street between Convent and St. Nicholas Avenues (212) 234-6767. Sunday services at 9 am and 11 am. The congregation welcomes those who would like to worship with them. They discourage visitors who are only looking for Gospel performance.
- Greater Refuge Temple – 2081 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. at 124th Street (212) 866-1700. Sunday services are at 11 am, 4 pm, and 7:30 pm.
- Mount Neboh Baptist Church – 1883 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. between West 114th West 115 Streets. Streets. (212) 866-7880. Sunday services are at 8 am and 11 am.
- Canaan Baptist Church – 132 W. 116th Street between Lenox & 7th Aves. (212) 866-0301. Sunday services are at 8 am and 11 am. Sunday service at 10 am (during the summer).
- First Corinthian Baptist Church – 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. between West 115th and West 116th Streets (212) 864-5976. Sunday services are at 8 am and 11 am.
- Bethel Gospel Assembly – 2-26 East 120th Street, between 5th and Madison Avenues, (212) 860-1510. Sunday Services: 8:00 am and 11:30 am. *Please be advised to double check times yourself.
To learn more about Harlem and visit many of its main attractions, join us for our free Harlem Walking Tour. Be sure to reserve a spot now!
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SIGHTSEEING TOURS OF HARLEM
The 21st century Harlem is birthing once again rising stars with new shops and businesses opening weekly. There is a perfect blend of urban culture mixed with a new diverse energy and community. Gorgeous 19th-century brownstones are being restored and are a must see. Be sure to read our Guide to NYC on a budget for more money saving ways to go sightseeing in New York City.
- Gospel Tours of Harlem – be sure to read our post on experiencing gospel music in New York for free first. However, if you would like a guided tour of some of Harlem’s famous gospel churches and services, there are several ways to do this.
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Harlem does not have the same number of hotels and other accommodations that are found in other parts of New York, but finding a bargain is very possible. We have listed a few places below that are either in Harlem or nearby. You may also want to check out our Guide to New York on a Budget for more tips on saving money on accommodations in the Big Apple.
- Aloft Harlem ($$$) – This urban chic hotel looks like something you might see Downtown. Overall very good reviews on TripAdvisor.
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Restaurants and Eating in Harlem
Cheap Restaurants ($7-15)
Sam’s Famous Pizzeria (East Harlem)
150 East 115th St. New York, NY 10029
Huge pizza slices for only $2. Sam’s is one of the oldest stables in the neighborhood.
Famous Fish Market (take out only)
684 Saint Nicholas Ave. New York, NY 10030
Fried fish and shrimp so good that the line is often outside the door.
Make My Cake (two locations)
121 St Nicholas Ave New York, NY 10026
2380 Adam Clayton Powell New York, NY 10030
This former home-based family business offers a tasty answer to any sweet tooth. With such yummy delights as cookies, cakes, cupcakes and pies. Be sure to check out there “Sweet Brand” of mugs, t-shirts and hats.
Mid Level Restaurants (-$22)
Yatenga Restaurant and Bar
2269 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. New York, NY 10030
Yatenga is located in the heart of Harlem and has a very rustic look with matched chairs and festive statues for sale. The mac and cheese is a huge favorite!
Be sure to check out the Shrine, a music venue, (same owners) located right next store. There is no cover, the music is great usually African, Caribbean, Hip Hop and they even have live bands. Be sure to check the Shrine’s website for the musical performance schedule.
Seasoned Vegan Restaurant
55 St Nicholas Ave. New York, NY 10026
Operated by a mother and son team who believe in making food with tender love and care. The restaurant is organic and 100% vegan soul food. Check out the Nori roll with walnut meat.
300 West 114th St. New York, NY 10026
This attractive establishment stands out with its charming church pews sitting out front. This is one of the smaller restaurants in Harlem and seating maybe a bit limited. Check out the Southern Fried Chicken & Eggnog Waffles featured on the Food Network. Bonus: Tuesday is live music night!
2210 Eighth Ave. New York, NY 10026
Notable drinks-Booty Call Martini, the Harlem Shuffle
Mon-Tue, 5pm-9pm; $3.50 beer, $5 wine and cocktails
Wed-Sun, 3pm-9pm; $3.50 beer, $5 wine and cocktails
Shrine Music Venue
Shrine, a music venue, same owners as Yatenga restaurant, located right next store. There is no cover; the music is great usually African, Caribbean, Hip Hop and they even have live bands. Be sure to check the Shrine’s website for the musical performance schedule.
German Bar Food
2099 Frederick Douglas Blvd
Happy Hour Mon – Fri 4 – 6 p.m., Sat & Sun from 4 – 5 p.m.
Cash only (ATM on premises). Outdoor seating
Harlem’s first beer garden. Serving international and domestic beers: 18 on tap, more than 30 by the bottle. All are paired with international dishes.
Soul Food American
310 Lenox Ave. Harlem, NY 10027
Red Rooster was named after the former legendary Harlem speakeasy of the Harlem Renaissance era. Fried chicken is a must have. Home to award-winning chef and cookbook author Marcus Samulsson (2010 Top Chef Masters Season 2 and guest chef for the first State Dinner of the Obama administration)
Be sure to make reservations (if on a time schedule)
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Shopping in Harlem
Harlem Haberdashery Boutique
Future forward edgy urban unique style
245 Lenox Ave New York 10027
Harlem Underground Retail store
20 E. 125th Street New York, NY 10029
Vibrant cool shirts and jackets often with Harlem’s name stylish centered on the clothing.
Now with National Chain Retailers is the main shopping area in Harlem.
Flame Keepers Hat Club
273 West 121 St New York, NY 10027
Classic stylish men’s hats from Ecuador and Columbia. The 700-foot square store is brimming with hats and a great new addition to the Harlem community.
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