What To See In Harlem: The Best Sights and Attractions

This post is also available in: French

Welcome home to Harlem! Home- evocation of an immediate sense of peace and belonging; which is exactly the feeling you have when stepping foot here. As you likely know, Harlem is a comeback tale of the ages, which has resulted in a surge in visitors in recent years. This tale, coupled with all the exciting and meaningful adventures to be had, is the inspiration for this post. Now let’s get right into what to see in Harlem!

 1- The Churches & a Gospel Mass

Abyssinian Baptist Church, Harlem Spirituals
Photo: Fotolia

Harlem’s foundation is built upon spirituality and faith, and thus, Gospel music. It could also be said, that oftentimes, possession of deep spirituality and faith in people’s lives is the result of enduring immense struggle. Thus, the presence of over 400 churches across Harlem, undeniably highlight the feats conquered by residents of then and now.

Among the most famous churches in Harlem is the Abyssinian Baptist Church featured above, which is famed for being the first African-American church in the New York state. It’s 208-year history is peppered with as many trials and tribulations as the city itself. Another stand-out place we’d recommend to visit is St John the Divine. This cathedral’s architecture is so visually striking, it literally radiates countless lessons and stories of the human experience.

Photo: Harlem Spirituals

We could not talk about Harlem without talking about Gospel. The gospel music that engulfs this neighborhood is incredibly powerful. And churches in Harlem might be the best places in NYC, and maybe the entire world, to attend a Gospel service. If you are looking for an authentic and stress-free Gospel experience, join our Harlem Gospel Tours for an unmatched immersion.

If you would like to know more about Gospel, make sure you also check our related articles:
A History of Gospel
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Gospel In Harlem

2- The Jazz Clubs

Apollo Theater, Harlem Spirituals

While Harlem is home to many iconic jazz clubs, landmarks, and outstanding night spots, the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club are the most well-known. These spots have been home to countless music and dance legends, like Lena Horne, Diana Ross, and Billie Holiday, just to name a few. The Apollo Theater is a vital thread woven within the endlessly-talented tapestry of Harlem’s history. There is never a shortage of excitement or raw talent amidst these walls that hold special events, performances and tributes throughout the year. The Cotton Club, as it sits today, has been operating as a quintessential Harlem destination for gospel, jazz music and dancing since the 1970’s, and the scene here is incomparable.

3- The Monuments & The Landmarks

Harlem landmarks and monuments are essential to an authentic Harlem visit. Among the most notorious ones are the Harriet Tubman Memorial- the emblematic abolitionist and humanitarian (who’ll soon be the new face of the $20 bill); and the General Grant National Memorial- General Grant was the 18th President of the United States and a prominent figure of the American Civil War.

Hamilton Grange, Harlem Spirituals
Photo: Hamilton Grange, Mike/Flickr

One of our favorite landmarks though remains the Hamilton Grange. The story of Alexander Hamilton is quite fascinating- he was one of the founding fathers of the USA and George Washington’s right-arm. The historic home itself is beautiful and has been moved twice in its lifetime of over 2 centuries. In 2011, it was relocated for the 2nd time to St. Nicholas Park, which is actually part of its original 32 acre parcel. Don’t skip this one, the story and historical significance are unmatched and unforgettable.

Sylvan Terrace, Harlem Spirituals
Photo: Sylvan Terrace, Fotolia

Not exactly in Harlem, but only a few block uptown in Washington Heights is the Morris-Jumel Mansion, another well-liked landmark. It holds the title as the oldest home in Manhattan. The land surrounding this home eventually gave birth to Sylvan Terrace; complete with classic cobblestone streets and row homes. Its beauty presents like a piece of art inside a shadowbox…preserved behind invisible glass and unscathed by decades gone by.

Harlem is also home to beautiful monuments honoring prominent historical figures. While visiting Harlem, make sure you don’t miss these 5 must-see Harlem monuments.

4- The Museums & Art Galleries

Your visit couldn’t be complete without a few cultural and artistic stops. Here are few of the must-see treasure troves in Harlem:

museum-of-the-city-of-new-york, harlem spirituals
(Museum of the City of New York, Copyright NYC & Company, Photo: Marley White)

The Museum of the City of New York has been hosts a considerable collection of priceless artefacts…in the 750,000 range, for over 80 years running!
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is an invaluable repository consisting of rare artwork, books, and reference material to name a few.
The Studio Museum of Harlem formed as a philanthropic mission in the 1960’s which was rooted in sharing and learning. Still a highly relevant and influential non-profit museum today, it is home to over 2,000 pieces of art.
The Jazz Museum in Harlem is the youngest of the museums listed herein. It is however one-of-a-kind, and its aim to provide “an immersive jazz experience” for its visitors, is fantastically executed.

5- The Streets

harlem street, harlem spirituals
Photo: Fotolia

Historically significant locales and idolized figures are represented all-around Harlem. But it is the streets themselves that seem to whisper between the lines of Harlem’s remarkable story…if we really listen. The pavement, homes, and clubs, that have come, gone, and come again, imprint Harlem in our hearts and minds forever. In our opinion, the following three streets are the ones better representing quintessential Harlem.

125th Street is Harlem’s current arts and cultural epicenter. Serving as home to the Apollo Theater, Studio Museum, Harlem Children’s Zone, several landmark Harlem churches, and revitalized shopping and dining, it’s a must-see and a natural stop along our Harlem Gospel and Jazz Tours.

Lenox Ave/Malcolm X Boulevard definitely tugs the heartstrings, as this area inspired several song lyrics, movie references, poetry. It was also formerly home to the world-famous Savoy Ballroom, birthplace of the Lindy Hop. Oh, and yes…we also stop here on our  Soul Food and Jazz tour to savor the world-renowned soul food at Sylvia’s Restaurant.

We hope you enjoyed reading this guide and that it will help you confidently plan for a great day in Harlem…or more. It takes time to discover the real essence of Harlem and we believe one of the best way to do so is to join a guided tour to get a first approach. Then come back to further explore on your own!

Join our Harlem guided visits to see most of the monuments, locales, and landmarks mentioned in this article:
Harlem Gospel Tour on Wednesday (with optional lunch)
or on Sunday (with optional brunch)
Walking Tour of Harlem with Gospel Concert (on Wednesday)
Soul Food & Jazz Evening Tour of Harlem

VIP Harlem Tour
VIP Sunday Gospel & Jazz
Uptown & Harlem Food tour

And don’t forget to click here check the rest of our blog for more insight into the exciting life of Harlem!

Have you ever visited Harlem and would like to share your experience or something we might have missed in our guide? Please do so in the comments below. We are also here to assist you if you need any help planning and booking for your Harlem visit.

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