Whether you’re a local or a tourist, there are plenty of things to do in Harlem
When you think of famous NYC neighborhoods, Harlem is likely one of the first that comes to mind. After all, it’s the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance that gave the world so much in terms of jazz music, African American art, and Black culture. However, don’t think that all Harlem has to offer is its past. This area is still a thriving and vibrant place, and the residents know that there are plenty of things to do in Harlem, NY.
Looking for some fun and interesting things to do when you come to Harlem? We’ve created a comprehensive list of the best places to visit in this area whether you live in apartments in Harlem, NY or you’re just stopping by for a visit. Read on to learn about everything from the best soul food restaurants to must-visit museums.
What are the neighborhoods in Harlem, NY?
Before exploring all the things to do in Harlem, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the different neighborhoods.
Central Harlem is where the Harlem Renaissance started, and it remains one of the most popular neighborhoods in Harlem. It lies between 110th Street and the Harlem River, and Fifth to St. Nicholas Avenues.
East Harlem is also known as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem because it’s home to one of NYC’s largest Hispanic communities. You can find it between 96th Street and the Harlem River, and Fifth Avenue and FDR Drive. Spanish Harlem is a great place to explore the Hispanic culture. El Museo del Barrio is also in this area and a great stop as you walk along the blvd.
West Harlem is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in NYC, and it’s found between 96th and 155th, and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard and the Hudson River. West Harlem contains neighborhoods like Hamilton Heights-Sugar Hill, Manhattanville, and Morningside Heights. West Harlem is a great place to explore African American culture and Harlem restaurants.
Our list of things to do in Harlem will include activities, museums, restaurants, and parks in all these areas.
1. Check out the amazing Harlem restaurants
If there’s one thing that Harlem is known for it is food, and specifically soul food. Both Harlem residents and visitors to NYC flock to iconic soul food eateries. Harlem restaurants are hard to beat with their eclectic menus. If you’re having a hard time choosing, we’ve provided some restaurants in Harlem that have the best soul food.
Founded in 1962 by “the Queen of Soul Food” Sylvia Wood, Sylvia’s Restaurant has been serving up favorites like Sylvia’s Down Home Fried Chicken and baked mac and cheese for decades. This soul food hotspot is also known for Live Music Wednesdays and Gospel Brunch Sundays. This is the best place to visit for happy hour bites and comfort food.
Another popular place to visit to get your soul food fix is Red Rooster Harlem. Like Sylvia’s, this restaurant is located on Malcolm X Boulevard. Under the direction of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, this eatery offers comfort foods that honor culinary traditions from the different immigrants in the neighborhood, including flavors from the African Diaspora.
However, the Harlem neighborhood offers more than just soul food. You can also find a wide variety of other cuisines when you visit the area’s many restaurants. Checking out Harlem’s Restaurant Row is the best way to visit multiple eateries. This area runs along Frederick Douglass Boulevard, also known as 8th Avenue in Manhattan, and it is home to renowned restaurants.
At Vinateria Restaurant, you can enjoy upscale Italian and Spanish cooking as well as wine and cocktail pairings in a chic and contemporary space. Another great option is Harlem Food Bar, which offers its diverse crowd amazing foods, specialty cocktails and outdoor seating. And if you’re looking for a bottomless mimosa brunch, you won’t want to miss checking out Lido Harlem.
2. Visit a museum or two to learn about the art, history, and culture of Harlem, NY
Once you’ve had a bite to eat and enjoyed a cocktail or a beer, you’ll be ready to take in the culture of this neighborhood. When you’re looking for things to do in Harlem, you’ll find that there are tons of museums and historic sites to explore.
If you love the arts, you’ll want to make your way to El Museo del Barrio, more commonly known as El Museo. Located on Fifth Avenue, El Museo is New York’s leading Latino cultural institution. As you walk through the museum, you’ll see wide-ranging collections and exhibitions filled with pieces from Latino, Caribbean, and Latin American artists. El Museo also celebrates Latino film, literature, performing arts, and culture.
To explore artwork from African American artists, you can visit The Studio Museum in Harlem. The collection at the museum spans 200 years of history and includes more than 2,500 works of art from more than 700 artists. Every piece in the space has been inspired and influenced by Black culture, encouraging visitors to think and exchange ideas about art and society. It provides insight into the effects of gentrification on the area and Black culture as a whole.
Art doesn’t always have to be showcased inside of a museum, and the Graffiti Hall of Fame proves that. Located in East Harlem on the playground of the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex, you can find nearly two dozen pieces. This international destination for the “Who’s Who in Graffiti” was gifted to graffiti artists over 30 years ago as a permanent place to display their work and hone their skills.
A visit to Harlem wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. The museum provides visitors with a look at the past, present, and future of jazz music by paying tribute to the most influential musicians in the genre. Many of these artists got their start in Harlem, including Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
3. Enjoy some live music to appreciate the vibe of Harlem
As the National Jazz Museum in Harlem suggests, this NYC neighborhood is famous for its contributions to jazz. Enjoying live jazz performances and other genres of live music is still one of the most popular things to do in Harlem today.
The Apollo Theater is arguably the biggest destination for live music and entertainment in Harlem. Located on the busy NYC thoroughfare of 125th Street, the Apollo has hosted thousands of entertainers, musicians, and comedians during its long history. Everyone from Aretha Franklin and B.B. King to Sinbad and Steve Harvey have entertained crowds at this iconic venue. The Apollo also doesn’t forget about the little guy, as it regularly hosts an Amateur Night.
In addition to the Apollo, Harlem is also home to many jazz lounges and small neighborhood bars that regularly offer live music. You can also stop by Sylvia’s restaurant to enjoy some tunes on Live Music Wednesdays.
4. Spend some time in the outdoors at one of Harlem’s parks
If you think that Central Park is the only place in NYC where you can enjoy some time outdoors, you haven’t visited the parks in Harlem. This large neighborhood has several amazing parks that attract both Harlem residents and visitors to the area.
Located on the border between Harlem and East Harlem, you can find Marcus Garvey Park. This park provides fun and relaxation for people of all ages. Children love playing on the park’s two playgrounds, which can accommodate children with disabilities, while everyone enjoys swimming in the park’s outdoor pool. On summer evenings, Marcus Garvey Park also offers plays and concerts in the park’s amphitheater.
Also close to this area is the Harlem Meer in the northeast corner of Central Park. The Harlem Meer is a beautiful, man-made lake that’s surrounded by a wealth of different trees. Visitors love to take a walking tour around the Meer, while local families enjoy catch-and-release fishing as well as skating and swimming at the Lasker Rink and Pool.
And while you’re enjoying the great outdoors in the summer, you’ll want to mark your calendar for Harlem Week. This week-long celebration occurs near the end of August, and it has been an annual event for nearly 50 years. Harlem Week offers something for everyone, including A Taste of Harlem, the Harlem Music Festival, family activities and so much more.
You’ll never run out of fun and interesting things to do in Harlem, NY
One of the best ways to enjoy everything that this neighborhood has to offer is to think about living in Harlem. As a resident of this thriving neighborhood, you’ll enjoy amazing art, music, history, culture, and food every day.
Want to find out more about living in Harlem? A coliving home in this thriving NYC neighborhood may be exactly what you’re looking for. If you want to be a short distance from Central Park, check out The Heritage by Common. Or, if you’d like to remain in the Harlem area but just a few minutes from the river, Common Clark might be the perfect fit for you. Regardless of which Harlem neighborhood you choose, you can enjoy city living for an attainable price by renting a private room in a beautiful, shared suite within a friendly home. Explore coliving homes in Harlem today.