Harlem Visitors Guide

New York – Historic Harlem

Harlem Visitors Guide

One of New York’s most interesting areas with grand 19th-century architecture, reminiscent of old New York. Plus Gospel choirs, soul food, and the Apollo Theatre. Visitors to Harlem often take guided tours, but the best way to see this still relatively un-touristy part of New York is on foot.


New York – Harlem – Historic District

There are many attractive tree-lined streets of elegant houses in Harlem which were built in the 1890s. Some of the best examples of early Harlem architecture is found in the St. Nicholas Historic District on 139th Street. Particularly elegant is Striver’s Row which is just across from the Abyssinian Baptist Church at 138th Street. At the turn of the century this was the place for ambitious professional black people to reside – hence the name ‘striver’ – someone who tries very hard to succeed.

There’s a lot to see in Harlem. Get yourself a map and wander around. There’s a delightful small oasis of green called Marcus Garvey Park and, in complete contrast, the huge, beautiful Cathedral Church of St. John Divine near the northern tip of Central Park, where Harlem begins.

In recent times thousands of Puerto Rican, African, West Indian, Cuban and Haitian immigrants have settled in Harlem and it is once again becoming a place for ‘strivers’. The signs are that it will succeed

The neighborhood of Harlem is located in northern Manhattan and is bordered by the Harlem and East Rivers. Back in 1658 this area was known as Nieuw Haarlem and was one of the most prosperous Dutch settlements in all of New York. Established by Peter Stuyvesant the colony of Nieuw Haarlem continued to grow until the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. Since then Harlem has undergone an influx of settlement, and by 1920 Harlem was the largest and most popular Black community in all of America. Today this neighborhood is safe and exciting, providing visitors with amazing music and culture. From soul food to post-presidential offices, Harlem has something for everyone so don’t miss the opportunity to check this area of Manhattan out for yourself in your New York City car rental!

New York – Harlem – Listen to a Gospel Choir

Sunday is a good day to visit Harlem. The streets are quiet and you move along much quicker than on a weekday. The Abyssian Baptist Church on 138th Street is famous for its Gospel choir and there is often a long queue of tourists waiting outside. But there are other churches where you don’t have to queue. At the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 151 West 128th Street. The singing is wonderful, it began with a rousing hymn sung by a diminutive woman with a big voice. Two organs played lustily – a really big sound. The church here is a joyful place.

New York – Harlem – The Apollo

Singing gospel was the first step for some of America’s greatest jazz and blues singers, the second was the Apollo Theatre. The Apollo began its long life as a Jewish theatre around 1914 and eventually became the place that launched the careers of stars like Miles Davies, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Michael Jackson (when he was a member of the Jackson Five) began their careers by winning an amateur night contest. Wednesday night is amateur night and the audience is still tough on those entertainers who they think are not good enough for the Apollo.

New York – Harlem – Soul Food

Another famous Harlem institution is Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant at 328 Lennox Avenue. Sylvia has been cooking her famous ‘smothered chicken’ and ‘bar-b-que beef ribs’ since the early 1960s. If these don’t take your fancy, there are pork chitterlings, stewed chicken with dumplings, black-eyed peas, candied yams, and much more.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was known as Harlem’s golden era when culture, art, and music flourished to new extremes in the area. Occurring between 1919 and 1929, the Harlem Renaissance included local writers like Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Dubois, and Zora Neale Hurston. Harlem also became the most influential Black community in the nation during this era, influencing jazz and soul music like no other neighborhood on the planet. Painters, poets, writers, and musicians thrived in Harlem during these early years, and still do today, so be sure to stop in at a local club during your New York City car rental trip to Harlem! The sultry jazz and blues beats are simply impossible to resist!

The Harlem of Today

Today the neighborhood of Harlem is well on its way to another generation of glory days as young families and business people are moving into beautifully restored brownstone and limestone houses in the area. Harlem is a must-see destination in your New York City car rental for a variety of reasons, including the neighborhood’s architectural vitality. The heart of Harlem is found on at Seventh Avenue and 125th Street. Here you’ll find the Apollo Theater, a local and national concert venue that has shot countless musicians straight to stardom including Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr., and Bessie Smith. The Apollo is also famous for its amateur music and comedy night, with past winners that include the Jackson Five, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. You’ll be able to catch a glimpse of some great cultural centers while driving through this area in your New York City car rental, so be on the lookout for the Studio Museum of Harlem, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The Riverbank State Park is also located in Harlem, creating a beautiful natural getaway for local residents and visitors alike. The park is full of great playgrounds and walking paths, but the two best features include a fully functional carousel and a breathtaking view of the Washington Bridge.

Harlem Gospel

Any day is a great day to visit Harlem in your New York City car rental. But if you’re looking to experience something extra special plan to visit the neighborhood on a Sunday. Gospel music fills the neighborhood as services take place inside Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Canaan Baptist Church, the Samuel Unite Methodist, and the Metropolitan Baptist Church. Attending one of these services in Harlem is truly a wonderful experience so please raise your voice and join in during your trip to NYC!

The Harlem community is a great addition to any Big Apple vacation thanks to a variety of great events and activities which take place in the area each year. Top Harlem festivals include the Urban Film Festival every August, and the Harlem Week/Harlem Jazz & Music Festival which is celebrated every summer. Harlem is a must-see neighborhood for all NYC visitors, so don’t forget to visit this Lower Manhattan jewel!