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What to Do in Harlem

February 5, 2014 - by City Guide
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People are drawn to Harlem's unique "flavor," rhythm, beauty, and its rich and colorful history. With a wealth of historic sites, cultural attractions, unique retailers, and diverse restaurants, Harlem is one of the top destinations in the city. Although it's best known for the Apollo Theater, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Sylvia's, the Cotton Club, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, just to name a few, there are other wonderful places to visit and things to do-and there's something for everyone.

The northernmost reaches of the city have enjoyed an economic renaissance as new apartment buildings are being built on long-vacant lots and brownstones are being renovated on nearly every block, and the area from East 96th Street (where Spanish Harlem meets the Upper East Side) all the way up to West 220th Street (where Inwood meets the Harlem River) is representative of that. Besides its housing renovation, the area is enjoying a commercial and cultural revitalization due in part to the work of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, which has earmarked million of dollars in funding for improvements to museums and other nonprofit arts organizations.

Enjoying some of the nation’s preeminent black cultural institutions is as easy as finding an uptown train. For neighborhood walking and bus tours, try Harlem Spirituals or Harlem Heritage Tours.

Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville and Sugar Hill feature some of the nation’s preeminent black cultural institutions including Harlem Stage, a performance space that hosts dance and musical performances. Founded in 1968, the National Black Theatre is both a cultural and an educational institution hosting events and workshops in and around Harlem.

A Puerto Rican enclave for most of the 20th century, Spanish Harlem has more recently been welcoming immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America.

Once a neighborhood of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Washington Heights has been a center of Dominican culture since the 1960s. To the north, Inwood was a neighborhood of Irish immigrants before it became a Dominican enclave as well. Hispanic Society of America is an unrivaled resource for research into the history and culture of Spain, Portugal and Latin America, showcasing books, manuscripts, paintings, ceramics and other treasures.

The city's largest outdoor festival, Harlem Week, takes place in late July and early August. It includes the all-day Uptown Saturday Nite music festival, a children's festival, Harlem Day, an annual car show, and Taste of Harlem dining specials.

DINING IN HARLEM: For a list of our favorite places to eat in Harlem, click here.


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