Decades of African-American history have made Harlem one of America’s most famous neighborhoods. It’s also an essential destination for visitors to New York, offering art, architecture, restaurants, shopping and more.
Attendance at Harlem’s Studio Museum has soared from 63,298 in the 2009-10 fiscal year to 111,086 in 2013-14. Restaurants like celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Streetbird Rotisserie are giving out-of-towners and locals a reason to head uptown for a meal. And Harlem is the second-most requested neighborhood in Manhattan after midtown at Big Apple Greeter, which connects tourists with volunteers for free neighborhood visits.
Even the Museum of Modern Art in midtown is encouraging trips to Harlem with an online self-guided walking tour inspired by a MOMA exhibition, Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series” paintings. Lawrence painted scenes of African-Americans from the rural South moving to Northern cities in the early 20th century. The free tour — Moma.org/HarlemWalkingTour — highlights Harlem locations where Lawrence studied art, did research and found inspiration.
“Harlem is an iconic, beautiful, world-renowned New York City enclave that continues to reinvent itself, drawing visitors from far and wide,” said Fred Dixon, president of the city’s tourism agency, NYC & Company.
Here are some top Harlem attractions.
The museum has five shows up through Oct. 25, but perhaps its most famous exhibit is a display of two words: “ME WE.”
Boxer Muhammad Ali recited the words in response to a request for a poem after giving a speech at Harvard; StudioMuseum.org, 144 W. 125th St. Adults, $7; Sunday, free.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The Schomburg Center, part of the New York Public Library, is marking the 75th anniversary of the American Negro Theatre with an exhibition of photos, posters and clippings from the 1940s, when the theater’s talents included Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier. The Schomburg is also home to murals from the 1930s Works Progress Administration program; NYPL.org, 515 Malcolm X Blvd. near 136th Street. Free.
You’ll find more historic murals across the street inside Harlem Hospital, 506 Malcolm X Blvd.
The St. Nicholas Historic District, also known as Striver’s Row, consists of the lovely tree-lined blocks of 138th and 139th streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The landmarked, elegant stone-and-brick townhouses date to the 1890s and have been home to prominent African-Americans like musician Eubie Blake and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
Apollo Theater and Hotel history
You can attend the Apollo’s famous amateur night or take a tour to learn about its history hosting the likes of James Brown, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin.
Stand outside the marquee at 253 W. 125th St. and look east across the street for a tall, stately building bearing the words “Hotel Theresa.” It’s no longer a hotel, but for decades it hosted athletes, entertainers, business executives and other African-Americans turned away by hotels downtown. Fidel Castro stayed there in 1960.
Accommodations in Harlem these days include the stylish, upscale Aloft hotel, 2296 Frederick Douglass Blvd., and the Harlem YMCA, 180 W. 135th St.
Harlem’s eateries include soul food institution Sylvia’s, 328 Malcolm X Blvd., and Marcus Samuelsson’s upscale Red Rooster, 310 Malcolm X Blvd. Samuelsson’s newer, more casual Streetbird Rotisserie, 2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd., is part of Harlem’s restaurant row — HarlemRestaurantRow.com — where you can find everything from sushi to pizza to a beer garden.
And don’t forget
▪ Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, featuring baskets, drums and clothing made from brightly patterned fabrics and other African-themed items, 52 W. 116th St.
▪ Ten-foot bronze Harriet Tubman statue, St. Nicholas Avenue near 122nd Street.
▪ City College’s picturesque neo-gothic architecture, 138th Street and Convent Avenue.
▪ Alexander Hamilton’s home, Hamilton Grange, a National Park Service site with tours, 414 W. 141st St.
▪ Marcus Garvey Park, 120th to 124th streets between Madison Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard.