Harlem & Upper Manhattan
Harlem was settled by Dutch farmers in the 17th century, and was later home to Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants, but its identity is inextricably connected to the African American experience. These days, despite gentrification, it remains packed with fervent preachers and choirs, soul-food eateries and swinging jazz clubs. Franco-African and French-expat-owned restaurants add to the mix. Working-class East Harlem (known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio) is a hub for Latino immigrants, while Columbia University borders West Harlem. To the north, leafy Inwood is home to medieval treasures.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Harlem & Upper Manhattan.
CathedralCathedral Church of St John the Divine
New York’s most impressive house of worship is a towering monument that looks like it's straight out of medieval Europe. Built in a mix of styles – with elements of Romanesque, Gothic and neo-Gothic design – St John’s is packed with treasures, from gorgeous stained-glass windows to 17th-century tapestries, as well as works by contemporary artists such as Keith Haring and Tom Otterness. The cathedral has yet to be completed; some even jokingly refer to it as ‘St John the Unfinished.’
On a hilltop overlooking the Hudson River, the Cloisters is a curious architectural jigsaw, its many parts made up of various European monasteries and other historic buildings. Built in the 1930s to house the Metropolitan Museum’s medieval treasures, its frescoes, tapestries and paintings are set in galleries that sit around a romantic courtyard, connected by grand archways and topped with Moorish terra-cotta roofs. Among its many rare treasures is the beguiling tapestry series The Hunt of the Unicorn (1495–1505).
Historic BuildingApollo Theater
The Apollo is an intrinsic part of Harlem history and culture. A leading space for concerts and political rallies since 1914, its venerable stage hosted virtually every major black artist in the 1930s and ’40s, including Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. Decades later, it would help launch the careers of countless stars, from Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill. Today, its thriving program of music, dance and special events continues to draw crowds and applause.
ChurchAbyssinian Baptist Church
A raucous, soulful affair, the superb Sunday gospel services here are the city’s most famous. You’ll need to arrive at least an hour before the service to queue up, and ensure you adhere to the strict entry rules: no tank tops, flip-flops, shorts, leggings or backpacks. The entry point for tourists is at the southeast corner of West 138th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd.
MemorialGeneral Ulysses S Grant National Memorial
Popularly known as Grant’s Tomb (‘Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?’ ‘Who?’ ‘Grant, stupid!’ goes a classic joke), this landmark holds the remains of Civil War hero and 18th president Ulysses S Grant and his wife, Julia. Completed in 1897 – 12 years after his death – the imposing granite structure is the largest mausoleum in America. A gallery covers key events in Grant's life. Rangers lead guided tours at various times throughout the day and answer questions about the general and statesman.
MuseumStudio Museum in Harlem
This small cultural gem has been exhibiting the works of African American artists for more than four decades. While its rotating exhibition program is always fascinating, the museum is not just another art display center. It is an important point of connection for Harlem cultural figures of all stripes, who arrive to check out exhibitions as well as film screenings and gallery talks. The museum closed in January 2018 for extensive renovations and is expected to reopen in 2021.
Historic BuildingHamilton Grange
This Federal-style retreat belonged to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who owned a 32-acre country estate here in the early 1800s. Unfortunately, Hamilton was able to enjoy his abode for only two years before his life was cut short in a fatal duel with political rival Aaron Burr. Moved from Convent Ave to its present location in 2008, the building is one of several Hamilton-related sights seeing an increase in visitors – by some 75% – thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, Hamilton.
Founded in Lower Manhattan in 1754 as King’s College, the oldest university in New York is now one of the world’s premier research institutions. In 1897 the Ivy League school moved to its current location (the site of a former asylum), where its stately, gated campus offers plenty of cultural happenings.
Historic Building555 Edgecombe Ave
When completed in 1916, this brick beaux-arts giant was Washington Heights’ first luxury apartment complex, with a concierge, a separate workers' entrance and no fewer than three elevators. It was initially available only to whites, but the neighborhood's transformation from predominantly Irish and Jewish to African American saw the building's residents become mostly black by the 1940s.