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Within Manhattan, New York City’s most bustling borough, is the world-renown neighborhood of Harlem which lies in the northern section of Manhattan Island. Harlem is a vast area which spans multiple neighborhoods – West, Central and East Harlem – extending from 96th Street to 155th Street (north – south) and the Hudson River to the East River (East – west). Each neighborhood within Harlem is distinct and displays unique characteristics. West Harlem with its bucolic green spaces and tree-lined streets, historic structures and architecture is primarily residential. Central Harlem, the center of Harlem’s current economic revitalization and gentrification which has brought to the neighborhood new restaurants and retail stores, high rise residential housing and an upsurge in property values. And, lastly, East Harlem (el Barrio) which is changing but still has some of its old-world charm reflective of its predominantly Latino culture and cuisine is characterized by wall murals, community gardens and casitas.
Harlem is one of the most accessible by public transportation. For example, the travel time from midtown Manhattan/Times Square to the main shopping and dining corridors along 125th Street, Frederick Douglass Blvd and Lenox Avenue in Harlem is approximately 10 - 15 minutes by the A, D, #1, #2, #3 Uptown subway lines . On Saturday and Sunday the travel time may take a bit longer as there is often work being done on the train tracks which disrupts schedule. Visitors are advised to check the subway schedule, if travelling on the weekend. (http://web.mta.info/nyct/subway/)
Most subway stations in Harlem are not wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair accessible stations are located at 125th and St Nicholas Avenue (A, B, C, D lines) , 135th Street and Lenox/Malcolm X Blvd (#2 and #3 lines), and Broadway and 125th Street (#1 line).
Many streets and avenues in Harlem are co-named for its famous leaders and residents such as Lenox Avenue co-named Malcolm X Blvd., 125th Street co-named Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., and Eighth Avenue co-named Frederick Douglass Blvd.
The Harlem experience for visitors will not be the crime-ridden Harlem as is sometimes depicted in films. Harlem is a welcoming community to visitors and, like the rest of Manhattan, it is generally as safe as any other city. Nevertheless, one should always exercise good judgment and common sense in an unfamiliar environment.
A good overall introduction to Harlem might be a sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus tour through Harlem and lower Washington Heights, but ultimately you will want to either book a guided local tour or explore the neighborhood on your own to get the full experience of Harlem. There are several local tour companies offering neighborhood walking tours that highlight Harlem’s social and cultural history, and its jazz-gospel and culinary scene.
Home to the historic Apollo Theater, which first opened its doors in 1913, Harlem is also home to historical landmarks that have survived the ages.
The days of the Harlem Renaissance flourished with the likes of Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, and W.E.B. Dubois may have passed but its traces are still very alive through the cultural institutions and historic sites still in place. The Harlem YMCA, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Studio Museum, The Harlem Hospital Murals, the Countee Cullen Library, The City College of New York, Strivers Row, Sugar Hill Historic District, to name a few.
The history of Harlem is multi-layered and one will also find traces of America’s history at the Morris Jumel Mansion (General George Washington’s headquarters in 1776), the Alexander Hamilton Grange (first Secretary of State) and Trinity Cemetery uptown.
And, Harlem’s immigrant history is also reflected in cultural institutions such as el Museo del Barrio, The Hispanic Society, The Museum City of New York, Julio de Burgos Center.
Harlem’s dynamic areas and flavors of African American culture are pretty much hard to come across any place else. Home to high-end cuisines and comfort food alike, there are a plethora of locations for any foodie to explore. Old mainstays like Sylvia’s on Lenox/Malcolm X Boulevard remain a popular eatery for soul/comfort food along with Amy Ruth’s, Spoonbread, and Melba’s. In addition newcomers like Red Rooster Ginny’s and Minton’s bring a touch of Harlem’s Jazz and Swing era to the already vibrant and diverse area.