Last updated: 01:27 PM ET, Sat May 02 2015

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | May 2, 2015 1:27 PM ET

    5 Tips on Stepping Into Historic Harlem

    5 Tips on Stepping Into Historic Harlem

    Top photo by Thinkstock, all other photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Brooklyn may be New York's hipster haven but travelers interested  in history as well as music, restaurants and art, should head to Harlem. Harlem lures visitors with eclectic, bustling streets and lots of creative boutiques and trendy restaurants. But it’s Harlem’s storied past that really draws people, from the Apollo Theater, to landmarks like the Harriet Tubman memorial and Grant's Tomb, Harlem is filled with history. I’ve buried myself in Harlem’s rich cultural history, hanging out in art galleries, famous soul food joints, and museums — and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. My experience has helped me gather some of the best ways to see this colorful enclave. Here are 5 tips on how to experience historic Harlem:

    Grab A Tour On Your First Day

    Taking a guided tour is the most practical way to discover what you’d like to explore in more detail.  There are dozens of Harlem tours offered to suit your particular interest, from music, to food, and art. Great options include Taste Harlem's Historical Food Tour and Harlem Heritage's Jazz /Music Bar Crawl. The key is to book your tour for the first day of your arrival. That way, you’ll have time to go back and investigate whatever piqued your interest. Avoid drawn out, 5-6-hour long tours. You’ll be too exhausted to note every detail and you’ll feel like you’ve seen it all. Believe me, there’s always more to see in Harlem. Pick a concise, 1-2 hour tour and you’ll get just enough information to work with, but not so much that it paralyzes you.

    Stay In Harlem

    In case you didn’t know, New York is a huge city. The time spent traveling to and through boroughs sucks up lots of time. If Harlem is your main interest, booking a Harlem bed and breakfast, studio apartment, or brownstone will supply you with much more insight into the neighborhood than a big Midtown Manhattan hotel. Whenever I visit Harlem, I rent a brownstone and revel in the feeling of walking to all the landmarks and restaurants, or sitting on my brownstone porch, just like I was a local.  Another bonus is that typically, staying in Harlem costs less than other areas of Manhattan.  You can find listings under Harlem on airbnb or on budgetplaces.

    Pay Attention To Where Locals Go

    This is a really important guideline in a place that’s overrun with tourists. Harlem overflows with historic places but not all of them are worth your time and money. This is especially the case with restaurants. If an eatery is full of tourists brandishing cameras and maps, take that as a bad omen. Harlemites support restaurants with good food and reasonable prices. If you don’t spot any locals sitting at your selected eating establishment, it’s probably a sign that it’s lacking in one of those areas. If a place is worthwhile, you’ll always find locals, even at popular landmarks like the Apollo Theater or St John Divine Church. If no locals are in sight, you probably shouldn’t be.

    Don’t Forget The Museums

    Harlem is so famous for its music and political landmarks that visitors often overlook the two museums that catalog all of that history quite well. The Schomburg Center For Research in Black Culture is globally noted for it’s collection of artifacts and research materials, as well as for its free programs and exhibits. The Studio Museum of Harlem houses an exciting collection of contemporary art and regularly hosts ground-breaking exhibits.

    Research Beforehand

    There’s a lot of misinformation and preconceived notions about Harlem. It’s a safe, friendly place but you’ll never know that if you don’t experience it yourself. Part of that experience should include some background research. If you want to trace the community's hip hop history, visit the Hip Hop Culture Center, for general info,check out local sites like Harlem One Stop and Harlem World Magazine to find out what’s really happening in this vibrant neighborhood.


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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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