NYC Guide

Things to do in Harlem

Every time I talk about Harlem – or if I see someone mentioning the neighborhood – I read at least one comment like, “But is not dangerous?”. This kind of thought increases bad fame and makes you miss a chance to explore a Manhattan area full of history, culture, and lots to do. When I was studying English at the New York Public Library, my classes were in the Harlem location, and I spent a year and a half going there twice a week, and nothing ever happened to me. Personally, I don’t like East Harlem a lot – because I prefer Central and West Harlem.

I’ve been exploring the place for a while and now I’ve decided to put together some suggestions. Obviously, it’s not a definitive guide – Harlem has a lot more to offer, but I think these tips are great, to begin with!



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Uma publicação compartilhada por Red Rooster (@roosterharlem) em

Restaurants – I could not help myself and start this post talking about food! These are not all Harlem restaurants I’ve been to, but they are the ones I liked the most. Never had negative experiences at these restaurants! And my first suggestion is one of the most classic and famous places, Red Rooster! It specializes in Soul food. The atmosphere is fantastic – you can choose a table inside and enjoy the live jazz on Sundays, or sit outside, weather permitting, and keep up with the life of the street. I would recommend making a reservation for brunch, with live music; it is a must-see! The price of the main courses ranges from $18 to $37.

PLUS: Red Rooster also features a speakeasy downstairs: Ginny’s Supper Club. They have gospel brunch every Sunday, with a buffet ($65 per person).

Address: 310 Lenox Avenue.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Ricardo Steak House (@ricardosteakhousenyc) em

If you like steak,  Ricardo Steakhouse is a great choice. The restaurant was recommended on the 2016 Michelin Guide and also on Zagat. It is a very famous restaurant in New York, especially because of the quality of meat, in addition to the relatively affordable price for a steak house in New York. The atmosphere of the place is very nice, the decor includes exposed brick walls and a patio that is open all year. Meat meals start at $26.

Address: 2145 2nd Ave.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Cantina Taqueria & Tequila Bar (@cantinanyc) em

Cantina is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the city! It has a very cool atmosphere and the menu is very complete:  appetizers such as guacamole, quesadilla, and nachos, as well as traditional Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, bowls with rice, corn, peppers, onions, and lettuce with a protein of your choice. Prices are also great: burritos starting at $12, bowls at $11, and tacos starting at $9. The drinks menu is also super varied, with margaritas and other cocktails (starting at $10), plus wines and beers (starting at  $5) and, of course, tequila shots (starting at $6). On Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 am to 3 pm, Cantina offers the Bottomless Brunch: $12,95 + any entree, 60 minutes bottomless from time first drink is served (Sangria, Mimosa, Margarita).

Address: 1838 7th Avenue /  329 Lenox Avenue.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por The Cecil Steakhouse (@thececilharlem) em

The Cecil and Minton’s – Founded by saxophonist Henry Minton in 1938, the club was one of the hottest places in town throughout the 1940s and 1950s. However, in the 1960s, jazz bands lost some of their popularity, and the venue suffered, eventually closing in 1974. Three decades later, it was time for a revival, and the club reopened in 2006; the Uptown Lounge at Minton’s Playhouse, as it was called, didn’t succeed as planned, and it was closed again in 2010. Then, in 2017, the club returned to its roots and reopened once again, and currently features upscale cuisine by executive chef Elpidio Escamilla.

Minton’s is a bar/restaurant with jazz performances. The Cecil is a restaurant. Both offer great experiences. You can check the website for more details. 

Address: 206 West 118th Street.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Sylvia’s Restaurant (@sylviasrestaurant) em

Another Harlem Classic is Sylvia’s Restaurant! Known as the “The Queen of Soul Food”, it was founded by Sylvia Woods, in 1962.  Serving authentic soul food for over 55 years, this icon remains a culinary must-visit for foodies. Gospel brunch Sundays, Live Music Wednesdays, and Daily Specials scream home-style cooking, within an at-home environment. We’ve never been at the restaurant itself, but we order the food and I can tell: it worth the hype! Best BBQ ribs ever! The place is famous for the Waffle & Chicken too.

Address: 328 Malcolm X Blvd


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Seasoned Vegan (@seasonedvegan) em

Seasoned Vegan is a must-go for vegans – and for no vegans, why not? I’m not vegan, but I’m an enthusiast of the vegan & vegetarian culinary and I must say: I was impressed with this place.  They have “fish” and chips, mac & “cheese”, burgers, and a lot of other options of plates, all plant-based! It is so delicious that even the meat lovers are gonna love it!

Address: 55 St. Nicholas Ave.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Harlem Shake (@harlemshakenyc) em

Last but not least, for those who enjoy a quick bite and want an unconventional option, the tip is Harlem Shake! There are two locations and the vintage decor is so charming. The menu features burgers, a variety of french fries plus sandwiches, and classic brunch dishes. Prices for burgers range from $7 to $8.50. And, of course, there are the famous milkshakes! The flavors are varied: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, peach … and the best seller: Red Velvet! $ 5 for the small and $ 7 for the regular.

Address: 100 W. 124 Street / 2162 Second Avenue.

Sweet treats


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Sugar Hill Creamery (@sugarhillicecream) em

Now, let’s talk about dessert. Sugar Hill Creamery (Sugar Hill is the name of a Harlem area) a local ice cream place, serving homemade ice cream in a cozy and super cute atmosphere. The Salted Caramel has some pieces of Brownie inside! The scoop is $4 on average and the place also serves coffee and ice cream sandwiches.

Address: Sugar Hill Creamery  – 184 Lenox Avenue.

Another place you can’t miss in Harlem is Tres Leches Cafe. We found this place when we were searching for places to buy Tres Leches cake for a dinner we were hosting with friends. We bought a huge cake and we hadn’t leftovers. It was a huge success! If you are not familiar, this is a latino recipe. It is a sponge cake—in some recipes, a butter cake—soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. My husband found Tres Leches Cafe on Yelp and I have to be honest: I would never pay attention if I was passing by and didn’t know anything about it. But trust me: it is the best Tres Leches cake in NYC – and we’ve been trying others. They sell big cakes and also small slices (starting at $4).

Address: 356 E 112th Street. 


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Uma publicação compartilhada por MOJO Desserts (@mojodesserts) em

Mojo Desserts offers the best mousse in the world and I’m not kidding! It is the first “Mousse Bar” in America. When Johan Halsberghe moved to New York from Belgium to work as the Executive Chef to the Belgian Ambassador of the UN, he often served his chocolate mousse in the official lunches and dinners until it ultimately became his signature dessert. You can’t deny mousse is his expertise: he made his very first batch of chocolate mousse when he was 8 years old following his grandma traditional techniques and a simple, yet secret, recipe. At the Mousse Bar, a special selection of 3 classic flavors: dark 70% + white + hazelnut praline is complemented by 2 rotating flavors: currently Passion Fruit + Ruby Chocolate and Matcha. Mousses are freshly scooped into cups to stay or to go – also sold per pound. The shop located in East Harlem, a mix of dessert and coffee shop, is open everyday for breakfast with a special selection of delicious pastries (croissants and warm Brazilian pão de queijo), premium coffees, and juices.

Oh, fun fact: Joan is married to a Brazilian – that’s why they bring some Brazilian pastries and flavors to the Mousse bar.

Address: 177 E 100th St.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Lloyd’s Carrot Cake (@lloydscarrotcake) em

For over 30 years, Lloyd’s Carrot Cake has supplied the most delicious baked goods made from scratch, to numerous patrons in the tri-state area and beyond. Initially starting with a recipe given to him by his mother, Lloyd Adams toyed around with the ingredients in his Harlem apartment; tweaking the recipe to his liking. After much trial and error, he created a finished product that promised success. In 1985, he saved up enough money to open a small storefront in the quiet Riverdale section of the Bronx. After Lloyd’s passing in 2007, his wife Betty continued to strengthen his legacy and hasn’t missed a beat. Besides the Lloyd’s Carrot Cake, the bakery also features other cakes like chocolate and Red Velvet.

Address: 1553 Lexington Ave.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Levain Bakery (@levainbakery) em

Last but not least we have Levain Bakery, which offers the most famous cookies in the city. Yes, Levain has a location in Harlem – without those queues of the Upper West Side.

Levain Bakery – 2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd.

Things to do

What about a little bit of History? Since opening its doors in 1914 and introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, Apollo Theather has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, and soul — all quintessentially American music genres. Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Bill Cosby, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollo stage. Today, Apollo is a respected not-for-profit, which presents concerts, performing arts, education, and community outreach programs.

Amateur Night is one of New York’s most popular live entertainment experiences, attracting performers and audiences the world over. The classic competition is known for its notoriously “tough” audience, gleefully deciding who will “be good or be gone” to win the grand prize.  Click here and check out the calendar.

You can also explore Apollo Theater through a tour. You will learn about the legendary history of the Apollo Theater and gain behind-the-scenes access to the legendary venue. Prices range from $17 to $19 and you need to call in advance in order to join a tour.  More information.

Address: 253 W 125th St.

Harlem is also famous because of the churches with gospel choirs! Many people dream of having an experience like this and the neighborhood has many churches, with celebrations at various times. One of the famous ones is the Abyssinian Baptist Church. One of America’s oldest and most significant Black congregations, Abyssinian has an amazing architecture. But, the place is usually crowded because the tourists and its services tend to be more reserved in tone. The Abyssinian is home to several choirs and a dance ministry. Tourists are welcome at the 10 am worship service only. Tourists are welcome at the 10:00 AM Worship Service and should arrive no later than 9:30 AM to be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, based on available Sanctuary seating. Visitors are expected to remain in the Abyssinian Sanctuary until the end of the Worship Service and tourists wearing tank tops, flip-flops, shorts or leggings will not be allowed to enter the Abyssinian Sanctuary. Women and men are required to cover their shoulders upon entering the church. I highly recommend checking it out on the website.

Here are other churches with gospel choirs – you can click for more information on worship days and times. A donation is highly encouraged.

Baylander Steel Beach is a new restaurant and a bar is located on the Baylander – a former US Navy ship stationed at the West Harlem Piers at 125th Street. The aircraft carrier that was transformed into an eatery boasts about 4,000 square feet of outdoor space across multiple levels. Also, there is a lower-level covered seating area as well.

Address: 125th St West Harlem Piers

Located at 5th Avenue and 105th street and open daily from 8 am until dusk, Conservatory Garden is the only formal garden found in Central Park. The quiet, calm atmosphere of the Garden, free from runners and bicyclists, makes it a great spot for weddings and relaxing afternoon walks. Opened in 1937, is composed of six acres of beautiful seasonal plants that are arranged into three styles: English, French, and Italian. I was super curious to visit the place and, last weekend, on a sunny Sunday – with the cherry blossom – and we stopped by to take some pictures for you. I loved – the vibe is different from the park itself, it is like a botanical garden. The water fountains were not turned on yet. But there were a lot of flowers! Conservatory Garden has a lot of places to sit and also an elevated area where you can see all the gardens.


Harlem is also a great place to shop! One of the places I like most is East River Plaza, which features some major American chain stores like Burlington, Marshalls, Costco, Old Navy, and Target. Come on! Everybody loves a Target shopping tour lol.

Address517 E 117th St

Also, be aware that you will also gonna find a Gap Factory Store and the Banana Republic Factory Store, and a Carter’s location in Harlem. Probably this info is more interesting for tourists than locals lol, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Address: Gap – 264 W. 125 th Street / Banana Republic – 261 W 125th St  / Carters – 215 W 125th St. 


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Urban Garden Center (@urbangardencenter) em

Urban Garden Center is the plant lovers’ paradise! It is owned and operated by the Gatanas family. They are third generation garden retailers here in New York City. Urban Garden Center is the leading supplier of garden supplies and plants in New York City. There are so many plants that you will feel overwhelmed! Plus, it is so nice to support local businesses, right?

Address: 1640 Park Ave.


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Uma publicação compartilhada por Romantic Depot NYC (@romanticdepotnyc) em

Hum, but let’s say that maybe you’re gonna like this shopping idea. Romantic Depot is a chain of … sex shops! And the Harlem location is probably the biggest sex shop in town. You will find everything: toys, costumes, and even party favors. I can guarantee that a stop at the store is, at least, fun!

Address: 3418 Broadway.

Of course, Harlem has so many other things to do! But I tried to focus on the places and activities that I’ve already tried! Please write your recommendations on the comments!

More tips?

I‘m a curator on Seek, a new NYC-based app complete with recommendations and tips on where to eat, drink, and hang out. Their recommendations are brought by New Yorkers who have tried a huge amount of places in the city. Check out their website at, as well as their app at Seek – NY City Recommendations to check out more of my recs – my profile is @lauraperuchi

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