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17 Things to Know About Living in Harlem

Thinking about moving to Harlem? The birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance remains a cultural hub and offers significantly lower rental prices than other NYC neighborhoods, making the Upper Manhattan neighborhood a hot spot to live in NYC. Here are 17 things you need to know about living in Harlem!

Enjoy Affordable NYC Living

It’s no secret that New York City is an expensive place to call home. But since Harlem’s cost of living is 25% lower than the city as a whole, living in Harlem allows you to enjoy a fun, exciting Manhattan lifestyle without a hefty price tag. Not only do renters in Harlem enjoy the vibrant nightlife, historic buildings, and live music, but they also have a more affordable median rent than affordable neighboring areas like Bay Ridge in Brooklyn or Woodlawn in Bronx.

Convenient Public Transportation

Like most of the City That Never Sleeps, Harlem has abundant public transportation options to help you get through the neighborhood and beyond. Find your way to work, home, and fun on the Harlem Bus, which has designated stops early in the morning, as well as late into the night. Harlem is home to two train stations, the 125th Street Station and the 148th Street Station, but there are still plenty of stops throughout the area. Use the Metro-North Railroad Harlem Line to get around the neighborhood. Choose from a variety of rented bike options and take a leisurely ride through Harlem!

Get Your Degree at Quality Institutions

Students walking on Columbia Univeristy's campus in the fall. Photo by Instagram user @columbia

Photo by @columbia

People moving to Harlem in search of higher education have their pick of colleges. Start your path toward a medical career on the scenic campus of City College of New York’s School of Medicine. Further your education in anything from ancient studies to visual arts, or any of the many other areas of study at Columbia University. Pursue your degree and experience on-campus activities, ranging from outreach programs like Doctors Without Borders to interest-based groups like the Chess Club, at Hunter College. Or attend Barnard College, an all-female school which prides itself on encouraging leadership and diverse thinking.

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Harlem Has a Rich History

Duke Ellington statue surrounded by green trees. Photo by Instagram user @quintetnyc

Photo by @quintetnyc

Harlem played a key role during the Civil Rights Movement when figures like Malcolm X, Queen Mother Moore, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. used Harlem as a launchpad for political, social, and economic empowerment. Today, people living in Harlem can check out a variety of great New York museums and historical sites, like the Langston Hughes House, honoring the neighborhood’s fascinating and long history. You can also visit The Studio Museum, which serves as a nexus for African and African-American visual art and houses a variety of collections from past and present-day artists. Or check out the Shabazz Center to see the Malcolm X statue and learn more about how this influential New York City neighborhood contributed to social change.

It’s the Birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance

In the 1920s, Harlem birthed one of America’s most significant periods of ideological and artistic growth: the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz music, visual art, poetry, theatre, and even political ideologies blossomed during this period, which largely celebrated Black and African-American culture. Prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance included poet Langston Hughes, civil rights activist Malcolm X, jazz musician Fats Waller, and many others. People living in Harlem today can find a number of museums, historical sites, and events celebrating this widespread cultural revival. Honor the musicians who pioneered the genre at The National Jazz Museum. Hit multiple NYC historical sites throughout the neighborhood by going on a Harlem Renaissance Walking Tour. See the birthplace of the bebop at iconic Minton’s Playhouse. Or learn more about other famous places to see in Harlem with roots in the Renaissance like Abyssinian Baptist Church.

See Cultures Come Together

Woman admiring Latinx art pieces. Photo by Instagram user @elmuseo

Photo by @elmuseo

Harlem’s strong ties to Black heritage and African-American heritage are evident in the many events and institutions dedicated to the culture. Learn more about the African-American experience today with research and exhibits of preserved materials at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Honor the art, music, political influence, and experience of Latin and Hispanic people at El Museo del Barrio. Marvel at the Hispanic Society’s collection celebrating Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American, and Filipino art and culture at The Hispanic Museum & Library. Visit the century-old museum nearby for insight into Jewish art and culture at The Jewish Museum. Or celebrate Harlem’s history in neighborhood festivals like Harlem Week, which features keynote speakers, art, music, and more.

Areas to Fit Any Lifestyle

Living in Harlem can feel like its own mini borough, with tons of unique areas to choose from. Check out Hamilton Heights for scenic views of the Hudson River and convenient access to the New York City Subway system. Live in a historical area with Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes in Sugar Hill, which was once home to prominent Harlem Renaissance figures like Thurgood Marshall and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Look into renting a walk-up in East Harlem, which is full of culture and fun things to do. Or consider living on Astor Row, a collection of homes built away from the street with front porches, front and side yards.

Find More Fun in East Harlem

Although it’s technically outside the borders, East Harlem is still considered to be part of the greater Harlem neighborhood. A hub of Latin American culture, East Harlem, otherwise known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio, was first settled by German and Eastern European immigrants in the late 1800s, and later by Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants. East Harlem has continued to be a cultural melting pot within the neighborhood and is home to major NYC landmarks like the famous Central Park. Stroll down the Graffiti Hall of Fame, which was started by artist Ray “Sting Ray” Rodriguez and features the most prolific graffiti artists in recent history. Attend family-friendly festivals like El Barrio Latino Children’s Film Festival at the Julia de Burgos Performance & Arts Center, which provides educational programs, performances, exhibits, and more celebrating Latino fine arts. Devour Arroz Con Pollo or Salmon Con Crosta De Plantano at Cascalote Latin Bistro. Or have your fill of delicious Churrasco A La Parrilla, Pernil Asado, and Flan at Havana Central.

Play Streetball in Harlem

Basketball is kind of a big deal in Harlem—in fact, Rucker Park has been called “The Wall Street of Playground Basketball,” and competes with Chicago to claim the title of “The True Mecca of Basketball.” Opened in 1956, the P.S. 156 Playground was later renamed to honor Holcombe Rucker and the positive influence he had on Harlem’s youth and the basketball community. Rucker’s low-key tournament has since been transformed into a summer Pro-Am showcase between NBA players and big-name Harlem players called the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC). The neighborhood has seen Julius “The Claw” Erving and Wilt Chamberlain in its home court, and tournaments like the famous EBC have featured icons like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Allen Iverson at Rucker Park. And with coordinated programs like the Rucker Legends Summer Camp, basketball is still firmly at home and nurtured in Harlem.

Stay Active at Harlem Parks

Living in New York City doesn’t have to mean losing out on the great outdoors. Get away from the noise and towering buildings of Manhattan with a trip to one of Harlem’s many parks. Explore more than 20 acres of green space, complete with two playgrounds, an outdoor pool, and an amphitheater for public events at Marcus Garvey Park. Take your dog for a walk, enjoy a barbecue with friends, or play some pick-up basketball on a colorful court at St. Nicholas Park. Earn your basketball cred at Holcombe Rucker Park. Go ice skating in the winter, swimming in the summer, or enjoy views of the Hudson River any time of year at Riverbank State Park. Enjoy some of Harlem’s most unique outdoor recreation at the Harlem Art Park, which features a number of permanent sculptures, as well as occasional art installations. Or get waterfront views at places like West Harlem Piers and Harlem River Park.

Raise a Family in the Big Apple

Children listening to a worker dressed up read a story. Photo by Instagram user @sixinchusa

Photo by @sixinchusa

Parents moving to Harlem can expose their kids to a wealth of culture at age-appropriate venues. Explore the storytelling exhibits or craft your own art in the Studio Labs at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling. Get the kiddos directly involved in the creative process by enrolling them to perform in the Harlem Children’s Theatre. Enjoy the basketball and handball courts at the Howard Bennet Playground. Cool off in the summer with the splash pad at Jackie Robinson Park. Have a blast while riding the carousel, roller skating, or playing in the wading pool at Riverbank State Park. Attend a show or register your older kids for the Apollo Theater Academy or one of the other Theater Education Programs at Apollo Theater. Split a huge Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip cookie with your child at Levain Bakery.

Music Matters in Harlem

Sir Ron Carter holding the neck of a bass. Photo by Instagram user @wlylebass

Photo by @wlylebass

Since the jazz explosion of the Harlem Renaissance, music has been central to the Harlem experience. Later, in 1969, a musical gathering called the Summer of Soul further cemented music as a major aspect of Harlem’s artistic, cultural, and political landscape. The Summer of Soul was known not only for being a major celebration of music, but also as a form of collective healing after the Civil Rights movement. Today, music venues can still be found in abundance in Harlem. Enjoy events like the Organic Harlem Jam Session or musical sets from performers like The Tom Blatt Project at the Shrine World Music Venue. Check out a live show at the Paris Blues Jazz Club, Harlem’s oldest blues club! Perform during an open mic night or sit back and enjoy DJ sets at Harlem Nights Bar-Lounge. Fill up on fine cuisine accompanied by live jazz Wednesday through Sunday at legendary Minton’s.

Get Tickets to Live Theatre

Dance and other performing arts are integral to Harlem culture, past and present. Experience it yourself by getting tickets to enjoy ballet from the Dance Theatre of Harlem. See events put on with a purpose by IMPACT Repertory Theatre, a family-friendly establishment that uses “artivism” as a means for social change. Watch performances by Tony-Award nominated actors like Joshua Henry in musicals like Langston in Harlem and plays like Seize the King at The Classical Theatre of Harlem. Enjoy well-known plays like In the Heights or A Raisin in the Sun at the Tato Laviera Theatre.

Celebrate at Local Festivals

Four dancers in red performing in Central Park. Photo by Instagram user @trish_mayo

Photo by @trish_mayo

People living in Harlem know how to party, so be sure to take part in some of the best festivals in New York City! Get off your feet and dance to world music at the free annual Harlem Meer Performance Festival. Experience cinema from around the world, including work from local filmmakers, at Harlem International Film Festival. Celebrate African culture through song, dance, and education at the African Heritage Month Parade & Festival. Or march, sing, and celebrate love alongside the local LGBT community, as well as celebrity guests, performers, and more at Harlem Pride. Sample Harlem’s melting pot of cuisines throughout the two-week-long West Harlem Festival of Food. Or head to the Apollo Theater to commemorate Black culture while attending the Harlem Cultural Festival.

Savor Amazing Soul Food

There are plenty of great places to eat in Harlem, many of which also include live music for guests! Wake up with your choice of bagel, including everything from Plain to Pumpernickel Cranberry, at Bo’s Bagels. Savor comfort food like Shrimp and Grits or a Crispy Bird Sandwich at one of the best restaurants in Harlem, Red Rooster, which features live music every night and is owned by renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. In the neighborhood that popularized chicken and waffles, Amy Ruth’s serves up the best in Harlem! Sample everything from fresh seafood to BBQ Short Ribs of Beef at Sylvia’s, a Harlem landmark that has been serving generous helpings of Southern comfort food since 1962. Make reservations for an upscale dining experience at Lido Harlem Restaurant, where you can order Italian entrees like Fresh Squid Ink Linguini and Four Cheese Sacchetti. Or chow down on biscuit sandwiches like the Queenie or Bodega from the beloved Harlem Biscuit Company.

Party the Night Away

Harlem has a thriving nightlife, with low-key lounges, hot clubs, and other venues for whatever your mood might be. Burn the midnight oil at Bill’s Place, a speakeasy-style Harlem nightclub where you can enjoy cool jazz sets every weekend. Visit Cove Lounge, once voted Best New Bar/Lounge by Food Network, for craft cocktails like the Lenox Sidecar or Cove Punch. Get delicious cocktails and small bites at hip, low-key bar, The Honey Well. Catch a football game, grab a round of beers with friends, or sit on the patio At the Wallace. Or laugh until your sides hurt during sets from comedians like Brent Morin and The Gotham All-Stars at Gotham Comedy Club.

Frequently Asked Questions About Harlem

Where is Harlem located?

Harlem is an NYC neighborhood located in Upper Manhattan. It is bound by 155th St, the East and Hudson Rivers, Fifth Avenue, and Central Park North.

What borough is Harlem in?

Harlem is located within the borough of Manhattan.

What’s it like living in Harlem?

Harlem offers residents affordable New York City housing, a rich cultural history, one-of-a-kind music venues, unique New York restaurants, and a diverse community.


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New York City brownstones in Harlem

About Mike Beutler

Mike Beutler is a writer and digital content specialist who transitioned to self storage in 2020 after several years in the airline industry. His travels cultivated a passion for exploring cities across the U.S. and abroad and inspired him to learn more about practical insights for urban living. With 14 moves under his belt, both locally and cross-country, he also has a passion for minimalism and organization, and sharing tips to help others make any space feel like home while staying organized.