This Overlooked New York Neighborhood Is An Exciting, Tourist-Friendly Destination

If you're planning a trip to the Big Apple, you've likely added the bucket list go-to neighborhoods to your New York City itinerary. Times Square is simply a must with its towering bright lights. A stroll through Central Park to a quaint cafe on the Upper West Side is a common tourist activity and a nice way for locals to relax. And you simply can't forget the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects lower Manhattan with Dumbo, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

New York City, despite how it may look, is massive, and many exciting and iconic neighborhoods end up getting overlooked for those mentioned above. Hey, there are only so many hours in a day, and only so many days in a trip, so it's understandable that you won't get to see the entire city in one go. However, if there's one neighborhood that not only gets overlooked but is one of the most historical in the city, it's Harlem. Once a victim of a bad reputation, Harlem is one of the few neighborhoods in New York that simply has it all: good food, a tight sense of community (sometimes a rarity in New York), museums documenting moments that have shapeshifted history, live music, late-night libations, parks, outdoor markets ... need we go on? Don't make the mistake of skipping Harlem on your next visit to the Big Apple.

Where to eat, shop, and sleep

There are plenty of iconic soul food restaurants in the neighborhood, and Amy Ruth's just might be the best one. Their menu is uniquely named after prominent Black figures, so, yes, you can order a dish named "the Michelle Obama." While it's no secret that soul food can be readily found in the neighborhood, it certainly isn't limited to just that. Restaurants like Lido bring the Italian flair. For a massive-sized portion plate of BBQ, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a must. Harlem Shake is perfect for grabbing a quick burger or milkshake on the go. Date night? Head to Jamaican-British fusion eatery The Edge Harlem. And when you need a libation after a long day of exploring, cocktail bars BIXI and The Good Good are just what the doctor ordered.

Harlem is nothing without live music, and if you visit without seeing some for yourself, then you didn't really see Harlem. Harlem Nights, Shrine, and Ginny's Supper Club – located in the basement of Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster – are some of the best spots not only in the neighborhood, but in all of NYC.

For a unique market experience, Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market sells anything from West African spices to clothing. Modern vintage store Trintage offers some of the funkiest, most unique pieces in town. And when it's time to hit the hay, head to the newly-opened Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel, centrally located and featuring 211 rooms to choose from.

Historical sights not to miss

The historical sights in Harlem simply cannot be understated. The neighborhood is the heart of civil rights in New York City, and has had significant transformations over the last several years — without losing its roots.

Arguably the most iconic sight in the neighborhood is the Apollo Theater, "the soul of American culture," located on 125th Street. A visit to the Apollo is essential, and while any night of the week will suffice, Wednesdays is when they host their world famous Amateur Nights at the Apollo, which kicked off the careers of many famous artists from Ella Fitzgerald to H.E.R. 

One of the best ways to explore the neighborhood, like much of New York, is by simply walking around. For a historical sight you can enjoy while on your stroll, check out the Swing Low: Harriet Tubman Memorial, found at the intersection of St. Nicholas Avenue and Frederick Douglass Blvd. Just a few blocks away is Marcus Garvey Park, which borders Harlem and East Harlem.

A little further uptown is where you can learn all about the Alexander Hamilton Grange National Memorial, where the Founding Father at one point lived. Right around the corner is the beautiful campus of The City College of New York, where several graduates moved on to become Nobel Peace Prize winners.