What to Do In: Harlem (Museums)

This weekend, an old friend came to visit and had never explored Harlem. As I live and work uptown, I had to make it right! He wanted to see museums, so we made it happen. The best thing is that our entire day can be had for a meager $1.25 (optional). Always support your museums… But if you find yourself in a precarious financial situation, fortunately, many museums are suggested donation, leaving admission price up to you.

Harlem Museum Day Itinerary

  • Meet at 125th Street, accessible from many subways and buses, a great BID with shops and street galore – definitely something for everyone. Many shops, less crowd, more personality.
  • Walk to the Studio Museum on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. They have great contemporary art, some thoughtful, some more abstract. My favorite exhibit there was the Gordon Parks documentary portraits of a Harlem Family in the 1960s. My friend and I got a free poster and a free postcard from a series of seemingly random postcards – the only theme being Harlem. Bonus: Free on Sundays! Otherwise suggested admission.
  • Head south towards 110th Street to the north end of Central Park and walk along the Harlem Meer. Walk to the Conservatory and exit on 105th Street.
  • Cross Fifth Avenue and go to El Museo del Barrio, on 104th and Fifth, a museum showcasing Latino Art. I’ve been there three times. Their exhibit this winter was “Caribbean Crossroads,” which spanned centuries and countries and continents, views from all over the world. This time it was a little more modern but still thought provoking – photography, film and sculpture which make you take a second look. Bonus: Super Sabados – free admission every Third Saturday with special events for families, suggested admission otherwise.
  • Cross 104th Street and go to the Museum of the City of New York. A great look into the city itself. I learned a lot about my new home, the museum has artifacts from all eras in the city, and other exhibits that challenge your notion of what New York City means. Bonus: Guided tour! We arrived in time for a tour led by a Ph.D. candidate who know a lot about the city’s past who led a tour of the exhibit that he curated.. what a treat! Also, if you live or work in East Harlem, you can get in for free (bring ID).
  • Before bringing my friend back to the Harlem 125th Metro North stop, we dropped by Savoy Bakery on 110th, near Lexington, for a cup of coffee ($1.25).

That was our day of curated culture in Harlem and East Harlem. If you try this yourself, and have lunch money, I recommend eating along 110th or 116th Street, there are plenty of great options. Also while you’re in the neighborhood, check out La Casa Azul, a great independent bookstore on 103rd near Lexington, that has books in Spanish and English. Great collection of used books, signed copies of books, and a full calendar of events.

So much to do so little time.

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