Following the Great Migration, NYC’s Harlem became known as the mecca of African American and Black congregation in the U.S. As a 1.4 square-mile trove located in Upper Manhattan that’s home to some of the most iconic parks, places of worship, architecture, and landmarks celebrating Black culture in NYC, the best way to experience Harlem is on foot—especially via an informative walking tour led by a local. Resident and local Neal Shoemaker founded Harlem Heritage Tours in 1998 and offers a range of experiences, from tours centered on gospel to civil rights to tv/movies, or even the Harlem Renaissance. Since then, his company has played a vital role in sharing the important legacy of the community with both its residents and visitors. “The tours show Harlem from the perspective of those that live here and include audio which makes you feel like you are walking in the footsteps of history,” he says.
Even lifelong residents, like Tren’ness Woods-Black of the restaurant Sylvia’s, still finds herself in awe with the neighborhood’s architectural details, and understands the significance of Shoemaker’s contributions. “I love Neal’s tours,” she says. “He’s become the preeminent tour guide of the community and has done so much research through local conversation to find out and uncover places where so many of our Harlem fixtures have lived, eaten, breathed, danced, and played.”
To properly experience Harlem in all its glory—from spots where Civil Rights history was made to historic homes or gorgeous architecture and places dedicated to LGBTQIA icons—here are 10 essential destinations to include in a Harlem walking tour, courtesy of Neal Shoemaker and Harlem Heritage Tours.
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