Review: The Harlem Gospel Tour in New York City (A Soul Stirring Experience)

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If you considering the Harlem Gospel Tour in New York City, be prepared to be wowed by this changing neighborhood and learn of its history and culture.

After visiting New York several times for vacation and for business, I added Harlem to my list of places to visit because my curiosity had peaked.

So, I signed up for the tour and made my way to the Apollo Theater.

Being Transformed by Harlem’s Soul

woman standing in front of the Apollo theater in New york

What is the Harlem Gospel Tour in New York City

This is a unique cultural immersion experience where you learn the rich history and traditions of the Harlem neighborhood.

Led by a guide, participants walk while hearing fascinating stories of change, growth, and resilience as well as insights into the neighborhood’s past and present.

The group visits landmarks, street art, and unique architectural features that reflected the diversity.

The tour aims to provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the African-American experience, the Harlem Renaissance, and the enduring influence of gospel music and spirituality on the cultural fabric of New York.

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TL;DR – Check prices for the 4-hour Harlem Gospel Tour in New York City

My Review of the Tour

Check-in

I rose early and grabbed a quick bite to eat because I was super thrilled to experience this tour. I was enjoying an experimental stay at the West Side YMCA and caught the D train at Columbus Circle to 125th Street.

After exiting the station, I went to the South intersection and then walked East along Dr Martin Luther King Drive to the Apollo Theater. The total travel time by train and on foot was less than 25 minutes.

I was about 30 minutes early, so I meandered a bit. There is a cafe located about 1/2 block to the east of the theater if you want donuts and coffee.

The theater was closed and there was no place to sit. It’s a good thing that I wore comfortable shoes. To pass the time, I looked at the names of famous musicians and entertainers that once performed here.

Talents like Ella Fitzgerald, Celia Cruz, James Brown, The Temptations, and Louis Armstrong were memorialized in cement with brass plaques.

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After a while, a tour bus pulled up to let passengers exit and look around for a couple of minutes. A few people took photos and then they boarded the bus and were on their way.

I thought, “Wow. A drive by? That is not the best way to see Harlem!” LOL

As the start time neared, the tour guides and more people arrived.

The guides were smiling and full of energy. Everyone was from out of town, or another country, and quite friendly.

I felt lucky to be on a walking tour instead of a New York tour bus.

art mural of famous blacks in sports

The Walking Tour

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would last 4 hours on my feet after standing and waiting for the tour to start. But once we started moving, I was so impressed with the street art and murals that I didn’t think about them.

We saw some famous buildings that symbolize the growth of Harlem, the office of a former President, as well as stunning architecture in churches with stained glass windows, and row houses.

The pace of the walk was very casual, and nuggets of history were shared from destination to destination. There were spots to sit and rest our feet along the way.

The most fascinating part for me was visiting Marcus Garvey Park named after the influential Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. It is still a gathering place that honors the Harlem Renaissance and the neighborhood’s pivotal role in the African-American experience.

I remember all the spots we visited and made notes to write this article about it. But I changed my mind about adding it because don’t want to spoil it for you.

The Harlem Gospel tour is one-of-a kind and should be on your list if you want to explore New York off the beaten path.

row houses in Harlem New York

The Gospel Experience

Get ready to praise the Lord because this experience is all about connecting in the spirit.

The church service was just about to begin, and we were sitting in the rear balcony section.

The church choir sang soulfully, people clapped, lifted their hands to the Most High God, and voices were lifted in praise.

It is a unique and if I had to give one bit of advice to someone who is experiencing this for the first time, go all in.

The praise and worship service exalts and glorifies God. The lyrics speak of his goodness, mercy, and grace.

choir singing on church state

It’s not a show.

It’s ok to take photos and videos. It’s ok if you don’t want to clap and sing.

However, as with any church, be respectful.

Sleeveless shirts, short skirts, sandals, and flip flops are not allowed. If it’s too warm outside, I suggest bringing a shawl if you want to wear a sleeveless shirt.

The Lunch

Because there were more than 10 people on the tour, we were split into 2 groups. My group went to Il Caffe Latte for lunch.

I slowly scanned each section of the menu looking for something that would catch my eye. Several dishes popped up at me and they all sounded delicious. I opted for lox and bagels with cream cheese and capers.

The tour owner stopped in the restaurant to greet us and picked up our lunch tab.

It was a lovely gesture and I had such a lovely time breaking bread and exchanging ideas for things to do in New York with the tour guide and fellow travelers.

What a great tour!

Know Before You Go

I traveled solo to New York for this trip.

Since I am from Chicago, I felt totally at ease with navigating the subway and walking around the ‘hood.

Whenever I see people who looked sketchy (I only counted one in Harlem), I steer clear or cross to the other side of the street.

I do the same in Chicago.

In Harlem, there is no need to be afraid nor feel threatened.

Just keep your wits about you as you would in any large city.

Final Thoughts about the Harlem Gospel Tour

It became obvious to me that Harlem proudly celebrates its heritage. Images of great figures like Nelson Mandela and Serena Williams are displayed publicly throughout the neighborhood.

Statues of Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Tubman are prominently featured and honor their immense contributions to the fight against slavery and for civil rights.

Exploring the neighborhood of Harlem made me want to see more.

So I did.

I returned the day after the tour. I walked the neighborhood, sat at a cafe, window shopped, attended an Alvin Ailey movement workshop, and dined at some black-owned restaurants in Harlem.

I loved it.

And I’m still thinking about returning.

Safe travels.


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