Thomas Jefferson Park, East Harlem, East River Drive Park

The East Harlem neighborhood just north of the Upper East Side, also known as El Barrio, is one of the city’s most vibrant areas. It has plenty to offer in terms of history, art, culture and food, with a tight knit Latino community that keeps the area awash with culture.

What was an Italian neighborhood in the 1800s and early 1900s evolved when it welcomed a wave of Puerto Rican emigrants in the 1920s, shaped by the “Nuyorican” (New York plus Puerto Rican) community that would give it its “El Barrio” name. Vestiges of its Italian past remain, but the roots that created Spanish Harlem make this an incredibly vivid visit with its street art and colors, while the effervescent Spanish culture that has melded so uniquely with New York City keeps you on your toes, making you want to continue to come back.

We’re taking you through East Harlem with these 20 places in our Untapped Cities Guide, though understand that there’s so much more to this area that requires simply wandering and absorbing the area without a guide once you’ve covered your basics.

Historical Sites

Langston Hughes House

One of the most prominent figures during the Harlem Renaissance, acclaimed poet and author Langston Hughes resided on the top floor of his Harlem brownstone, between the years 1947 to 1967. Located on 20 East 127th Street, the three story building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In an effort to preserve the space, over 800 people donated to nonprofit arts collective, “I, too,” which now leases the houses. In an effort to preserve Langston Hughes’s legacy, the collective hosts educational and artistic programming, including writing workshops, “creative conversation series,” poetry salons and more.

The Harlem Courthouse

The Harlem Courthouse is one of the many treasures of East Harlem. This Gothic-Romanesque Revival structure was designed and built between 1891 and 1893 by the architectural firm Thom & Wilson, who also designed the Moorish style Hampton Apartments on Perry Street in Greenwich Village.

The structure was used by the Municipal and Magistrate’s Courts, and was one of the city’s earliest county seats.  Much of the building was restored during a renewal project, but the jail and former living quarters were not part of the restoration program. The Harlem Courthouse was designated a New York City Landmark in 1967 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The Harlem Courthouse is now in use as the Harlem Community Justice Center where family, housing and small claim civil cases are heard. There is also some office space for the NYPD.  It is not open to the public unless you have business there. But fortunately for you, there is a virtual tour with the New York Correction History Society.