If there's one place that Harlem is known for, it's the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Seeing a show here, especially attending Amateur Night at the Apollo, is something we think everyone visiting New York City should consider - it's a unique and memorable thing to do.
Some of our local guides have gone more than once -- it's just that much fun! (Read about getting tickets below).
We also know how great this experience is from members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group with over 200k members.
We stop by the Apollo on our pay-what-you-wish guided tour of Harlem but we don't go inside.
If you want to see the inside and hear about the music and entertainment showcased here for nearly a century, you can take a tour with the resident historian!
Below we go over the tour information, and we share tips on planning your visit and getting tickets for performances.
- A Brief History of The Apollo
- Tours of the Apollo
- Tickets for Shows
- Plan Your Visit
- Legends Who Have Performed Here
- Things to Do in Harlem
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE APOLLO THEATER
The gorgeous neo-classical theater opened in 194 as the Hertig and Seamon's New Burlesque Theatre.
Like most theaters in the U.S. at that time, this theater was open only to white patrons and the owners offered opportunities only to white performers.
Nearly 20 years later, in 1934, New York's mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, banned burlesque performances and the theater shut down.
The theater reopened as the Apollo Theater and began its new life in 1934 with new owners.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Harlem was a hotbed of culture, from music, arts, literature, poetry and activism. This era came to be known as the 'Harlem Renaissance".
The Apollo catered to New York City's African-American population, many of whom were beginning to move to Harlem in large numbers.
Given the make-up of the neighborhood and new patrons, the owners prioritized offering spots to African-American talent, though they booked white entertainment as well.
Within the next few years, future legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday would be introduced to Harlem audiences on the theater’s weekly Amateur Night.
As they say, the rest is history!
If you have time in your schedule and are here on a Wednesday, we highly recommend you go to Amateur Night (see below).
Many of our guides have been to see shows at the Apollo at least once. Take it from us, is one of the most memorable experiences you can have in New York City!
APOLLO THEATER TOURS
Apollo offers a 60-75 minute tour led by the resident historian of the Apollo Theater, Billy “Mr. Apollo” Mitchell.
It is offered to groups of 20 people or more, but if you are traveling alone or are with a group of fewer than 20, you can join an existing tour if one is scheduled for the date you want to visit.
The tour is not free but is well worth the cost for those who love music, culture, and African-American history.
Mr. Mitchell has been working for the Apollo Theatre since 1965 when he was hired as a teenager to be a backstage gofer for visiting celebrities.
He has witnessed much of the Apollo's history and is full of stories about the legendary performers who have graced this venue.
His passion for the theatre is infectious. He loves his job so much, it is the only place he has ever worked!
- Monday: 11 am and 1 pm
- Wednesday: 11 am
- Saturday: 11 am and 1 pm
- Groups of 20 – 55 people
- Monday & Wednesday $15 per person
- Saturday $17 per person
- Individuals & groups of 19 or less
- $17 per person
To book a tour, contact Billy Mitchell at 212-531-5337 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about the tours here.
SEE A SHOW AT THE APOLLO
If you want to see a show at the Apollo Theater, look at the calendar of concerts here.
You can buy tickets online. Sometimes you may a discount on Groupon.
If you don't see a performer that interests you, we recommend going to Amateur Night at the Apollo.
Before there was American Idol, before there was The Voice, before there was The X Factor...there was Amateur Night at the Apollo.
Attending this talent competition is one of the most fun -- and unique! -- ways to spend a Wednesday night in New York City.
There is just no experience like it!
You'll see some really great performers and some not-so-good ones.
But that's ok because you get to boo them off the stage. You are encouraged to boo!
If the audience boos loud enough, the ''Executioner" escorts that performer off stage in not such a polite way.
Great talent gets loud cheers and applause. Some may get a one-way ticket to stardom.
If you are in town on December 9, 2023, the Apollo hosts an Amateur Night at the Apollo - Holiday Edition.
On December 30, 2023, you can see a special holiday show, Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night.
Read about them from our post, Best Christmas Shows in NYC.
Good to know when you attend a show:
- No outside food or beverage. Accommodations are made for patrons with medical needs.
- All persons and bags are subject to search.
- Bags must fit comfortably under your seat. Oversized bags are prohibited.
- Masks are optional but encouraged for all attendees while inside the theater.
- The Apollo has a seating capacity of 1,500.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
The Apollo tour is just over an hour. If you are already in Harlem, you may as well get to know the neighborhood!
Let one of our local guides show you around on our pay-what-you-wish walking tour of Harlem, one of our most popular tours.
We also have a GPS-enabled audio tour version you can use to explore on your own.
Check out our post on things to do in Harlem.
How to Get to the Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater is located in the heart of Harlem at 253 West 125th Street.
You can use this link for directions to the Apollo Theater from anywhere in NYC.
The nearest subway stations are the 125th station for the A, B, C, or D trains and the 125th station for the 2 or 3 trains.
TIP: If you are considering a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, all the companies offer routes that stop at the Apollo Theater.
Find out more about the different bus tours of NYC.
Musicians Who Have Performed at the Apollo
These are just a handful of the legends of Jazz, Hip-Hop, R&B, Gospel, Swing, Bebop, and Pop that have graced the Apollo stage.
- Michael Jackson
- Stevie Wonder
- Louis Armstrong
- Count Basie
- James Brown
- Duke Ellington
- Sarah Vaughan
- Luther Vandross
- Gladys Knight
- Diana Ross And The Supremes
- Dionne Warwick
- Sam Cooke
- Aretha Franklin
- Lauryn Hill
- and so many more!