How to get a real taste of the Big Apple

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The Independent Travel

New York City Marathon

6 November

New York's marathon ranks as one of the world's most prestigious city road races, drawing around 85,000 athletes and more than 10 times as many spectators. The very first course - in 1970 - was four laps of Central Park, but today it slices its way through the city's five boroughs from Staten Island, through Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan, finishing in Central Park. Spectators can line the route from start to finish or check out a host of other activities, including an exhibition of photography from last year's race, a firework display at the finish line on the eve of the marathon and free street entertainment on the race day. (00 1 212 423 2249;

Chocolate Show

10-13 November

Kickstart the holiday season with a visit to the Chocolate Show, held at the Metropolitan Pavilion and Altman Building in fashionable Chelsea. The show is preceded by a chocolate fashion show on 8 November, then opens two days later with demonstrations from top chocolatiers, tastings, chocolate art and stalls. Exhibitors include Chocolate Bar, a NY shop specialising in retro chocolates, and more adventurous flavours such as pumpkin spice. There is also a host of artisan producers from France, Switzerland and Japan. There are cookery classes and storytelling for children. Tickets cost $25 (£14); free for under-12s. (00 1 866 246 2692;

Grand Central Terminal Holiday Laserlight Show

21 November-31 December

The Beaux-Arts splendour of this New York landmark has been transformed each Christmas since 1999 by an installation of lights, which illuminate the vaulted Sky Ceiling. Snowflakes, Christmas trees, Frosty the Snowman and more are projected onto the ceiling for six minutes on the hour and half hour between 11am and 9pm daily. Expect to see children lying on the floor and commuters craning their necks. There's also an annual Holiday Fair in Vanderbilt Hall, which brings together a host of stalls selling hard-to-find Christmas goods and stocking fillers. (00 1 212 340 2210;

Macy's 79th Annual Thanksgiving Parade

24 November

Thanksgiving rivals Christmas festivities in the US and the biggest celebration takes place on the streets of New York. Macy's Thanksgiving Parade first took place in 1924 and the helium balloons that have subsequently become a parade icon were first used in 1927. Today the balloons have grown in a typically audacious style, measuring up to 60 feet in length and depict popular culture characters from Sesame Street's Big Bird to George Washington. Around two-and-a-half million visitors line the route from Central Park West to Macy's Herald Square so spectators are urged to take up their viewing positions early. It takes place 9am to noon and is free. (00 1 212 494 4495;

Winter Restaurant Weeks

23-27 January and 30 January-3 February

Little Italy, Chinatown, Little India, Greenwich Village, the Meatpacking district... New York's gastronomic possibilities are endless - that's only 20,000 restaurants to choose from. But you can narrow it down during the two Restaurant Weeks when more than 100 of these eateries offer bargain fixed-price menus. A three-course lunch will set you back just over $20 (£11) and $35 (£19) for dinner. The Summer Week's participants range from upmarket delis and steakhouses to the ultra-chic Myriad restaurant group, which includes Nobu. Booking is advised as tables sell out fast. (00 1 212 484 1222;

St Patrick's Day Parade

17 March

New York's Irish community commemorates the death of the fourth-century missionary with one of the world's biggest St Patrick's Day parades. The route works its way up 5th Avenue from 44th to 83rd Streets past St Patrick's Cathedral, with a trail of musicians following the Irish 165th Infantry and 150,000 marchers. The parade is markedly less commercial than other NYC parades, and remains one of the city's greatest traditions, drawing huge crowds. The parade runs 11am-2.30pm. (00 1 718 793 1600;