Shop 'til you drop in New York

From couture to cuisine, New York has plenty in store - just don't forget to pack your credit cards


Where do I start?

Fifth Avenue is the most celebrated shopping street in the world, and as good a starting point as any. This is where you will find many of America's most famous retail names such as Tiffany, renowned for its jewellery and glasswear, and the distinctive blue boxes and carrier bags in which they are packaged, and Brooks Brothers for classic clothing. Alongside the internationally known designer names are high-street brands, too, like Gap.

Where are the best designer boutiques?

Many of them are located along Madison Avenue, the street parallel with Fifth Avenue, in the stretch that runs roughly from 57th Street northwards. You can keep going for 30 blocks and there will be interesting - and expensive - shops on both sides of the Avenue, but for the main boutiques there is no need to go any further than 72nd Street. In this 15-block stretch, look out for DKNY and Calvin Klein between 60th and 61st; Armani and Jean-Paul Gaultier between 65th and 66th. Then there is Coach for great leather bags at 595 Madison Avenue, on the corner of Madison and 57th, and - just in case you fancy yourself as a latter-day Carrie Bradshaw, Jimmy Choo at number 716, between 63rd and 64th Streets.

I must go to Macy's

As the largest department store in the world, Macy's Herald Square is a tourist attraction in its own right. To track down one of the half-million items it stocks you may have to battle through the crowds. The store has 10 floors of shopping and occupies an entire block.

There are several other department stores in Manhattan (see page 17). Bloomingdale's is expanding from its Third Avenue store with a new branch in Soho. More boutiquey than the original store, it is aiming to attract a younger clientele.

Of the other big Manhattan stores to check out, try Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue for sophisticated fashion, and Lord & Taylor for a good selection of basics, especially cashmere.

Any other bargain basements?

Visit one of the three Manhattan branches of Filene's Basement, the most central of which is at 629 Sixth Avenue (00 1 212 873 8000; www.filenesbasement.com). Filene's is a long-established company which specialises in reduced-price designer or branded clothes; it is often possible to pick up some amazing bargains here.

New York also has several flea markets, which can be great places to pick up anything from jewellery to bric-a-brac. One of the best is the Green Flea Market, a collection of stalls selling crafts, antiques, jewellery, books and plenty more besides. There are two Green Flea Markets, one at Greenwich Avenue between West 10th and 11th Streets, every Saturday between 11am and 7pm, and the other on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th streets 10am-5.30pm every Sunday.

And the advantage of places like this is that you don't have to pay sales tax.

Any other way to avoid tax?

In regular shops, four and three-eighths per cent will be added to your bill at the check-out; it is not included in the amount on the price tag. But a couple of times a year, usually for a week at a time, the Mayor grants a tax-free week, during which clothes and shoes costing less than $110 (£61) are exempt. The next scheduled period for this is 30 January to 5 February 2006. Future tax-free weeks will be announced on the New York City government's website ( www.nyc.gov).

One way to pay a bit less tax is to take a trip to the neighbouring state of New Jersey, where the sales tax is only 3 per cent - and prices may also be lower than in Manhattan, where overheads are high. The Mall at Short Hills (00 1 973 376 7350; www.shopshorthills.com), for example, is a pleasant indoor shopping centre with more than 175 stores including Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. It is located on Route 24 and the JFK Parkway, so you will need to go by car. Short Hills Mall opens 10am-9pm Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm on Saturdays, and noon-6pm on Sundays.

I'm getting hungry

The main department stores all have a choice of restaurants and cafés. Longest-established is Bloomingdale's' Le Train Bleu, a formal dining area set in the carriage of a train, although the store has a number of other eateries, including 40 Carrots, an excellent health-food café at basement level. But there are plenty of places where you can buy the makings of a picnic. Fairway Market is an increasingly popular food emporium and delicatessen at 2127 Broadway at 72nd Street (00 1 212 595 1888), and also has a café. And in the basement of the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, at the south-west tip of Central Park, is the Whole Foods Market. Stock up on salads, sushi and other prepared dishes, and either take them out or eat at one of the tables provided within the store. It is open 8am-10pm daily.

Somewhere really cool?

Anyone with any sense of style heads straight to the Meatpackers District, an area west of West 14th Street and 9th Avenue that has turned the corner from desolate to desirable. That Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen now have stores here is a sure sign that it is heading for the mainstream, but for now there are some great little designer stores that are less well-known. Yigal Azrouel at 408 West 14th Street (00 1 212 929 7525) has a wonderfully spacious establishment, and a gorgeous collection of day and evening wear. And while you are there, don't miss the beautiful underwear sold by Catriona McKechnie at 400 West 14th Street (00 1 212 242 3200).

I need some gifts to take home

New York has plenty of gadget shops: look out for names like Brookstones, Sharper Image and Hammacher Schlemmer. At Brookstones, you could spend $80 on a floating message alarm clock, in which the time is projected in blue neon, appearing to float in mid-air thanks to "persistence of vision" technology. And if you are looking for an offbeat gift, like, say, something to use for trimming nose hair, or a rainproof barbecue grill fork, you will find it at Sharper Image.

If you are shopping for children head for Toys "R" Us - the Centre of the Toy Universe, as they like to call it - which is in Times Square, on Broadway and 44th Street ( www.ToysrusTimesSquare.com). Store hours vary according to the time of year, but it is usually open 10am-9pm Monday-Saturday and 11am-8pm on Sundays. As well as three floors of toys, there is a Ferris wheel (which lifts its young passengers from the basement level to the top of the store), a two-storey life-size Barbie House, a large candy store, and an area full of video games and accessories.

How can I get some local knowledge?

Book a tour of one of the main shopping districts. The choice includes Fifth Avenue, SoHo and Nolita (as the area North of Houston and Little Italy is known), the Garment District (the area between Broadway and Ninth Avenue, south of 40th Street famous for its clothing workshops). The tours are run by an organisation called Shop Gotham (00 1 866 795 4200; www.shopgotham.com). They start at $25 (£14) for a two-hour walking tour, and you will be able to catch up on the retail gossip at the same time as finding out the cool places to shop.

Department stores

Macy's: 151 West 34th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue. Tel: 00 1 212 695 4400; www.macys.com. Open 10am-9pm Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm on Sundays.

Bergdorf Goodman: 754 5th Avenue at 57th Street. Tel: 00 1 212 753 7300; www.bergdorfgoodman.com. Open 10am-8pm Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm on Saturdays, 12-6pm on Sundays.

Bloomingdale's: 1000 Third Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets. Tel: 00 1 212 705 2000; www.bloomingdales.com.

Open 10am-8.30pm Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm on Saturdays, 11am-7pm on Sundays. Also at 504 Broadway.

Saks Fifth Avenue: 611 Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 50th Streets (pictured left). Tel: 00 1 212 753 4000; www.saks.com. Open 10am-7pm Monday-Saturday, 12-6pm on Sundays.

Lord & Taylor: 424 Fifth Avenue, between 38th and 39th Streets. Tel: 00 1 212 391 3344; www.lordandtaylor.com. Open 10am-8.30pm Monday-Friday, 10am-7.30pm on Saturdays, 11am-7pm on Sundays.

Gap in the market

There is no harm in checking out branches of the places you might visit on your own local high street like Gap. Prices in New York are lower than they are in the UK: so expect to pay $19.99 (£11) for a pair of women's jeans, for example, instead of £39.50, or $10 (£5.50) for a classic men's t-shirt as against £10.50 back home. While you are in New York, look out for Old Navy, which stocks basics at unbelievably low prices, and Banana Republic which sells better quality casual clothes to a slightly more sophisticated (and older) clientele. The latter has a good returns policy too, so if you get all the way home and change your mind, keep your receipt for your next visit!

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