48 shopping hours in New York

So good they named it twice. So romantic in the Fall. So brilliant for buying. So get yourself over there.

Why go now?

Why go now?

To avoid disappointment in the aisles of Manhattan's shops, you need to get there early. Go now to beat the frenzy as Christmas draws near, and to appreciate the rest of the attractions that the city has to offer without the crowds. If you really want to enter into the festive spirit, however, wait until 22 November. Thanksgiving Eve is when New York's holiday season - and shopping bonanza - traditionally gets under way.

Beam down

London-New York is the busiest and most competitive international air route in the world, and fares this winter will again be well below £200 - though the real bargains may not be available until the beginning of November. Book through discount agents rather than direct with the airlines for the best deals. For flexible fares (no minimum stay, date changes allowed), Air India's daily flights from Heathrow to JFK are usually the best, through Welcome Travel (020-7439 3627). From elsewhere in Britain, there are non-stop services from Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow to Newark on Continental, and from Manchester to JFK on British Airways, Delta and Pakistan International.

Check in

If you're planning on spending minimal time in your hotel room and maximum time in the shops, the Chelsea Star Hotel (300 West 30th Street, 001 212 244 7827, www.starhotelny.com) has celebrity themed doubles from $90 (£60) per night (it's no relation to the famous but tattier Chelsea Hotel). For more glamour, the TriBeCa Grand (2, Avenue of the Americas, 001 212 519 6600, www.tribecagrand.com) has doubles from a whacking $454 (£310), although you do get plenty of free Kiehl's toiletries. Or, shop without leaving your room at the Royalton (44 West 44th Street, 001 212 869 4400), where you can buy everything from the sheets to the bathrobes (double rooms from around £280).

Get your bearings

Manhattan's streets are easy to navigate. Loosely speaking, hip young shoppers should try the south-west - Greenwich Village, SoHo ("South of Houston Street"), NoLita ("North of Little Italy"), TriBeCa ("Triangle Below Canal Street") and East Village - while those with more conservative tastes, and wads of cash, will probably be happier in Upper East Side and Midtown. At New York City's Visitor Information Centre (810 Seventh Avenue, 001 212 484 1222, www.nycvisit.com) you can buy an MTA Fun Pass and get around all day on buses and the subway (underground) for $4 (£2.70).

Take a hike

Stroll down Madison Avenue, past all the big names in fashion and beauty, including Calvin Klein's flagship store at number 654 (001 212 292 9000) and Barney's at number 660 (001 212 826 8900, www.barneys.com), which is full of shockingly expensive designer wares. If it's all too much, carry on to the end of the avenue and escape to the Annex Flea Market (Sixth Avenue, between 26th and 27th Streets).

Lunch on the run

If you don't want to take time out of your shopping schedule, eat and shop at almost the same time at the trendy Dean & Deluca deli and stand-up espresso bar (560 Broadway, 00 1 212 431 1691). Or grab something to go (if you can tear yourself away) from Zabar's amazing deli (2245 Broadway, 001 212 787 2000).

Cultural afternoon

Those who want only to spend, spend, spend will be disappointed at the Woolworth Building (233 Broadway). This isn't a bargain utopia, but arguably the city's most elaborate skyscraper, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1913 to house Frank Woolworth's company offices. Visitors can sweep into the ornate, gilded lobby and be amazed by the story that it was all paid for in single dimes.

The icing on the cake

For many visitors, the holy trinity of shopping in New York is the Calypso store at 280 Mott Street (001 212 965 0990) for clothes, Kate's Paperie at 561 Broadway (001 212 941 9816) for exquisite stationery, and one of New York's most famous exports, Kiehl's, (109 Third Avenue, 001 212 677 3171) for toiletries.

Take a ride

Head up to the revolving bar atop the Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway, 001 212 398 1900) overlooking Times Square. Once every revolution, you can inspect the fluctuations of your finances on Nasdaq's eight-storey high screen and, if necessary, order a stiff drink.

Bracing brunch

If you want to gorge on a slice of teen-dream Americana, stuff yourself silly with hamburgers (from $7, or around £5), hotdogs (from $6) and banana splits ($15) at Serendipity 3 (225 East 60th Street, 001 212 838 3531). Or, be more grown-up and take the healthy option with organic apple and ricotta pancakes (from $10) at Heartbeat (149 East 49th Street, 001 212 407 2900).

A walk in the park

Take a breather from the check-outs with a trundle down through Battery Park. You can't buy replacement cells for your newly acquired Minidisc-player, but you can catch the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The views are priceless. While you're here, reflect on the tale that back in the 1600s, somewhere close to where you're standing, Peter Minuit of the Dutch West India Company "bought" Manhattan from the Munsee Indians.

Sunday morning, go to church

If you've more faith than funds, forget the pilgrimage to Tiffany & Co (727 Fifth Avenue, 001 212 755 8000) and take refuge instead in nearby St Thomas' Church (1 W 53rd Street, 001 212 757 7013, services at 11am on Sundays). Or, take a moment to gaze at the brightly coloured Mahayana Buddhist Temple at 133 Canal Street before hurling yourself into the hustle of Canal Street's bargain shops and stalls.

Sunday morning, go to church

New York's first Conran restaurant, Gustavino's (409 E 59th Street, 001 212 980 2455) is, handily for some, right next door to the glass and glitz of the Terence Conran shop (001 212 755 9079, open until 7pm at weekends). If you're not a fan of such notable neatness, hang out in hip TriBeCa and, when you've finished making quirky acquisitions, knock back the best margaritas in town, along with huge amounts of Mexican food, in El Teddy's (219 West Broadway, 001 212 941 7070).

An aperitif

Go the whole hog and toast your spending spree with champagne at The Bubble Lounge (228 West Broadway, 001 212 431 3433). Or, if you're looking to pick up more than a bargain while you're in the city, make your way to Drip (489 Amsterdam Avenue, 001 212 875 1032). Open way past midnight most nights, you can post a prospective love note, or a reply to one, at this cosy coffee bar-cum-dating service.

Window shopping

For lavish window displays and a general covering of all bases, New York's department stores are hard to beat: classy Bergdorf Goodman's (754 Fifth Avenue, 001 212 753 7300); traditional Bloomingdale's (1000 Third Avenue, 001 212 355 5900); massive Macy's (151 W 34th Street, 001 212 695 4400); Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Avenue, 001 212 753 4000); Japanese-owned Takashimaya (693 Fifth Avenue, 001 212 350 0100); and rich-kid heaven FAO Schwartz (767 Fifth Avenue, 001 212 644 9400).

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