Christmas is just around the corner, so what better excuse do you need to set off on a shopping spree? And why not combine it with discovering the museums, shops and bustling atmosphere of this great window on the world?
Along this world-famous street, stretching for just over seven kilometres, there's room for all the glories and the miseries of the West, all the contrasts and variety. The world's most most indecently expensive boutiques line Fifth Avenue, but so, too, do the five-and-dime stores; you'll find the universe of the world's biggest named labels right alongside the hot dog stands; quintessential American luxury stores such as Saks are just a stone's throw from a host of first rate museums; vast bookshops and record stores where you'll find the absolute latest, best and most popular, are set right beside emblematic hotels such as The Plaza and The Pierre, and right amid the comings and goings from fat cat city offices.
Fifth Avenue, the line that splits in two the most famous island in the world and that marks the border between the more-affordable West Manhattan and the city's exclusive East.
The Empire State Building itself and the Library of New York preside over the Midtown section; the stretch between 34th and 59th Street has become one of the world's most exclusive shopping centres thanks to Tiffany, Cartier, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Ferragamo, Fendi, Escada and Bulgari, to mention just a few of the illustrious neighbours. Farther on, from 82nd to 104th, the Avenue shifts shape and transforms itself into a Museum Mile, with a dozen of them, as unmissable as the Metropolitan or the Guggenheim, serving up another densely packed dosage - in this case of culture.
Along the length of the Avenue, the live-action performance show never stops: a vast human cast take their exit and entrance cues from the beat of the streetlights to perform in the world's most incredible synchronised urban choreography. Executives, glued to their i-phones, tourists, rich men in limousines, an incredible display of African American hairstyles and impossibly fluorescent fingernails, ultra-Orthodox Jews on their way to their jewellery stores at the junction with 47th, Texas millionaires shopping in the Big Apple... Even the beggars are extravagant, and a classic sight among the regulars on Fifth Avenue.
At Central Park, from the Rockefeller Centre, from the art-deco skyscrapers that tower near Midtown... the truth is that it's hard to know where to get started with Fifth Avenue. The street belongs to no one and to everyone; it belongs to the Hispanics who spice it up with salsa, and to the gays, who, once a year, parade there with pride. And, even if they are too busy rushing around to stop and think about it, above all, it belongs to the stressed urbanites who take it for granted, although they may never pause to look up in amazement at the wonders that line the sidewalks.
All you need to go out and in search of the treasures on offer are a pair of comfortable shoes and a glance at a publication such as the mythical New York Magazine, which will clue you in on the latest exhibition, concert or restaurant, even the sales and special offers that happen every day in one or more of the stores. You'll get a much more relaxed view of the bustle from the heights of the Empire State - a cliche, yes, but it would be a sin to miss it. Or check out the view at sunset from a roof terrace such as 230 Fifth or the Peninsula Hotel, from whose stylish bar and lounge you can see night fall over Fifth, which at this time of day is transformed into a river of flashing lights and urban echoes right from its origins in Soho all the way until it is lost beyond Harlem.
Essential Fifth Avenue:
One of the world's most beautiful skyscrapers. Empire State Building
Viewing points on the 86th and 102nd floors open until 2.00 am. Rockefeller Center
Major complex of shops, restaurants and offices. MOMA
One of the most important modern art museums in the world. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Art from all periods, plus major exhibitions. Guggenheim Museum
Contemporary art in a fantastic building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Best places for shopping Barnes & Noble, 555 Fifth Ave.
The great book and music chain. Banana Republic, various stores
A classic of casual style. Disney Store, 711 Fifth Ave
The whole Disney universe. FAO Schwartz, at 767 Fifth Ave
The big Manhattan toy store. NBA, at the junction with 52nd
Everything for NBA fans. Saks, 611 Fifth Ave
The quintessence of luxury. Tiffany & Co, 727 Fifth Ave
The world's most famous jewellers.