Holiday Hotspots: Fairysales of New York! TILLS ARE RINGING OUT WITH BIG APPLE BARGAINS

Article excerpt

Byline: By CAROLINE WATERSTON

TIS the season to spend all your money - and where better than New York?

The Big Apple is one of the best places in the world to indulge in some retail therapy.

And with the pound reaching an all-time high against the dollar, Christmas has come early.

But there is so much to do and see in the city that never sleeps that my recent visit wasn't just about shopping.

I had fallen in love with New York long before we arrived at JFK airport. And by the time my friend Adele and I had cleared customs we couldn't wait to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells that had become so familiar to us through movies and TV shows.

When we first stepped outside our hotel, the Roger Smith on Lexington Avenue, it all felt a bit daunting.

We'd already planned which sights we wanted to see on our eight-day trip so, with guidebooks in hand, we were off.

First stop was Central Park - the New Yorkers' playground.

It has 21 playareas, a wildlife conservation centre, a kids' zoo, ice skating rink, a carousel, castle and much, much more.

We headed straight for the popular Wollman Memorial Rink for a bit of festive fun, and to see where Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack enjoyed a date in hit film Serendipity.

The rink was packed with tourists and locals, some experienced skaters and others, like me, beginners.

I was even lucky enough not to fall over, although I spent most of the time clinging to the side.

From there we wandered through the park, taking in the stunning scenery.

We passed the Loeb Boathouse, where you can hire bikes and boats, and Strawberry Fields - the mosaic memorial to John Lennon.

If you walk all of Central Park's paths it adds up to an exhausting 58 miles. We weren't feeling quite that energetic so we opted for a horse and carriage ride instead.

From the bottom of the park it's just a short hop to the department stores and plush boutiques of Fifth Avenue.

We spent most of our time - and money - at Henri Bendel, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Saks. The choice was endless!

In the evening we sauntered down to Times Square, hoping to grab some tickets for a Broadway show. But they were all cancelled due to a stagehands' strike.

Plan B meant dinner at John's Pizzeria, which served some of the best slices in town. The restaurant is based in a converted church and, with its classy Christmas decorations, was a great place to dine and exceptionally cheap too.

Next day, we tackled the towering Empire State building. …