Shopping in New York

As one of the world’s true commercial capitals, New York City is a dream come true for passionate shoppers. Boasting fashionable boutiques, giant department stores, a vibrant independent commercial scene, and some of the United States’ best markets, New York City is undoubtedly the United States’ premier city for shoppers.

The United States’ most populous city and one of the world’s major financial centers, New York City certainly isn’t light on wealth. From gleaming office towers to fashion boutiques selling thousand-dollar handbags, New York City’s shopping scene shows the city’s attitude to life: work hard, and shop even harder.

Whether you’re searching for the latest technological gadgets, the best in designer clothing, or simply a gift for family and friends, New York City’s vibrant commercial scene and awesome range of retail outlets will give you near unlimited choice when it comes to shopping.

Read on to learn more about New York City’s top shopping districts, as well as the best places in the city to hunt for bargains and unique items that can’t be found in any other American city.

Shopping in New York
From high-end boutiques to vintage thrift stores, New York City is North America’s most diverse and rewarding city for shoppers.

Manhattan’s Best Shopping Districts

As an undeniably huge city, New York is full of great places to shop. From unique independent shops in Brooklyn to high-end fashion boutiques in Manhattan, New York City boasts a huge range of shopping opportunities that are ideal for any visitor.

The center of New York City’s shopping activity is undoubtedly Manhattan. As the city’s commercial and cultural center, Manhattan is home to New York City’s high-end boutiques and department stores, its best mid-range shopping outlets, and its most charming low-cost local markets.

Thanks to its extreme density, walking one block in Manhattan is often enough to expose you to a whole new range of shopping opportunities. Starting at the top of the food chain in the Upper East Side and ending in charming Chinatown, continue reading to gain a complete perspective of Manhattan’s best shopping destinations.

The Upper East Side is New York City’s capital of wealth. Home to billionaires and celebrities alike, the district is widely regarded as New York City’s finest shopping area.

Shopping on Madison Avenue, NYC.
Madison Avenue is home to New York City’s best fashion retailers, including the legendary Barney’s department store. Photo by Susan NYC

Shopping on Madison Avenue

Most of the Upper East Side’s shopping opportunities are found on Madison Avenue – the world’s most famous high-end retail address.

Madison Avenue is a great place for window shopping and if you are into designer fashion with an edge then Barneys New York is for you. Whether you want juicy tees or you have enough to fund an expensive suit by Prada, you’re bound to see something you can drool over.

If you make your way down to New York’s Madison Avenue you will find no less than fifteen blocks of designer shops with world famous names like Ralph Laurent and Calvin Klein. If you want to see what the rich will be purchasing tomorrow then Madison Avenue is the place to do your research.

While Madison Avenue offers little in the way of affordable products, it’s the city’s best place to shop for high-end items and designer fare. From Barney’s, home to an assortment of ultra-expensive fashion brands and designer items, to flagship stores of Louis Vuitton, Madison Avenue is undoubtedly New York City’s high-end capital.

Shopping on Fifth Avenue

While Madison Avenue tends to New York City’s ultra-wealthy, Fifth Avenue offers a more well rounded approach to luxury shopping. Home to flagship luxury stores and video game retailers alike, Fifth Avenue is New York City’s premier shopping street, rarely boasting anything less than packed sidewalks and huge crowds of shoppers.

One of the best known places in the world for Shopping is New York’s Fifth Avenue. There is little doubt that New York City has it all, whether you are looking for theatres, restaurants or a bit of retail therapy. If you can afford the prices, or if you just want to window shop and dream about what you would like to buy then Fifth Avenue is the place.

Take a look at the American Girl Place where they sell historical dolls from different periods in history. You can even watch the dolls come to life in the store’s own theatre while you relax and get yourself a coffee. The shop is also a book store with plenty of titles on offer besides history. If you fancy a great afternoon out while you treat yourself to a book and a doll then the American Girl Place is where it’s at.

Located in Midtown Manhattan, Fifth Avenue is one of Manhattan’s best streets for fashion gurus. While Madison Avenue deals exclusively in high-end fare, 5th Avenue offers a mix of high-end and mid-range fashion brands. Shop at Gucci one moment, at Uniqlo the next, and finish your trip at Gap a few minutes later.

Shopping on Fifth  Avenue, NYC.
In business for over eighty years, Saks Fifth Avenue is one of New York City’s most well known and celebrated department stores. Photo by jpellgen

No fashion shopping trip to New York City would be complete without a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. As the flagship store of one of the world’s most famous fashion brands, this ten-floor monument to design has been operating for over eighty years. You shouldn’t be surprised to find that when you enter Saks department store you won’t be able to afford anything but nobody is going to stop you browsing an incredible selection of brand names, designer goods, and even great bridal wear.

Yet another great store on Fifth Avenue is Bergdorf Goodman. The fifth floor is full of the younger end of designer fashion with plenty of items that teenagers will love. If great shoes and arm candy are your thing then this store is a shopper’s paradise. The Bergdorf Goodman restaurant is full of city types and ladies who lunch, at prices most of us could barely afford.

Along with its fantastic selection of clothing retailers, Fifth Avenue is one of the best places in New York City to shop for consumer electronics. Tech gurus should make a visit to the Apple store – a transparent glass cube housing a large underground retail store – as well as visiting one of the street’s many smaller technology shops.

Passionate gamers will want to visit the Nintendo World Store inside 10 Rockefeller Plaza. A two-story shrine to all things gaming, this store is a great place to buy gifts for children, as well as video game memorabilia. The nearby FAO Schwartz store is undoubtedly the best place in New York City top shop for great children’s toys.

While Fifth Avenue is mostly known as a great place to shop for retail goods and high-end fashion, the streets surrounding it are widely regarded as hotspots for jewelry. 47th Street, in particular, is known as the United States’ jewelry epicenter, boasting a huge range of independent jewelers and well-known retail stores.

Shopping in SoHo

If you’d like to enjoy the selection of Fifth Avenue without traveling uptown, visit SoHo in Downtown Manhattan. Home to a huge selection of high-end stores, this formerly bohemian neighborhood is Downtown Manhattan’s undisputed capital of big spenders.

Along with the usual high-end brand names, SoHo is home to a great range of mid-range fashion outlets. Japanese budget clothing retailer Uniqlo opened its first US-based store in the neighborhood, while UK-based Topshop sells fashionable clothes at prices that, given its neighbors, are incredible affordable.

Other shopping options in Manhattan

Bloomingdales is probably New York’s most famous department store and it’s situated on Third Avenue. Be prepared to fight your way through the busy and crowded arcade on the ground floor. Further up you will find some great underwear and other lingerie alongside some of the more affordable American fashion. If designer wear is your thing then Bloomingdales can offer you that as well.

If you want something in style and within your price range then Macy’s is the place to look. Mentioned in many American movies and stockists of cutting edge fashion at more affordable prices, the most famous Macy’s store can be found on 34th Street. There are number of Macy’s stores through New York City as well.

Wealthy fashionistas will enjoy the Upper East Side and passionate shoppers will love the extensive selection Midtown. Bookworms and artistic shoppers, however, will feel more at home shopping on the Upper West Side, New York City’s capital of artistic life, independent bookstores, and other charming retail destinations.

New York City’s capital of academia is Morningside Heights. Home to the esteemed Columbia University, this charming neighborhood is the best place in town to shop for books. Bank Street Bookstore, found on 112th street, is a great place to shop for rare books and educational material, while the Columbia University Bookstore is a fantastic place to browse for any hard-to-find printed material.

Shopping for souvenirs

Shopping in New York
Known as Manhattan’s capital of low-cost shopping, Chinatown is home to shops that sell trinkets and souvenirs at discount prices.

Visitors searching for tourist trinkets and souvenirs have two options. The first is to heard to Times Square and the Theater District as a whole, where every piece of real estate – sidewalk or otherwise – has been taken over by a souvenir vendor. As this is New York City’s primary tourist area, the prices for souvenirs are often inflated.

The second option is to visit Little Italy or Chinatown, both of which are explained in greater detail below. As New York City’s budget shopping capitals, these areas have numerous stores selling the same trinkets and souvenirs as the Theater District at prices that are often fifty percent or more below their uptown counterparts.

While Manhattan may have a reputation as New York City’s wealthiest borough, it’s also home to some of the city’s cheapest places to shop. Chinatown, specifically the area surrounding Canal Street, is home to some of the city’s cheapest places to buy souvenirs, locally produced goods, and ‘brand name’ items of questionable origins.

Once a small district home to Chinese restaurants and importers, Chinatown now reaches into the Lower East Side and Little Italy. Canal Street is the area’s center of shopping activity, and is a great place for bargain hunters. Be aware that almost all of the brand name items you’ll see in this area are cheap imitations of mixed quality.

Shopping in New York City Outside of Manhattan

Shopping in Brooklyn  NYC.
While it lacks the polish and glamour of Manhattan, Brooklyn with its neighborhoods is one of New York City’s best areas for fans of independent fashion.
Photo by Alex Proimos

Most visitors to New York City rarely step outside of Manhattan for anything other than day trips or light sightseeing. This is a huge mistake, as many of the city’s best places to shop are found in the outer boroughs. While Brooklyn and Queens might not have the glitz of Manhattan, they are still fantastic destinations for shoppers.

Hipster capital Williamsburg is one of Brooklyn’s best places to shop for records, unique fashion, and other indie items. Previously an inexpensive area best known for its immigrant population and cheap housing, Williamsburg is now one of New York City’s best areas for youth fashion, unique accessories, and indie culture.

Cult music gurus and vintage entertainment fans will enjoy browsing some of the area’s charming record stores. Packed with indie vinyl and rare CDs, Williamsburg has something to offer for every vintage music fan. The area also boasts one of the city’s best used clothing scenes, with several charming thrift stores and boutiques.

As North America’s capital of hipsterdom and indie living, Williamsburg is one of the city’s best places to shop for vintage clothes. While thrift stores cover the authentic vintage market, the neighborhoods many independent designer stores offer brand new clothes and unique personal accessories for fans of vintage fashion.

While Williamsburg is undoubtedly Brooklyn’s hipster capital, it’s Downtown that is home to Brooklyn’s best mainstream shopping opportunities. Enjoy a similar range of retailers to what you would fine on Fifth Avenue, albeit without the glitzy designs, high-end boutiques, and gleaming storefronts.

Brooklyn is one of New York City’s immigrant hubs, and as such it’s home to some of the city’s best international shops. Cobble Hill, a charming neighborhood that’s close to Downtown Brooklyn, is home to charming stores offering imported products and a huge selection of bookstores featuring rare foreign language publications.

Want to shop for handmade clothes and unique local fashion? Astoria, a residential neighborhood in Queens, is rapidly turning into the city’s best place to shop for all things independent fashion related. Great local designers offer their wares in Candy Plum, one of several designer boutique stores in the neighborhood.

Thanks to its cheap real estate, particularly when compared to its closest neighbor borough of Manhattan, Astoria is emerging as one of New York City’s best places to shop for high-end vintage fashion. While the thrift stores of Williamsburg sell low-cost fashion from yesteryear, Astoria is the place to shop for vintage handbags and high-end dresses from labels such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel.

Close to Astoria, you’ll find Long Island City. Formerly New York City’s industrial hub, this area has transformed itself into the city’s artistic center. With costly real estate driving artists out of Manhattan, Long Island City is now home to many of New York City’s best art galleries, boutiques, and local designer retail stores.

Finally, many of Queens’ smaller neighborhoods are home to international stores and charming immigrant businesses. From international grocers to second-hand stores, Queens is full of charming businesses that are best discovered by taking a stroll through the borough.

Tips for Safe Shopping in New York City

Shopping in NYC.
New York City is home to hundreds of streetside markets. To avoid being overcharged, make sure to haggle before you buy anything. Photo by Salon NYC

Despite its reputation for crime, New York City is one of North America’s safest large cities for tourists and locals alike. While pushy vendors may try to hike prices up for tourists unaware of local customs, it’s very rare for any visitors to New York City to be the targets of crime, particularly when shopping in Manhattan.

Manhattan is New York City’s most diverse borough for shoppers, offering a massive range of products for both high-end and budget shoppers. As New York City’s center of all things commercial, it can be a crowded and fast-paced place to shop, especially for visitors from smaller cities.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in some retailers preying on tourists. In areas such as Chinatown and Little Italy, many vendors push their products on tourists at what seem like low prices. If you’re approached by a vendor offering watches or clothes at low prices, it’s best to politely refuse, as the goods are often low-quality imitations.

Aside from pushy salespeople and shady vendors, Manhattan is a remarkably safe place to shop. Even areas of the borough that are renowned for attracting hustlers and scam artists are relatively safe and dependable for visitors that stick to brands that they know and turn down approaches by street vendors and touts.

Despite this, there are a few hustles and scams that visitors should be aware of. New York’s major tourist district – the Theater District in particular – are targeted mainly at tourists, with prices inflated to suit. Even chain stores in Times Square price their products higher than their counterparts in nearby Midtown, for example.

Likewise, many souvenir vendors in tourist hotspots such as Times Square increase their prices to cartoonish levels. If you’re shopping for New York City memorabilia, it’s worth visiting retailers in the Lower East Side or Chinatown. They sell the exact same items at prices far below those charged by Times Square’s streetside vendors.

While crime is minimal in most of New York City, some crowded shopping areas are known for attracting bag snatchers and petty thieves. Avoid flaunting your wallet in areas such as Chinatown and Little Italy, as the large crowds in these areas make it frustratingly easy for your bag, wallet, or cellphone to slip out of your pocket.

Finally, many smaller stores in areas such as Chinatown, Williamsburg, and Little Italy will not accept credit cards. Keep a reasonable amount of cash on hand if you plan on shopping in any of Manhattan’s indie neighborhoods, as most independent shops will turn away shoppers that plan on using their credit cards.

From its huge selection to its surprisingly affordable prices, New York City is truly one of the world’s best cities for shoppers. With the right attitude and the patience to tolerate large crowds and somewhat pushy shop owners, you’ll love your time in New York City.