New York on foot: Fifth Avenue

Already walking the streets of New York is an experience in itself. Mondo picked three streets leading to the best places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, each worth experiencing. First up is Fifth Avenue, which runs along Central Park and is known for its glamor and towering skyscrapers.

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue, Empire State Building
The legendary Empire State Building is located on Fifth Avenue.

IF ONE HAD TO CHOOSE just one street in New York to walk from end to end, it would have to be Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The ten-kilometer street has it all: world-renowned museums, verdant parks, skyscrapers, department stores and luxury boutiques. Fifth Avenue is also one of the busiest streets in Manhattan. When you walk the entire street from Harlem to New York University in Greenwich Village, you get to see many sides to the life in the metropolis.

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue
Mendi Cohen had bought a traditional bouquet to celebrate Jewish Sukkot, fall harvest festival. Fifth Avenue, which is lined with several jewelry stores, is also popular among the Jewish population.
New York on foot: Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue has some of the most iconic views in New York, familiar from many movies.

Between 1821 and 1855, New York’s population quadrupled. During that time, most of the residents were living in close quarters in the southern tip of Manhattan. The noisy and congested city was in desperate need of space and green areas.

In 1855, the city’s decision-makers decided on the building of Central Park. Today, it is the world’s most famous park that has appeared in numerous movies and TV series and is a must-see destination for all who travel to New York. Most visitors only make a quick trip to the southernmost tip of the park, but in the quieter areas in the north, you can feel like you’re in a forest in the middle of Manhattan.

Central Park offers various activities all year round. For example, in the winter, you can ice skate, and in the summer, you can experience all kinds of things from swimming, roller skating, and enjoying an open-air concert or theater to rowing a boat, watching birds and visiting the memorial to John Lennon.

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue, street food
The stands along the street provide street food typical of New York, such as halal meat served in a hot dog.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met, which was established in 1870, is located on the Fifth Avenue-side of the park. It is one of the best-known and most respected cultural institutions in the world.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the best-known and most respected cultural institutions in the world.

Visiting this giant of a museum can be exhausting, which is why it is advisable to plan ahead which exhibitions or sections you want to see. On the other hand, just wandering about the museum can also be rewarding; in the most remote rooms, you may be the only person admiring the ancient art treasures – even if just for a moment.

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue skyscrapers
Fifth Avenue offers plenty of Manhattan skyscrapers to marvel at. Many of the houses are commercial and office buildings. That’s why the street is at its busiest during the day and quiets down in the evening.

Fifth Avenue also features a mile-long section called Museum Mile, which houses many other museums in addition to the Met. The Guggenheim is a museum worth visiting for both its architecture and its exhibitions. The building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, looks like a white beehive in the middle of gray skyscrapers. It’s a good idea to take an elevator to the top floor and descend to the lower floors along the continuous ramp circling the atrium. The museum is exactly as Wright hoped: a sanctuary dedicated to art.

Other Museum Mile attractions include the Jewish Museum, the Museum of the City of New York and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Before visiting the museums, you should enjoy a classic New York treat at one of the hot dog stands along the street. When it comes to food experiences, that is as New York as it gets! The toppings used in a New York-style hot dog include sauerkraut, brown mustard and sometimes even onion.

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue, Hispanic Day
A dancer warming up before the Hispanic Day parade that was held on Fifth Avenue.

From 60th Street upwards, Fifth Avenue is a shopper’s paradise. The street is lined with shops of luxury fashion brands as well as ordinary department stores and shops offering fast fashion and trinkets for tourists. One of the best-known stores along Fifth Avenue is Tiffany & Co., which became world famous in the 1960s as the place where Audrey Hepburn’s character went to daydream in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The fourth floor of Tiffany’s, which sells diamonds, jewelry and other luxury products, is the home of the turquoise Blue Box Cafe. The café is just as Instagrammable as the name suggests. It is set to reopen in 2022 when the transformation of the flagship store is complete. Until then, the iconic store serves on 57th Street.

From 60th Street upwards, Fifth Avenue is a shopper’s paradise.

Of the large department stores, you should at least check out Saks Fifth Avenue, which has maintained its position in the tough competition between high-end department stores. Opposite of Saks Fifth Avenue, there is Rockefeller Center, “city in a city”, built by John D. Rockefeller Junior. The center, opened in 1933, is an Art Deco masterpiece. Its observation deck Top of The Rock is a great alternative to the Empire State Building if you want to admire Manhattan from a height. You can enter Rockefeller Center free of charge, but admiring the view is subject to a fee.

New York on foot: Fifth Avenue, Flatiron Building
The stunning commercial property Flatiron Building, completed in 1902, is under renovation. The world’s first large-scale Harry Potter store was opened in the building next door.

During the busiest hours, you may have to dodge passers-by on Fifth Avenue. Sometimes it’s good to just step aside and look up. Manhattan’s skyscrapers are an attraction in themselves, and the views against the sky are rewarding. Fifth Avenue is a also the place where Bill Cunningham, the legendary street-style photographer for The New York Times, quite frequently took photos. The street is perfect for checking out the local urban fashion.

Just below 42nd Street, you can rest your feet in Bryant Park. In the summer, the park is filled with people on picnics and doing yoga, and in the winter the park is used for ice skating. The park also hosts the main building of the New York Public Library, completed in 1911. The library’s reading rooms are impressive, and the basement houses the “original” Winnie-the-Pooh, the stuffed bear A. A. Milne gave his son.

From the main library, Fifth Avenue continues toward Greenwich Village for several more blocks. It is worth stopping at the corner of 23rd Street to admire one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the wedge-shaped Flatiron Building.

Text: Liisa Jokinen Photos: Lina Tegman

This story was first published in Mondo's issue 3/20.

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