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Excuse to visit NYC: Holiday shopping

NEW YORK - A tourist's Christmas in midtown Manhattan has a logical starting place: Rockefeller Center, with the famous tree and ice-skating rink, Radio City Music Hall, and the view from Top of the Rock, the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

NEW YORK - A tourist's Christmas in midtown Manhattan has a logical starting place: Rockefeller Center, with the famous tree and ice-skating rink, Radio City Music Hall, and the view from Top of the Rock, the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

The bad news is, there are so many tourists this time of year, you might have to wait in line just to cross the street.

The good news is, within a few blocks of Rockefeller Center, you'll find everything Manhattan has to offer: world-famous art and architecture, great food, incomparable shopping and even a gingerbread house display.

For shoppers, start your tour just a few steps from the tree. Anthropologie, at 50 Rockefeller Plaza, has turned its windows into a vision of winter white, filled with enormous whimsical snowballs and other signs of the season. Inside you'll find cozy sweaters, berets and other casual but trendy clothes.

"It's easy to get distracted by things you want for yourself when you're shopping for gifts, which is why midtown Manhattan is a great place to tackle your list," said Elise Loehnen, editor-at-large for Lucky Magazine. "It's so rife with holiday spirit that it's impossible to get off track."

She added that because midtown stores are "engineered to handle crowds," they can be easier to navigate than crowded shopping elsewhere.

A few blocks north of Anthropologie, on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, Loehnen suggests stopping at the Museum of Modern Art Design Store. Here you'll find a carefully curated selection of apparel, gifts and everyday objects like salt and pepper shakers, all reinterpreted with a sleek and urbane aesthetic.

At the museum itself, check out the Tim Burton exhibition, a tribute to the filmmaker's art and creativity. And no, that's not a green holiday reindeer in MOMA's Abby Aldrich Sculpture Garden. It's a replica of the deer topiary from Burton's movie, "Edward Scissorhands." Also on view for the first time since MOMA reopened in 2004 are all four of its Monet "Water Lilies" paintings.

Heading up Fifth Avenue, it's fun to people-watch and window-shop at fancy stores even if you can't afford to shop there. Baubles hang like sparkling icicles in the windows at Harry Winston, the famous jeweler near 56th Street. On the same block, check out the scene at Henri Bendel, which carries nothing but accessories - bags, gloves, makeup and the latest craze among New York's smartly dressed women: scarves. You'll see lots of peddlers selling scarves on the street for $5, but at Bendel, a long black scarf shimmering with sequins will set you back nearly $200.

At 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, enjoy the design of the Apple store, with its capsule elevator and spiral staircase. FAO Schwarz is right behind it, and if you can't afford the famous toy store's $399 pink puppy the size of a chair, a tossable sack called a Myachi is just $6.99. Or fill a bag with candy from FAO's selection of old-fashioned goodies, $3.25 a quarter-pound, including Mary Janes and Swedish fish.

The Plaza Hotel across the street has temporarily closed the Palm Court, where afternoon tea was served. But downstairs, amid high-end designer boutiques in the Plaza's new underground retail area, an Austrian café called Demel serves food as good as the old tea's finger sandwiches and sweets, but at a fraction of the price.

Demel is run by two friendly brothers whose family owns cafés by the same name in Austria. Open-faced sandwiches with a choice of cheeses, salmon or prosciutto are served on hearty bread, $3-$5. Scrumptious chocolate tortes and other desserts are about $5, and coffee is served the Austrian way, on a silver tray with a glass of water on the side. After lunch, stop by the new shop themed on Eloise, the naughty little girl who lived at the Plaza in a beloved children's book.

A bit north and east, Barneys New York, at 666 Madison Ave. near 61st, is celebrating characters from a different genre: Its holiday windows feature favorites from "Saturday Night Live" like Roseanne Roseannadanna, the Church Lady, and Wayne and Garth, in the form of life-size papier-mache ornaments.

Now head west. At 959 Eighth Ave., near 57th Street, you'll notice a notable 21st-century addition to the skyline: The Hearst Tower, its exterior framed with a grid of triangles that makes it easy to pick out from blocks away. Inside the lobby you will find a "spectacular waterfall," said Matthew A. Postal, a researcher at the New York City Landmarks Commission and co-author of "Ten Architectural Walking Tours in Manhattan."

Other skyscrapers worth seeking out, Postal said, include these monuments to 20th-century Modernism: the Seagram Building, 375 Park Ave. at 52nd Street, and Lever House, 390 Park, between 53rd and 54th. At 42nd Street and Park, Grand Central Terminal is noted for its Beaux Arts design, and of course, back where you started, Rockefeller Center offers sleek Art Deco buildings and what Postal called "wonderful public spaces."

One addition to midtown this holiday season is a gingerbread display at Le Parker Meridien Hotel, 119 W. 56th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues.