Introduction to Tips for a Terrific Thanksgiving in the Big Apple

You've traveled to New York City to spend the holiday weekend away from home. Maybe you have family there, or maybe you wanted to get away from family and spend it on your own. Whatever brought you to the city, there's no shortage of things to do to keep yourself busy while you're there.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. You're still sated from all the turkey and trimmings that you ate. Now, it's time to get down to business. What should you do with the rest of your weekend?

In this article, we'll look at some of the activities that can fill your days while you're in New York. We'll give you some suggestions for where to get a jump start on your holiday shopping. We'll also discuss some ideas to broaden your cultural horizons with Broadway shows and museum exhibits. For the active traveler, we'll tell you where you can get your gang together to play some flag football or run a 15K race. And finally, we'll go over some volunteer opportunities you can participate in, if you're feeling civic-minded.

Best Black Friday Sales

Thursday thankfulness is wonderful, sure. But for many of us, Friday morning's cut-throat deal hounding is Turkey weekend's real reward. And there's no place to shop like New York City. Regardless of your shopping goals, the key to a successful New York Black Friday haul is good planning and an early start. Your options are dizzying, so we've identified some best bets.

For the consummate midtown Manhattan experience, line up with hundreds of tourists and locals alike outside Macy's flagship Herald Square store before its usual 6 a.m. opening. (The queue gets going well before dawn.)

The Macy's flagship store in Herald Square, New York City

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For fashion nuts: SoHo will be a madhouse later in the day, but it's not quite as bad in the morning. Most of the neighborhood's smaller boutiques open around 9 a.m. and generally feature solid discounts. Don't forget to have a look at the SoHo Antique Fair and Flea Market while you're downtown. (Caution: If you're expecting early hours and great sales from the Prada mothership at Broadway and Prince St., expect to be disappointed.)

For electronics enthusiasts: Circuit City and Best Buy have multiple Manhattan locations. Both will compete for the most outrageous Black Friday technology deals and can open as early as 5 a.m. In year's past, early bird shoppers have plucked $100 laptops, free desktops and free digital cameras.

For those with highbrow taste: Tiffany, Barney's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman all open early. You can find these stores grouped fairly close together in Midtown East in the upper 50s. After your shopping day concludes, be sure to enjoy a well-earned cocktail somewhere in the neighborhood -- Peninsula Hotel's Pen Top Bar and Terrace would fit the occasion perfectly.

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A Chorus Line can still be seen on Thanksgiving night and through the weekend.

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A Cultural Holiday Weekend

Broadway Shows

Planning on a visit to the Great White Way after your white meat feast? Here's the bad news: Each year, between 70 and 80 percent of Broadway theaters go dark on Thanksgiving night. You're not totally out of luck, however, as a handful of excellent shows will still proceed with their regular, 8 p.m. performances. According to Playbill, you can still see "A Chorus Line," "Avenue Q.," "Chicago," "Les Miserables," "The Phantom of the Opera" or "Spring Awakening" [source: Playbill]. ("Pygmalion" also plays, but starts at 7 p.m.) This year, however, dozens of shows have been cancelled through the holiday weekend due to the striking stange hands and producers [source: MSNBC.com]. Be sure to confirm that the show you have tickets to is scheduled to go on.

Friday, Nov. 23, Broadway lights up for one of its busiest days of the year, with most shows adding a 2 p.m. matinee to their 8 p.m. offerings. Saturday, the same schedule prevails at most venues. Sunday, as cast members fight fatigue from four performances in two days, many theaters cancel their evening performances or offer a single, 3 p.m. show. One Sunday exception is "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas." If you're looking to end your Thanksgiving weekend by getting into the Christmas spirit, the mean, green guy rocks Whoville at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the St. James Theater on 246 W. 44th St. [source: Grinch Musical].

Special Exhibits

The Met, the MoMA, the Guggenheim and just about every other museum in the city, are closed on Thanksgiving Day, but you can visit those great institutions over the long weekend. The place to be on Turkey Day itself is the National Museum of the American Indian. Located at the U.S. Customs House at One Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan, the NMAI is maintained by the Smithsonian Institute and has a sister site in Washington, D.C. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, with special, Thanksgiving-themed films running continuously. Current attractions include an exhibit of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest and a retrospective on shaman artist Norval Morriseau.

The Museum of Modern Art isn't open on Thanksgiving Day, but there are others that you can visit.

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Also open on Thanksgiving Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. is the excellent Rubin Museum of Art. Located at 150 W. 17th St., this relatively new space specializes in the art of the Himalayas. Housed in a former Barney's department store building, the museum features a central, spiral staircase ascending through five floors of paintings, sculptures and artifacts. Guided tours are free with your $10 admission from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Keep an eye out for photographer Kenro Izu's new exhibit, "Bhutan: The Sacred Within," which began Nov. 2.

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At Chelsea Piers you can bowl, or you can spend the weekend playing soccer, basketball or even ice hockey.

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An Active Few Days

You've gorged yourself into a tryptophan coma, overdosed on TV football and raided the refrigerator for midnight leftovers. Now it's time for some physical activity.

Ready for some flag or touch football? The North Meadow in Central Park allows team football through the end of November. Convince your friends to play by obtaining a fancy permit from the Parks Department [source: Central Park]. For a more organized take on flag football, visit the New York - New Jersey Flag football league's Web site.

If you're looking to play soccer, basketball, ice hockey, or even indoor sand volleyball, Chelsea Piers offers a wide variety of adult athletic leagues [source: Chelsea Piers]. Fall leagues have already started their season, but winter registration is still available for most sports. Alternatively, you can always reserve some playing space all to yourself if you want to drop in with some friends. Don't forget you can also enjoy Chelsea Piers' batting cages, driving range and skating rink throughout the holiday weekend.

A runner's best bet is the Pete McArdle Cross Country Classic 15K on Sunday, Nov. 25, at 11:30 a.m. in the Bronx's Van Cortland park [source: NYRR.org]. The running trails offer rugged and varied terrain, from cinder hills to grassy flats. The cost is $7 for adults and $5 for youths 14 and under. There's no advance registration -- just show up on race day and get ready to run off your turkey day overindulgences.

Finally, if you're looking for impromptu, post-turkey sports opportunities, don't forget to check the Craigslist Activities board.

The Bowery Mission is always looking for volunteers to help serve food on Thanksgiving Day.

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Giving Your Time on Thanksgiving

Helping others will be the highlight of your holiday, guaranteed.

The New York Cares Web site is a great place to start if you've never volunteered in the city before. After you attend their one-hour general orientation, you're free to choose from hundreds of opportunities each month via an online project calendar. During Thanksgiving, New York Cares needs lots of assistance for its flagship annual coat drive.

The Bowery Mission (227 Bowery) needs your help throughout the entire long weekend. Sign up here to serve meals at their main facility. If you're more ambitious, you can help bring food to the homeless at parks throughout the city.

New York Presbyterian Hospital and NYU Medical Center both have excellent volunteer programs. Log on to their websites to check out the opportunities and to sign up to help.

Pssst! Not all volunteering has to be so serious. If you're a Tchaiskovsky lover, you ought to know that the New York City Ballet uses volunteers to staff its Nutcracker gift shop during the holiday season [source: NYC Ballet].

And if you can't get away to volunteer your time, the Mayor's Volunteer Center has a complete roundup of places to donate material goods including books, blood, bicycles, food, clothing, art supplies, school supplies, sports equipment ... even animal toys [source: NYC Government].

Being away from home doesn't mean you have to go to all of the typical tourist traps. There's no city in the world busier than New York City. All you have to do now is start planning your weekend. Happy travels!

For more information on New York City, Thanksgiving and related topics, check out the links on the next page.