These buzzing districts reveal the authentic character of five of our favorite European cities.
London: Shoreditch & Spitalfields
For centuries, East London has been home to the working class and immigrants fresh off the boat. What’s new is that these recent arrivals are now as likely to hail from TriBeCa, or West Hollywood, or indeed Kensington (seven-odd miles away on a map; light years distant, socially), as from, say, Bangladesh. These blue-chip creative and cultural talents—hoteliers and chefs, art dealers and designers—have steadily worked themselves into the fabric of daily life. Here, our tips for two dynamic sections, Shoreditch and Spitalfields. —Maria Shollenbarger
Boundary: Terence Conran’s compound, located in a Victorian warehouse, comprises a proper French restaurant, a 17-room hotel, and a rooftop bar and brasserie that is always packed (English weather permitting). 2-4 Boundary St.; 44-20/7729-1051; theboundary.co.uk; doubles from $322.
Shoreditch House: The Soho House group’s East London club has a no-suits-or-ties clause in its dress code (smirk all you like, it’s strictly enforced) and a hotel with 26 small but gratifyingly affordable rooms. Great Value 1 Ebor St.; 44-20/7739-5040; shoreditchhouse.com; doubles from $137.
Pizza East: This sprawling pizzeria, part of the Shoreditch House complex, with an unreconstructed industrial interior serves a menu of rustic antipasti (fried baby artichokes; bone marrow; salumi) and wafer-thin pies. 56 Shoreditch High St.; 44-20/7729-1888; pizzaeast.com; lunch for two $40.
Dray Walk: Along this small pedestrian alley off Brick Lane, food stands peddle Japanese izakaya-style snacks, dosas, empanadas, kebabs, dolmas, and eye-watering Goan curries. Small fashion boutiques with provocatively arcane names enjoy fiercely loyal followings.
St. John Bread & Wine: Fergus Henderson’s simple dishes—Middlewhite pork with black cabbage; beets with lentils and yogurt—are prepared to unadorned perfection and served on bare wood tables to a stylish local crowd. 94-96 Commercial St.; 44-20/3301-8069; stjohnbreadandwine.com; dinner for two $90.
Rochelle Canteen: Margot (Mrs. Fergus) Henderson serves breakfast and lunch at this Victorian school turned artists’ space. Expect nose-to-tail cooking (rabbit rillettes; Arbroath smokies) on the ever-changing menu. Rochelle School, Arnold Circus; 44-20/7729-5677; arnoldandhenderson.com; lunch for two $75.
Whitechapel Gallery: Mums and dads from suburban Wimbledon venture in for world-class exhibitions and Sunday lunch at Whitechapel Gallery’s exquisite wood-paneled dining room. 77-82 Whitechapel High St.; 44-20/7522-7888; whitechapelgallery.org; lunch for two $57.
Jamme Masjid: The Great London Mosque was consecrated in 1976 in an early Georgian structure that, for a century prior, was known as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. Before that, it had served as a Methodist church and the Huguenot Neuve Église, built in 1743. 59 Brick Lane; 44-20/7247-6052.
Aesop: The fashionable apothecary opened in slick, scented surroundings in winter 2010 on Redchurch Street, where art-exhibition spaces mix with shops and creative firms housed in former convenience stores and warehouses. 5A Redchurch St.; 44-20/7613-3793; aesop-europe.com.
Hostem: This men’s shop counts among its clients both fashion-forward gentlemen hailing from the City and locals sporting the East London hipster uniform of sockless brogues, rolled denim, whiskers, and the occasional waistcoat. 41-43 Redchurch St.; 44-20/7739-9733; hostem.co.uk.
Old Truman Brewery: Named for a family who started making ales here in the late 1600’s, the building is now home to almost 200 creative companies, including galleries, furniture showrooms, and recording studios. A variety of markets run Friday through Sunday. 91 Brick Lane; 44-20/7770-6000; trumanbrewery.com.
Old Spitalfields Market: Various stalls and stores sell everything from Venetian masks and Goth corsets to steak-and-Guinness pie at the storied 1887 covered market. Sundays are busiest, but Thursday is the connoisseur’s day for antiques. 16 Horner Square; 44-20/7247-8556; oldspitalfieldsmarket.com.
Paris: Les Abbesses
Most visitors to Paris head to Montmartre, the quaint village in the 18th Arrondissement. But just a few hundred feet downhill from Sacré Coeur and its tourist schmaltz, in the Abbesses quarter, a more authentic charm is still alive. Yes, its cobblestoned streets have been slicked up by trendy boutiques, but the area once frequented by Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Raoul Dufy hasn’t completely died. Prim old ladies, jocular bistro owners, a stray drag queen—everyone knows everyone in Abbesses, and here they say hello. —Alexandra Marshall
Hôtel Particulier Montmartre: This luxe property on a tiny passageway has just five art-filled, individually designed suites and a plush little garden. 23 Ave. Junot; 33-1/53-41-81-40; hotel-particulier-montmartre.com; doubles from $540.
Miroir: Take one bite of the caramelized pork belly, served au jus with roasted root vegetables at this fêted bistro and you’ll have cartoon hearts floating over your head. 94 Rue des Martyrs; 33-1/46-06-50-73; dinner for two $77.
Café Burq: Around the corner from the touristy cafés on the Rue des Abbesses sits Burq, a rollicking spot with a bistro-with-a-twist menu (veal liver sautéed with figs; roasted Camembert with honey) and a bargain wine list. 6 Rue Burq; 33-1/42-52-81-27; dinner for two $110.
La Mascotte: The local-favorite brasserie (founded in 1889, the same year as the Moulin Rouge) dishes up some of Paris’s best fruits de mer and sole meunière. 52 Rue des Abbesses; 33-1/46-06-28-15; la-mascotte-montmartre.com; dinner for two $110.
Spree: Visiting American fashion editors can’t get enough of Spree’s mix of European and Asian labels (Isabel Marant; Maison Martin Margiela; Tsumori Chisato; Carven) casually strewn over Midcentury furniture. 16 Rue de la Vieuville; 33-1/42-23-41-40; spree.fr.
Épicerie Lion: The flowers outside this gardening store and food shop are incredibly enticing. Inside, salted caramels and boxes of calissons (chewy Provençal almond confections) beckon as well. 7 Rue des Abbesses; 33-1/46-06-64-71; epicerie-lion.fr.
Halle Saint Pierre: The collection of contemporary Art Brut and Outsider art at this fin de siècle exhibition space stands in contrast to the traditional works shown in Paris’s major museums. 2 Rue Ronsard; 33-1/42-58-72-89; hallesaintpierre.org.
Cabaret Michou: Don’t pass up a visit to the legendary drag cabaret and supper club owned by the inimitable Michou, the neighborhood's nonviolent version of Don Corleone. 80 Rue des Martyrs; 33-1/46-06-16-04; michou.com; admission from $48, including one drink.
Lisbon has been busy lately doing what it does best: embellishing its brilliant history with world-class venues for contemporary culture, art, and dining, while remaining free of the signs of globalization. Interior designers have set up shop in the Santos neighborhood, which lies between Bairro Alto and the Tagus, followed by adventurous restaurateurs looking beyond Portugal’s borders for inspiration. The resulting balance of old-world charm and avant-garde creates a dynamic that’s full of surprises worth exploring. —Maria Shollenbarger
Paris-Sete: At the city’s premier resource for contemporary furniture (Vitra; B&B Italia), you can browse shelves lined with compulsory design reading or pick up vintage-style hand-carved cedar toy cars from TobeUs. 14D Largo de Santos; 351/213-933-170; paris-sete.com.
O Epicurista: This apothecary is the place to score rare fragrances from Saboaria Confiança, Miller et Bertaux, and Absolument Absinthe, as well as ceramics by Flemish artist Piet Stockmans. 49 Largo do Conde Barão; 351/213-960-990; oepicurista.pt.
Galeria Reverso: Local Paula Crespo’s temple to contemporary jewelry design is, at 13 years old, a Santos pioneer. Crespo sells her own geometric pieces (left) and curates nature-inspired designs by others, such as Dimitar Delchev’s nautilus-shell bracelets and Birgit Laken’s butterfly-shaped brooches. 59-61 Rua da Esperança; 351/213-951-407; reversodasbernardas.com.
Estado Líquido Fusion Sushi: Art students and furniture designers gather at this spot for exquisitely fresh sashimi at tables set on an under-lit glass floor. 5A Largo de Santos; 351/213-972-022; estadoliquido.com; lunch for two $84.
Maritaca: Hobnob with impeccably turned-out locals over thin-crust pizzas at Maritaca, which manages to feel intimate despite its warehouse-like dimensions. 68F Avda. 24 de Julho; 351/213-939-400; maritaca.pt; dinner for two $55.
Yasmin: Rua da Moeda, on the eastern edge of Santos, has become a chic restaurant row. Yasmin wins fans for its eye-popping interiors (Saarinen chairs; graphic wallpaper), crisp duck confit, and whisper-thin carpaccios. 1A Rua da Moeda; 351/213-930-074; yasmin-lx.com; dinner for two $83.
Sommer: A cheerful orange-and-white room is the backdrop for pan-Mediterranean fare, such as linguine with local Serpa cheese and roasted walnuts. 1K Rua da Moeda; 351/213-905-558; sommer.pt; dinner for two $70.
Asmalimescit, part of Istanbul’s central Beyolu borough, may have reached its glamorous peak in the 1920’s, but it became run-down in the ensuing decades. Now it’s in the midst of a colorful renaissance. Istiklal Caddesi is the main entertainment strip, a car-free street that’s filled night and day with locals looking to wine and dine or take in a cutting-edge art exhibit. Restaurants and music venues dot the area’s bohemian byways, but the quarter, with its narrow streets and ancient façades, has retained the feel of old Istanbul. —Deniz Huysal
Pera Palace Hotel: Agatha Christie, Greta Garbo, and Alfred Hitchcock all stayed at this historic property, which finished a $32 million restoration in 2010. It now has a spa with a traditional hammam. 52 Mesrutiyet Cad.; 90-212/377-4000; perapalace.com; doubles from $365.
Otto: Pizza is a big draw at Otto, as is the nightly parade of DJ’s. For some local flavor, try the votka gelincik, a mix of vodka and a house-made syrup of poppy flowers. 5 Sehbender Sk.; 90-212/292-7015; ottoistanbul.com; dinner for two $45.
Mikla: Star Turkish chef Mehmet Gürs fuses local and Scandinavian flavors at Istanbul’s most stylish restaurant. Mikla takes up the top two floors of the Marmara Pera Hotel; the view of the skyline is one of the city’s most breathtaking.15 Mesrutiyet Cad.; 90-212/293-5656; miklarestaurant.com; dinner for two $115.
Istanbul Culinary Institute: The hands-on classes (taught in English) held here are a good way to perfect your technique for preparing Turkish pastries—and to meet locals. 59 Mesrutiyet Cad.; 90-212/251-2214; istanbulculinary.com; classes from $75.
Pera Museum: This superb institution, housed in an 1893 building, has a large collection of Orientalist works by 17th- to 19th-century European painters inspired by the Ottoman world. It also displays Anatolian artifacts and hosts traveling exhibitions. 65 Mesrutiyet Cad.; 90-212/334-9900; peramuzesi.org.tr.
Nejat Eczacibasi Building: Formerly the Deniz Palas, the headquarters of IKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts) includes a concert hall, a shop, and a rooftop restaurant with a sweeping Golden Horn panorama. 5 Sadi Konuralp Cad.; iksv.org; saloniksv.com; xrestaurantbar.com.
Arter: Collector Ömer Koç wants to make the five-story Arter Istanbul’s next great contemporary art venue. Its latest exhibition, "Tactics of Invisibility," was curated in collaboration with Vienna’s Thyssen-Bornemisza gallery and Tanas Berlin. 211 Istiklal Cad.; 90-212/243-3767; arter.org.tr.
Babylon: This neighborhood mainstay, one of Istanbul’s foremost music venues since 1999, is still going strong. You’ll hear everything from jazz and electronica to local rock bands. 3 Sehbender Sk.; 90-212/292-7368; babylon.com.tr.
Ümit Ünal Doors: Cult favorite Ümit Ünal, a longtime neighborhood resident and icon of the new Asmalimescit generation, sells his avant-garde women’s designs at this boutique. 1B Ensiz Sk.; 90-212/245-7886; umitunal.com.
Bilstore Tünel: What started out as a collection of uniquely designed white shirts has evolved into a concept store carrying Fred Perry tops, Linda Farrow sunglasses, Melissa shoes, and Nudie Jeans. 90 Mesrutiyet Cad.; 90-212/245-9020; bilstore.com.
Brussels has a reputation for being a bit stuffy, a resolutely bourgeois town suffering from a dearth of grit. But the city has been working hard to change that: along a few choice blocks, it is cultivating a culture of refreshingly fashion-forward, streetwise cool. Just head to the once dodgy—and now chic—Rue Antoine Dansaert and the avenues that surround it. They’re lined with boutiques and restaurants that lend Brussels its new edge and give its ostensibly cooler neighbor to the north, Antwerp, a run for its money. —Maria Shollenbarger
Hotel Café Pacific: This 13-room hotel’s prevailing aesthetic is white oak floors, white-dressed beds, and biscuit-hued linens. But a few rooms sing louder, with cheery raspberry-red interiors or lines of poetry stenciled onto the walls. Great Value 57 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/213-0080; hotelcafepacific.com; doubles from $250.
Bonsoir Clara: This trippy-chic space serves a very haute (and gently priced) menu of Continental standards turned on their heads: foie gras with smoked-quail mousse is topped by ginger-orange chutney. 22 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/502-0990; bonsoirclara.com; dinner for two $63.
A.M. Sweet: One of the city’s loveliest afternoon teas is at this diminutive salon de thè and confiserie. It’s the neighborhood favorite for artisanal chocolates (including local cult producer Laurent Gerbaud), delicate pastries, and rare teas. 4 Rue des Chartreux; 32-2/513-5131; tea for two $8.
Mappa Mundo: Beneath the dark-wood rafters and low lighting, you’ll find a stealth Latin spirit and the city’s best caipirinha. Even the Eurocrats are loosening their Hermès ties and lining up at the bar. 2-6 Rue du Pont de la Carpe; 32-2/513-5116; mappamundo.com; drinks for two $14.
Lune de Miel: Rue Antoine Dansaert is blessed on one side by Chinatown and on the other with Rue Jules van Praet, which is chockablock with authentic Thai and Vietnamese joints. The green curry at this pan-Southeast Asian restaurant is a must. 15 Rue Jules van Praet; 32-2/513-9181; lunch for two $24.
L’Archiduc: Just ring the bell for entry into the circa-1937 speakeasy-style bar; inside, it’s an Art Deco fantasy of slender columns, curvaceous fauteuils, and a dimly lit mezzanine for intimate tête-à-têtes. 6 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/512-0652; archiduc.net; drinks for two $14.
Christa Reniers: Quiet chic is the neighborhood’s defining aesthetic, and Belgian jeweler Reniers embodies it with her elegant designs. Her signature Rainbow 8 stacking rings form gorgeous constellations on the hand. 196 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/510-0660; christareniers.com.
Glorybox: The work of emerging Belgian and French designers is on display at the retail extension of Brussels’s premier publicity firm. Explore smaller labels in styles ranging from ladylike to artfully edgy. 10 Rue Léon Lepage; 32-2/511-0488.
Idiz Bogam: In a Bauhaus-inspired space, you’ll encounter a profusion of vintage clothes and accessories, ranging from the merely quirky to the seriously collectible (Bally slouch boots in pristine condition; a salmon-pink Borsalino panama hat). 76 Rue AntoineDansaert; 32-2/512-1032.
Stijl: The progenitor of Rue Antoine Dansaert’s cachet: owner Sonja Noël has been stocking her sprawling, high-ceilinged space with clothing by the Antwerp Six, Dries van Noten, Kris van Assche, and the like for years. 74 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/512-0313; stijl.be.
Annemie Verbeke: The Brussels native’s flagship is housed in a 19th-century palace with marble floors, a curving staircase, and soaring ceilings. Verbeke's designs are feminine but bold-this season, for example, takes its cues from Georgia O’Keeffe. 64 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/511-2171; annemieverbeke.be.
Les Précieuses: This treasure box of a boutique is the place for statement pieces-bold, outsize necklaces and cuffs in brass, enamel, and grosgrain. You could shop with a blindfold on and still walk away with a perfect choice. 83 Rue Antoine Dansaert; 32-2/503-2898.
Bellerose: The first “concept store” of the Belgian sportswear brand sells not just its own Abercrombie-like men’s and women’s lines but also an impressive selection of vintage-inspired clothes, books, and accessories. 11A Rue des Chartreux; 32-2/502-8953; bellerose.be.