Image: Customers browse clothes at Mango in New York
Seth Wenig  /  AP
Customers browse clothes at the Spain-based clothing store Mango in New York on March 4. If you're hankering for a tour of Europe this year but can't afford the time or plane fare, here are some of the ways in which New York City can be oh so continental.
updated 3/11/2009 4:14:18 PM ET 2009-03-11T20:14:18

On a recent day, I gazed at the Arc de Triomphe, visited the world's largest gothic cathedral, dined on Viennese schnitzel and spaetzle, saw a few Rembrandts, and shopped at one of Spain's largest fashion retailers.

Well, truth be told, it wasn't the Arc de Triomphe in Paris; it was the marble arch in Washington Square Park, in Greenwich Village, which architect Stanford White modeled on the famous French monument.

And I wasn't on a whirlwind tour of Europe. I was on this side of the Atlantic, sampling European art, architecture, food and shopping in Manhattan. Here are some ways in which New York can be oh so continental.

Shopping
Shop like you're in Spain, Paris, Sweden or London, all in one day in New York. Here are some recommendations from Elise Loehnen, editor at large for Lucky magazine:

  • The Spanish chain Zara sells "really beautiful things, mostly clothing, some accessories, nice office separates, and really beautiful printed blouses," Loehnen said. Zara's locations in Manhattan include 34th Street near Sixth, Soho at 580 Broadway and Fifth Avenue near 54th Street.
  • Mango, one of Spain's largest fashion retailers, at 561 Broadway in Soho, "is a little more va-va-voom, a little sexier," said Loehnen. The store has a raised catwalk with mannequins posed like strutting models. Designs by Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and her sister Monica include a $70 little red dress, a $70 peasant blouse and a $150 black-and-white jacket.
  • Swedish retailer H&M, known for fun trendy clothes and low prices, has locations including 34th and Broadway, 51st and Fifth Avenue and 558 Broadway.

For boutiques, Loehnen recommends Comptoir des Cotonniers' "easy-to-wear, south of France, low-key chic staples" at 155 Spring St. and Ludivine at 172 W. Fourth St., which Loehnen said sells "small French labels and beautiful items you won't find anywhere else."

Loehnen said the fashion world is eagerly awaiting the April opening of Topshop's first U.S. store at 478 Broadway. "It's probably the most popular High Street chain in London, really on-trend," she said.

And of course all the big European designers are already here. Giorgio Armani's new emporium at Fifth Avenue and 56th includes an Italian restaurant. Stella McCartney's shop is at 429 W. 14th St.

Art
New York's museums and galleries house thousands of European works of art. My husband and I once took visitors from Paris to the Museum of Modern Art, where they were astonished — almost outraged — to find so many important European paintings on this side of the Atlantic, from Monet's "Water Lilies" to Rousseau's "The Sleeping Gypsy" to Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." MOMA's collection also includes Surrealist works by Magritte and Duchamps, Impressionism by Cezanne and Matisse, and many other famous pieces.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is itself a European-style institution with a neoclassical facade, and art and artifacts from around the world, in the tradition of grand repositories like the Louvre and the British Museum. The Met's European holdings range from ancient classical statues and urns in the New Greek and Roman Galleries to Medieval armor and weapons (sure to please fidgety kids) to 2,200 European paintings. They include works by Renaissance artists like Titian and Botticelli, Old Masters like Rembrandt and Goya, and 19th-century paintings by Van Gogh and Renoir. The Met also has five Vermeers, the world's largest single collection of the Dutch artist's work.

A short walk from the Met at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street is the Neue Galerie, which specializes in German and Austrian art, including Gustav Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," a portrait elaborately decorated with the artist's trademark geometric designs.

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Uptown, The Cloisters, in Fort Tryon Park, was literally built from stones from medieval monasteries in France. The Cloisters houses the Met's medieval European art, including the famous 15th-century Unicorn Tapestries.

Food
Most cities have good croissants and decent Italian food, but an authentic Viennese coffee house is not so easily found. The Neue Galerie happens to have one called Cafe Sabarsky. Its fancy coffees are heavenly, served on silver trays, with little glasses of water and a sugar shaker with a spout. Spaetzle — tiny noodles served with mushrooms, peas, corn and tarragon — makes for a divine lunch ($15), and schnitzel — breaded veal, pounded thin — is served with potato-cucumber salad and lingonberries ($19). Desserts include Sacher and Linzer tortes. With Mozart playing in the background, you'll think you're in a cafe in Vienna; closed Tuesdays, open Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m., and Thursday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., with cabaret performances Thursdays.

So where else can you find authentic European cuisine in New York? Really, where can't you find it? Unless you're in Chinatown, any street with more than one eatery will offer something European.

Little Poland, Second Avenue and 12th Street, is cheap but good: borsht ($3), pierogies ($4) and bigos ($7), a hunter's stew with sauerkraut, sausage, cabbage and plums. Aquavit, the famous Scandinavian restaurant at 65 E. 55th St., is more expensive, but it also operates a less formal cafe with a $22 smorgasbord.

At Markt, 676 Sixth Ave. at 21st Street, everything is from Belgium, even the furnishings. "Our bar was an old apothecary, the light fixtures, tables and panels of wood, are all imported from Belgium," said Heather Carter. The menu has the usual moules (mussels), frites (fries), chocolate and beer, but you'll also find carbonnade, a traditional beef stew.

Elizabeth Knight, whose company Tea With Friends offers tea-themed walking tours at http://www.teawithfriends.com, says two of her favorite places for European-style afternoon tea are Tea & Sympathy, a British cafe at 108 Greenwich Ave., and Payard, a French patisserie on Lexington near 74th.

Image: A customer reads the paper at Cafe Sabarsky in New York
Seth Wenig  /  AP
A customer reads a newspaper at the Austrian-style Cafe Sabarsky in New York on March 4.
"I particularly like Tea & Sympathy because it reminds me of the places I used to visit when I lived in North London — Cockney, cocky, informal, the opposite of the posh uptown hotel teas," she said. As for Payard, Knight added, "there are now more tea rooms in Paris than London. Le five o'clock, as the French call tea, was traditionally served with a variety of patisserie, rather than scones and finger sandwiches, and sometimes a cup of sinfully rich hot chocolate. Payard offers sophisticated small sandwiches, fabulous pastries and hand-sculpted chocolates."

Architecture
The Empire State Building, Chrysler building and Rockefeller Center place you squarely in New York. But many of the city's other icons are "absolutely referential to Europe," said Rick Bell, head of the Center for Architecture, which is the American Institute of Architects chapter in New York.

The New York Public Library's main facility on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street "was very Beaux Arts — all about symmetry and classical references. Office buildings on Wall Street and in the financial district were also very Euro-centric," Bell said. City Hall, built in 1812, was designed by a Frenchman, Joseph Mangin. And Lowe Library, with a dome and Greek goddess on the campus of Columbia University, was even criticized by American architect Louis Sullivan as "being too European," Bell said.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, on Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, modeled on a style that originated in medieval France. Its cornerstone was laid in 1892; it's the seat of the Episcopal bishop of New York.

Each of the cathedral's seven individual chapels incorporates designs and heritage from a different European tradition: French, Italian, Scandinavian, German, British, Spanish and Eastern Orthodox. The British-themed chapel has Celtic patterns and the French room has a statue of Joan of Arc. The cathedral is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; highlights tours 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; Sunday services 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

But Bell said visitors shouldn't limit their sightseeing to architecture from the past. The city's modern look also owes something to a European aesthetic, from the sleek glass newsstands and bus shelters designed by the British firm Grimshaw, to the Morgan Library, at Madison and 36th, where the original 1906 building was expanded with glass walls designed by the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, in collaboration with the New York firm Beyer Blinder Belle.

After all, many European cities — just like New York — mix historic buildings with 21st century skyscrapers. And part of what people like, Bell said, is "to see the juxtaposition of the new and the old."

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