This essay examines how the contemporary city is being redefined as a fundamental crucible in which new and emerging modes of cultural capital are being forged. Drawing inspiration from the links Bourdieu draws between physical and social space, we use comprehensive quantitative surveys from Belgium and the UK to explore the accelerating interplay between large urban centres and the generation of ‘cosmopolitan cultural capital’. We show a close association between urban sites and the location of residents with new kinds of emerging cultural capital. This appreciation allows us to understand the increasing prominence of large metropolitan centres, which stand in growing tension with their suburban and rural hinterlands. This process is simultaneously cultural, economic, social and political and marks a remaking of the nature of cultural hierarchy and cultural capital itself, away from the older model of the Kantian aesthetic, as elaborated by Bourdieu in Distinction, which venerates a ‘highbrow’ aesthetic removed from everyday life, towards ‘emerging’ forms of cultural capital that valorize activity, engagement and intense forms of contemporary cultural activity.