The purpose of this article is to analyse the economic properties as well as the institutions governing the start‐up and evolution of cultural districts. The first part of the article reviews the relationships between culture, viewed as an idiosyncratic good, and the theory of industrial districts. The second part comprises a critical discussion of four models of cultural districts: the industrial cultural district (mainly based on positive externalities, localized culture and traditions in ‘arts and crafts’); the institutional cultural district (chiefly relying on the assignment of property rights); the museums cultural district (based on network externalities and the search for optimal size); and the metropolitan cultural district (based on communication technologies, performing arts and electronic trade). The assignment of intellectual property rights to local idiosyncratic cultural goods seems to be the most significant way to differentiate among cultural districts. The final section discusses a possible convergence of all district models towards the institutional district, based on the creation of a system of property rights as a means to protect localized production.