Music is known for bringing people together, but what about bringing you all over the world? Traveling can teach you about the origins of your favorite music, show you some of the places that inspired your favorite musicians, or turn you on to a new local genre. No matter what tunes you’ve been jamming to lately, here are some of the destinations every music lover should visit.
Go for the: country music and honky tonks
They don’t call it Music City, U.S.A. for nothing. Nashville is full of recording studios, music-based attractions and live music venues. To check out the music scene, wander into one of the many bars and honky tonks playing live music around the clock on Lower Broadway. Right in the same stretch of Nashville, you’ll find the Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum, and the Ryman Auditorium, home to the famed Grand Ole Opry concert.
Go for the: rumba, salsa, and Latin jazz
Cuban music is dancing music. Rumba, with African and Spanish influences, is Cuba’s most characteristic form of music and dance. The best rumba combines vocal improvisation, elaborate dancing, and polyrhythmic drumming. Its core percussive instruments include claves (two sticks struck against one another) and conga drums. For an authentic rumba experience, visit Callejon de Hamel, or Hamel’s Alley. This two-block long Santeria shrine comes to life every Sunday around noon. In the evening, head to one of Havana’s many jazz clubs, like the famous La Zorra y El Cuervo or the more bohemian El Gato Tuerto.
Go for the: classical
With hometown heavyweights including Beethoven, Schubert, and Vivaldi, Vienna is the world capital of classical music. Tours at the State Opera House and Mozarthaus are good places to start your exploration of classical music history. Be sure to include Salzburg in your plans too. Less than a three-hour train ride away, this city is famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and filming location of The Sound of Music.
Go for the: flamenco
This southern Spanish city knows rhythm. An Andalucían specialty, flamenco fuses song, dance, and music into a powerful and expressive performance. Make your way to a tablao, or flamenco bar, in the Triana district of Seville for a traditional show complete with clicking heels, snapping castanets, singing, and toque guitar. Learn about flamenco’s origins and history at the Flamenco Museum. Or you can try it for yourself by enrolling in lessons at the Taller de Flamenco.
Seoul, South Korea
Go for the: K Pop
Characterized by addicting melodies, catchy hooks, strong storytelling, and sing-along lyrics, Korean Pop numbers are performed by “idols” with big, eccentric personalities dressed in bright, eclectic fashions. Though it only grew to fame in the 1990s, K Pop is an increasingly global phenomenon. In fact, Psy’s Oppa Gangnam Style music video is the most-viewed video on YouTube. For an up-close look at what K-Pop is all about, head to Korean music television station Mnet, to see a taping of live performances and music videos. Alternatively, you can see the next best thing at Klive, an innovative venue that features hologram performances by the genre’s biggest stars.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Go for the: jazz and blues
New Orleans is widely regarded as the birthplace of jazz, and it’s still alive and well in “The Big Easy” today. Walk through Armstrong Park to soak up some tunes, or pop into one of the lively music clubs of the French Quarter. If you can, plan your trip around one of the many festivals, like the springtime Jazz & Heritage Festival, Satchmo SummerFest, or Voodoo Music Experience in October, to catch a second line parade. If rhythm and blues is more your speed, head to the Treme historical neighborhood.
Port of Spain, Trinidad
Go for the: calypso and soca
African and French influences meshed throughout the Caribbean Antilles in the 19th and 20th centuries, giving birth to Calypso music. Now considered the national folk style of Trinidad and Tobago, calypso combines percussion, strings, singing, and political satire with a Caribbean flavor. It’s strongly influenced other popular sounds in the region, like the softer soca, funk, and soul. Journey to the Port of Spain in February when the streets are filled with Carnival revelers and live music is played late into the night.
Go for the: electronic house and techno
Berlin is a city that rarely sleeps. Though you can hear anything from opera to rock in its clubs, warehouses, and concert halls, Berlin is Europe’s techno mecca. Just be sure to pace yourself. Most clubs don’t open before midnight, and the party doesn’t really get started until 2am. Every music loving visitor should see the sun rise behind the DJ at Watergate night club, or trying your hand at getting into the exclusive and legendary Berghain.
Go for the: fado
The haunting ballads of Portugal’s folk music can be traced back to the early 1800s. Coming from the Latin word for “fate,” fado often sounds very mournful. Poetic lyrics about lost sailors and forlorn romance are sung in a soulful voice to melodic mandolin guitar. Drop by the Fado Museum in Lisbon to hear the story of the genre and hit the small, informal fado restaurants in the Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods for nightly shows. Just follow the signs for “fado esta noite,” which means “Fado tonight” in Portuguese.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Go for the: samba and bossa nova
Rio de Janeiro is famous for its samba music and dance. With African, German, and Cuban influence, this lively music’s rhythm moves in a fast and energetic 2/4 time. Featuring Brazilian instruments like the tamborim, chocalho, reco-reco and cabaca, samba celebrates the fun and joy of Carnaval. Offshoot genre bosa nova means “new trends” and adapts the melodic and vocal aspects of samba into a slower, more romantic style. Visit some of the dozens of old-fashioned clubs and music-filled bars in the Lapa district on the edge of downtown Rio to hear samba and bossa nova.
Go for the: gnaoua music
Ritual poetry meets traditional music and dancing in the rich Moroccan gnaoua music. Spiritual singers repeat one phrase or a few lines over and over to the sounds of heavy iron castanets, melodic string instruments, large drums, and a three-string lute called the hajhuj or guembri. The smooth melody often takes on a trancelike feel. Every June, the seaside resort town of Essaouira hosts a four-day festival where visitors and locals celebrate the sounds, sights and cultural heritage of gnaoua.
Go for the: punk rock and hip hop
With an alternative spirit, storied musical heritage, and big underground music scene, Bristol is the UK’s best destination for modern music lovers. The confluence of reggae, punk rock, post-punk, electro, hip-hop, and drum and bass has inspired many of the area’s famous musical exports over the years. This vibrant musical history is reflected in the town’s clubs, live music venues, and record shops. Shop in Idle Hands and the Centre for Better Grooves and you’ll feel like a local.
Go for the: opera
After snaking through the canals on a gondola, don your finest evening wear and get to the opera. The genre started in Italy around the year 1600. While it’s popular throughout the country, the floating city of Venice is where opera was brought to the commercial world and played for a paying public instead of just aristocratic elites. The repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt Teatro La Fenice in Venice is one of the most famous landmarks in the history of Italian theater. The season usually begins between November and December.
Go for the: reggae and dancehall
Since the late 1960’s Jamaica’s reggae artists have brought uplifting and inspiring natural groove to the Caribbean. Known as “the heartbeat of the people,” reggae expresses social and political opinions set against vibrant riddims (instrumentation) that includes organs, guitar, horns, steel drums, and more. Dance barefoot in the sand at Bourbon Beach or Jungle Nightclub to enjoy reggae as it was meant to be enjoyed. You can also hear dancehall, a high energy up-tempo offshoot of reggae, in your travels around the island.
Go for the: Celtic rock and folk
Let the upbeat tempos of traditional Irish music’s guitar, fiddle, flute, banjo, accordion, and bodhran Celtic drum inspire a jig on your trip to the Emerald Isle. Ireland’s west coast has a strong musical tradition, with plenty of theaters and pubs that feature live Celtic music on a regular basis. Head to The Town Hall Theatre, An Taibhdearc, Galway Arts Centre, Roisin Dubh, Crane Bar, Taaffe’s Bar or Tig Coili for some of the best live performances in Galway.