K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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As music is the soundtrack to our lives, it can play a significant part in any travel experience. Whether it’s the pulsating beat of a nightclub, the lilting strains of a traditional folk song, an indie concert or great jazz that complements a delicious meal, it’s as much a part of vacation memories as a walk on the beach or exploring a magnificent castle. No matter what your tastes, if you’re a music lover, you’re sure to enjoy a fantastic getaway by choosing any one of these 20 destinations.
Seattle is widely known as the birthplace of the grunge music scene, spawned back in the early 1990s. Today, the city still embraces grunge, with a permanent exhibit devoted to Nirvana based at the EMP Museum. Originally named the Experience Music Project, it also features exhibits about legendary rocker Jim Hendrix and the evolution of music videos. Sea-Tac Airport hosts a stand-alone Sub Pop Records store – in fact, the famous record label with the same name credited with launching the movement is still based in Seattle and continues to give birth to great indie rock artists like The Postal Service and The Shins. Hip hop artist Macklemore is another one of its more recent music innovations. During your stay in Seattle, get a glimpse of the live music scene at great venues like The Showbox, Café Racer and Columbia City Theater.
Liverpool has often been called the world capital of pop, thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo. But it offers a lot more than the Beatles, hosting big name performers as well as special events like the Liverpool International Music Festival in addition to International Beatleweek. Of course, countless Beatles’ fans arrive here to experience the birthplace of the legendary English pop band. If you’re one of them, there’s no better way to take it all in than a Beatles Fab Four Taxi Tour, which includes stops at the former homes of the singers, Strawberry Field and Eleanor Rigby’s gravesite – all set to a soundtrack that made Liverpool famous.
The City by the Bay was the heart of the 1960s counterculture movement, with names like Janis Joplin, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead playing at famed venues like The Fillmore, which still hosts great musicians today. Some of the most famous San Francisco concerts have included the Beatles’ final live show ever at Candlestick Park and Led Zeppelin at Kezar Stadium. Just a few of the legendary acts to come out of the S.F. Bay Area have included Journey, Credence Clearwater Revival, Metallica and Green Day. Today, there are practically an endless number of places across the region to catch great bands. Amoeba Music in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is not only a great record store, but it’s an amazing spot to see a live show.
Berlin has a renowned reputation for decadence, but it’s also a world city that’s been in the spotlight for years for its pulsating house music, though many locals have now turned their focus to experimental music known as Echtzeitmusik. If you want to experience something other than the city’s famous techno or experimental music, head to White Trash Fast Food, an all-in-one tattoo parlor, tiki shack, burger joint and smoking cinema. It appeals to the rock ‘n’ roll crowd, with everything from garage and punk to rockabilly and 50s retro as well as guitar-based blues in the style of The Strokes and The White Stripes.
There’s a reason Nashville is known as “Music City,” as it’s home to literally hundreds of great live music spots that draw big names like Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift. The most famous of its musical legacies is the Grand Ole Opry, a country music and variety radio show that’s still recorded live. Visitors can attend a live recording at Ryman Auditorium, one of the most historic music venues in Nashville. You can also catch an intimate live show at the Bluebird Cafe, which features up-and-coming as well as experience songwriters. But Music Row and honky-tonks aren’t the only draw here, as the city also has a thriving rock scene that can be found at a number of venues, including The Basement, located just below Grimey’s New & Preloved Music store. This intimate venue has hosted everything from acoustic to metal shows, and even some “secret” shows like Metallica.
America’s capital may have a stuffy reputation, but it’s actually had a thriving underground music scene for years now, including hardcore bands like Fugazi and Bad Brains as well as the Godfather of Go-go, Chuck Brown, who was from D.C. Of course, this is also the place to go for those who enjoy visiting museums, with almost more than one could see in a lifetime, including the National Museum of American History, which features old cassettes and a plethora of other pop culture items in its collection. You’ll find lots of places to see live music too, such as the 9:30 Club, which has hosted everyone from Rob Zombie to Arcade Fire. John Coltrane and Miles Davis are among the many top musicians who’ve played the legendary Bohemian Caverns.
Boston has a rich, eclectic and ever-changing music scene. Just a few of the great recording artists birthed here include Pixies, Aerosmith, The Cars, Boston and James Taylor. It tends to cater to the college crowd, and whether you’re a student of music or a student who just loves music, the cutting edge scene offers the chance to rock to great local bands or the best of pop culture. In the summer, you can catch an outdoor concert or festival along the Charles River at the Hatch Shell. Classical music is still an important part of the city’s cultural heritage, driven by its colleges of music and conservatories such as the Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is known as one of the most versatile ensembles across the globe, embracing both traditional and contemporary scores. No matter what your style, you’re sure to find an energizing experience in Boston’s live music scene.
Many Americans became familiar with Cuban music after absorbing it via 1999’s “Buena Vista Social Club.” Today, many travel to Havana to experience pre-revolutionary son-style music, a prototype of salsa, along with Latin Jazz, timba and rumba, which can be heard in the city’s streets and bars. One of the best places to watch these musicians who are just as vivacious as those who dance to the beat, is at Salon Rosado in Marianao. Here you can listen to amazing Saturday night tunes from a balcony overlooking a sea of dancers. Insight Cuba offers an organized tour known as Jazz in Havana that allows visitors to experience of forms of music in the country, and even meet the musicians who’ve produced some of its most famous tunes.
Motor City may still be struggling economically, but it’s still the birthplace of Motown Music and the home of the Motown Museum where you can listen to the sounds of Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes and more. Here, you can see artifacts and even stand in the studio where those artists laid down tracks. Of course, Kiss dubbed the town as “Detroit Rock City.” Other acts with roots here include Alice Cooper, Eminem, the White Stripes and Insane Clown Posse. Fans of hip hop, soul and the blues certainly won’t be disappointed by the current music scene in Detroit either.
Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and while it may not have spawned a long list of musicians like London or San Francisco, it does have more live music venues per capita than such famed music spots like L.A., Nashville and New York City. The Texas capital established itself nationally years ago with the television show “Austin City Limits,” followed by the ultra-hip annual festival South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Some of its must-experience venues include the Broken Spoke, the Continental Club and Antone’s.
Trinidad and Tobago is not only an island country with the chance to enjoy the ultimate tropical escape, it’s also the home of Soca, a combination of calypso, funk and soul. While the music has popped up in other areas of the Caribbean, its roots are here. At the International Soca Monarch competition, you can watch local artists showcase their musical talents in exchange for a prize. Steelpan, a drum that was invented in this country, is also rooted here and used in Carnival celebrations. At the biggest event of the year, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival held at the end of February, everyone is asked to participate, including tourists.
Vienna is known as the City of Music. It’s a must-stop for classical music lovers, with many of the giants of this genre having lived or made music here, including Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Strauss, Mahler, Haydn and Schubert. Their legacy is celebrated in the city with an annual performance season that lasts all the way from September to June, along with festivals that take place every year as well as one-off performances and special events. See the Vienna Philharmonic if you possibly can – there may be nothing better than experiencing a world-class recital by the esteemed orchestra in the stately Wiener Konzerthaus.
Slate magazine called Portland “America’s Indie Rock Mecca,” – the genre has had a strong foothold here for years, long before it became a bit skewed by “Portlandia.” Bands like the Decemberists, Blitzen Trapper and Quasi hail from this eclectic city and can still be found playing in venues like the Crystal Ballroom and The Roseland Theater. Although the indie record label Kill Rock Stars started up north in Washington State, it now has its headquarters in the Rose City. You’ll find no shortage of creativity and intimate venues here, along with an outstanding local microbrew scene.
London has been the center of British music for decades, teeming with talented young musicians like King Krule and Juce from South London who are generating an entirely new sound. From Camden to Soho and Shoreditch, music oozes from nearly every pore of England’s capital, no matter what sound you’re into, in an eclectic mix of pricey clubs, traditional pubs and massive arenas that have played host to some of the most renowned music acts in the world. Head to the Old Blue Last for punk, Ronnie Scott’s for jazz and Floridita for Latin. For alternative, London’s Camden neighborhood is a must.
New Orleans is renowned as the birthplace of American jazz, and is still a top city when it comes to music. Whether you’re bar hopping in the French Quarter, attending the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the annual New World Rhythms Festival or Mardi Gras, the city’s music scene definitely won’t disappoint. Just a few of the musicians who have shaped the region include Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino, as well as more recent greats like Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis.
Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it traces its history back to Memphis, with the sounds of blues musicians like John Lee Hooker and B.B. King influencing later rockers. Of course the man who will always be most closely linked to Memphis is Elvis Presley, who recorded at Sun Studio and built his extravagant home, Graceland, here. Both sites can be toured today, and at the Stax Museum, which chronicles the history of the iconic label that’s home to musicians like Booker T. and Otis Redding, is located at the label’s former home.
New York City’s music scene is so diverse it’s difficult to summarize. Needless to say, it offers something for every music lover. From underground clubs and mainstream venues to Broadway musicals, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in a city that never sleeps. The Big Apple is credited for being the birthplace of punk and hip hop, and served as a launching spot for so many musicians it would be impossible to list them all. Visitors can experience the city’s musical legacy by attending a show at the Knitting Factory, Lincoln Center, Beacon Theatre, Music Hall of Williamsburg and many more.
Los Angeles is a hub for a wide array of entertainment styles, including music. In the ‘60s, L.A. was known for bands that performed on Sunset Strip, like Led Zeppelin and The Doors, at clubs like Whiskey a Go Go and the Roxy. It was the hub of ‘80s rock and metal, including hair bands like Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses, and in the ‘90s, the music scene in the City of Angels was known for rappers like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as well as rockers No Doubt, Weezer and Sublime. L.A. is also home to some of the most iconic venues in America, like Troubadour and the Hollywood Bowl, along with an endless number of smaller venues featuring local bands.
Kansas City is also well-known for its jazz scene, with the rise of Kansas City jazz emerging in the 1920s and ‘30s. Ever since, this Midwestern city has been considered one of the great epicenters of American music. Over the decades, the scene has expanded to include rock, punk and country music. Live music is big here, and you can catch it at places like The Levee, a hit with music lovers of all types for many years with regularly booked local and regional blues, jazz and rock acts. The Beaumont Club is a top nightlife spot, especially popular for country, but it also hosts a variety of heavy metal, pop and Southern rock bands. Great live jazz can be found at Blue Room and Plaza III among others.
The entire Emerald Isle is a great place to be for music lovers, but if you’re into traditional Irish tunes, the wild and remote west coast of Ireland is where you want to be for immersing yourself in a powerful music tradition that’s still interwoven into the fabric of day-to-day life. Passed down through generations, many children still learn traditional music on instruments like the fiddle, bodhran and uileann pipes, which they later perform at traditional music festivals held across the country. You can find great musical talents in large cities like Galway at just about any time of the day or night, but the small villages are where you can enjoy the most authentic sessions. Doolin, a tiny fishing village in County Clare, is considered the “capital of Irish traditional music,” a spot where nightly sessions can be enjoyed throughout the summer months and weekends during the rest of the year at pubs like McDermott’s and Gus O’Conner’s.