Nothing beats live music, but the venue makes a difference. There’s a reason why people might say, “I saw the Beatles at Red Rocks,” rather than, “I saw the Beatles.” When you’re able to score tickets to an incredible concert in a really, really incredible place, you won’t forget the experience.
Here are some of the coolest music venues from around the world. If you haven’t been to any of these legendary institutions, start packing -- you’ve got some traveling to do.
1. Arena Of Nîmes, Nîmes, France
Originally built around A.D. 70 as a bullring, the Arena of Nîmes presents concertgoers with an interesting dilemma: Should they enjoy the music, or marvel at the gorgeous Roman architecture? The arena is, after all, one of the world’s best-preserved Roman amphitheaters.
During a typical trip, you’ll have time for both activities, and you’ll be perfectly comfortable during the experience, since the Arena of Nîmes has seating for 12,000 visitors. There’s also an attached gladiator museum that shows short films about the gladiators who fought in the amphitheater, so history buffs will leave satisfied.
Many major touring acts plan stops at the Arena of Nîmes, especially during the venue’s annual festival. This year’s schedule features sets by Elton John, ZZ Top, Mark Knopfler, and Toto, along with various theatrical performances (check out the full calendar here).
2. MeetFactory, Prague, Czech Republic
One of the smaller venues on this list, MeetFactory is an art gallery, theater, and music venue. The venue only accommodates 1,000 people, so you won’t see any huge names come through.
Still, it’s a great place to see up-and-coming local acts, and if you’ve got an eye for contemporary art, you’ll love your time here. MeetFactory’s founder, David Cerny, is one of Prague’s most well-known sculptors, and his subversive influence informs many of the artistic exhibitions on display.
If you’re looking for a slightly unconventional way to spend an evening in Prague, MeetFactory is certainly worth a visit.
3. Dalhalla, Rättvik, Sweden
The Swedish equivalent of Red Rocks, which we’ll cover in a moment, Dalhalla is surrounded by a former limestone quarry. Per the venue, that quarry is the result of a meteorite impact that occurred about 360 million years ago (there’s a joke here about rock music, but we’ll resist the urge). In 1991, opera singer Margareta Dellerfors discovered the area and turned it into a summer festival venue.
Each year, Dalhalla hosts only 20 to 25 shows, so you may have to schedule your visit around a performance. While well-known acts like Iggy Pop and John Fogerty stop by on occasion, the venue is particularly suited to opera; if you’ve got even a passing interest in the art form, Dalhalla is a wonderful place to enjoy the works of greats like Mozart and Verdi.
4. Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado
We don’t think this is an overstatement: Red Rocks might be the most beautiful venue in the United States, and it’s certainly one of the most famous. We can’t write an article about cool venues without mentioning it.
At 6,450 feet above sea level, Red Rocks is a geologically formed natural stage, and its massive sandstone monoliths provide a perfect frame for concerts. The sky seems to stretch to infinity, and the acoustics are nothing short of legendary. Check out a few awe-inspiring pictures, and then consider that the pictures don’t do it justice.
Red Rocks's jaw-dropping beauty makes it a particularly attractive venue for jam bands, so if you’re into the music of acts like Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, and Phish, you’ll have no trouble finding something in line with your interests.
With that said, Red Rocks is one of the most popular venues in the world for a reason. Watch the venue’s calendar for long enough, and you’ll certainly find a show that piques your interest.
5. SteelStacks, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
SteelStacks is located on a 10-acre revitalized brownfield that was the former home of Bethlehem Steel. At nighttime, the enormous steelworks tower over the stage, creating the perfect backdrop for a once-in-a-lifetime photo. This place looks incredible, and the acoustics don’t disappoint -- not what you’d expect, given that you’re surrounded by tons of American steel.
SteelStacks books a variety of artists, from stadium-level rockers like Weezer and Brad Paisley to smaller names like the Jayhawks and the Smithereens. You can also take a tour of the site, and the venue occasionally has special programming for families.
6. The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland
Head to Wieliczka, a small town south of Krakow, and you’ll find the aptly named Wieliczka Salt Mine, which produced table salt from its excavation in the 13th century to its closure in 2007. These days, it has found new life as a concert venue, museum, and tourist attraction.
The massive mine’s acoustics work well with classical performances, though you won’t find many rock bands making the trek. Each year, internationally renowned performers like Le Poème Harmonique and Capella Neapolitana delight audiences, and in 2015, the venue hosted Krakow’s Unsound music festival for the first time. Concerts often coincide with major holidays like Easter and New Year’s Eve, so if you’re planning a visit to Krakow, keep that in mind.
While you’re there, you’ll also be able to view salt sculptures created by miners and contemporary sculptors. Guided tours are available in several languages.
7. Slane Castle, Slane, Ireland
What’s more rock and roll than playing a set in a giant castle?
Not much, as it turns out. Slane Castle was built in the 1780s and served as the estate of the eighth Marquess Conyngham (try to type that three times fast). Since it started hosting concerts in the 1980s, it has become a go-to spot for major performers, and it certainly offers an unusual backdrop for a show.
The one major downside is that Slane Castle only hosts one show per year. Previous acts have included David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, and the Rolling Stones, and the 2019 performance will feature Metallica. Tickets are also fairly expensive, but if you can’t manage to schedule a visit around a show, you can always take a tour.
8. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Okay, we’re not breaking new ground here -- the Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most famous performing arts venues, and if you haven’t heard of it, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard a live album recorded there. It’s also one of the most distinctive buildings in Sydney, thanks to the breathtaking design by Danish architect Jørn Utzon.
The Sydney Opera House remains an essential bucket-list item for every dedicated music fan. Located on Sydney Harbour, it’s absolutely iconic, and it hosts about 40 events per week (yes, you read that correctly), so whether you’re into jazz, rock, classical music, or opera, you’ll find something to watch. If you’re traveling to Australia, you have no excuse: You need to make a visit.
Of course, we’re just scratching the surface; in any major city, you can find dozens of great venues to whet your musical appetite. If you’re planning a trip, look for shows that interest you, and don’t be afraid to schedule your visit around a promising performance. At the same time, don’t forget to look at what the venue itself has to offer -- and take plenty of pictures!