I love the opportunity of going to a concert when abroad and I have traveled purely for a specific performance, but also chanced it and got lucky when I was already in the location. And if the venue is something slightly out of the ordinary, even better.
Here is my selection of music venues I really enjoyed and would recommend to anybody. You will notice that United States venues are few, but that is not only due to my somewhat patchy personal knowledge of them, but also because I think most readers will probably be aware of them already.
So, here I concentrate on some of the venues I have visited around the world and really loved. They range from very fancy, to open-air and even performances on street corners.
If you love music, try and add some of these events into your itinerary.
1. Opera On Sydney Harbour, Sydney, Australia
One of my favorite places to enjoy opera was not the Sydney Opera House, although that was a treat, too, but the Sydney Harbour opera outdoor venue. Located on Mrs. Macquaries’ Stairs on the peninsula that juts out from the Sydney Botanical Gardens, the outdoor opera productions here are not only superb but feature pop-up restaurants and champagne bars, while the views nearly take over from what is happening on stage. The backdrop of the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Bridge, Luna Park, and the ferries crossing the harbor are simply magnificent, and just remembering the last production I saw there (Carmen), gives me goosebumps.
Pro Tip: This is something you will probably only do once in your life, so splurge on a Platinum Ticket. You’ll get prime seats and access to the bar and restaurant during the interval.
2. Palais Garnier, Paris, France
The Palais Garnier used to be the opera house in Paris until the modern Opera Bastille was built, but, while Opera Bastille is also a stunning building, Palais Garnier simply cannot be beaten. The entrance alone, with its grand stairs, the painted ceiling, and the masses of chandeliers — which in my mind make the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles look like a lesser effort — makes just waiting for the bell to call you a delight. Once inside, the Chagall Dome is simply amazing, as are the mostly ballet performances. Dress up, book a table at the Café de la Paix for afterward, and indulge in a Paris dream for the night.
Pro Tip: If you can’t get tickets, go on a tour of the opera house instead.
3. Café Carlisle, New York City, U.S.A.
Something a little different, but a night I enjoyed enormously was listening to jazz in the Café Carlisle in New York City, with Woody Allen playing the clarinet. Think what you like about Woody Allen’s life choices, but when he was playing with his friends, it was quite magical. He only plays there occasionally, but the jazz performances are fixtures, and I am sure all the performers are well chosen. Add a nice setting, good food, and drink, and you are guaranteed a superb evening with a difference.
Pro Tip: There is a dress code, so dress up, and then sneak out into the fabulous hotel for a snoop around. The Carlisle is one of those Grand Dames of hospitality.
4. Havana, Cuba
If I had a chance, I would go back to Havana on the next flight. The people, the setting, the colors, and the music resulted in a mixture that tugged my heartstrings and made me fall in love with the city, and I’m anxious for a chance to return. And the funny thing is, there is no definite music venue to recommend, apart from maybe the terrace of the Hotel Inglaterra, which has a band playing most afternoons. But generally, wherever there is a café, a bar, or just enough space, a band would appear from nowhere and start playing. Cuban music is fabulous and before you know it, you are tapping your feet, swaying, or jumping up to dance. And the best thing about it is that the locals will join in. Old ladies with their shopping bags in hand will stop for a dance, young couples will perform, and everybody just goes with the rhythm. The best venue there is, really.
Pro Tip: For a guaranteed good night, head to Floridita, Hemingway’s former hangout, for a night of daiquiris and superb music and dance.
5. The Arena, Verona, Italy
The Arena in Verona hosts a well-known annual opera festival, playing host to many famous productions before they move on to the big stages in world cities. The setting is stunning, and simply being able to spend an evening in a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater is pretty special by itself. The acoustics are superb, and, as I said, it attracts the big productions. A weekend in Verona is always a good idea, just add a dash of opera to make it really special.
Pro Tip: Be aware that you are sitting on very old and cold stone. Not only does your backside go numb, but it also gets chilled after three hours of sitting on hard rock. Plan ahead and bring a comfy cushion. Cushions are sold outside the venue, but the vendors know a captive audience and charge an arm and a leg.
6. Invalides, Paris, France
Sitting in the courtyard of the Army Museum in Paris, and facing the golden dome of Les Invalides, underneath which Napoleon Bonaparte rests, is pretty special. Add a glass of champagne, a truly chic audience of well-dressed Parisians, and a rather simple set of chairs and benches in front of a stage, and you have the annual Open Air Opera festival in Paris. Like so many venues, it is not just the performance and production that counts, but a good setting is half the story, if not more. This one, usually taking place in September, is simply lovely. The weather is still balmy and warm, and the evening performance is timed in such a way that the moon rises behind the dome. The last time I was there, it was a full moon and so beautiful that I can barely remember which opera I saw.
Pro Tip: After the show, book a table at Café Central in nearby Rue Cler, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris.
7. The Royal Opera House, London, UK
Right in the heart of Covent Garden lies the Royal Opera House. This spectacular venue hosts the best of the best productions of opera and ballet, and the setting is wonderful. The old opera house has been enhanced with some modern touches, best appreciated from the Bow Street entrance. The spectacular glass-clad Paul Hamlyn Hall is where the champagne bar is located, and it is extremely photogenic.
Pro Tip: You can book dinner around one of the performances in one of a handful of good restaurants in the opera house. It rounds out a lovely evening.
8. Hanging Rock, Woodend, Australia
Hanging Rock, or Mount Diogenes, is a spectacular volcanic formation that is a popular day trip from Melbourne. There are paths around the national park, and treks up to the top of the mountain, and, if you have read Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, you’ll appreciate that it is also quite an eerie place. Taking advantage of the spectacular natural backdrop are regular concerts at Hanging Rock, attracting big names such as Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Next time you find yourself in Melbourne, check the list of events and book a night out there.
Pro Tip: The Macedon Region is Australian countryside personified, and you should plan a local farm stay to appreciate the natural beauty and plentiful wildlife of this region.
9. Palau De La Musica Catalana, Barcelona, Spain
The Palau de la Musica in beautiful Barcelona is a feast for (nearly) all the senses. The outside of the building, built in the Catalan modernist style between 1905 and 1908, is covered with interesting décor, but the inside is even more spectacular. The main hall’s walls, and in particular the ceiling, are simply out of this world, and, while the venue is the only concert hall in the world that has received a UNESCO listing, the building is barely listed on any visitor’s itinerary when exploring Barcelona.
Pro Tip: The neighborhood around the Palau is hopping with tiny bars, which all serve great tapas and a decent rioja, completing a night of sight, sound, taste, and smell. Bring a partner to share the experience.
10. Stadtpark Open Air, Hamburg, Germany
A small outdoor venue in the middle of a large inner city park, this is one of the first places I went to see a rock concert on my own when I still lived at home in Hamburg. You sit on the grass, surrounded by a large hedge around the venue. The ground around the stage is slightly raised, so you have great views from everywhere, making it a perfect spot for an intimate concert. Alas, it being small means that it does not attract the really big names, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are more into musicals, then Hamburg is perfect as well: not only is it the musical capital of Germany, but it has a dedicated venue for The Lion King, complete with a dedicated ferry taking you to it across the harbor.
Pro Tip: One venue not to miss, be it via guided tour or with a booking, is the superbly modern Elbphilharmonie with a variety of concerts offered.
There are outstanding concert venues around the world playing host to international stars and staging popular music festivals: