Music is an international language, spanning cultures across the world, and, in fact, across time. Looking at today’s musical landscape, certain cities truly stand out for their music scenes, whether for classical music, jazz, or even techno. In honor of International Music Day on October 1, we’re naming some of our favorite cities for music.
With the nickname “Music City,” Nashville of course makes our list of best music cities, having hosted On any given night of the week, you’re bound to hear live music, whether at one of the neon-lit honky tonks that line Broadway, at your hotel bar, or at the historic Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Grand Ole Opry for decades. Nashville is not only home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum, but it’s still active in the recording studio scene. Head to Music Row to find them.
If you’re after classical music on your next vacation, be sure to head to Vienna. Once the capital of the Habsburg Empire, the city was the hub of all societal affairs, and that included music. The greatest classical composers — from Mozart to Haydn to Beethoven to Mahler — all lived and worked in Vienna at one point or another. There are plenty of historic venues to catch a concert at, including the Wiener Konzerthaus.
Like many major metropolises, London has an incredible music scene, whether you’re looking to catch the latest pop star at the O2 Arena or Wembley Stadium, the London Philharmonic, or a low-key underground show. Of course, you can also take in a bit of music history at Abbey Road Studios, where everyone from The Beatles to Michael Jackson have recorded. Just be sure not to get hit by cars trying to take that famous photo. You know the one we’re talking about.
Austin was given the official slogan the “live music capital of the world” in 1991, when it was discovered that the city had the most live music venues per capita in the world, Austin does put on a great show, both in its many, many venues as well as during its major festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest (SXSW). Its musical roots lie in its German beer halls, which have been playing live music since the late 19th century.
Step aside, Bourbon Street. Frenchmen Street is where it’s at. It’s the hub of this jazz-filled city, where you can listen to great music every night. Of course, you can catch jazz at venues across town — the genre was born here, after all (and so was Louis Armstrong!). If you’re a huge jazz fan, you might want to consider visiting during the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, also known as Jazz Fest.
The history of music in Cuba is extraordinarily diverse — and extraordinarily long — so we can’t possibly cover it all here. But know that it has its roots in African traditions, though it’s been influenced by everything from salsa to jazz to the religion Santería. Havana is undoubtedly the hot spot when it comes to live music.
Memphis is not just famous for one musical genre, but it’s the heart of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and soul. Beale Street was the main drag for music — it’s a national historic landmark today — and you can still find all sorts of clubs lining it. There are dozens of recording studios here that attracted the likes of Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Alberta Hunter, and even Justin Timberlake. And, of course, you can’t talk about Memphis without mentioning Elvis and his magnificent estate, Graceland, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the city began to develop a new identity — and this identity included a robust nightlife. Massive parties were (illegally) held in some of the abandoned buildings across the city, blasting techno music, which had recently become popular. Today, Berlin’s musical nightlife is still thriving, though most venues are now properly sanctioned. Of course, Berlin has much more to offer than just techno. Check out one of the city’s seven symphony orchestras for some classical tunes.
New York has been described as a “melting pot” of cultures, and that applies to its music, too. The 20th century was particularly fruitful for New York’s music scene: During this time it became the birthplace of hip hop, disco, and salsa music, among other styles. Add in a dash of musical theater via Broadway, arena-style performances at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, jazz clubs, and dozens upon dozens of small venues catering to both emerging and established artists. The list truly goes on and on.
Named a “Creative City of Music” by UNESCO, Bologna might not be as well known as some of its Italian neighbors, but this city of less than 400,000 people packs a big punch when it comes to music. It’s not only renowned for its many annual music festivals, like the San Giacomo Festival and Borghi e Frazioni in Musica, but its also home to one of the best opera houses in the world, Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Plus, the University of Bologna, which is the oldest higher education institution in the Western world, dating to 1088, was the first university in Italy to offer a degree in music.
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