Bruno Mars once proclaimed, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Just kidding, that was German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. But still.
Much like life, travel without music feels empty and wrong. From a perfectly timed song on the radio during a long road trip to the unique sounds that fill each city’s streets, music is as much a part of travel as what we do, where we stay, or how we get there.
But what about where the music comes from? Where in the world should the music lovers travel? From classical concert halls to divey clubs where legends honed their chops, discover the most incredible cities in the world for experiencing, appreciating, and learning about music.
1. Nashville, USA
No list of the world’s best music cities is complete without mentioning Nashville. Proudly nicknamed “Music City, U.S.A.,” Tennessee’s capital has long been the certified home of the country music. Fans regularly make the pilgrimages to sites like The Grand Ole Opry, Station Inn, and the Ryman Auditorium. You’ll still hear country all over the city, head to Robert’s Western World to hear the real thing in action.
Aside from country music, the city is now a mecca for alternative, indie, and blues-based rock ‘n’ roll, especially on its hip and trendy east side of town. Legendary venues like Exit/In and clubs like The Five Spot and The Basement (conveniently in the basement of Grimey’s, one of the city’s most famous record stores) regularly host some of the city’s best up-and-coming bands.
2. Berlin, Germany
From the pounding kick drums to one of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, Berlin has long been an iconic music city in the world. With a bit of something for everybody, visitors in the city will find some of the world’s finest musicians on the streets, at the Berlin Philharmonic, or somewhere in between. The city’s unique creative energy has long been a draw for artists from around the world, attracting the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and many more.
While the city touts a storied and diverse musical history, there is no doubt that techno music is the lifeblood of Berlin. Since the 1990s, clubs like Tresor and Berghain have become staple institutions for the world’s greatest electronic musicians to perform. Be warned; some clubs have notoriously difficult door policies, but you’re guaranteed to find a place to dance everywhere in the city.
3. New Orleans, USA
Considered the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans might be the most important music city of modern history. From blues and jazz to funk and hip-hop, the Big Easy’s been home to artists like Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, Lil’ Wayne, and many more. Oh, and Big Freedia. ‘Nuff said. The city takes its roots seriously and preserves its jazz history at the rightfully named Preservation Hall. Still a hotbed for fantastic musical talent, don’t be surprised if you stumble into a street corner dance party prompted by one of the city’s many brass bands and second line parades.
Understanding the history is a vital element of fully embracing the city’s musical culture. In a city like New Orleans, almost every neighborhood has a story to tell that contributes to the state of modern music. Make your way to Frenchmen Street for, arguably, the best musical talent per square foot (or meter) in the world.
4. London, United Kingdom
What do Led Zeppelin, Amy Winehouse, Jamiroquai, Elton John, Dua Lipa, Mumford and Sons, and so many more have in common? All of them have deep musical roots in London. As a diverse city, it’s no wonder that London’s musical influence extends far beyond the melting pot of the British Isles. The city’s rock ‘n’ roll output alone would put it on this list, but it’s also been home to numerous major musical movements.
Every bit of London has contributed to the rich music culture, from the beginnings of grime rap and dubstep to the new wave of Rough Trade. Venues like Royal Albert Hall and Alexandria Palace still house some of the biggest artists in the world on a regular basis. If you’re interested in looking past the pop music scenes of the city, take a trip to Westminster Abbey to explore one of the world’s most prominent classical music destinations.
5. Seoul, South Korea
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past 10 years, you’ve probably come across the global phenomenon known as K-pop. And if you know what the “K” in the name stands for, you know that South Korea’s capital is the heart and Seoul of the movement. While the modern K-pop movement started in the 90s with boy bands like H.O.T., acts like Psy, BTS, and BlackPink have seen significant international success in recent years. In fact, the movement’s gotten so large that you can even pay to become a K-pop star on your own (at least for an afternoon).
Of course, no one movement can fully encapsulate an entire city. Seoul features plenty of clubs, bars, and venues to see music ranging from indie rock and jazz to funk and hip hop. Take a pit stop at All That Jazz, a venue that’s been bringing jazz to the masses in South Korea since 1976. Or, take a trip to Club FF to experience the best of the city’s rock scene.
6. Vienna, Austria
In its hey-day, no city represented the peak of culture in a society like Austria’s lovely Vienna. Literally developed in concentric circles to put art and music at the center of the city, Vienna has long held music up on a pedestal. From its stunning Opera House and concert halls to its rich classical history, the city is a walking trip through some of history’s finest music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably the greatest composer in history, initially made his mark on the world in the city.
In addition to hearing the likes of Mozart at the Golden Hall, you’ll find Vienna has a burgeoning indie and underground music scene. Spots like The Pony Club at Rote Bar and Future Echo at Rhiz host some of the most exciting music nights in the city. With a heavy focus on synth and electronic music, finding a spot to dance off all the wiener schnitzel is no challenge.
7. Kingston, Jamaica
For a tiny island in the Caribbean, Jamaica’s music has become influential in every corner of the world. Aptly named, the crowned center of the country’s musical influence is Kingston. Of course, it’s impossible to mention Kingston or Jamaica without mentioning reggae music which has its roots in the neighboring Trench Town. Artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh put the music (and the country) on the map during the 1970s. Fans regularly make trips to the island to learn the stories behind the revolutionary artists.
Since the 1970s, reggae music has grown with the influence of hip-hop culture. Dancehall music is now one of Kingston’s main exports, with internationally renown artists like Sean Paul holding the torch for the city. You’ll hear dancehall and reggae all over the city, but clubs like Famous Nightclub and Redbones Blues Café are perfect for digging into the local scene.