Travel is much more than just seeing sights. For many of us, the lilting strains of a traditional folk song or the pulsating beats from a local nightclub are as much a part of our travel memories as images of grand palaces and bustling markets.
If music is a significant element of your own travel experience, you’ll want to tune in to these nine destinations, where you can play along with local musicians, watch an outdoor opera and much more.
1. Liverpool, England
The Music Scene: Vienna may be the world capital of classical music, but Liverpool is the world capital of pop — and it’s all because of Paul, John, George and Ringo. In addition to the Beatles, the city has hosted numerous big-name performers at Echo Arena, along with special events such as the Liverpool International Music Festival and, of course, International Beatleweek.
How to Experience It: Sure, it’s touristy, but there’s no better way to experience Liverpool than the Beatles Fab Four Taxi Tour. You’ll visit Strawberry Field, Eleanor Rigby’s gravesite and the former homes of the singers — all while listening to the tunes that made the town famous.
2. Havana, Cuba
The Music Scene: We don’t know why a sequel to “Dirty Dancing” was ever made, but we also don’t question why it took place in Havana. The city is known for salsa, cha-cha, rumba and timba (the latter a provocative combination of folk, funk and R&B), and the musicians who play the tunes are just as vivacious as the people who dance to the beat.
How to Experience It: Plan an organized tour with Insight Cuba, which offers a program called Jazz in Havana. The tour gives visitors a taste of all forms of music in Cuba, including meetings with the musicians who produce the country’s famous tunes. Tourists also visit intimate recording studios and lively jazz clubs.
3. Pune, India
The Music Scene: Indian classical music is so prevalent in Pune’s culture that many people opt to study it in instrumental classes or lecture series. In recent years, however, Pune has also attracted a crowd of rock, metal and pop enthusiasts, with the opening of mega-venues like blueFROG as well as smaller, more casual spots that welcome impromptu performances.
How to Experience It: Though it touts large entertainment venues and festivals (such as the NH7 Weekender) for young crowds, Pune maintains a laid-back vibe for all generations. Each December it hosts the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival, a three-day mash-up of Indian classical music, and the largest of its kind in the world. Pune also hosts Taalchakra, an international rhythm festival.
4. Trinidad and Tobago
The Music Scene: Soca, a combination of calypso, funk and soul, has emerged in other parts of the Caribbean, but the genre’s roots remain in Trinidad and Tobago. Steelpan is also rooted here; this drum, invented in Trinidad and Tobago, is still used in the islands’ Carnival celebrations. Other original music genres include chutney, fast rhythms inspired by the Indian population that inhabited Trinidad during the 1800s, and parang, Venezuelan-influenced folk music often played at Christmastime.
How to Experience It: All of the area’s musical influences come to life at the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, the islands’ biggest event of the year, and one in which tourists are encouraged to participate. While there, don’t miss the International Soca Monarch Competition, in which local artists showcase their musical talents in exchange for prizes.
5. Tokyo, Japan
The Music Scene: In Tokyo, J-pop (Japanese pop) is among the most popular genres, influenced by both traditional Japanese and modern Western music. It typically involves upbeat tempos with elements of rock and metal (plus other cultural influences such as technology and anime). The city also has an underground experimental scene that continues to thrive, and you’ll find karaoke to be popular at almost any bar.
How to Experience It: Many people like to go to Karaoke Kan, made famous by the movie “Lost in Translation.” Showa Kayo Night at Shibuya’s Rhythm Cafe is also worth a visit — this monthly event features Japanese “oldies” music.
6. Vienna, Austria
The Music Scene: Austria’s capital is an essential stop for anyone who loves classical music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called Vienna his home, living in more than a dozen locations throughout the city. Tourists can pay a visit to the only one of his residences still standing — Mozarthaus Vienna — and see where he penned some of his most famous works, including “The Marriage of Figaro.”
How to Experience It: If you have a chance to see the Vienna Philharmonic, do it — especially when the esteemed orchestra hosts an open-air event in front of Schonbrunn Palace (approximately 100,000 people attend). As an alternative, attend an outdoor performance, opera or festival in one of the city’s parks, such as Stadtpark or Burggarten, where you’ll walk past music memorials and statues of famous musicians (including Mozart).
7. Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.
The Music Scene: You read that right. Sure, Nashville has an unparalleled music scene — it is Music City, after all — but Asheville‘s got a good thing going too. The city has an emerging craft beer background that puts Portland to shame (sorry, Portland), and the scenery — eclectic neighborhoods backed by the Blue Ridge Mountains — coupled with the sound of drums, ukuleles and fiddles on every street corner is almost as intoxicating as the beer.
How to Experience It: Music brings locals and tourists together throughout the year, most notably during the Asheville Drum Circle on Friday evenings and during Shindig on the Green — a weekly gathering of musicians during the summer months. Bring your own instrument and join the fun!
8. Essaouira, Morocco
The Music Scene: Fez, Marrakesh and Casablanca have gained global attention for new artists and concert venues, plus world-renowned festivals (not to mention traditional Moroccan music). Travelers shouldn’t overlook Essaouira though. It’s another hub for music, best known for Gnaoua, or Gnawa — a genre influenced by ancient African Islamic spiritual and religious traditions. The city hosts the annual Gnaoua Music Festival.
How to Experience It: Viator offers a three-hour Essaouira Gnawa Music and Dance Performance experience, which includes live music and dance performances at local hot spots, along with background information on Moroccan culture. Urban Adventures also offers a half-day Gnawa tour.
9. Berlin, Germany
The Music Scene: While Berlin has always been in the spotlight (or on the dance floor) for pulsating house music and legendary nightclubs, many locals have turned their focus to experimental music — Echtzeitmusik — a genre they’ve practically branded (there’s even a website dedicated to it). Sure, some of it includes that famous electronica, but more of it actually focuses on jazz, rock, pop and simple improvisation.
How to Experience It: You’ll likely witness the sights and sounds of experimental music no matter where you travel in Berlin. But our favorite spot to experience it is Ausland — a small, no-frills venue operated by some of the experimental musicians themselves. Just be sure to snag tickets well in advance.