My 10 favorite international destinations for music lovers
I love the opportunity to go to a concert abroad and I traveled only for a specific performance, but I also got lucky and I got lucky when I was already on the spot. And if the place is out of the ordinary, it’s even better.
Here is my selection of concert halls that I really enjoyed and would recommend to anyone. You’ll notice that the sites in the US are few and far between, but that’s not only due to my somewhat spotty personal knowledge of them, but also because I think most readers will probably be familiar with them by now.
So, here I am focusing on some of the places that I have visited across the world that I have really loved. They range from very chic to outdoor entertainment and even around street corners.
If you love music, try adding some of these events to your itinerary.
1. La Traviata on Sydney Harbor, Sydney, Australia
One of my favorite places to enjoy the opera was not the Sydney Opera House, although that was also a treat, but the open-air Sydney Harbor Hall, La Traviata. Located on the Mrs. Macquaries Stairs on the peninsula jutting out from the Sydney Botanic Gardens, the open-air opera productions here are not only stunning, but feature pop-up restaurants and champagne bars, while the views take almost the top on what is happening on stage. The backdrop to the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Bridge, Luna Park and the ferries crossing the harbor are just stunning, and I just remember 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 indulge yourself with a Platinum ticket. You will benefit from premium seats and access to the bar and restaurant during intermission.
2. Palais Garnier, Paris, France
The Palais Garnier was once the the Paris Opera until the construction of the modern Opera Bastille, but, although the Opera Bastille is also a magnificent building, the Palais Garnier is simply unbeatable. The entrance alone, with its grand staircases, painted ceiling, and masses of chandeliers – which in my mind make the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles seem like less effort – is a delight to wait for the bell to call you. Once inside, the Chagall Dome is simply amazing, as are the ballet performances. Get dressed, book a table at the Café de la Paix for the suite and treat yourself to a Parisian dream for the night.
Pro tip: If you can’t get tickets, take a tour of the opera house instead.
3. Café Carlisle, New York City, United States
Something a little different, but one night I enjoyed immensely was listening to jazz at Cafe Carlisle in New York City, with Woody Allen on clarinet. Think about what you like about Woody Allen’s life choices, but when he was playing with his friends it was pretty magical. He only plays there occasionally, but jazz performances are a must, and I’m sure all the performers are well chosen. Add in pleasant surroundings, great food and drink, and you are guaranteed a great night out with a difference.
Pro tip: There is a dress code so get dressed, then sneak into the fabulous hotel to browse. The Carlisle is one of those great ladies of hospitality.
4. Havana, Cuba
If I had the chance, I would go back to Havana on the next flight. The people, the setting, the colors and the music resulted in a mix that touched me and made me fall in love with the city, and I can’t wait to have the chance to return. And the funny thing is, there isn’t a specific concert hall to recommend, apart from maybe the terrace of the Hotel Inglaterra, which has a band that plays almost every afternoon. But usually, wherever there’s a cafe, bar, or just enough space, a band appears out of nowhere and starts playing. Cuban music is fabulous and before you know it you are tapping your foot, swinging or jumping to dance. And the best part is that the locals will join them. The old ladies with their grocery bags in their hands will stop for a dance, the young couples will perform, and everyone will follow the beat. The best place ever, really.
Pro tip: For a guaranteed good night’s sleep, head to Floridita, Hemingway’s former meeting place, for a night of daiquiris and great music and dance.
5. The Arena, Verona, Italy
The Arena in Verona hosts a well-known annual opera festival, hosting many famous productions before they take to the big stages of cities around the world. The setting is beautiful, and just being able to spend an evening in a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater is quite special in itself. The acoustics are superb, and like I said, it attracts big productions. A weekend in Verona is always a good idea, just add a touch of opera to make it really special.
Pro tip: Know that you are sitting on a very old, cold stone. Not only does your bottom go numb, it also cools down after three hours of sitting on hard rock. Plan ahead and bring a comfortable cushion. The 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 Musée de l’Armée in Paris, and facing the golden dome of Les Invalides, under which Napoleon Bonaparte rests, is quite special. Add a glass of champagne, a really classy audience of well-dressed Parisians, and a fairly 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 places, it’s not just performance and production that matters, but a good setting is half the story, if not more. This one, which usually takes place in September, is just lovely. The weather is still mild and warm, and the evening performance is scheduled so that the moon rises behind the dome. The last time I was there it was a full moon and so beautiful I can barely remember which opera I saw.
Pro tip: After the show, book a table at the Café Central in neighboring rue Cler, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris.
7. The Royal Opera House, London, United Kingdom
Right in the heart of Covent Garden is the Royal Opera House. This spectacular venue hosts the best of the best opera and ballet productions, and the setting is stunning. The old opera house has been enhanced with a few modern touches, best appreciated from the entrance to Bow Street. The spectacular glass-clad Paul Hamlyn Hall is where the champagne bar is located, and it is extremely photogenic.
Pro tip: You can book a dinner around one of the shows at one of the opera house’s few good restaurants. It completes a beautiful evening.
8. Hanging Rock, Woodd, Australia
Hanging Rock, or Mount Diogenes, is a spectacular volcanic formation that is a popular day trip from Melbourne. There are trails around the national park and hikes to the top of the mountain, and, if you’ve read Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, you will appreciate that it is also a rather strange place. Taking advantage of the spectacular natural backdrop, regular concerts at Hanging Rock, attracting big names such as Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. Next time you find yourself in Melbourne, check out the list of events and book a night out there.
Pro tip: The Macedonia region is the Australian countryside personified, and you should plan a local farm stay to appreciate the natural beauty and abundant wildlife of this region.
9. Palau De La Musica Catalana, Barcelona, Spain
The Palau de la Musica in beautiful Barcelona is a feast for (almost) all the senses. The exterior of the building, built in the Catalan Modernist style between 1905 and 1908, is covered in interesting decor, but the interior is even more spectacular. The walls of the main hall, and in particular the ceiling, are simply out of this world, and although the hall is the only concert hall in the world to have received a UNESCO list, the building is barely listed on a visitor’s itinerary while exploring Barcelona. .
Pro tip: The area around the Palau is full of small bars, all of which serve excellent tapas and good 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 open-air hall in the middle of a large city center park, this is one of the first places I went on my own to see a rock concert while I was still living at home in Hamburg. You are sitting on the grass, surrounded by a large hedge around the room. The floor around the stage is slightly elevated, so you have great views from everywhere, making it a perfect location for an intimate concert. Sadly, being small means it doesn’t attract very big names, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you are more into musicals, then Hamburg is also perfect: not only is it the musical capital of Germany, but it has a dedicated place for The Lion King, with a dedicated ferry that takes you there across the harbor.
Pro tip: A must-see, whether via a guided tour or by reservation, is the superbly modern Elbphilharmonie with a variety of concerts on offer.
There are exceptional concert halls around the world that host international stars and organize popular music festivals: