Every city has a soundtrack, and one of the most inspiring prospects of exploring a new locale is uncovering its pulse and the stories behind its unique sound. That’s why we decided to take a look at cities known for their rich musical backdrops whose rhythms can be felt the second you step foot on their soil.
While there are many musical destinations worth mentioning, we’re highlighting seven of those musical cities to consider for your next holiday away. If a trip isn’t part of the budget this year, no worries! We’ve also included a few sheet music selections to help bring a bit of each city’s flair into your own music room.
A 10-minute photoshoot outside Abbey Road Studios in 1969 would establish one of the most iconic images in rock & roll history. You, too, can pull three mates along to stroll the crosswalk on Abbey Road.
The Beatles weren’t the only rockers to make use of London’s fashionable streets in cover art.
- David Bowie‘s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars‘ album was shot on Heddon Street (in front of number 23, to be exact) in 1972.
- Oasis chose Berwick Street as the setting for their 1995 ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’ cover.
- The video for Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was filmed on the street behind London’s Savoy Hotel.
More notable London sites include the residences of Jimi Hendrix and George Frederic Handel on Brook Street, as well as Waterloo Bridge, which was Ray Davies‘ inspiration for his homage to the River Thames and his home city.
Looking for a show? Catch an awe-inspiring musical in London’s West End Theatreland, the world-renowned stage destination frequented by the best stage and screen actors, and visited by millions of fans each year.
The birthplace and epicenter of musical theatre, Broadway has established itself as one of the greatest places for entertainment in the world. But, even aside from the tremendous talent and legends of the ‘Great White Way,’ New York has more musical history than you can shake a bagel at.
- Make your way to Central Park to see John Lennon‘s meditative Strawberry Fields memorial and its Imagine mosaic.
- Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Musical Instruments permanent exhibit, and admire pieces dating from 300 B.C.
- Sip a cold one at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village, where beatniks and folk artists gathered to make music and discuss politics in the 1960s.
Head north to Harlem’s Apollo Theater and see where Ella Fitzgerald first walked on stage at age 17, where Jimi Hendrix won first place in an amateur contest in ’64, and where the likes of Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin knocked the socks off excited audiences year after year, night after night.
New York-Inspired Sheet Music: “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel, “42nd Street – Broadway Revival” collection, “Take the ‘A’ Train” by Duke Ellington/Ella Fitzgerald, “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel.
There must be something about the fresh air rolling off the Alps or the flow of the Danube that fosters musical virtuosity. How else does one explain the talent emerging from Vienna in the late 18th and early 19th centuries?
Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Strauss all spent the heights of their careers in the picturesque city, and remnants of the great Viennese Classical period are evident at every turn even today.
- Stand where Mozart wrote ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ among other works, at Mozarthaus Vienna, the virtuoso’s home from 1784 to 1787.
- Tour the 19th district, where Beethoven spent his summers, and see the stream said to inspire the first movement “Pastoral” of “Symphony No. 6.”
- Visit the gardenesque cemeteries of Austria’s capital city and see the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Brahms next to one another. Or visit Mozart’s unnamed grave, marked by the statue of a crying angel.
Just a short train ride west of Vienna will land you in Salzburg, Austria, where Mozart was born. Not only will you find Mozarts Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birthplace) museum in Salzburg, you can recreate all your favorite scenes from ‘The Sound of Music‘ movie, filmed here in 1965.
Vienna/Salzburg-Inspired Sheet Music: “Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 545: I. Allegro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral,’ First Movement” by Ludwig van Beethoven, “Edelweiss” from ‘The Sound of Music’.
Rock ‘n’ roll is the pulse of Memphis, Tennessee, and Beale Street is the heart of it all. It was on this 1.8-mile span that W.C. Handy brought the blues to Beale Street at the turn of the century, to be followed by legends like Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and so many more. Visit the Rock ‘n Soul Museum at 191 Beale Street for a thorough trip down memory lane.
In 1954, an unknown artist named Elvis Presley entered a small blues record label named Sun Studio and paid $3.80 to record a demo. Elvis and Sun’s owner Sam Smith, combined Memphis blues with country, jazz and an emerging genre called rock to forever change the course of popular music. Tour Sun Studio and see where Presley, as well as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and more, made history.
Soon after becoming the king of rock, Elvis realized he needed a more private residence for himself and his family. Enter Graceland, one of the most infamous homes in all of America. You can tour the Graceland mansion, just south of the city, and see personal artifacts, cars, and even his private jets.
Head east a couple hundred miles from Memphis to Nashville, Tennessee, where country music reigns supreme. “Music City” as it’s come to be known, is home to one of the longest-running radio programs in history: the ‘Grand Ole Opry.‘ The show began broadcasting from Nashville in 1925 as a one-hour ‘barn dance,’ and expanded to a nationwide program showcasing 4 hours of country, bluegrass, gospel and comedic performances by the 1940s.
It was in the ’40s that the Opry moved into a former house of worship, what is now known as the Ryman Auditorium. Visit the “Mother Church of Country Music,” where honky-tonk heroes like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff and The Carter Family played regularly. When the Opry moved to its current home in 1974, a circle of the Ryman floor was removed and placed behind the mic in the new Grand Ole Opry House. But Nashville amenities extend far beyond the Opry!
- Stroll Music Row, and see famed sites like RCA’s Studio B, where countless legends recorded, including Elvis Presley (after leaving Sun) and Dolly Parton.
- Take in the world-renowned Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the mecca of country music history.
- Catch a listening session at the historic Bluebird Cafe, where a mile-long list of who’s who, from Garth Brooks to Faith Hill to Taylor Swift, have enjoyed shining career moments.
There’s perhaps nothing more Parisian than sitting at a sidewalk cafe accompanied by an accordion player’s bal musette tunes wafting through the open air. Paris has storied musical history, with classical, jazz and rock roots.
Opera admirers flock to the Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera, built in the second half the 19th century to house the city’s opera and ballet companies. Its opulent decor and ornate facade provided the perfect setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, and Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s 1986 musical, ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’
More classical/impressionist landmarks in or around Paris include Claude Debussy‘s birthplace and now museum in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Cité de la Musique (City of Music) museum, which houses more than 1,000 historical instruments and pieces of musical art, including almost 200 classical guitars.
Is jazz more your scene? Check out the La Chope des Puces (Espace Django Reinhardt), the city’s jazz homage to Django Reinhardt featuring a restaurant, school of jazz, recording studio and concert hall. The famed father of gypsy jazz lived near the site and lost the use of two of his fingers in a fire there, leading to his trademark phrasing.
Thousands of music fans tour the ornate tombs at Pére Lachaise each year, the most visited cemetery in the world, to see the grave of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, among others. Also buried there are such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, and Marcel Proust.
Visit the sensory-rousing EMP Music Museum to learn about the evolution of rock and popular music. The building’s exterior, designed by Frank O. Gehry, is said to be built mimicking the lines of electric guitars. Its ‘Northwest Passage’ exhibit focuses on Seattle musical lore, including Jimi Hendrix’s beginnings (he’s buried in nearby Renton), the band Heart, and the advent of grunge. Also, not-to-miss is the museum’s Guitar Gallery.
Take a trip to Viretta Park, the site of the unofficial Kurt Cobain Memorial. The park that sits just to the left of Cobain’s former residence at house number 171 is unmarked, yet serves as a place of remembrance for fans, many of whom leave song lyrics, pictures, letters and more on the park’s benches.
Complete your rock music vacation experience with a tour of London Bridge Studios. Bands including the aforementioned Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Blind Melon and Alice In Chains recorded albums at London Bridge throughout the 1990s.
Did we inspire some wanderlust, dear music lover? We hope so! Let that travel fever guide you to these places and experience some incredible musical nostalgia in each location. Happy travels!