Wherever in the world you may be this summer, here’s a guide to finding the best live music venues on Earth.
Royal Albert Hall, London, U.K.
More than a simple performance venue, The Royal Albert Hall was commissioned by Prince Albert (consort of England’s Queen Victoria) to serve as a multi-purpose meeting, exhibition, and educational forum for the promotion of arts and sciences. While the site features museums and galleries and has hosted speakers including Her Majesty The Queen, Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and US President Bill Clinton, it has long been one of the world’s top venues to attend musical performances. Wagner, Verdi, and Rachmaninov have all played to audiences in the hall, as have Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Elton John, Jay Z, and the Killers.
Grosser Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, Austria
There are a variety of reasons the Great Hall of the Musikverein is considered by many the best concert hall in the world. Some cite its history: consigned in the 1860s by Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and, since, home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whose conductors have included Brahms and Bruckner. Others cite the outstanding acoustics within a structure inspired by the temples of ancient Greece. Don’t expect to catch any pop or punk music shows in this sacred hall of classical music, however: in 1913, the audience erupted in violent disapproval of an expressionist performance conducted by Arnold Schoenberg.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver, USA
Colorado’s Red Rocks isn’t just a concert venue, it’s a geological phenomenon: the park’s Garden of Angels features the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world. Oh, and its stage area is flanked by two 90 meter-high, red sandstone monoliths that not only aid in the acoustics but contain 250 million years of fossilized history. The amphitheatre can hold nearly 10,000 spectators to watch some of the best musical acts on earth regularly perform between the towering sandstone rocks; along with a panoramic view of Denver in the distance, it’s a spectacular setting. Oh, and there’s also the 160 million year old dinosaur tracks from the Jurassic period. Even before concerts were held here in the early 1900s, Red Rocks Amphitheatre was listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Troubadour, Los Angeles, USA
The Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall may look the coolest, the Hollywood Bowl might offer the best outdoor setting, and Canter’s Kibbutz Room can offer the best happenstance jam session, but for the ultimate musical experience head to the venue that musicians prefer, West Hollywood’s Troubadour club. The first 20 years after opening in 1957 it was the most important music venue in America, if not the world, witnessing the discovery, stage debuts, or formation of more legendary musical and comedy acts than we have room to list. Today it remains an intimate venue to experience music, particularly as the club attracts artists interested in becoming part of its history.
Théâtre Antique d’Orange, Orange, France
This ancient theater, built between A.D. 10 and 25, was one of the first Roman amphitheaters built for public entertainment purposes. Although it fell out of use for centuries and was pillaged for its treasures, it remains exceptionally preserved and, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands as one of the finest remnants of the Roman Empire. The theater’s most distinguishing feature is the stage wall, which runs 103 meters, stands 37 meters, and is 1.8 meters thick; Louis XIV called it “The finest wall in my kingdom”. Performers enter the stage through the wall’s Royal Door, which is surrounded by statue-filled niches; the central niche houses a representation of Caesar Augustus, who commissioned the theater, though an image of Apollo may have originally graced this place of honor. Performances since the 19th century have focused on classical musical works, opera, and symphonies, as well as theatrical celebrations of the glory of Rome and recent performances exhibiting world-class equestrian
The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
It ain’t called "The Mother Church of Country Music" simply because the 2,000+ audience members are required to sit in pews; this US National Historic Landmark has hosted the greatest country music acts of all time, particularly from 1943 to 1974, when it was known as the Grand Ole Opry House and the eponymous musical variety show was broadcast from its storied stage. Though the Opry has long since moved to the outskirts of Nashville (taking a large circle of the stage to imbed in the new venue), the Ryman Auditorium (christened the Union Gospel Tabernacle when it opened in 1892 and since renamed after its founder) has kept the music alive. Rock, blues, gospel, jazz, and even comedy performances are held at the Ryman today. Numerous live albums and both televised and filmed concerts have been recorded at the Ryman, as have a number of film biopics and music-themed Hollywood productions, including Clint Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man.
Slane Castle, Meath, Ireland
A spectacular venue can certainly make a performance special, but sometimes it’s the rarity of the event that makes it notable; Slane Castle draws upon both to make it one of the most memorable places to enjoy an outdoor concert. Every year or two, Slane Castle, which sits within a natural amphitheatre in Ireland’s Boyne Valley, draws up to 80,000 guests for a spectacular summer musical performance, including, over several decades, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, The Kings of Leon, Eminem, and local artists, U2. The castle, which has been a family estate for over three centuries, has hosted King George VI, and the Hill of Slane, which overlooks the Castle (and the concert stage), is the location where St. Patrick literally lit the fire of Christianity in Ireland. How’s that for a show to remember?
Radio City Music Hall, New York City, USA
It may take practice to get to Carnegie Hall, but those looking for a real NYC concert experience should head to Radio City Music Hall, part of the sprawling Rockefeller Center, where New York’s legendary Christmas tree and outdoor ice skating rink are also located. The spectacular art deco setting of the hall, once New York’s most famous tourist attraction, lends glamour to any performance showcased within. Whether you’re attending the Broadway Tony Awards, a concert, the Christmas Spectacular with the city’s iconic Rockettes, or even a blockbuster movie premier, Radio City Music Hall is hands-down the best venue in the Big Apple.
Culture and Congress Centre Concert Hall, Lucerne, Switzerland
Acoustics are a curious thing; concert halls are designed to maximize the auditory experience of a musical performance so that, regardless of where in the theater you sit, you can hear all of the sounds clearly and distinctly. That said, different styles of music require different acoustics and it’s therefore not ideal to listen to the Rolling Stones in a traditional opera house. This hall in Lucerne, however, can change the acoustics of the room by opening doorways to a reverberation chamber that surrounds the main hall.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Few people realize that this iconic Australian landmark was a long shot gamble that was lucky to pay off. The concept was chosen and green lighted without fully calculating its cost or even determining if the building was structurally possible! Now one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House was even named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “enduring influence on architecture”. While the two main halls within the interlocking shell-structures that house them aren’t particularly notable in-and-of themselves, it’s one of the world’s most popular performance centers, hosting more than a million people each year. Otherwise, a visit to the venue on the edge of Sydney Harbour is practically a must-selfie destination for any traveler to the Australian metropolis—Kylie Minogue concert optional.