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Musical cities: where to go to find your jam

From a smoky trumpet solo in a Parisian jazz bar to the throbbing beats of a night out in Berlin, there’s an inextricable link between music and place that takes the experience of both to higher levels. Whether you’re into thrash metal or deep house, relish a grand concert hall or a grimy, underground venue, we’ve rounded up the top destinations for revelling in the music you love loud, live and in situ.

A group of African American boys and one girl pose in front of a graffitied wall. Two of them are holding boom boxes; travel for music
Visit the streets of NYC, the home of hip hop © Phyllis Leibowitz / Getty Images

From each genre’s most holy ground to its lesser-known hotspots, best festivals and out-there events, one thing’s for sure, you won’t be needing headphones. 

If hip-hop is your jam…

Sacred sites: Seeking out the cradle of hip-hop is as easy as rocking up to one specific address 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Fans have flocked to this unassuming apartment block in New York’s Bronx to pay homage since 11th August 1973, when it’s said that building resident Kool Herc sparked the global phenomenon while DJ-ing a house party, spontaneously freestyle MC-ing over an extended beat. 

Unexpected hotspots: Aside from its NYC roots, hip-hop fans can find a scene so fresh and so clean in west Africa. Morocco’s rap output, in particular, has gained worldwide notoriety, stemming from the country’s storytelling traditions. To check it for yourself, seek out Casablanca’s explosive underground trap scene, or sample sick beats in Marrakesh’s Theatro nightclub, which hosts regular nights showcasing homegrown talent.

Must-do festivals and events: Uniting the genre’s protagonists in one glorious, beats-fuelled riot, the yearly ONEMusicfest in Atlanta, Georgia is a hip-hop fan’s ultimate fantasy. For a grittier experience of rising rap stars, check out Rolling Loud, taking place this September in San Francisco

Jazz musicians performing in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, with crowds and neon lights in the background; travel for music.
Jazz musicians performing in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Rainer Puster / Getty Images

If jazz is your jam…

Sacred sites: As simmering and steamy as the local climate, jazz is woven into New Orleans’ identity, said to have originated as voodoo drumming rituals amongst its slave community. From Lafayette Square’s summer evening jazz sessions and autumn blues festival to the heady, nightly saxophone strains drifting through Bourbon Street, visiting the city is a homecoming for any fan. Similarly, few places can lay claim to a jazz scene as fiery as that of Paris. Home to three annual jazz festivals and the legendary Duc des Lombards club, Paris’ beboppin’ is a blend of Afro-American influences and homegrown ‘gypsy jazz’ that has to be experienced in the flesh.

Unexpected hotspots: Those looking to travel beyond the genre’s heartlands should head to Tokyo, the unofficial blues capital of Asia. Tokyo’s jazz scene peaks at Aoyama’s Blue Note, a dimly-lit rhythm wonderland that’s played host to the likes of Tony Bennett and Roberta Flack.

Must-do festivals and events: The list of global jazz festivals is endless, but British gathering Love Supreme gets our (trilby) hat-tip for offering the full camping experience alongside its star-studded line-up. Alternatively, hop aboard the newly created Jazz Night Express an overnight train from Rotterdam to Berlin complete with live, onboard performances. 

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A DJ scratching a record in a nightclub with the word 'GO' written in lights behind him; travel for music.
Lose yourself in world-class house music © Twins/Getty Images

If EDM and house is your jam…

Sacred sites: While the invention of house music is often credited to one-time Chicago club The Warehouse, there’s another long-standing venue with which it’s enduringly associated. In a city that worships techno, Berghain is Berlin’s cathedral, steeped in sequin-studded mystique and rocking an exceptionally picky door policy. Those looking for dance music’s motherland however, should shimmy in the direction of Ibiza, still standing firm as the world’s undisputed party capital. From its trance-fuelled, 90s heyday, through every huge headliner and riotous rave since, there’s nowhere that celebrates the rush of an electronically embellished bassline like this Balearic island.

Unexpected hotspots: Aside from its renowned superclubs and obsession with K-Pop, Seoul, South Korea is busily nurturing an experimental dance scene that any serious raver should hot-foot it to immediately. The Itaewon neighbourhood, in particular, is a fertile breeding ground for grassroots techno and deep house.

Must-do festivals and events: A meeting of minds for EDM fans worldwide, Belgium’s annual Tomorrowland festival is the ultimate tickbox on dance music’s bucket list. Alternatively, take your dance obsession to new horizons at Stithia, an electronic music festival on the shores of Uzbekistan’s dried-up Aral Sea. 

A side view of the Hofburg orchestra on stage in front of a packed audience in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna; travel for music.
Pair flawless musicians with equally beautiful surroundings © Glowimages / Getty Images

If classical is your jam…

Sacred sites: Regarded as the centre of classical music’s universe, Vienna, Austria is the place to go to worship at the altar of compositional excellence. Having cultivated the careers of Mozart and Beethoven, this tuneful city is home to iconic venues Theater an der Wien and Musikverein, and is estimated to hold live classical music for around 10,000 people every night. Equally as decorated with classical big names is Germany’s Leipzig backdrop to the works of Bach, Mendelssohn and Wagner.  

Unexpected hotspots: Its world-famous opera house is a slight giveaway, but Sydney’s classical music offerings are plentiful. Home to the internationally renowned Sydney Symphony Orchestra and eight performance venues, a visit to the Sydney Opera House is a must for any devoted classical fan, and the harbour’s atmospheric outdoor opera will raise the hairs on the back of your neck within seconds. 

Must-do festivals and events: Having played in the sunset behind this mesmerising Italian coastal town since 1953, the yearly Ravello Festival hosts world-class orchestras and soloists, overlooking the glistening Tyrrhenian Sea. 

The entrance to a Beatles memorabilia shop in Liverpool. The walls are covered with Beatles memorabilia; travel for music
Saunter down Mathew Street in Liverpool and explore the home of The Beatles © Quynh Anh Nguyen / Getty Images

If rock and indie are your jam…

Sacred sites: Rock-buffs should of course begin any pilgrimage in Liverpool, paying their respects to the ‘fab four’ who brought the musical style to the masses. If you like your tunes a little murkier, Seattle is sacred ground, owing to its fine grunge pedigree. The city’s Belltown neighbourhood is home to some top sites, including the renowned Black Dog Forge. Adorned with graffiti and cast-iron skeletons, this former blacksmith has hosted Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and The United States of America as well as countless local bands who still perform there today.

Unexpected hotspots: Rock has lively representation worldwide, but Bangladesh boasts a surprising scene that rivals any indie heartland. Having emerged during the country’s struggle for independence, ‘Bangla rock’ has produced many of the nation’s most beloved acts. Although now rivalled by hip-hop and Bollywood music, hearing live rock and metal in Dhaka is still a uniquely atmospheric experience.

Must-do festivals and events: As the largest rock festival on the planet, Rock in Rio unites the world’s indie, metal and thrash communities. Alt-rock lovers will also be keen to board the Boaty Weekender Festival – a four-day music cruise created by indie powerhouse Belle and Sebastian taking its maiden voyage in August 2019. 

A view down Broadway in Nashville at night. The street is full of people and neon signs line all the honky tonks and bars along the side; travel for music.
Line dance your way down Broadway in Music City © Nina Dietzel/Getty Images

If country is your jam…

Sacred sites: No prizes for guessing ‘Music City’, Nashville, as the most hallowed of country music locales, boasting the renowned Grand Ole Opry venue, Country Music Hall of Fame and bar-hopping along the Honky Tonk highway. Hosting over 100 yearly shows including Presley’s Country Jubilee and Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express, Branson, Missouri is also a two-steppin’ dreamland that’s been rocking country vibes since the 1980s.

Unexpected hotspots: The Czech Republic probably wouldn’t feature on most country-lovers’ wishlists, but as home to Europe’s first all-country radio station, the nation clearly can’t get enough of toe-tapping rhythms. Prague fittingly has a spirited live country scene head to The Rikatado Saloon and the Amerika Country Saloon for prime guitar twanging. 

Must-do festivals and events: A fixture of the country music circuit since 1972 (when it was known as Fan Fair), the CMA Music Festival is held in the country’s native land, Nashville. This yearly event brings country stars past and present together to play, and often collaborate, for a sea of whooping fans. 

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