From ornate 19th-century masterpieces to unique modern venues, the places we enjoy performing arts have greatly evolved.
How much are you missing live concerts and events? One of the biggest tragedies of the pandemic has been the catastrophic effect on the performing arts, with so many talented people put out of work for so long. As life continues to return to normal, we’ll be able to enjoy live performances once more in some of these magical (and bizarre!) concert halls from around the world.
Top Picks for You
Hungarian State Opera House
WHERE: Budapest, Hungary
One of Europe’s most richly decorated cathedrals of music, the Hungarian State Opera House is one of the jewels of Budapest’s 19th-century architecture. Designed by Miklós Ybl and opened to the public in September 1884, its remarkable interior sparkles with marble columns, elegant chandeliers, and a lavish ceiling fresco.
Even if you can’t take in a performance, there are three daily 45-minute tours that are well worth your time if you’re in the Hungarian capital.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
WHERE: Reykjavík, Iceland
Remember when I mentioned unique, modern venues? Well, the crystalline glass facades of Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre certainly qualifies under that description. Situated on the Icelandic capital’s waterside with the country’s distinctly rugged mountains in the distance, it’s a dramatic setting for a dramatic building.
Completed in 2011, the building won the European Union’s Mies van der Rohe Award for contemporary architecture in 2013.
Sydney Opera House
WHERE: Sydney, Australia
Transcending the arena of performing arts or architecture, the Sydney Opera House’s distinct shape has become a symbol of Australia itself. One of the most iconic parts of Sydney’s grandiose harbor, the Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and opened to the public in October 1973.
The original cost estimate to build the Sydney Opera House was $7 million but ended up spiraling to $102 million. Still, most would say it’s money well spent.
Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
Not only does the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall look stunning, but it also features some of the finest acoustics of any modern venue. Designed by architect Takahiko Yanagisawa and completed in 1997, the hall is narrow and the ceiling is in the shape of a distorted pyramid, with its peak 28 meters above the main floor.
One of the most distinctive interiors on this list, expect near pitch-perfect sound should you be lucky enough to witness a concert here.
WHERE: New York City
Considering its status as one of the Big Apple’s most famous buildings, Carnegie Hall cuts a rather modest shape amid the soaring skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. Built by noted industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1891, the ornate hall has seen performances by artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Led Zeppelin.
While he lent his name to a number of funds, charities, and centers of education during his lifetime, the famous old hall is still where Carnegie is most associated.
Harbin Opera House
WHERE: Harbin, China
Designed by Chinese architect Ma Yansong and completed in 2015, the rising aluminum swirls and curves of the Harbin Opera House look remarkable against the bleak landscape behind China’s “Ice City.” Famous for its freezing winters where the 24-hour average in January reaches a cool −17.6 °C (0.3 °F), the bold structure is a rather unsubtle nod to Harbin’s harsh climate.
The interior is no less stunning with Manchurian ash wood enclosing and wrapping sections of the grand theater.
WHERE: Paris, France
While the Palais Garnier is perhaps not as instantly recognizable as other illustrious Parisian landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, anyone walking through the French capital can’t help but be stopped in their tracks by its magnificent façade. And from the marble staircase through to the richly decorated foyer flanked by chandeliers, the lavish interior amazes before you’ve even reached the auditorium.
Its influence continues to be felt around the world, as can be seen in designs ranging from the Hanoi Opera House in Vietnam to the Municipal Theatre of São Paulo in Brazil.
WHERE: Moscow, Russia
Not only is the Bolshoi Theatre one of Russia’s most famous buildings, but it’s also home to arguably the world’s biggest ballet company. Originally conceived in 1776, the theater went through numerous incarnations, appearances, and (unfortunately) fires before the construction in 1825 of the elegant building we see today.
Described by the Bolsheviks as “bourgeois” and personifying the old Tsarist Russia, the building was lucky to come through the 1917 Revolution relatively unscathed—Lenin and Stalin did use it for speeches, however.
WHERE: Milan, Italy
Though La Scala’s exterior is perhaps a little more muted than some of its elaborate contemporaries, it carries a weight of history and prominence that few others can match. With seating for up to 3,000 across the floor and its six(!) tiers, La Scala has seen performances by the likes of Giuseppe Verdi and Luciano Pavarotti over the years.
Just don’t get on the wrong side of the loggione—this high gallery for the less well-heeled is famous for mercilessly booing performers who aren’t impressing.
Oslo Opera House
WHERE: Oslo, Norway
Surely this is one of the few opera houses where visitors are encouraged to walk on the roof? The sloping marble exterior of the Oslo Opera House gives it the appearance of rising out of Oslo’s harborfront, and curious visitors are able to easily stroll up to its summit should they wish.
There are reasons to go inside, too. Internationally renowned opera and ballet stars regularly perform in Oslo underneath the moon-like central chandelier in the main theater.
WHERE: Vienna, Austria
If you consider yourself any kind of classical music connoisseur, then a trip to Vienna should be on your bucket list (if it’s not already). And near the top of your activities in the Austrian capital will be a visit to the enduringly grand Wiener Musikverein.
While these days it isn’t exclusively dedicated to classical music, the acoustics of the Great Hall are as stunning as its sublime décor.
Sala São Paulo
WHERE: São Paulo, Brazil
Located inside the former Grand Hall of Julio Prestes Train Station, the Sala São Paulo has one of the more unique stories on this list. Where busy travelers and commuters once rushed and pushed past each other, they now sit in quiet appreciation of some of the world’s finest music amid the concert hall’s wonderful acoustics.
While the historic station still receives trains, it’s now famous in Brazil as a center of classical music.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
An architectural landmark of the City of Angels from the moment it opened in 2003, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall is hard to miss. The sweeping metallic surfaces are signature Gehry, while the interior acoustics have been widely acclaimed.
But though the striking design was praised, for some local condo residents the glare from the sun was too much and made their nearby apartments unbearably warm. Workers had to sand down the metal to dull the effect.
WHERE: Hamburg, Germany
Though the costs to build Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie ballooned from €241 million in 2010 to a staggering €866 million by the time it was finished in 2016, there’s no denying that the end result was spectacular. Perhaps a nod to the city’s nautical past, the building features a large glass wave-like construction resting on top of an old brick warehouse.
The easternmost part of the building doubles as a 244-room hotel, so if you’re taking in a concert, then you’ll know where to stay for maximum convenience.
Royal Albert Hall
WHERE: London, England
Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021, the immense red-brick exterior of the Royal Albert Hall has slowly become one of London’s more recognizable landmarks. Officially opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria and named after her late husband Albert, it is one of many places and objects named after Prince Albert (including the elaborate Albert Memorial located directly opposite the hall).
Inside, the grand old hall has seen many performances but it’s most well-known for the patriotic flag-waving fervor of the annual BBC Proms classical music concerts.