If you’re a musician at heart, then you know you’ve just got to play. Sometimes though, it can be challenging to find the right venue and people to play with. That’s where busking comes in. All you need is you, your instrument, and good weather. It’s a great way to get playing and have fun. And while I would play for free just because I love it, entertaining an appreciative audience and making money with my art always feels great.
Cities vary in their views and tolerance for busking, so it’s a good idea to check specifics beforehand. It doesn’t matter what instrument or style of music you play, or even how good you are– the key is to be entertaining. Violinist Joshua Bell played at the metro station in Washington DC with his $2 million Stradivarius, and there are lots of famous artists who busked at one point in their career. On the other hand, I have friends that have played all over the world, using busking to finance their travel. You’re free to find the style and place that suits you best. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favourite cities to busk in.
1) Copenhagen, Denmark – Europe is generally friendly to busking and Copenhagen epitomizes that attitude. It has a great street performer scene that attracts high quality performers, and a cooperative community vibe. Start at Amagertorv Square and work your way down Stroget, the longest pedestrian street in Europe.
2) Dublin, Ireland – You can really get an irresistible Irish lilt going in your music by playing in Dublin and people are generally pretty receptive. Grafton is the street to set up on, with lots of pedestrian traffic, or move further down to the riverside by Temple Bar. Of course, summertime is the best, but if you can brave the weather, Bono is known to join the busking ranks at Christmas.
3) Berlin, Germany – Berlin loves its bohemian art. It hosts the Lacht International Street Festival every summer, which brings together street performers from all over the world. Consequently you can experiment a little, although good old American music will always be appreciated. The Alexanderplatz is a popular spot.
4) Nashville, USA – If you can catch people’s attention here with just a guitar and your voice, you must be on to something. It’s great to be a part of Nashville’s tradition of outstanding guitar players/singers, even if only on a corner. There are usually lots of buskers on lower Broadway.
5) New Delhi, India – There’s a story behind this one for me. My wife and I went to India on our honeymoon. I had written a song for her for our wedding but she only had the chance to hear it once. One day, in the lobby of our hotel in Pushkar, I saw an old piano. While my wife was taking some pictures, I sat down and hit a few keys to check the tuning, only to realize it had no strings! My wife never knew, but I’d like the chance to play her that song again in India.
6) London, UK – It is quite competitive, you’ll have to audition at Covent Garden which, much like the Tube, runs on a very strict schedule. Because so much music has come out of London, it’s a bit like worshipping at the altar. Any kind of music played on almost any kind of instrument will be appreciated, as long as you’re entertaining.
7) Barcelona, Spain – Barcelona hits the ground running in terms of beautiful places to work outside. The terraces in Placa Reyal, the area surrounding Las Rambles and of course, Las Rambles itself are the places to be if you’re a busker. However, there is a lot of competition, so choose your spot carefully. If you happen to scoop a local regular, you may find yourself being moved on by the Guardia. If you can find a place though, Barcelona is one of the best cities to busk in.
8) Chicago, USA – Chicago gets a lot of tourism in the summer and it gets concentrated in a few spots; the Magnificent Mile, and by the bridges along the west side of the loop. Maxwell and Halstead streets might not generate much money, but are steeped in blues history. If you love the blues like I do, it’s a must.
9) Marrakesh, Morocco – After you’ve done Spain, take the short trip down to Morocco. Marrakesh’s packed, old world main square, Djeema El Fna, is not the best place to make money, but it’s an experience you will never forget. You might have better luck picking up a few dirham in some of the smaller towns down the coast.
10) Ferrara, Italy/Halifax Canada – Northern Italy and Atlantic Canada may share little beyond charm, but they also have two of the world’s best festivals dedicated to street performers. For a busker, splitting your time in August between these two puts you right in the middle of who’s who and what’s what when it comes to busking.
Pat Robinson is the CEO of TuGo and lover of all things travel. A passionate musician, he picked up his first instrument at the age of 6, and has never stopped playing since. He believes that music is the purest form of communication, and breaks down cultural barriers. Pat will never miss a chance to play an instrument; doing so while on a trip is icing on the cake. Tweet him @thetravelingceo.