Whenever I travel, I always look for a fun or elegant performance that I can add to my itinerary. In London, this was seeing a Shakespeare production in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. In NYC, this meant seeing Hamilton during a fantastic New York weekend. And in Vienna, this, of course, meant going to the Vienna Opera!
Since I haven’t gotten to go to the opera all over Europe, I asked a group of professional travel writers to share what, in their opinion, are the best opera houses in Europe. Their answers, from Oslo to Odessa, might surprise you!
So if you’re wondering where to go to the opera in Europe, take notes. And if you find yourself in a city without enough time to see a performance, you can always to what I did in Dresden and take a tour of the opera house instead.
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The Best Opera Houses in Europe
As selected by professional travel writers:
Amsterdam’s Dutch National Opera & Ballet Stopera (The Netherlands)
The Amsterdam Opera House is a young theater with a long history. The first discussions about its construction started back in 1915, but the building next to the Amstel River, as we know today, was only inaugurated in September 1986.
After several protests and construction delays, the Amsterdam Opera House opened its doors to the creation, production, and presentation of both traditional and innovative opera and ballet concerts of the highest quality.
For tickets, one can either purchase them online through the theater’s website or at the box office in Amsterdam.
While tickets aren’t absurdly expensive, booking them in advance might save you money as the Opera House uses a dynamic pricing system.
However, if you, by any chance, are staying in Amsterdam around the first week of June, know that all ballet performances go on sale.
As for sold-out performances, you can always try to purchase uncollected tickets at the box office half an hour before the start of the show. Beyond that, students, City Pass, and iAmsterdam cardholders receive a discount on the ticket prices.
If you want to watch high-quality performances in a top theater, the Amsterdam Opera House is a place you can’t afford to miss.
Contributed by Bruna Venturinelli from Maps ‘N Bags
Barcelona’s Palau de la Música (Spain)
Bayreuth’s Margravial Opera House (Germany)
Belfast’s Grand Opera House (Northern Ireland)
It doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit Belfast in Northern Ireland, a visit to the Grand Opera House should definitely be on your itinerary. This majestic opera dates from 1895 and was designed by the famous theatre architect Frank Matcham. Its architectural ‘oriental style’ on the outside facade, but also in the interior, especially the grand auditorium, is absolutely stunning.
The early seasons were very successful and thus heightened the reputation of the Grand Opera House resulting in performances by international stars like Gracie Fields or Will Fyffe. During the years of war, the theater offered an outlet of escapism to its visitors and many comedies, including performances of Laurel and Hardy, were staged.
Famous visitors include General Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery, who enjoyed a performance here in 1945. In 1963 the then-unknown singer Luciano Pavarotti made his UK debut on stage.
From 1969 onwards, the Troubles in Northern Ireland made the city center of Belfast a no-go area at night. This accelerated the disrepair of the opera house. In 1972 the Grand Opera House was closed and was on the verge of being torn down until the Ulster Architectural Society launched a successful campaign, which made the Grand Opera House the first listed building in Northern Ireland.
After ambitious renovation work, the building suffered extensive damage from two car-bombs in 1991 and 1993. However, as an act of humanitarian resilience, the BAFTA Awards were hosted here in 1994.
Nowadays, Belfast’s Grand Opera House is more popular than ever. In early 2020 it embarked upon its most extensive restoration project in the last 40 years (e.g. returning the 1895 auditorium to its beautiful oriental state) and will reopen in December 2020 for its 125th anniversary.
Contributed by Emer and Nils from Let’s Go Ireland.
Bucharest’s Romanian Athenaeum (Romania)
Bucharest’s Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Român) has to be one of the most architecturally distinct opera houses in Europe. Artists have been treading the boards here since 1889 when it opened as the Romanian capital’s main concert hall.
The Athenaeum is famously associated with George Enescu, Romania’s greatest national composer, conductor, and pianist who authored a score of operas and orchestras. He first graced the stage in 1898, and in 1903, Romanian Rhapsodies, a twin orchestral composition considered to be his magnum opus, premiered at the Athenaeum. Today, the venue is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic, the same ensemble that inaugurated the building.
The Neoclassical façade designed by French architect Albert Galleron is a Bucharest icon. The front of the Athenaeum, with its columns and central dome, is best appreciated from the park that stretches out in front. Inside, the 650-seat auditorium is lavishly decorated with frescoes wrapped around the red-and-gold dome interior.
Painted in 1933, scenes depict different chapters of history, including the unification of the Old Kingdom with Transylvania to form modern-day Romania. The Communist regime hid the frescoes under a red cloth for two decades, only unveiling them to the public again in 1966.
The Athenaeum hosts a bi-annual international music festival in Enescu’s name, as well as music and opera performances throughout the year. Tickets are very reasonably priced and can be purchased from the box office. Even if there’s nothing showing during your visit, it’s still worth popping inside for a look at the interior.
Contributed by Emily from Wander-Lush.
Budapest’s Hungarian State Opera House (Hungary)
The Hungarian State Opera House is located on the glamorous Andrássy Avenue in Budapest, Hungary. It was built in 1875 and opened up in 1884, and designed by Miklós Ybl, which is a famous architect with a major role in the city’s famed architecture in the 19th century.
It has been a venue for many famous artists and it’s also known for its spectacular decorations and neo-Renaissance style mixed with Baroque. 1261 people can attend in the horse-shoe shaped auditorium, which has been ranked to have the third-best acoustics in Europe. Only Palais Garnier in Paris and La Scala in Milan are held at a higher standard when it comes to acoustics.
Furthermore, the Hungarian State Opera House offers guided tours in six languages, which include English, German, and Spanish. It is also a host for the Hungarian National Ballet with performances from September to June.
The composer Gustav Mahler was a director from 1888 until 1891, and Otto Klemperer was a music director between the years of 1947 and 1950. Ferenc Erkel was the first director of the Hungarian State Opera House, and Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle had its world premiere in 1918 but failed to gain popularity.
Contributed by Alex from Gourmand Trotter.
Buxton Opera House (England)
Proudly standing in the heart of Derbyshire’s Victorian spa town of Buxton is Buxton Opera House. Designed by celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham, it opened amidst great celebration on 1st June 1903 to a full house audience of The Prologue, written specifically for the occasion.
Buxton Opera house continued to present touring Shakespeare, West End successes, ballets, and comedy right up until the great depression of 1921. To diversity, it was converted to a cinema in 1927, firstly showing silent films, and then was later wired up for the ‘talkies’ from 1932.
However, theatre performances still continued, including George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Robert Morley and Diana Wynyard for the first Buxton Theatre Festival in 1937.
Throughout the 1970s however, the Opera House fell into disrepair and it took decades of work through the 80s and 90s to return it to its former glory. Buxton Opera House reopened in 2001 and grew further to open the adjacent Pavilion Arts Centre to house more theatre productions in 2010.
Today, it is one of Britain’s leading receiving theatres, presenting around 450 performances each year, all alongside a lively Fringe Theatre and Community and Education Programme. Pre-shows, the adjacent Pavilion Gardens make for a wonderful stroll, and kids will enjoy the ride on the miniature train, boating lake and play area.
Copenhagen Opera House (Denmark)
Dresden’s Semperoper (Germany)
The Semperoper in Dresden is one of the most famous places to see opera in Europe. Located on the banks of the Elbe river, the opera house is one of the most prominent symbols of the city. Yet it’s actually been destroyed and rebuilt twice. First in 1878 and then in 1945 after the Allied bombing of Dresden.
Richard Wagner was the conductor here in the 1840s and premiered several operas here. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Richard Strauss held various premiers here over multiple decades.
If you don’t have time to go to a performance, you can go on a tour of the opera house. They conduct tours in several languages including English.
Frankfurt’s Alte Oper (Germany)
The old opera house of Frankfurt should be a must in your what to see in Frankfurt list. Situated at Opera Square or Opernplatz, it is one of the most outstanding buildings of importance. It was constructed in the late 19th century, in 1880 to be precise.
It was based on the plans of the Berlin architect Richard Lucae. The opening ceremony was celebrated with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Many other important operas were performed here in Frankfurt for the first time including Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
However, it was extensively destroyed in 1944 during WW2 by bombing raids. But many of the outside walls and façade survived. Due to popular demand through a citizen’s initiative, a fund was collected and the opera house was built again slowly and was completed in 1981.
The reopening ceremony was celebrated in August 1981, with Gustav Mahler’s ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. A live recording of that reopening concert conducted by Michael Gielen is available on CD.
The original opera house in Frankfurt is now called the Alte Oper (Old Opera) and hosts around 50 important concerts and events every year including the Apfelwein festival in the square in front of the building which is known as Opernplatz (Opera Square).
During the Apfelwein festival, one can see people dancing to live bands playing music in German and English while enjoying many varieties of Apfelwein or Apple cider, occasionally mixed with other fruits as well. And many local snacks to go with it.
The Alte Oper has a large hall with a seating capacity of 2500 and Mozart Saal has around 700 seats. The nearest S-Bahn station Taunusanlage S1, S2, S3, S4. S5, S6, S8, S9, and Nearest U-Bahn station Alte-Oper U6, U7.
Contributed by Nisha & Vasu from Le Monde The Poetic Travels
Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie (Germany)
Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie is one of the most fascinating concert halls in the world. The Elbphilharmonie opened its doors in January 2017, after 10 years of construction work, and hosts regularly opera performances, symphonic concerts, orchestras, piano recitals, and many other modern music genres such as pop or electronic shows.
The Elbphilharmonie takes part every year in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival, the largest club music event in Europe.
Built on an old warehouse in Hamburg’s docks area, the Elbphilharmonie is a true example of innovative architecture and acoustics. On top of the exposed brick warehouse, the fantastic glass structure rises with its wave-shaped design. Besides the Grand concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie is also home to another smaller hall, a hotel, and residential apartments.
The glass façade is defining the Elbphilharmonie, with its 1000 curved window panels that reflect the sky, the water underneath, and the rays of light. Because of the tricky location, in the harbor, where daily massive ships are passing by, the Elbphilharmonie needed a special acoustic, which was designed by one of the best sound experts in the world, Yasuhisa Toyota.
Inside the concert hall, everything can be heard, no matter where you sit, and this is why seeing an opera performance at the Elbphilharmonie is quite a unique and emotional experience. You can feel the music!
If you want to book a ticket for the Elbphilharmonie you need to do it way in advance. The most popular performances get sold out very fast.
Contributed by Joanna Davis from The World in My Pocket
Istanbul Süreyya Opera House (Turkey)
The Süreyya Opera House is an opera house in Istanbul, Turkey. Actually, the building itself has a super long history. It was designed by the Armenian-Turkish architect Kegam Kavafyan on behalf of the Constantinople MP Süreyya İlmen until 1924 and opened on March 6, 1927, as the first music theater on the Anatolian side of Constantinople.
However, due to inadequate and inadequate stage technology, no works of musical theater have been performed there until recently. Instead, the building was initially used as a playhouse and from 1930 to 2005 as a cinema under the name of Süreyya Sinemasi. 2006-2007 the building was subjected to a renovation and reopened on December 14, 2007, as an opera house (Süreyya Opereti) and concert hall.
The stage is 14 m wide, 10 m deep, and 4.9 m high. 14 changing rooms were added without changing the architecture of the building. The dance hall on the second floor has a capacity of 500 guests, while the main hall has a capacity of 570 seats.
The Süreyya Opera House is owned by the Darüşşafaka Association, which rents the building to the Kadıköy district. The operator is the Istanbul State Opera with the State Ballet. The house has a capacity of 570 seats.
Contributed by Clemens Sehi from Travellers Archive
London’s Royal Opera House (England)
If you are in London, you should visit the Royal Opera House. Located in Covent Garden, the current building is the third one in this exact place, the ones before burned down several decades ago. The foyer, façade, and auditorium date from 1858, the rest of the building was reformed between 1980 and 1999.
One of the most spectacular places inside the Opera House is the Paul Hamlyn Hall, made entirely of glass and iron; you can enjoy champagne in the interlude of the concert.
This Opera House is the home of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera, so they are usually performing there. Besides these two, some of the more memorable artists that appeared on stage were Maria Callas, Plácido Domingo, and Juan Diego Flórez.
In case you want to take a guided tour, the prices vary from 20€ to 40€, depending on which option you choose. They offer two different tours, the Backstage Tour and the Velvet, Gilt, and Glamour Tour.
The first one is focused on how the Opera House works and how they develop their productions, the second one is focused on the story of the Opera House and its architecture.
If you want to witness some magic on the stage, they have a good variety of prices that go from affordable to crazy expensive. You should check Friday Rush, a way to buy last-minute tickets at a lower price. These tickets are released every Friday at 1 p.m. London Time.
Contributed by Laura from LauraNoEsta.
Lviv’s Solomiya Krushelnytska Lviv State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Ukraine)
Among many spectacular buildings in Lviv, Ukraine you will find the Opera House, standing proudly in the city center. It was designed by the Polish architect Zygmunt Gorgolewski and built in the neo-Renaissance style between 1897 and 1900, being a witness of Lviv’s turbulent history.
While the building is impressive from the outside, the interior will make your jaw drop. Lviv Opera House is rich in decoration, with marble stairs, numerous statues around, and gold-plated details – everything was prepared by the most renowned artists at that time.
The main hall that can fit up to a thousand people, is yet another masterpiece, with plush seat, sculptures on the walls and decorated curtain. Be sure to look up to see an impressive chandelier and paintings on the ceiling. If you have been to the Paris Opera House you might find the one in Lviv a bit similar since some of the decorations and solutions were copied from there.
The good news is that tickets for the plays at Lviv Opera House are very affordable, starting at around $3. You can see here some of the well-known plays like the “Swan Lake” or “Aida” as well as attend classical music concerts or plays for kids.
But you don’t need to go for the play to see the grand interior. It is possible to visit the Opera every day except on Mondays. You just need to buy the ticket in the ticket’s office once you enter the building and you are free to marvel at this spectacular building and its interiors.
Contributed by Kami from Kami and the Rest of the World
Manchester Opera House (England)
Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre (Russia)
The pride of Moscow and Russia at large, Bolshoi Theatre stands in all its beauty right in the heart of the capital, on Teatralnaya Square.
Literally translated from Russian, “Bolshoi” means “big.” And if you are wondering if there’s a small theatre in Moscow too, the answer is yes! There’s Maly Theatre which specializes in plays production. Bolshoi Theatre, meanwhile, is known the world over as one of the most prestigious opera and ballet companies.
Its historic stage has been graced with performances of the most talented Russian and international singers and dancers, like Anna Netrebko, Svetlana Zakharova, and Luciano Pavarotti to name a few.
Although Bolshoi is most famous for its ballet – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake premiered here in 1877 – opera performances are just as grand and mesmerizing. The opera company draws inspiration in classical Russian repertoire with operas like Boris Godunov, Eugene Onegin, and Prince Igor. But you’ll find the works of renowned Italian composers here too.
The theatre features two stages that are located in two different buildings. If your goal is to see the original neoclassical building make sure to get the tickets for the “historic stage”. The “new stage”, although beautiful, was opened only in 2002.
The original building, on the other hand, has been around since 1856. It has gone through a colossal restoration from 2005 to 2011 when its doors were completely closed to the public for six years. The renovations were done to rebuild the original imperial decor, while at the same time install modern technology for better acoustics.
If watching a show at Bolshoi is a life-long dream of yours, make sure to get the tickets well in advance. The best and safest way to buy tickets is on the theatre’s official website (there’s an English version) as soon as they are available. Usually, the tickets to the New Stage are cheaper and easier to get.
Russians consider watching a theatre performance a special occasion, so you might want to dress up a bit. And don’t miss out on some amazing Russian food at a pre-show dinner.
Contributed by Yulia Dyukova from That’s What She Had.
Munich’s Bavarian State Opera (Germany)
In the heart of Munich, three minutes from Hitler’s favorite Hofbräuhaus, stands the largest opera house in Germany, The National Theatre. With over 2000 seats, it is known for its unique interiors that balance the innovative technologies and the grandeur of King Ludwig’s reign.
The building itself deserves an opera performance dedicated to its history. The theatre was commissioned in 1810 by King Maximilian I of Bavaria to be designed by Karl von Fischer, of the Odéon Paris fame. In 1817, a fire-roasted the building which was then open to the public in 1818.
Another rebuild was necessary after a great fire in 1825 but was destroyed again in the second world war. The present theatre mimics Karl von Fischer’s original neo-classical design. The stage, about 2,500 square meters, is the world’s third-largest, after the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the Grand Theatre, Warsaw.
Bavarian State Opera has attracted the famous opera directors from Richard Strauss, Clemens Krauss, and Richard Wagner to Wolfgang Sawallisch. It has one of the most diverse performance schedules where over 40 operas, ballets, concerts and song recitals from four centuries are performed every season.
To attract a wide audience, discounted tickets (€10) for selected performances are available for kids and young under 30. A monthly pass is also available for selected seats at the special price of € 50 (reduced € 25), with the exception of special performances. Additionally, an hour-long guided tour is available every day at 2 pm.
Planning a trip to Munich? Have a look at this comprehensive guide to a weekend in Munich by Nisha who lived there for five years!
Odessa National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet (Ukraine)
The “pearl of the Black Sea” was founded in 1794, and its status as a free port city attracted merchants and traders and aristocrats from all over the world. It’s no wonder, then, that Odessa has such a European flair!
Even though its glory has faded a bit, the Odessa opera house remains as stately as ever. The present Viennese baroque building was built by Fellner & Helmer — architects who designed over 200 buildings! The Odessa Opera House has ‘sister’ opera houses in cities all over the former Austro-Hungarian empire.
Amazingly, the building was barely damaged during World War II, but a recent renovation in 2007 has ensured that the Odessa theatre still dazzles with all the luxury of the world’s best opera houses.
The auditorium’s every surface is gilded, with rich red curtains and carpets providing a sophisticated contrast. If you look up through the chandelier, you can see scenes from Shakespearean plays depicted on the ceiling.
The Odessa Theatre performs both the classic operas and national treasures, from Madame Butterfly and La Boheme to Eugene Onegin and Zaporozhets za Dunayem (Cossacks in Exile).
And while some people might be shocked to find such a gorgeous, vibrant opera house in Ukraine, and even more delightful surprise is the affordability of tickets — you can snag seats for less than $10! Even if you are not much of an opera aficionado, it’s worth a visit when you visit Ukraine!
Contributed by Amy Butler from The Wayfarer’s Book.
Oslo Operahuset (Norway)
Palermo’s Teatro Massimo (Italy)
A night at the opera is one of the most popular things to do in Palermo, and it’s surprisingly inclusive too. Since the Teatro Massimo reopened in 1999 after decades of neglect and corruption, the theatre has become a symbol of the city’s regeneration and of its anti-mafia movement.
The beloved opera house is an important part of local identity and ticket prices are kept affordably low. The Teatro Massimo also leads the way when it comes to community inclusion, with immigrant choirs, live-streamed performances, and even an opera truck amongst its early initiatives.
Milan’s La Scala might be the most famous opera house in Italy, but Palermo’s theatre is the largest and is famed for its perfect acoustics. You might also recognize the outside of the building from The Godfather: Part III; that iconic final scene was filmed on the steps of the Teatro Massimo.
The website is in English however it can be tricky using a foreign card for payment – it’s best to telephone the ticket office if you need tickets in advance.
But for all but the most popular performances and times you should have no problem buying tickets when in Palermo – the friendly staff will be able to talk you through the different price and seating options.
You can also go behind the scenes on a daytime tour of the building, which is worth it just for the panoramic rooftop views of the city.
Contributed by Steph Edwards of The Mediterranean Traveller
Paris’s Opera Bastille (France)
The Opéra Bastille, located at Place de la Bastille in Paris, is one of the two buildings of the institution Opéra de Paris. Whilst Palais Garnier is dedicated to ballet and other kinds of shows, the Opéra Bastille is the theater that hosts operas in Paris.
The Opéra Bastille was commissioned by the French President François Mitterrand in 1982. The main reason to build another opera theater in the city was that Palais Garnier was too small for a city capital like Paris and its installations were a bit obsolete. The winner o the architecture contest was Carlos Ott, an Uruguayan-Canadian architect.
The Opéra Bastille was inaugurated in 1989, on the occasion of the bi-centenary of the French Revolution.
The building’s design is functional and modern, which contrasts with the design of the opera theaters of the 19th century. The seats are upholstered in black in contrast to its granite walls, and it has an impressive glass ceiling.
Opéra Bastille may not be as glamorous as Palais Garnier but it is equipped with the latest technology and the sound is great. In addition, it is one of the most important opera theaters in the world in terms of capacity, with 2.747 seats!
Despite its impressive capacity it is not easy to find last-minute tickets but quite the opposite! If you are interested in a specific opera, buy your tickets as soon as possible, especially if it is a famous opera.
Contributed by Elisa from World in Paris
Paris’s Opera Garnier (France)
Paris is filled with stunning architecture and must-see attractions, so it’s not surprising that you can stumble across sights such as the Opéra Garnier when you’re not even looking for them!
The Opéra Garnier one of France’s premier opera houses and can host almost 2000 guests in the plush velvet seats in the auditorium. Built at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III, Palais Garnier or Opéra Garnier is an opulent theatre that is home to the Paris Opera and used to host Paris Opera Ballet performances (until they moved to Opéra Bastille in 1989).
Another thing that adds to the allure of Opéra Garnier is that it was the setting for the 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera, now a world-renowned Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical.
Today, visitors can choose to simply explore interiors of the Opera Garnier to admire the décor or can book tickets to a performance such as Carmen, La Traviata or Aida.
The best way to book tickets to shows at the Opéra Garnier is to either plan well in advance, choosing the best seats to suit your budget, or to leave it really last minute and turn up just one hour before the show starts to try and snag one of the €10 “6th category seats” while stocks last!
Of course, this depends if you want to see something specific or if you just want to experience an opera in Paris, so you’ll need to choose what works best for you.
Porto’s Casa da Musica (Portugal)
This striking modern opera house was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in the context of Porto being named the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2001, although the building was not inaugurated until 2005. People either love or hate its unusual design and asymmetrical shape, which is said to look like the hull of a ship that’s been beached at low tide.
While most of the building is very much in a contemporary architectural style, the VIP Hall is filled with classic blue and white azulejo tiles. You can catch a glimpse of these from the outside when the lights are turned on in the evening, but it’s worth paying the 10 euros for the full guided tour of the building.
These are available twice a day in both English and Portuguese. The tours are fascinating, and to be honest, are even more worthwhile than a visit to some of the museums in Porto.
Best of all, if you decide to attend a performance at any point after your tour, the tour price will be deducted from the price of your concert ticket, making the tour essentially free. In addition, discounts of 50% are available on concert tickets for people under 25 years old as well as music teachers and students.
Contributed by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan.
Prague’s Stani Opera Praha (Czech Republic)
Contributed by Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery
Rome’s Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma (Italy)
The Opera House of Rome, or Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, was established in 1879 above the ruins of the mansion of Roman Emperor Elagabalus. Sir Domenico Costanzi, an entrepreneur in the construction field, poured most of his private fortune into the work.
The first Opera house in Rome is horseshoe-shaped and has a ceiling with a dome decorated with frescoes. For the 40 years that followed the foundation, the theater bore the name of its father. The “Teatro Costanzi” hosted the debut of incredibly successful performances like Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini’s Tosca. It can be considered one of Rome’s historical landmarks.
In the 1920s, the Municipality of Rome acquired Costanzi’s Opera House and renamed it “Royal Opera Theater of Rome”. Performances did not stop even during WW2 and in 1948, after the proclamation of the Italian Republic, the theater took on the current name.
Opera enthusiasts, as well as students of opera music and singing, are welcomed to visit the theater’s archives, which has been storing all the documents from the ultra-centenarian activity.
You can browse the past and present scheduling of the Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, (most performances are available only online at the moment), and get your ticket free from pre-sale costs from the official online ticket office.
By Lisa from Travel Connect Experience
Sofia’s National Opera and Ballet (Bulgaria)
If you are looking to enjoy a night at the opera in Eastern Europe, Sofia is a great place to start! Opera has existed here since the 1890s. It briefly had to cease performing during the Allied bombing campaign in Bulgaria in 1944, but performances continued throughout the communist era.
Performances by the National Opera and Ballet has been held in its current building since 1953, though plans for the building began as early as 1921.
Performances here typically focus on Italian and French operas; however, Wagner has been a popular choice in the last few years.
Tickets start as low as $7 per person, and you can buy them online ahead of time. You can check out my guide to going to the Sofia Opera to plan a trip.
Venice’s La Fenice (Italy)
Venice’s La Fenice is one of the most famous opera houses in Europe. The name means “The Phoenix” and is apt because the theater has been destroyed by fire three times. First in 1774, then in 1836, and finally the entire interior was completely gutted in 1996, with only the exterior walls remaining.
It was rebuilt again, in 19th-century style, based on photos of the former theater. It is not huge (it seats 1,000 people), but its intimacy is part of its charm. It is beautiful, with the stereotypical layers of boxes, plush red and gold trimmings, and a cherub-filled painted ceiling.
The opera house reopened in 2004 with a performance of La Traviata. This famous Verdi opera, as well as his equally famous Rigoletto, debuted here. If you are very lucky, you can time a trip to Venice with a performance of one of these operas in the place they opened! Tickets are available on their (English language) website.
Of course, when you think of Venice, you think of canals and gondolas, and the theater sits in the middle of Venice, surrounded by narrow canals. So, if you want to be completely decadent for an evening, get dressed up and take a gondola ride around the canals of Venice, then head to the theater for a glass of champagne and performance in this legendary opera house.
Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting.
Vienna State Opera (Austria)
Vienna, named the Most Livable City numerous times, offers a lot of cultural and historical significance. One of the architectural greats the city boasts of is the Vienna State Opera. It was completed in 1869, standing 151 years to this day but its neo-classical style transcends many eras.
The opening premiere at the Opera was Don Giovanni, a piece by Austria’s own Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was held on May 25, 1869, and the event saw Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) among the spectators.
The war brought significant damage to it, it was debated whether to be rebuilt or to be completely established in another location. It was decided to be restored on-site, and it stands today where it originally was – at Opernring 2, a few minutes walk away from the city center. During the reopening, the public was treated to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio.
The Opera House is where the members of the Vienna Philharmonic (orchestra) are selected from. It’s sort of a training ground for those aspiring to be a member of the renowned orchestra. The State Opera is also home to the Vienna Opera Ball – an annual society ball that closes every year with the waltz Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II.
Tickets to the opera start as soon as the season previews are out. The cheapest ticket could be priced at 16€ – yes, a price for the masses and they are the first to go.
Going to the day of the concert to the ticket office is one way to get them in case of returns. Otherwise, get the standing tickets if you’re ok with watching hours of a beautiful performance on foot. Surely, one will forget the capacity of one’s legs over a wonderful experience.
Contributed by Marie Gizelle from Vienna 101Facets
Tips for Seeing the Opera in Europe
If you’ve never been to the opera before, here are a few things you want to keep in mind!
First, dress the part. You don’t need to go head-to-toe in diamond and furs as some locals might, but you’ll feel like a complete schlub if you show up in a t-shirt and shorts. I like to pack a nice dress that can transition from day-to-night to wear.
Second, eat beforehand. You don’t want to be hungry during a three-hour performance (and some run longer). I suggest a nice dinner out beforehand and after-show drinks.
Third, show up early! You’ll want to enjoy time taking in the beauty of the opera house before it’s time to take your seat.
Fourth, you’ll be asked to turn off your cell phone during the performance. Get as many pics as you want beforehand, afterward, and during intermission. If you want to get a picture of the cast (like the one I took above), you can typically turn your phone back on during the curtain call.
Finally, bring some cash. Many opera houses will not take credit cards for the concessions, and you’ll want cash in case you need to tip anyone (this is country-specific).
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Europe
A Lonely Planet guidebook for your trip. It can be hard to find big, international guidebooks once you land (or they’ll be way overpriced). Get yours ahead of time, either a hard copy or on a Kindle.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use local sim cards while here to help navigate public transportation and when you’re on the road.
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS, and general travel genie.
A Great Day Bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc). My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for cities because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets. It also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
More European Travel Resources
If you’re headed to Europe, check out my podcast, Rick Steves Over Brunch. We review episodes of the Rick Steves’ Europe tv show and throw in our own travel tips. We’ve covered quite a bit of Europe!
For country-specific information, check out my country pages. You can find them here.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for Europe make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging enjoying time in big cities where travelers can attract pickpockets.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for three years, and I happily recommend them. If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.
Pin this Guide to the Best European Opera Houses for Your Trip!