Musical tourism

Pilgrimage to Père Lachaise

Liverpool claims the Beatles, and Dublin is crazy about U2. Every year, millions of tourists make music pilgrimages to worship their heroes. Leonieke Bolderman researched how music literally gets people moving.
By Menno van der Meer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

In Dublin, cultural geographer Leonieke Bolderman met a huge U2 fan. The fan discovered U2 as a teenager and knew all the songs by heart; now was finally in Dublin to visit the birthplace of his favourite band. ‘All those songs meant something to him’, says Bolderman. ‘They symbolised important events in his own life. To him, this visit was an intense, emotional experience.’

Bolderman received her PhD for her research on music tourism at the Erasmus University. She went to Dublin for U2, to Stockholm for ABBA, to Bayreuth for the Wagner Festival, to Prague for jazz, and to Corfu for classical music. She talked to music tourists, guides, and tourist office employees.

Through these conversations, she formed a theory about music tourism and coined the term ‘musical topophilia’: loving a place because of the music that was made there. Sometimes, she says, someone falls in love with a place because of the music. But the concept also works the other way around: Bolderman talked to someone who loved Ireland so much that they decided to learn to play the bagpipes.


Music tourism is varied. There are organised tours and entire museums dedicated to music groups, like the ABBA and The Beatles museums in Stockholm and Liverpool. But people also visit graves (such as Jim Morrison’s at Père Lachaise), statues, places from song lyrics (Penny Lane), and locations featured on album covers (such as Joshua Tree National Park). Bolderman  says visiting festivals and following band tours also count as forms of musical tourism.

The reasons for these journeys may vary, but they share a common theme. ‘Many people want to see the place for themselves, and hear what the place sounds like. Some people even call it a pilgrimage. To them, it’s meaningful journey of reflection, although not necessarily spiritual.’

Bolderman expected to find many tourists listening to music. ‘But they weren’t. They didn’t need to listen; they could hear the music in their head. I had the same thing when I was walking around Stockholm. I could hear the ABBA songs in my head when I was there, and I’m not even that big a fan.’

Seventeenth century

Music tourism has a long history. ‘The tradition of troubadours dates back to the seventeenth century, and composers travelled the world to learn from their colleagues. These days, it’s much larger and more commercialised. Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion, gets more than 600,000 visitors a year.’

Utilising musical heritage can help cities thrive, and make them more attractive to tourists. ‘Thanks to The Beatles, Liverpool’s economy recovered. Other cities with a rich musical history, such as Detroit with its record label Motown, have used it too. They declared bankruptcy in 2013, but now they have plans to expand the Motown museum for fifty million dollars.’

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Sybrand Grasdijk

journalism master student

When he was nine years old, Sybrand saw the video for the song Otherside. From that moment, he was addicted to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So far, he’s been to eleven of their concerts. In 2013, he visited Los Angeles, where the band was founded, to see schools, houses, and recording studios related to the Peppers.

‘I read and heard quite a bit about the locations the band was founded and that had inspired its members. It was mainly amazing to see those places with my own eyes’, says Sybrand. ‘Walking around and imagining what it must have been like in the eighties was just great. I won’t say I was born in the wrong time period, but I wonder what it would have been like back then in Los Angeles, seeing the band play in a small underground club.’

Michael Jackson

Fardo Eringa

PhD student of theology and religious studies

Fardo became a fan of Michael Jackson as early as elementary school. She wrote her thesis on Michael Jackson pilgrims who visited memorials to the King of Pop in the United States and Europe. It won the Popmuziek Scriptie prize in 2016. For her research, Fardo visited the Michael Jackson memorial in Munich.

Her PhD research is also about Jackson pilgrims. In June, Fardo will be visiting Jackson’s estate, the Neverland Ranch. ‘I’m really looking forward to it. I’m an admirer myself, but I’ll be studying the experiences of fans. The fact that I’m a fan myself will make it much easier to get personal information. It will be double the experience, and I’m curious to find out how I’ll react.’

Bach and Wagner

Sebastiaan van Leunen

bachelor student of law

Last summer, Sebastiaan visited Leipzig together with student musical society Bragi. There, he sang songs in St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as a cantor for years. ‘The idea that the St. Matthew Passion was played for the first time in this church is so intriguing’, Sebastiaan says. ‘It adds another dimension to the concert.’

This summer, he’ll journey to the Bayreuth Festival in Germany. The Wagner family has been organising this festival, which only plays Richard Wagner’s operas, since 1876. ‘I’m really looking forward to it. Bayreuth is a Mecca for Wagner followers. I have tickets for Parsifal, Wagner’s final opera. I wrote my bachelor thesis on this work. To be able to witness it, in the theatre where it premièred in 1882, is just amazing.’


Kristin McGee

associate professor of art, culture, and media

Every year, Kristin journeys to the Swedish town of Herräng for a dance camp. There, she dances the Lindy Hop, a dance invented by African Americans in Harlem in the thirties. The dance combines jazz, tap dancing, and the Charleston. The dance is closely tied to the rise of jazz music.

‘It’s like a vacation to me’, says Kristin. ‘The whole village gets turned into something from the thirties. Everyone wears vintage clothing and dances to music from that period. It’s a festival with music, theatre shows, and theme parties. You spend the week in a different time period with a lot of music and dancing.’


Bas Teunissen

master student of history

Approximately eight years ago, Bas and his mother were on a trip through Europe, visiting its cities.Their visit to the Swiss city of Montreaux was especially important to Bas, because the town has a statue of Freddie Mercury. Striking his famous pose, Freddie gazes upon Lake Geneva. The artist had an apartment in the Swiss city that he retreated to whenever he needed peace.

‘I’m the biggest Queen fan I know’, says Bas. ‘Seeing the statue was really amazing. Not that I fell to my knees crying, but it’s great to visit this place because it meant so much to him. It’s also where they took the picture for the cover of the last Queen album, so that’s pretty special, too.’

Want more? The UKrant composed a topophilia playlist. From Hotel California to The Folsom Prison Blues.


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