16 Unforgettable Places to Catch a Show

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16 Unforgettable Places to Catch a Show
Sure, watching one of the Bard’s plays at the Globe in London or gaping at the opulent furnishings of Paris’s Palais Garnier are quintessential travel experiences. But at these 16 theaters, the experience isn’t simply a cultural must—it is absolutely unforgettable. Thanks to breathtaking surroundings, quirky architecture, and fantastic audiences, the memories of these places will stick with you long after the stories and melodies fade.
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    1. Grand Theater
    Where: Epidaurus, Greece
    What you’re watching: Opera, musical, and theatrical performances

    You can literally follow in the footsteps of ancient Greeks at this simple, 14,000-seater amphitheater. Built in the 4th century B.C.E., the Grand Theater is tucked away in a small city on the Argolid Peninsula. It may look plain, but the venue’s minimalist design is the key to its legendary acoustics—no microphones needed despite the theater’s massive size. Better yet, it was built to highlight a sweeping view of the countryside, creating a stunning natural backdrop.
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    2. Cineteca Matadero
    Where: Madrid, Spain
    What you’re watching: Experimental films and documentaries

    This trippy cinema space, which almost exclusively features nonfiction film, is actually a converted slaughterhouse. In a wild play on the idea of perception, the woven walls of the auditorium are painted black and are backlit, which almost makes them looks like rows and rows of lights. It can be a bit heady and disconcerting, but Cineteca Matadero about as memorable as movie-going gets.
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    3. Margravial Opera House
    Where: Bayreuth, Germany
    What you’re watching: Opera

    If you’ve ever wanted to truly experience opera the way it was in the 1700s, catching a show at the Margravial is the next best thing to time travel. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is almost completely preserved in its original late baroque condition, so you’ll be in awe of the same swaths of painted canvas and carved woodwork that have captivated generations of opera-goers. (Note: The theater is currently closed for renovations following its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2012, but the public can still tour open areas in the interim.)
    Photo by Manu/Flickr
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    4. Raj Mandir Cinema
    Where: Jaipur, India
    What you’re watching: Movies, especially Bollywood

    Believe it or not, the Raj Mandir is actually a movie theater, not an art deco palace. Built in 1976, this monument to cinema pairs classic movie-house style with distinctly psychedelic undulating design elements. But it’s not just the architecture and the Hindi hits that make this place an incredible experience—it’s also well known for audience participation. There’s nothing quite like being enveloped by the shouts and applause of an entire audience, fully invested in Bollywood magic dancing across a giant screen.
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    5. Roman Theater of Orange
    Where: Orange, France
    What you’re watching: Concerts, theatrical performances, opera festivals 

    Carved into a hillside in Provence, the Roman Theater of Orange (Théâtre antique d’Orange) is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. Its theatrical pedigree stretches back to the 1st century, and to this day you can experience theater the way the Romans did. The UNESCO World Heritage Site features a towering and impressively well-preserved 200-foot by 121-foot stage wall decorated in bas-reliefs, helping project sound to the audience.
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    6. National Centre for the Performing Arts
    Where: Beijing, China
    What you’re watching: Opera, musical, and theatrical performances

    Although it has garnered nicknames like “The Bird’s Egg” and “The Giant Egg,” Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts is far more impressive than an egg—even if the resemblance is striking. The titanium-and-glass island was built to look like it was floating on the surrounding lake. In fact, the only way to reach the three interior performance spaces is through an underwater hallway that stretches from the dome to the lake’s edge—proving that, sometimes, the journey is the destination.
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    7. Ryman Auditorium
    Where: Nashville, Tennessee
    What you’re watching: Country music

    If you’re not a country music fan, you may not have heard of the Ryman Auditorium, but you’ve probably heard of the Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman, a legendary music space, started out as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. It later became the home of the famous stage concert/radio show Grand Ole Opry. A place of pilgrimage for any country music fan, the “Mother Church of Country Music”—which rather fittingly still features stained-glass windows and the original wooden pews—has hosted all the greats, from Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton.
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    8. Castro Theater
    Where: San Francisco, California
    What you’re watching: Classic movies

    You might go to check out this San Francisco landmark’s Spanish colonial façade and art deco style, but you’ll fall in love with the show. Sure, The Castro generally screens classic movies—like a Tarantino/P.T. Anderson double feature or a silent film festival—inside those lavishly decorated walls, but the real attraction is the theater’s regular sing-along performances. If you can, snag a ticket to one of these wildly popular shows where attendees dress up like characters from The Sound of Music or The Little Mermaid, and join in the fun at the top of your lungs. It’s definitely one for the memory books.
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    9. La Scala
    Where: Milan, Italy
    What you’re watching: Opera, ballet, orchestral performances

    For a true opera fan, simply walking through this legendary venue would be enough, but to watch a performance here is a moving experience. This six-tiered, ornately decorated masterpiece has hosted world premieres of some of the greatest operas by some of the greatest composers, including Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi (to name a few). And the venue’s acclaim is well deserved: The acoustics are superb, thanks in part to a concave channel under the floor of the orchestra that helps direct sound.
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    10. Cine Yara
    Where: Havana, Cuba
    What you’re watching: Movies, musical performances

    If you’re looking to go classic in Cuba, you can do so much better than ogle old cars. Cuban cinema might be the country’s biggest cultural surprise, and Cine Yara remains an iconic spot. The theater, built in 1947 and still considered a premier example of Cuban modernist architecture, only recently switched from a 35mm projector. Today it’s a cultural hub for the surrounding neighborhood and screens everything from film festivals to soccer matches—and plays host to a few concerts by popular Cuban bands, as well.
    Photo by Mark Read
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    11. Red Rocks Amphitheater
    Where: Morrison, Colorado
    What you’re watching: Musical performances and films during the summer

    Yes, that view is staggering, but the Red Rocks Amphitheater isn’t just a pretty place to see your favorite band. The theater is the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world. So you are surrounded not only by two 300-foot, flaming-red monoliths and staring out at a burnished horizon, but also by near-perfect sound. Now imagine all that at sunset, or under a clear, starry sky.
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    12. Sun Pictures
    Where: Broome, Australia
    What you’re watching: Movies

    Sun Pictures is the longest-running outdoor movie theater in the world—so old, in fact, that the first films screened at the theater were silent. The lawn is set up with deck chairs, but there’s also plenty of space to spread out a blanket and get comfy for your film under the stars. Charmingly old-school, Sun Pictures is so popular that it screens multiple movies a night, every night of the week—most throwback outdoor theaters only screen movies once or twice a week.
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    13. Cinespia
    Where: Los Angeles, California
    What you’re watching: Movies

    Can you imagine watching your favorite classic films surrounded by the Hollywood greats who starred in them? Well, at the movie nights in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, you can do just that. During warm Los Angeles summer nights, Angelinos flock with blankets and low chairs to the Fairbanks Lawn in the middle of the cemetery where legends like Marion Davies, Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, and Jayne Mansfield are buried. It’s enchanting and ever so slightly eerie, but this is a place where love of film runs deep.
    Courtesy of Cinespia
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    14. National Noh Theatre
    Where: Toyko, Japan
    What you’re watching: Traditional Japanese musical plays

    Kabuki may be Japan’s most famous form of traditional theater, but Noh is its oldest. The dance-based theater art tells stories, often based on classical literature, using many exceptionally beautiful masks. No wonder “Noh” is derived from a Japanese word meaning “skill” or “talent.” The National Noh Theatre is deceptively simple and seats a mere 627 people. But the programs, sets of Noh performances broken up by short comedic acts known as kyogen, can often last all day.
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    15. Starlight Six Drive-In Theater
    Where: Atlanta, Georgia
    What you’re watching: Movies

    Atlanta’s Starlight Six Drive-In Theater has been running since 1949 and is a true blast from the past. It’s the perfect place to go on a tour of classic Americana or to play out your favorite scenes from Grease. Indulge in nostalgia by grabbing concessions at the retro snack shack, tuning in the radio to connect with the movie’s sound, and then stretching out on the hood of your car to watch a great flick on a Southern summer night. You can, of course, bring your own food, and most nights are double features.
    Courtesy of the Starlight Six Drive-In Theater
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    16. Minack Theatre
    Where: Porthcurno, United Kingdom
    What you’re watching: Theatrical performances

    The Minack Theatre, an open-air theater carved into a rocky granite outcrop in the cliffs of Cornwall, exudes drama. Can you imagine watching a performance of Hamlet here, surrounded by cold stone and set to a soundtrack of crashing waves in the background? In fact, the theater’s inaugural performance in 1932, rather appropriately, was The Tempest. Today, the theater is open to visitors year round and sees a full summer season of about 20 plays produced by various companies. Just remember to bring a blanket—the evenings can get cold.
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