Note: This was updated and edited in June 2020
I’ve had a few weeks off from travelling, but I’m now off again in search of some warm weather. Given this, I thought I’d do a full breakdown of each place I’ve busked in: how much hassle you get from the police, how much money you make, etc. And because I like lists and stuff, it’s all in alphabetical order. So, from Austria to the USA, here is:
‘The Guide to European Busking and Some Other Places That Aren’t in Europe And One That Isn’t Really But Is According to Eurovision and FIFA For Reasons Too Complicated to Go Into Right Now’
Albania is the friendliest country in Europe, and that is a hill that I’m more than willing to die on. I received invites to stay at the houses of people who had never met me; I got a ride on a motorbike with someone who was concerned that I looked a bit lost; I had someone take an hour out of their day to show me to the bus station (and then try to pay for my ticket); I spent a raucous hour on a coach with a couple of dozen old Albanian men who spent the whole time practising their English on me, which was mainly limited to ‘Hello’, ‘Cheers’, and ‘Peaky Blinders’.
The busking is well worth it too. Berat and Shkoder in particular are pleasant and profitable places to eke out a living.
Armenians love their live music – in fact I moved there for a few months to join a Celtic folk band in 2018. The busking in Yerevan is excellent – there are a few regulars who have their favourite pitch and time (every day the same band of traditional folk musicians will play from around 4 o’clock at the top of Northern Avenue, for example), but as long as you accept the need to vacate your pitch for these hardened veterans, there’s good money to be made on both on the main street and outside the metro stations. Vanadzor and Gyumri are both worth a punt as well.
Vienna and Salzburg are both excellent places to busk. The police are pretty strict in the former, but since the pedestrianisation of Mariahilferstrasse the hourly rate is superb (I realise I’m straying into Alan Partridge territory by discussing these sort of issues, but they’re genuinely important for buskers. Although I obviously take the opposite view to Norwich’s erstwhile DJ. I don’t give a hoot about traders getting access to Dixons. Apologies for this diversion, which will be completely nonsensical to you if you haven’t watched Alan Partridge).
In Salzburg you’re more likely to get hassle from the tour guides, who think they run the place and disapproved of me because I wasn’t playing Eidelweiss on a continuous loop. They love their Sound of Music there. Cracking place though.
Azerbaijan is the strictest country I’ve been to when it comes to busking. I couldn’t go ten minutes without being stopped by the police. I did try bribing them (on the advice I received from the hostel owners) but sadly that just seemed to get them even more angry. To be fair, they were a little twitchy about my harmonica holster, which I accept does look a bit like a bomb if you don’t look too closely at it. Unfortunately my Azerbaijani phrasebook had forgotten to include the phrase ‘Don’t shoot, it’s just a belt for storing harmonicas’, so I packed up and left for more busker-friendly climes.
Good money here. Bruges in particular, on account of the fact that it’s full of relatively well off tourists. Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven are all pretty decent too, although the latter is a university town and a bit dead during uni holidays. Brussels isn’t so good for busking, and no one really likes Brussels anyway, even people who live there. I stayed with a friend while I was there, who introduced the view from her fourth floor flat by saying, ‘It’s an OK view, but unfortunately it’s of Brussels’. Nuff said.
A fine country to busk in, is Bosnia. Sarajevo is unusually good for a big city, particularly in the old town. I was stopped by the police a few times, but on one of these occasions, it was purely so he could tell me the shift patterns of his boss, who was apparently rather intolerant of the muscial underclass. So that was nice. Head for Mostar too – though be careful not to edge into the territory of the locals who make a lviving by jumping off the bridge into the river and charging people money to watch. They don’t take kindly to having buskers in the vicinity.
I spent a fair while travelling around Bulgaria – the slightly smaller towns in particular are excellent places to busk (I had a great deal of joy in Gabrovo and Smolyan in particular). The police in Sofia are a surly lot, and you’re likely to get moved on in Plovdiv too, but the latter is a great city and worth a visit. For busking in Plovdiv, try the hipster district of Kabana. Quieter than the main street, but less hassle from the police and of course there is great coffee to be found in the insufferably trendy cafes that dominate this area.
Vancouver is a beautiful place, but pretty poor for busking. This is in part due to a lot of ‘competition’ from beggars, who I am told tend to gravitate towards Vancouver because it has far milder winters than anywhere else in Canada. Which makes perfect sense, but a combination of that and a lack of pedestrianised streets (back to Partridge again) makes it difficult to make much money here. Stunning city, though.
There are plenty of beautiful seaside towns along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast to make a great busking trip. I tried Makarska, Sibenik, Split and Dubrovnik but there are plenty more that are probably worthy of a poke. Zagreb is predictably more difficult to make good money in (always harder in big cities), but if you’re there, do pay a vsisit to the Museum of Broken Relationshiosps, which the staff at my hostel were offensively keen to recommend to me.
I’ve only been to Cyprus off-season – I suspect the busking would be better over the spring and summer months when the main cities are a lot busier. Nicosia has some great streets for busking, while Famagusta in the Turkish part of the island is also worth a go.
Prague is one of only two cities in which I’ve been given an on-the-spot fine for busking. I’ve heard similar stories from other buskers: the fine tends to be around 200kr (about £8) and around lunch time, which suggests that the Czech police are kind of like the kid in your school who beats you up for your lunch money, expect they wield genuine legal power. I decided to pay the fine entirely in 1, 2 and 5 kr coins from my busking case, which didn’t go down brilliantly, particularly when I pocketed 2 100kr notes given to me by two local onlookers, angry at what they were seeing.
Money’s decent if you don’t get fined though.
Copenhagen is a lovely city and Stroget is the street for busking. Good money, but then it sort of has to be if you want to get by financially in Denmark.
Tallinn is where Finns go in search of cheap booze and parties, so evening busks here can be fruitful. The ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn, however, is a strange experience if you get on an early morning one. There’s a real school disco kind of vibe and it was way too early for that (well, I suppose it was either several hours too early or several years too late, but whatever the case I wasn’t really up for it).
I had to rush through Finland somewhat, having spent more time than expected in Norway, so I only got to busk in Rovaniemi and Helsinki. The former was better on the busking front, though both were reasonable enough.
I’m yet to find a really good busking spot in Paris – answers on a postcard if you have. Or just send me a tweet or something. Toulouse, Lyon and Lille were all pretty good without being spectacular, but at least I don’t tend to get much hassle from the police in France. Someone robbed a few euros from my case in Lille, the most anyone has ever taken from me in a single swipe, but it’s probably unfair to hold Lille personally responsible for that.
German police are a mild-mannered lot on the whole. When I was busking by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, I was accosted by a police officer, who asked me to move. I assumed he meant I had to leave the area, but all he wanted me to do was move 20 metres to my right. Which was fine, but I was intrigued to know why.
‘Oh, it’s not problem, but right now you are blocking the entrance to the American Embassy’.
Ah yes. Sorry about that.
The Eastern German town of Halle gave me my most fruitful day outside the UK so far, although its residents were a little confused about why I was there (I was staying with a friend – they don’t get many tourists in Halle) while Koln, Hamburg, Lippstadt, Erfurt, Dortmund and Munster are all fairly profitable. Weimar, however, is excellent. A small town of around 60 000 people, there is a high student population with plenty of tourism in relation to its size. Perfect busking conditions. If you do go there, pop in to Maqam’s shisha bar for a jam with Gaith – great, chilled out place and there are always loads of musicians hanging around there.
Unfortunately most German cities have bizarrely stringent regulations. While the police generally have bigger things to worry about, be careful you don’t fall foul of the ordnungsamt. No one has yet been able to explain to me exactly what or who they are, but they’re a right pain in the arse for buskers, and indeed anyone attempting to do anything with a smile on their face. The ordnungsamt despise joy and will stop at nothing to prevent it where it occurs.
I loved Georgia. The food, the people, the mountains. Glorious. The busking is OK – a little difficult in Tbilisi as you have to contend with the old women who beg on many of the street corners and look as though they could probably beat seven shades of shit out of you if you were to persist in playing too close to them. But then there’s also Kutaisi, Telavi and other smaller towns that are quite receptive to buskers. If you don’t make much money here, then just gorge on khachapuri (cheese bread) to commiserate. I lived off the stuff while I was there and I miss it dearly.
It took six police officers to move me on from my busking spot in Athens after the two who initially attended the scene decided they needed to call for backup. I briefly became the focal point for an online protest against the Greek police by Athens’ anarchist community after someone posted pictures of the whole incident on Facebook, but decided that instead of leading a popular revolution, I would instead hop on a ferry to Crete. This was a good move – the towns of Rethymno, Heraklion and Chania on Crete’s northern cast are beautiful and profitable in equal measure.
I also had reasonable success on the mainland in Serres, Thessaloniki, Drama and Kastoria. On the whole, Greece was very kind to me. I’ll no doubt return soon.
I made bugger all busking in Budapest, but what a city! Go there, but don’t expect to make money. Particularly as busking is banned on the main street for pedestrians (Vaci utca).
I thought my wide repertoire of Irish folk would go down wonderfully in Dublin, but it turns out Dublin locals are not always keen on hearing Black Velvet Band or Tell Me Ma for the sixth time that afternoon. There’s a lot of competition for places on Grafton Street, but it’s a fun and lively place to busk.
I went to a live music session in the evening that, by complete coincidence, was also attended by John Sheehan of the Dubliners, along with an entire film crew from RTE 1, Ireland’s main TV station. Somewhere, there is a documentary of his life with a short clip from a pub called the Cobblestone, with me in the background getting steadily more drunk on the free Guinness provided to all the musicians by the generous landlady, and struggling to keep up with the various tunes being played. That was my first and so far only night I’ve spent in Ireland.
‘You are aware it’s not going to be like this every time to come to Dublin?’ the landlady warned me. Sadly this is probably true.
If you time it right (i.e. avoid times when Jerusalem is on high alert), Israel can be pretty good for busking. Both Jerusalem and the very modern city of Tel Aviv were pretty good – Haifa much less so. I met a family from New Jersey in Jerusalem who were rather taken aback to hear me tear into some of the slightly more obscure Bruce Springsteen songs when they told me where they were from. Not quite what they expected from a trip to Israel, I suspect.
I’ve spent more time busking in Italy than any other country in Europe (aside from the UK). I used to spend my winters in Sicily, where the weather is very pleasant in January, busking in the beautiful streets of Taormina, Catania and Siracusa. Most Italian towns have thriving markets and it’s never a bad plan to base yourself in a city for a few days or so, travelling out to various towns in the vicinity to hit these markets. In the spring and summer, tourist-friendly towns by Lake Garda, Como, Maggiore and many more can be profitable destinations.
Sadly Italy is the other place in which I was given a fine for unlicensed busking – in the town of Monza. Luckily, the residents paid the whole fine for me and tipped me a fair bit beyond that. Lovely people.
Being populated mainly by ethnic Albanians, the hospitality is Kosovo is wonderful. They are generous to visiting buskers too – I found Prizren, Peja and Pristina very agreeable indeed on this front (I could only afford the ‘P’ section of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Kosovo).
Here, you can always draw a crowd by playing The Blacksmith, an English folk song popularised by Steeleye Span. I’ve no idea why.
Riga is a fine place and not a bad place to busk if you stick to the cobbled streets of the old town. I had no problems with the police throughout the Baltics, which made a refreshing change.
I very much enjoyed busking in the underrated town of Kaunas – Vilnius is probably a lovely city too but I spent most of my time there suffering/recovering from food poisoning after ingesting some questionable Latvian cheese. Which probably isn’t very helpful if you’re looking for busking tips. Sorry.
I went to Luxembourg in February. It was midweek, the weather was foul and the streets were pretty deserted. But what a place this is for busking! Even despite these negative factors, I still managed to make a killing. I headed for Grand Rue (Big Road in English, which sounded promising) and, without a single other busker or police officer in sight, had an excellent afternoon.
Confusing language though. I wasn’t even aware that there was a language called Luxembourgish, but apparently there is, and it’s a clumsy mix between French and German. I say clumsy because they are very different languages – it seems whoever was in charge of this language flipped a coin for each word to decide whether to use the French or German, and then changed a couple of letters entirely at random just for a bit of variation. I would apologise to anyone from Luxembourg reading this who might be offended, but the chances of anyone from Luxembourg finding their way on to this page are so vanishingly small that it’s probably not necessary.
Malta is a curious place. A sort of open air retirement home for British pensioners on the one hand while also full of interesting historical monuments and aretacts. The main street that runs through the heart of Valletta is ideal for busking, as is the fish market in Marsaxlokk that is open every Sunday.
Although I had the rather unpleasant experience of being angrily heckled by a ferocious Moldovan pensioner while busking in one of Chisinau’s central parks, I still enjoyed my busking here. Not a lot of pedestrianised areas in Chisinau though – there are one or two sreets where busking is possible but apart from that I found that the parks were the only places to go for half decent takings.
A charming little country. Steer clear of Podgorica – not because it’s bad for busking, it’s just a bit grim. Head for the coast and there are splendid views and decent hats in equal measure (hats in the sense of busking earnings rather than headgear).
Much like Flanders, the Netherlands is a good place to busk with not too much hassle from the authorities. I’ve tried Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Maastricht and all have been pretty decent.
Solsbury Hill is inexplicably popular in Maastricht, although I didn’t do any songs about treaties, so I might have missed a trick there. Same goes for Lisbon. Sadly I can’t comment on Versailles as I’ve never busked there.
I’ve been to The Country Formerly Known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia a few times, adn generally to come back to the same place: Ohrid. The busking earnings are consistently solid, the Robinson Sunset hostel is probably my favourite anywhere in the world, and the town itself is simply stunning.
Skopje, on the other hand, is a weird place. Can’t put my finger on exactly why. But Ohrid… wow.
Norway is horribly expensive, but then again, you can also make a lot of money busking. So if you camp wherever possible and hitchike whenever you can, it’s possible to save a fair bit of money here. I was successful in Trondheim, Tromso and even Roros, a town with a population of just 5000 that I found myself in for a couple of hours during a change of train. However, my favourite place in Norway was the beautiful Lofoten Islands. During summer, the sun never sets here, and I spent a week travelling up from a festival in Vaeroy to Tromso. Not a lot of busking potential on the way, although Svolvaer has quite a busy main square and certainly provides enough cash to be getting on with.
Krakow is a wonderful place to busk on a Saturday night if you’re prepared to pander to the ‘British stag do’ market. Mainly because they tend to be pretty drunk and barely understand the currency when sober. I got handed a 100 zloty note, worth about £20, for singing Oasis (which I usually avoid, on account of it being horribly cliched, but when it’s going to get you that sort of money, I say ‘in a for a penny, in for a zloty’).
Warsaw was a bit of a disappointment in a number of ways, including the busking, during which an angry local threw a bag of water on my head while shouting in Polish, which exploded all over me and my guitar. The police are pretty po-faced too. Not a massive fan of Warsaw on the whole.
Lisbon was very fruitful indeed – partly because I was the only busker prepared to play in the heat of summer in mid-afternoon as the temperature approached 40 degrees (potentially illegally, as I belatedly found out there some laws about busking in siesta time).
Faro was a strange place to busk in – very quiet and mainly populated by British pensioners. So much so that, on an evening stroll, I happened across a showing of a Ken Loach film about the NHS in the main square. Which was very good and everything, but still… a tad odd. There weren’t many people around in the day, presumably because most British people turn redder than a beetroot if exposed to the Portuguese sun for more than ten minutes, so they go into some sort of reverse hibernation.
Romania is the country where I made the most money on my beers-per-hour metric of comparing the relative merits of busking. Aside from Bucharest, which wasn’t my cup of tea, I made good money everywhere I went. Praticularly in Transylvania. Try Sibiu, Sighisoara, Brasov, Sinaia or many others. If pushed I’d say that Sibiu is probably the best place I found, but they’re all great towns with good busking potential.
In Sibiu, they’ve recently introduced a policy where anyone who wants to busk must provide the authorities with a certificate as proof of a college qualification in music. Which is bizarre, but they eventually relent if you’re willing to spend the time persuading them that you’re not shit.
An unexpected gem of a town, is San Marino. Stunning views over rolling hills and the coast and easy to see pretty much the whole country in a short space of time. I enjoyed busking in the main square here, though I didn’t make huge amounts of money. I was chased away by the police a couple of times, but it felt like their hearts weren’t really in it, so my advice is to be persistent. And don’t blame me if this persistence lands you in trouble.
I received my highest ever drop in Serbia – a US$50 note. I didn’t realise at the time, so he must have thought that my briefly mumbled ‘Hvala’ and a slight nod of the head was a little on the rude side.
This aside, I struggled to make enough to get by while busking in Serbia, though I only tried Novi Sad and Belgrade.
I’ve only tried Bratislava Kosice, but they were both pretty good. In Bratislava, I stayed in a lovely hostel called Wild Elephants and I found a pub showing Brighton v Watford, the result of which virtually sealed promotion to the Premier League for the ‘Orns. So Bratislava will always hold a place in my heart. I had an interesting conversation with a police officer where we worked out the best common language between us was German (which is rare, bearing in mind that I speak virtually no German), during which I think he was telling me I needed a license, but I’m not entirely sure. I was packing up at that point anyway, so who knows?
I enjoyed busking in Ljubljana – decent money and friendly locals. If you head here, do take a trip to Lake Bled, which is a really beautiful place. Probably not worth busking there, but by the time you get to ‘S’ in the alphabet, you’ve done a lot of busking by now and deserve a break. Crack open a beer and enjoy the view.
The Spanish police are not the friendliest I’ve come across, particularly in Barcelona and Madrid. Try busking on Las Ramblas in the former and stern-faced police will appear as if from nowhere to tell you that live music is a stain on the image of this lively, vibrant city. Ahem. Either that or they’ll tell you. ‘You move now.’
Toledo was much better, as was, to a slightly lesser extent, San Sebastian. Which I was very pleased with as I only went to San Sebastian because my mate told me that David Moyes really liked it, something he revealed when asked if he wanted to move back to the Premier League. Although it has to be said that choosing to live in San Sebastian over managing Newcastle is damning it with the very faintest of praise. Regardless of all that, it’s a place they’re both cities worth visiting.
I’ve never felt more ‘Bear Grylls’ than when busking in Stockholm in January. I managed about 3 hours before heading inside for fika (the Swedish tradition of drinking coffee and occasionally eating pastries, one which I believe derives from the Viking era) with my busking partner. If I’d attracted the attention of the police it would probably just be to stop and have a chat. Very peaceful people on the whole, the Swedes.
Malmo was also pretty good, but avoid a restaurant called Viktors, which served up raw chicken, and dismissed our complaints with the defence of ‘they’re not Chinese chickens!’ Which wasn’t really the point.
I earned probably twice as much per hour in Switzerland compared to most other European countries, which was almost enough for a cup of tea. The advantage of Switzerland is that their highest denomination of a widely used coin is worth more than any other country I’ve been to (aren’t you glad you got this far? We’re talking coin denominations!) The fact that 5 franc coins exist (roughly £3.50) is a real boon for buskers. This is in stark contrast to the USA where the highest value coin is worth around 17p, which makes life a bit more difficult.
On the down side, Swiss cities are rather dull. Sorry Switzerland. You’ve got some beautiful countryside and mountains and everything, but Zurich, Basel and Lausanne didn’t really inspire me that much.
Wherever you’re busking in Turkey, you will always be offered tea from a nearby cafe, which is just tremendous. Sadly you will probably also be told to bugger off by a police officer (usually the ones without massive guns – there is a whole psychological study to be done on how clearly emasculated the less-well-armed Turkish police feel).
Whenever I did get a session in though, it was well received. Denizli, Trabzon and numerous cities along the south-west coast provided me with a steady income.
Prepare for some wonderfully colourful hats in Ukraine, due to their aesthically pleasing money. Lviv is a great city and the pedestrian centre is a perfectly reasonable place to busk before heading to Pravda – a fine bar on the main square with excellent beer.
After one busking session here, I was approached by a heavily-tattooed skinhead wearing big black boots who asked me, ‘You drink vodka?’ I cheerfully replied in the affirmative and we spent an hour drinking vodka together and eating the cheesy snacks that he’d brought with him. No idea what he was talking about, as ‘you drink vodka’ were the only 3 words he knew in English., and my Ukrainian is not what it used to be. But he was probably a nice man.
As I’ve just mentioned, the USA is a little problematic because of the low worth of its coins, but also because of the lack of densely populated pedestrianised areas. A combination of this and needing to find somewhere with no wind (to prevent the dollar bills blowing away), I was mainly relegated to busking in subway stations in both San Francisco and New York.
My favourite moment of busking in the USA came on my third day in New York, when a man dropped some money into my case and shouted ‘You make New York what it is, man!’
It’s nice to know I had made such an impression on the place in such a short length of time.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, then you might also like my book, Busking Beyond Borders, which is available on Amazon as an e-book as well as an audiobook, subject to the audiobook passing Amazon’s mysterious quality checks. You can find it here:
3 thoughts on “The story so far”
Nice article 🙂 I am also a busker
Hi, great website. I’m looking for good cities in Europe for tram busking. Any ideas? Regards, John.
I’ve never tried tram busking so I can’t help, but if you’re on facebook then search for the group ‘Buskers aka Musical Whores’ and ask for advice there. It is a vast trove of knowledge and experience that I have used to my benefit many times.