When I first decided to go on a busking adventure around Europe I found very little concrete information on what to expect. My experiences are a little out of date but it is only recently that I have had this forum to talk about my travels; so for what it’s worth, here’s what I experienced!
England is a tough son of a bitch when it comes to busking. There are very few spaces open to buskers in general. I was there in early spring which didn’t help either; cold weather and frequent rain! I found that City of Westminster allows busking wherever unless you are considered to be disturbing the peace. Unfortunately with bagpipes I could be considered to be disturbing the peace several blocks away… You are not allowed to busk in the parks at all and the underground requires a permit that I didn’t bother trying to find out about (bagpipes are not made for the underground!)
Ireland was possibly the ideal place for busking. No permits are required anywhere in Ireland. Again if someone complains about you the Irish Garda will ask you to move but that is it and they are really polite about it. Unfortunately because of this freedom to busk there are droves of buskers, so finding a spot that doesn’t clash with someone else is tough. The plus side is that there are a lot of terrible buskers, so if you can play your instrument with any degree of skill you are greatly appreciated! The bagpipes also went down well.
Scotland was my least successful busking experience. This I relate to a saturation of bagpipers so my playing did not stand out in the least. I didn’t come across any permits but my pickings were so small I gave up quite quickly and spent more time hiking around the highlands, playing for my own amusement.
The Netherlands I didn’t have much luck either. I tried first tried Amsterdam where I got heckled quite a lot by other buskers. I didn’t check if a permit was required but I was never asked for one and I played with the police around. Rotterdam just didn’t have any places that seemed appropriate for busking.
Germany was a gold mine. If you want to get some solid busking in I’d suggest Germany. I busked in numerous cities but my 2 best finds were Cologne (Köln) and Nuremberg (Nürnberg). In Cologne you don’t need a permit but buskers are only allowed to play for the first 30 minutes of an hour and then they have to find a new location. The city has great pedestrian areas but again the lack of permits means there is a huge busker population and finding a spot can be very difficult. That being said I could make around 50 Euro in an hour of busking. Nuremberg was, hands down, the best placed I busked. The city does require a permit but it cost around 10 Euro for a week permit and I was making nearly 70 Euro in 30 minutes!! The main issue I had was with the volume of my pipes and several times I was asked to move but other than that Nuremberg was THE place to busk.
Switzerland has a buskers festival in the city of Bern. I didn’t participate in it but if I ever get a more polished act I would definitely try get in! Here is a link to the website if you want to know more – https://www.buskersbern.ch/en
As a musician you dedicate quite a lot of your time to improving your skills and so why shouldn’t you earn some extra spending cash? Getting hired gigs can be tough if you work a full time job and busking can be pretty spontaneous. You also don’t have to be the worlds best in your art, you just have to be good enough to entertain your audience and have fun!
Even if you don’t feel like travelling around Europe you can probably talk to the management at your local pub to crack out a few tunes and pass the hat around. In 2016 the pipe band I was playing with was heading over to Glasgow for the World Pipe Band Champs so we arranged a series of pub busking gigs to help as a fundraiser. We all had great time and earned decent extra cash.
I personally enjoy busking because if you like what you hear you can stay and listen and show your appreciation with a tip; if you don’t you can just walk on. It is difficult living as a busker because you are living off people’s generosity and it can get emotionally draining. I don’t know if I could ever busk long term again but for shits and giggles it is great! At a theatre festival I set out to busk with a drummer friend (he used an upside down rubbish bin) and we put up a sign asking for drinking money; needless to say we got shit-faced that night!
As a final note here are the pros and cons of busking with bagpipes; The are easy to carry around and you stand out easily but you will piss off a lot of people when they find out it doesn’t come with a volume control!
Leave a note if you have any tips or advice for aspiring buskers!