If there is one thing I always search out when I visit a new city, it is the funicular railway. The idea of the funicular, is quite leisurely and vintage compared to more modern forms of transportation such as cable cars. Most of the funicular railways I have ridden speak of a bygone era in their styling and pace as they gently ascend and descend the peak. Some are grand and soar way above the city, whilst others are merely a way to make it up a hilly street. Nonetheless they all have their own redeeming qualities. Here are some of my favourites around the world.
Funicular de Igueldo - San Sebastian, Spain
If you’re walking from the main part of town, it will take you around 35 minutes to reach the funicular. The train connects Ondaretta Beach with the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park. The ride becomes scenic a short way up, with stunning views of La Concha Bay. Running for 320 metres, the ride takes just under 5 minutes. Once you reach the top you can enjoy vintage rides such as the log boat, or haunted house. If the victorian era theme park isn’t your thing, there are also a variety of restaurants ranging from fine dining to pintos. Of course you can’t forget the view. The view from the funicular is only a snap shot of the amazing panorama that will greet you once you reach the top. It is definitely worth a visit. A return journey is €3.15 – bargain!
Tibidabo Funicular - Barcelona, Spain
It is a bit of an adventure to reach the top of Tibidabo. One of only two mountains in Barcelona, the peak features a vintage theme park and spectacular church. The fun begins when you board a vintage victorian tram, known locally as Tramvia Blue. Originally used by Barcelona’s elite, it now connects tourists to the Tibidabo Funicular. Its not cheap, at €11 but it definetly adds to the experience and is decidedly more fun than catching the bus.
Once you reach the half way point, Plaça del Doctor Andreu, it is time to catch the funicular. Opened in 1901, it runs for just over 1km and provides a spectacular view over the harbour. It is a quick ride up and once you reach the top you are plunged straight into the heart of the Tibidabo Amusement park. This park is the oldest in the world that is still functioning and many original rides are still being enjoyed by people today. In addition to the theme park, is a large viewing deck where spectacular views of the harbour and city can be witnessed.
Crowning the peak, is the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is quite a spectacular church with huge vaulted ceilings and magnificent stained glass. From here the view of the theme park and the city below are simple stunning. At €18 return it is a little on the expensive side, but very unique and in my opinion worth a visit.
Gloria Funicular - Lisbon, Portugal
Whilst most funicular railways are designed to get you to the top of a mountain, the Gloria funicular in Lisbon, is more about getting you to the top of a rather hilly road. Built in 1875 to connect Restauradores Square with Bairro Alto area of the city. Originally the cars were two stories and powered by steam. These days they are single storey and powered by electricity. Passing through a heavily housed street, the funicular offers some views, but is mainly of historic value. The driver controls are not housed, so for a bit of fun, you can sit at the opposite end of the car and pretend to drive! At €3.50 return, its not a bad way to make it up a rather large hill!
Budapest Castle Hill Funicular - Budapest, Hungary
Known to the locals as the Budavári Sikló, Budapests funicular railway has been serving the city since 1870. Unfortunately the original funicular was destroyed in WW2, however the city reopened the current railway in the 80s and it has been running ever since.
Running for 95 metres, the cars ascend 51 metres up the hill. Whilst it is a short ride, it offers scenic views over the river and the city as is a much more pleasant option than the bus or walking. When you reach the top, there are a multitude of activities to do, ranging from the castle, to restaurants and a cathedral. If you’re short on time like I was, it is simply lovely to ride the funicular and enjoy the architecture of the buildings and the view below. At around €6 for a return trip, it isn’t bad value either.
Other Funiculars around the world
As I said earlier, funiculars do tend to be the attraction of note, that I search out in a city. That being said, this post would be very long indeed if I outlined every funicular I have travelled on around the world. Here is a summary of a few more worth a visit, should you ever be in that neck of the woods:
Harissa Funicular Railway – Jounieh, Lebanon
A stunning view of the ocean and the ancient city of Jounieh below, as you ride up to the Our Lady of Harissa statue and church at the top. Ride back on the funicular, or take the teleferique (cable car) for a different experience.
East Cliff Hill Railway – Hastings, UK
Providing access to Hastings Country Park, this functional funicular, also provides lovely views of Hastings town and the ocean. It is the steepest funicular still in operation in the UK.
Scenic World Railway – Katoomba, Blue Mountains, Australia
At 52 degrees, this is the steepest passenger railway in the world. If you’re game, you can recline your chair for a ‘cliff hanger’ experience. It is a fantastic way to enjoy the surrounding bushland and mountains views that this area has to offer.
If there is a funicular railway of note, you think I need to visit, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave your comments below.