They go up, they go down, and they show a side of things you can’t get anywhere else. Sure, funicular railways might have their roots in yesteryear, but they’re still one of the most sought after attractions on the tourist trail. From heritage cars to sleek, modern cabs, Europe sports some of the most visually spectacular funicular rides on the planet. Here’s a bucket list of ten of the best funicular railways in Europe.
Europe’s best Funicular Railways
Funicolare Centrale (Naples, Italy)
Officially opened in 1928, the Central Funicular of Naples remains one of the most well frequented funicular railways in the world, ferrying over 10 million passengers per year up and down the steep incline between Piazza Vanvitelli and the Napoli city center. Nothing touristy about this ride – get amongst the 28,000 workday passengers, and get around this hectic town like a bona fide local. At 1,270 meters (4,167 ft.) long, ascending to 170 meters (558 ft.), it’s one of the longest funicular rides on the planet.
Fløibanen (Bergen, Norway)
Behold Mount Fløyen! The jewel of Bergen, Norway’s gateway to the fjords and bona fide Viking stomping ground. No better way to catch a fine glimpse of this stunning historical vista in one hit than by a ride on the cherished Fløibanen, eight minutes of pure, unbridled Norwegian joy.
Montmartre Funicular (Paris)
The Sacré Cœur of Montmartre is one of Paris’ most beautiful, and iconic attractions. Nothing wrong with trudging the steps to the top of this lofty gem, of course, however those seeking a little more comfort might consider the Funiculaire de Montmartre instead, a short 1 min and 30 second jaunt to one of the most breathtaking vistas in Europe.
Niesenbahn (Bern, Switzerland)
Traversing Bern’s Mülenen train station all the way up to the looming peak of the Niesen Mountain, you’d have to pit Bern’s Niesenbahn on the same level of some of the world’s more adrenaline-fuelled leisure rides. This marvel of modern engineering is one of the longest and highest funiculars around, with a track measuring a total length of 3,500 meters (11,483 feet) and an overall elevation change of 1,642 meters (5,387 feet).
Heidelberger Bergbahnen (Heidelberg, Germany)
It’s only fitting that a town as stunningly beautiful as Heidelberg is adorned with a suitably impressive funicular to make the most of its magnificent lofty peaks. While the sleek, modern cab of the Molkenkurbahn will get you to the grounds of the Heidelberg Castle, the historic, brown cars of the Königstuhlbahn completes the mission one step beyond, taking you to truly heavenly ground atop the haughty Königstuhl, with majestic views to match.
Bica Funicular (Lisbon, Portugal)
The winding, ever leg-muscle-flexing hills of Lisbon: a sight to behold, and a joy to traverse (unless of course, you’ve had your fill and it’s only noon). Thankfully, another of Lisbon’s standout attractions is its veritable array of yellow and chrome funicular cable cars. Constructed in the 18th century, the Ascensor, or Elevador, da Bica is one of the city’s most iconic, a cherished aesthetic and perfunctory carriage that funnels an endless stream of weary tourists from the edge of the Pombaline downtown towards the Cais da Sodre and the immaculate Tagus River.
Guindais funicular (Porto, Portugal)
The city of bridges is a truly epic sight, made even more so by its cutting edge Funicular dos Guindais. In between shots of delicious port, and hefty doses of calorie-inducing Francesinha, the vista over the shimmering Douro at the tip of the Ponte de Luis I bridge delivers postcard perfection, and a Porto experience not to be missed.
Gelmer Lake Funicular (Grimselwelt – Switzerland)
We’ve seen the longest, we’ve witnessed the highest, now pay attention to Europe’s steepest. With a 448-meter rise and a maximum gradient of 106%, Switzerland’s Gelmer Lake Funicular is not for the faint of heart, though certainly for those fond of dramatic glacial views and stunning Swiss alpine vistas. The sight of the glacial-fed Gelmer Lake makes this hair-raising ride a worthwhile one on its own.
Zagreb Funicular (Zagreb, Croatia)
Last, but not least (well actually, in some sense the least), welcome to Europe’s, and the world’s, shortest funicular cable car. Transporting citizens of Zagreb between the upper and lower towns for over 120 years, the Zagreb Funicular is as short as it is sweet. While its early years suffered regular technical difficulties, with guests required to push the car up the hill, these days the cute blue carriages provide a smooth and safe ride, as well a truly idiosyncratic Croatian tourist experience.
Written by and photos by Cam Hassard for EuropeUpClose.com