You may not think that a luxury cruise would be the natural choice for a railway enthusiast, but the truth is, there’s plenty of rail-centric heritage to experience in a number of the world’s key ports of call, none of them more fascinating than a funicular railway. For those not familiar with the term, a funicular railway is a train line designed to navigate a steep incline; a cable railway in which a cable attached to the train moves it up and down the slope. There must always be two vehicles – an ascending and a descending – as one counterbalances the other and allows the railway to function correctly. Now the science is over with, here’s a look at some popular Six Star Cruise destinations and their famous funiculars.
A mainstay on many a Fjords cruise, Bergen’s famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Site wharf and also for nearby Mount Floyen and the funicular railway which scales it. Currently the number one tourist must-do when visiting Bergen, the tram ride up the side of the mountain offers some stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside. Once at the top, the views are even better and there’s a café in which to relax, and of course, a gift shop in which to pick up a souvenir of your visit.
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong’s skyline, its expansive harbour and the towering Mount Victoria are three of its main attractions, and the Hong Kong Peak Tram is a great way to experience all three. Since opening in 1888, it’s taken an average 17,000 people from Hong Kong’s Central District to the top of Victory Peak daily and offers some great views of the harbour and the city’s famous skyscrapers. As you would imagine, it gets pretty busy but if you’re there on a weekday, you won’t have to wait as long.
A favourite stop-off for many a Mediterranean cruise, Portugal’s capital boasts a trio of funiculars – Bica, Gloria and Lavra. Gloria first opened in 1885, though was only electrified in 1915, after previously operating by water and steam. It links Restauradores Square with Bairro Alto. Bica is slightly younger at a sprightly 121 years old, while Lavra is the eldest, dating back to 1884. All three of the city’s funicular railways were designated National Monuments in 2002.
Quebec City, Canada
the Old Quebec Funicular certainly lives up to its name, dating back as it does to 1879. However, I’m cheating there a little, as it really gets its name from its location in the Old Quebec quarter. Those visiting the city on a Canada and North America cruise who want to explore a little of the city’s past should certainly visit this area and the funicular connects the popular Terrasse Dufferin with the Lower Town. The upright cars are somewhat of a curious sight, looking for all the world like a pair of moving car park attendant booths, but they do a great job of connecting both districts.
If there’s a city which knows a thing or two about funicular railways, its Valparaiso in Chile, a key port of call for many South American cruises. In its time, it’s had 26 different working ones, though today most of those are not in use. There’s still an impressive choice of eight working funicular railways however, with the oldest one, Artilleria, which scales the hill of the same name, dating all the way back to 1893. These days, it’s a designated National monument and one of the city’s most-loved attractions, offering spectacular views of the city and ocean below.
By Simon Brotherton