They are just as much as part of Lisboa as the trams. Whilst they may look similar to the trams in Lisboa, funiculars work very differently and it is such a great word to say. Go on say it – funicular! The Portuguese call them Ascensor or Elevador. Funiculars can be found all around the world and date back to the early 16th century. Lisboa’s are from the late 19th century. Designed to work on the steepest of inclines; the two cars are connected by a cable, and they counterbalance each other as one ascends and the other descends.
There remain three working funiculars in Lisboa, plus an elevator which many guides include in their funicular railway descriptions. Let’s start with the oldest first – Ascensor do Lavra, you may recall it from my ‘Off the beaten track‘. It connects Câmara Pestana with Largo da Anunciada. It opened 1884 and like many funiculars was originally water-powered. No longer water-powered but still great fun to ride on as it is steepest with an average gradient of nearly 23%.
The next one – Ascensor da Glória – is almost as steep at 18% and opened within a year of Lavra. It takes you to the top of Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. We haven’t travelled on this one, but did climb the hill one evening on our way to a procession in the Bairro Alto. It isn’t a climb for the fainthearted!
The third funicular – Ascensor da Bica – I think is my favourite because of the view whilst you wait for it and the station at the bottom. It is certainly the one most photographed and is the one I had heard of prior to our trip. It connects the Rua de São Paulo with Calçada do Combro, and as with the others is operated by the tram/bus company Carris. With a gradient of only 11.8% most locals seem to walk up or down using the steps either side of the track waiting for the bell to be rung and the funicular to move. I made us wait though, which wasn’t a hardship for MrB as there was a bookshop at the top and he loves funiculars even more than me!
The final mode of transport is probably the most unusual, is photographed even more than Ascensor da Bica and the queues to board can be 30minutes or more. If you want to travel on Elevador de Santa Justa then I strongly recommend taking one of the funiculars into the Bairro Alto and then strolling to the upper part of Santa Justa and travelling down. There are no views from the elevator itself so it really doesn’t matter whether you go up or down, but if you don’t like queues then going down is a much better option. The elevator is 45metres high (seven stories), and there are two cars which take 29 passengers each. More fun to look at than travel in I thought, but I’m glad we did it.
For a fun day in Lisboa why not go on a funicular expedition. Where you begin of course depends on where you are staying. To help you decide I’ve marked them all with blue pointers on the map below.
One suggestion we’ve come across is to start by catching the 25E tram to the only funicular station and then ascend Ascensor da Bica. Once at the top you can catch the no28 towards the Santa Justa or if you prefer stroll as there is lots to see and plenty of shops and cafes to go in. When you have made it to the top of Santa Justa enjoy the view, before catching the lift down. You are now in the Baixo, try not become too distracted by all the shops and head instead towards Restauradores. From here catch the Ascensor da Glória up to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara for another view of Lisboa. You now need to get back down the hill to Rossio, either by foot or funicular. We enjoyed the stroll as there is so much explore. Once back down in Rossio it is a very short stroll to Ascensor do Lavra. Aim to get here at the end of the day for a glorious view of sunset from Jardim do Torel. Then of course it is a perfect time to stroll back down the hill to Ginjinha to enjoy a glass or two!