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Funicular is one of those funky terms that gets tossed around a lot. A hybrid of a railroad and an elevator, the term is often used to describe cog railways or even aerial cable cars. But the only authentic funiculars are those having two cars of equal size connected by a cable looping over pulleys and a drive wheel. As the drive wheel moves the cable, one car goes up the track while the other goes down. Funiculars are used on slopes too steep for conventional railroads. If you’re so inclined, ahem, here are the world’s coolest funiculars.

Related: 10 awesome bridges around the world

Ritom Funicular

RItom Funicular | Flickr CC: Vasile Cotovanu

Switzerland

When it comes to steep slopes, there’s no place like the Alps. That’s why when it comes to funiculars, Switzerland, to mix metaphors, takes the cake. The Alpine nation has dozens. Some of the more popular ones among tourists are the Harderbahn in Interlaken; the Marzilibahn in Bern, connecting the Marzili neighborhood to the Bundeshaus, the seat of the Swiss government; and Ritom, one of the steepest funiculars in the world, measuring 2579 feet in altitude at a maximum 87.8 percent gradient. It’s by Lake Ritom in the Southern Alps canton of  Ticino which borders Northern Italy.

funicular como brunate ticino italy

View of Funicular Como Brunate | Flickr CC: Elliott Brown

Italy

In Northern Italy, the funicular fun continues near Lake Como. The Funicular Como-Brunate connects the “metropolis” of Como to Brunate, a picturesque small town located in the mountains. The funicular opened in 1894, coinciding with the early days of tourism in the area. Today’s visitors experience a seven-minute ride offering stunning views along the way.

Old Quebec Funicular

Old Quebec Funicular | Flickr CC: Rene Belanger

Quebec City, Canada

In days of old, many funiculars were designed to connect a city’s upper and lower towns. Such is the case in Quebec City. The funicular linking the two parts of this UNESCO World Heritage site dates back to 1879. Located in the historic district, the Old Quebec Funicular serves as a direct link between Dufferin Terrace, located outside the storied Chateau Frontenac Hotel and le Quartier du Petit Champlain and the Old Port below.

Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh

Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh sports three rivers and two operating funiculars. The Monongahela Incline was built in 1870 and is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the United States. It is one of 17 that were originally built to carry folks from hillside homes to work during the late 19th century. The other from that era still operating is the Duquesne Incline. If it looks familiar, you might have seen it in the movie “Flashdance”.

Fenelon Place Elevator

Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque Iowa | Flickr CC: minnemom

Dubuque, IA

Dubuque, not to be confused with Duquesne, is in Iowa. Its Fenelon Place Elevator is likely the shortest funicular in North America. It’s 296 feet in length, stretches steeply from downtown to the summit of Dubuque’s bluffs. At the top, take in a magnificent view of the historic business district and the mighty Mississippi River.

Peak Tramway in Hong Kong

Peak Tramway in Hong Kong

Hong Kong

When it opened in 1888, Hong Kong’s Peak Tramway was the first cable funicular in Asia. During the course of its lengthy ride, it has been experienced by tens of millions of passengers. Today, it continues to be one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and perhaps its most photographed sight.

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Laura Powell

Laura Powell

Laura is a 20-year veteran travel journalist. She was CNN's first travel reporter, and has written for publications ranging from Alaska Airlines Magazine to The Washington Post. Find her at the www.dailysuitcase.com or on Twitter: @dailysuitcase

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