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While in theory, cable cars can operate in many different capacities, the ones that soar through the air — also known as aerial tramways or gondolas — are indisputably the best. There’s nothing more exciting than getting a bird’s eye view of the landscape or city skyline below and also reaching your destination in record time.
These majestic mechanisms of transport were invented in northern Poland in the 17th century, when a Dutchman named Adam Wiebe designed a cable system involving ropes, horses, and buckets of dirt that needed to get from the top of a mountain to a construction site below. It took over two centuries — well after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution — for a second cableway to appear, this time in Germany, using iron cables instead of fibrous ropes. Today, cable cars carrying passengers sweep over some of the world’s most picturesque points of interest. These seven rides around the world are especially notable for their unparalleled views.
Ngong Ping 360, Hong Kong
One way to reach Hong Kong’s 112-foot-tall Buddha statue (also known as “Big Buddha” or “Tian Tan Buddha”) is to climb 268 stone steps carved into a steep hillside. Another way is to take the Ngong Ping 360, a 3.5-mile cableway between downtown Tung Chung and Lantau Island. Ngong Ping 360 is the longest bi-cable ropeway in Asia and features three classes of cabins — standard, crystal, or private. Crystal cabins have glass bottoms, which make the viewing experience extra special, while private cabins come with a hefty price tag and can carry you and 16 of your closest friends on the 25-minute journey.
Sugarloaf Cable Car, Brazil
Designed in 1908 by an engineer named Augusto Ramos, the first iteration of the Sugarloaf Cable Car (Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar in Portuguese) opened in Rio de Janeiro in 1912, becoming only the third cable car of its kind at the time. In 1972, the original wooden cable cars were replaced, in order to make room for more people to ride and increase the system’s safety. Beginning on the shores of picturesque Praia Vermelha and stopping on lush Urca Hill before traveling to the top of the monolithic peak known as Sugarloaf Mountain, the ride takes you over Copacabana Beach, the Christ Statue, and beautiful Guanabara Bay. The gondola was even featured in the 1979 James Bond movie Moonraker.
Mi Teleférico, Bolivia
Teleférico is the Spanish word for cableway, and Bolivia’s Mi Teleférico is undoubtedly one of the coolest aerial cable cars in existence. While most cable car systems are constructed for tourists to enjoy, Mi Teleférico is actually the chief public transportation network for the neighboring cities of La Paz and El Alto. Encompassing 26 stations and 10 lines spanning over six miles, Mi Teleférico helps thousands of people travel between the two cities every day — without this cable car system, the road trip between La Paz and El Alto would take hours. Since El Alto is located at over 13,000 feet above sea level and La Paz is located at nearly 12,000 feet, Mi Teleférico also promises scenic views of the neighborhoods that make up these two sky-high cities.
TITLIS Rotair, Switzerland
While this ride over Titlis mountain in the Uri Alps of Switzerland lasts only five minutes, you’ll get to see the snow-covered sights from every direction. The TITLIS Rotair is the world’s first revolving cable car, and the cabins turn a full 360 degrees on every trip. To ride the Rotair, visitors have to first take the TITLIS Xpress gondola, which can be accessed mid-mountain on the Titlis peak itself, which stands at over 10,600 feet high. From the Rotair’s cabin, you’ll be able to take in panoramic views of the entire Engelberg Valley. And once you reach your destination, you can access a nearly 500-foot-long glacial cave that tunnels under the Titlis, or enlist the help of a guide to hike to the very top.
Tianmen Shan Cable Car, China
Once known as the world’s longest cable car ride (it has since lost the title to one in Phú Quốc, Vietnam) Tianmen Shan Cable Car in China travels a little over four miles through Tianmen Mountain National Park. The ride begins in Zhangjiajie, a city in Hunan Province, and ends at the summit of Tianmen Mountain, reaching a breathtaking slope of 38 degrees along the way. From the cable car, you can take in the 99 precarious twists and turns of the astonishing Tongtian Avenue, also known as “Heaven-Linking Avenue” or “Avenue Towards Heaven.” Tongtian Avenue leads to Tianmen Cave, a gorgeous natural arch built into the mountainside.
Masada Cableway, Israel
Built by Herod the Great, the Masada in Israel is an ancient fortress on top of a 1,300-foot rock plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is also a UNESCO Heritage Site. To reach the fortress, one can make the fatiguing ascent up what’s known as “Snake Path,” a trail first blazed in 35 B.C. Alternatively, one can opt for the more leisurely but perhaps more visually thrilling Masada Cableway, which begins at about 800 feet below sea level, the lowest starting point for any aerial tramway in the world. After boarding, riders are treated to striking views of the Judean Desert and an increasingly closer look at the archaeological wonder.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, South Africa
Like the TITLIS Rotair it’s modeled after, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway in Cape Town, South Africa, also rotates 360 degrees, ensuring you won’t miss a thing when you ride this cable car. First opened in 1929, and upgraded several times since, this cable car system has now transported more than 28 million people to its upper station, which is located on the westernmost edge of Table Mountain. The relatively short trip lasts only five minutes but is a beautiful way to reach the top of the famous mountain, allowing you to see the peak from a unique, mid-air vantage point.