Among summer’s classic thrills, there’s nothing quite like a top-down, wind-in-your-hair, mountainside cruise in a convertible—unless you’re actually hundreds of feet above the trees.
Meet the Stanserhorn CabriO, the world’s first convertible tram, now gliding over the Lake Lucerne region of Switzerland. Its roofless upper deck is quite possibly the most exciting thing to happen to tram lovers for decades. Acrophobes need not apply.
By tram, we mean cable-suspended cabins that soar through the air (as opposed to the colloquial European term for light-rail and streetcars). Call it a cable car, call it a gondola, call it a ropeway, aerial tramway, or teleférico—we just call it awesome.
Unsurprisingly, some of the world’s coolest trams are tailor-made for sightseeing and stoke every passenger’s sense of adventure. Cape Town’s Table Mountain Aerial Tramway rotates during its flight. In Hong Kong, the Ngong Ping 360 offers glass-floored VIP cabins for the brave. And in Israel’s Western Galilee, the Rosh HaNikra Cable Car heralds its descent as the world’s steepest, a dizzying drop to a station built right into Mediterranean wave-battered cliffs (you’d be excused for thinking you’re about to splash into the sea).
But even trams intended primarily for commuters can be exhilarating. The Roosevelt Island Tram remains a novelty even to many MetroCard-toting New Yorkers, delivering romantic views of Manhattan on its three-minute journey across the East River.
It’s one of only two trams used for urban mass transit in the U.S. However, according to Nicholas Chu, director of research at the Gondola Project (a think tank for cable-propelled transit systems), there are 20 to 50 “urban transport cable cars” in various stages of planning and development worldwide—particularly in South America.
In Rio de Janeiro—already home to the iconic Sugarloaf gondolas—tourists make up approximately 65 percent of weekend ridership on the Complexo do Alemão Teleférico, a six-station, two-mile route built to service 13 favelas in the Zona Norte.
“Trams often give you a perspective of the world unlike any other,” says Chu. On your next trip, why not broaden your horizons with a ride on one of these trams, from the mountains of Japan to the seaside splendor of Croatia.