The very first cable car, the Kohlerer-Bahn, opened on June 29, 1908 in Bolzano, Italy — it connected the city with nearby Monte Pozza, known locally as Colle. Created by innkeeper Josef Staffler, the aerial lift transported up to 6 passengers and took 14 minutes. While the Kohlerer-Bahn ceased operations in 1910, it served as inspiration for continued innovation, with hundreds of cable car systems now in operation around the world.
Cable cars offer tourists the opportunity to see destinations from a unique aerial vantage, and recent advancements in inclusive design have made gondola-style cars wheelchair accessible. I’ve ridden many wheelchair accessible cable cars around the world, and these five are worthy of adding to your bucket list.
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car — Hong Kong, China
The Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car carries riders from Hong Kong, China’s Tung Chung MTR station to Lantau Island, home to the iconic Tian Tan “Big Buddha” and a Buddhist monastery. Over the 24-minute journey, riders enjoy incredible aerial views of Hong Kong city, Lantau Island, the international airport and the South China Sea. Each of the cable car gondolas are wheelchair accessible, with level-entry boarding and plenty of space to accommodate large power wheelchairs inside the cabin.
The cost of a round-trip journey on the Ngong Ping cable car is HK$235 (~$30 USD) in the standard cabin or HK$315 (~$40.25 USD) in the crystal cabin, which features a glass floor on the gondola. For the budget conscious, the 1+1 standard and crystal round trip ticket allows riders to take the standard cabin in one direction and experience the crystal cabin in the other – for a discounted rate of HK$275 (~$35 USD) if purchased online.
Sugarloaf Mountain Gondola — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is one of the world’s most beautiful cities with a distinctive mountainous backdrop to its beautiful beaches and coastline. Standing at 1,299 feet tall and included as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Carioca Landscapes Between the Mountain and the Sea,” Sugarloaf Mountain overlooks this remarkable vista.
Two cable car lines transport visitors from a ground station to Urca Hill, then from Urca Hill to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain. A ramp is used to bridge the gap between the station platform and gondola for wheelchair access. The cost of a round-trip cable car ticket is 116 BRL (~$27 USD) for adults and 58 BRL (~$14 USD) for people with disabilities.
Check out the guide to 12 Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities in South America!
The uppermost peak of Sugarloaf Mountain is accessible, with wheelchair ramps and elevators leading to the various viewpoints. Stunning vistas await, like the view towards the Atlantic Ocean, over Copacabana Beach, and up to the Christ the Redeemer statue on Mount Corcovado.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway — Cape Town, South Africa
At 3,558 feet tall, Table Mountain dominates the Cape Town, South Africa skyline. The mountain is part of the Cape Floristic Region, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Wheelchair users have an opportunity to reach the mountaintop on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway.
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is a dual line cable car system with two pods that carry 65 passengers each. It is the only method by which wheelchair users can make it to the mountain’s peak, unless you fancy mountain climbing. The cost of a return journey on the cableway is R255 (in South African Rand, about $20 USD). On October 1, 2017, rates will increase to R290 from 8 a.m to 1 p.m. and R275 from 1 p.m. onwards. Wheelchair users receive expedited access to the cable car, and will not be required to wit in the standard queue. An elevator is available to access the boarding platform at the lower station.
The journey up and down the mountain takes between 4 and 5 minutes. The floor of the cable car makes a single rotation during both the ascent and descent, so keep this in mind when positioning your wheelchair. This allows everyone to get a 360 degree view, and was a feature I enjoyed.
From Robben Island to the most beautiful botanical gardens in Africa — Check out the guide to 11 Wheelchair Accessible Things to Do in Cape Town!
Citadel Cable Car — Namur, Belgium
Towering at more than 600 feet above the City of Namur, Belgium, the Citadel of Namur is a castle complex that dates to 937. Located at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre rivers in the state of Wallonia, it was rebuilt numerous times over the centuries, with the present citadel erected in 1542. The Citadel Cable Car transports visitors from the city, over the Meuse River, to a station inside the castle complex high above the city.
During a visit to Namur with my friend Blandine of the French language blog Mille découvertes sur 4 roulettes, I rode the cable car which is wheelchair accessible. Level entry boarding is provided, with the gondola’s entry threshold lining up directly with the boarding platform. The cost of a round-trip journey is €7,50 (~$8.25 USD) for adults, €6 (~$6.50 USD) for seniors (age 65+), and €5 (~$5.50 USD) for persons with reduced mobility.
Emirates Air Line Cable Car — London, U.K.
The Emirates Air line is a cable car that crosses the River Thames in London, England, connecting the Royal Docklands with the Greenwich Peninsula. Service began in June 2012, and it has transported an average of more than 1.5 million riders per year.
The 0.62-mil gondola ride is quick – between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the time of day. Riders take off from a station at the Royal Victoria Dock, arriving to Greenwich Peninsula – a short walk from the stunning O2 Arena. Boarding the gondolas is easy, even in a large power wheelchair. Station staff will fold-up one or both of the seats inside the car to make room for you, and they can slow (or stop) the gondola’s movement to ensure a safe boarding process.
Tickets to ride the Emirates Air Line are available for purchase at ticket windows at both stations and at electronic ticket vending machines. The cost of a one-way ticket for adults purchased with cash or credit card is £4.50. Using the London Public Transportation Oyster Card, riders receive a discounted rate of £3.50 each way by tapping their card at the fare gate.
Which of these cable cars would you most like to experience? Have you ridden a wheelchair accessible cable car that you think should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments below!