Some of the world's greatest mountains are popular for their skiing, but for many people, the allure of these places is not the slopes, but the view from a chairlift or aerial tram. In any season, the mountain scenery seen from such a vantage point is a novelty that never loses its allure.
Though most people associate gondola lifts with alpine landscapes, this unique form of transport can also be found on flat land and in urban environments. These non-alpine trams do not offer views of snow-covered mountains peaks, but their unique vantage point makes them as interesting to experience as their higher-altitude peers.
Here are 7 aerial tramways that provide utterly unmatchable views. (Text: Josh Lew)
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, S. Africa
Table Mountain gives Cape Town one of the most dramatic skylines of any city in the world. The views of this picture-worthy metropolis are the most stunning when seen from the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. This South African gondola lift climbs nearly 2,500 vertical feet. The cableway has a colorful history, with the original tram making the first journey up the mountain in 1928. Not only can riders on the 65-passenger tram see the massive seaside metropolis of Cape Town as they ascend, but they can also view the Atlantic coastline to the west and the south, Table Bay, and Robben Island. Even with all these noteworthy sights, the dramatic cliffs of the mountain itself are the undisputed highlight.
Sandia Peak Tramway, New Mexico
This 2.7-mile tramway travels to an altitude of more than 10,000 feet. Used to reach New Mexico's underrated ski areas during the winter, this tram provides amazing views of the vast desert and the stunning peaks that sit right outside of Albuquerque. Riders can enjoy panoramas of the Rio Grande Valley and the expansive Cibola National Forest (in which Sandia Peak itself is located). The 4,000-foot change in altitude, experienced during the tram's 15-minute journey, has one surprising side effect: a significant temperature change. It can be as much as 30 degrees cooler at the top of Sandia Peak as it is at the tramway's lower terminus.
Sugarloaf Mountain Tram, Rio de Janeiro
Sugarloaf Mountain, called Pão de Açúcar by Portuguese speakers, is an iconic part of the skyline of Rio de Janeiro. This towering granite rock formation rises about 1,300 feet above Guanabara Bay. Cable cars have been taking people up Sugarloaf for more than a century. Rio is a beautiful metropolis when seen in a panoramic view, and this peak is one of the best places to appreciate the city's unique mix of urban and natural scenery. The original turn-of-the-century tram system was completely rebuilt in the 1970s. This new incarnation was famously featured in the James Bond film “Moonraker.” The tramway was renovated in 2009, ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The cars are quite large, and savvy tourists will tell you to make sure to get a window seat so you can enjoy the best views.
Emirates Air Line, England
Also known as the Thames Cable Car, theEmirates Air Line is an urban tramway in London. It is a recent addition to the city's skyline. Opened in 2012, just ahead of the Summer Olympics, the tramway is sponsored, as its official name suggests, by UAE-based Emirates Airline. Each 10-person cable car crosses above the Thamas River between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. Mainly used for sightseeing, riders get a bird’s-eye view of some of London's most iconic sights along the river. A handful of people use the Emirates Air Line for commuting.
Klein Matterhorn Tramway
The most iconic views in the Swiss Alps can be seen through the windows of the Klein Matterhorn Tramway's cars. With an upper terminus at 12,533 feet above sea level, this is the highest cable car in Europe. It offers easy access to the viewing platform on the summit. Riders can make a multi-stage cable car journey all the way from the town of Zermatt to the viewing platform. Along the journey, you can catch views of the Theodul Glacier, the Plateau Rosa Glacier and the Alps peaks that surround the Klein Matterhorn. Skiers and visitors to the ice caves located on the mountain use the Tramway, though most people who ride do so for sightseeing purposes.
Medellin Metrocable, Colombia
The aerial tram with some of the most dramatic and unusual views on this list was not built for the purpose of sightseeing. The Medellin Metrocablewas built to supplement the city's public transportation system. Locals use the service to travel up the steep slopes of valley in which Medellin sits. By most estimates, 30,000 people ride the three lines of the cable car network every day. Built in 2004, the system was intended for use by residents of the poorer hillside neighborhoods who did not have access to bus routes because of the extreme steepness of the local roads. But the cable cars are also attractive to sightseers, who are able to see panoramas of almost the entire city as well as the lush valley landscapes that characterize this part of northern South America.