Outside of the plane ride into Bilbao, Spain, the Artxanda Funicular takes you to the most scenic views of Bilbao and the surrounding countryside.
A quick definition: a “Funicular” is a straight line, uphill railway, consisting of one rail car going in each direction – uphill and downhill. The uphill car and the downhill car are tied together to balance each other out as they travel. Funiculars exist in many spots around the world, often in tourist locations.
To ride the Artxanda Funicular, head to the boarding station. The lower boarding station for the Funicular is a short walk from just about anywhere in Bilbao. The station is just across the Nervion River from the Guggenheim Museum, and there’s a museum-worthy pedestrian bridge between the two places.
The lower station area is an open terrace, with residential apartments on either side heading north to the station. This terrace is often a playground for the children living around the station, so there is not a huge attempt to commercialize the area. Even the station signage blends into the background. You can still find a couple of bars and restaurants, and even a toy store near the lower station, however.
Tickets are sold at the lower station, where you will climb a few steps to board the bright red rail car. The cars hold around 50 people, and are busier at the typical morning and evening rush hours. Seats towards the front or downhill side of the car will provide the best view as you climb, although the views will be much better when you exit at the top.
The ride itself is steep and slow, with the car travelling about 10 miles per hour. The Artxanda Funicular, like others, has brakes in each car in the event something should go wrong on the 45 degree slope. The car never gets going fast enough to get too excited about an accident, however. Again, views on the ride itself are somewhat limited.
After gaining about 750 feet in altitude, you’ll de-board at the upper station on the summit of Artxanda Mountain. The area around the upper station has plenty to offer, including a spacious public park, a hotel, and several restaurants. Restaurants include El Txakoli (upscale, fine steak and fish, open daily), Restaurante Miramar (reasonable prices, great desserts), and Restaurante Anton (cozier feel, open Tuesday to Saturday). All are within short walking distance of the upper station.
The main attraction at the top is, of course, the view. From a variety of lookout points, you’ll be able to see the city of Bilbao on one side, airplanes taking off at the airport on another, and scenic views of the countryside all around. These lookout points are on the outskirts of a central public park, in which you’ll find people having picnics and playing Frisbee in the summertime.
After a few hours at the top, you can buy your return ticket at the upper station. The Artxanda Funicular is open from 7:15 AM to 10:00 PM, operating every 15 minutes. Once aboard, the ride lasts about three minutes. A one-way ticket costs 0.95€, or about $1.20 U.S.