The funicular on Rio de la Pila

Santander is one hilly city. If you are in town for a day or two you might not notice – but if you live in the city – chances are you have a serious hill or two to climb a few times a week. There are buses, tunnels and escalators to help residents avoid the steep inclines. But if you actually want to see the contours of the city, you can’t beat the funicular.

Funicular rio de la pila general davila santander cantabria

The funicular creeping up one of Santander’s hills

The views are great as you climb up the side of a hill. And from the top, you can see the whole bay plus the rooftops of the streets below and the mountain ranges across on mainland Spain. When I went to take these pictures I found a father taking his kids for their first trip on a funicular, I nudged shoulders with tourists from Bilbao checking out the views and shared the space with plenty of locals just getting from A to B.

Funicular Rio de la Pila General Davila Santander Cantabria

A stainless steel and safety glass box takes 20 people up and down at any one time

The Route
It’s a very short journey of just 72 metres – but it’s the difference in height between the start and the finish of 38 metres that made this an interesting project for the engineers – there is an incline of 32 degrees. The route takes in four stops: Rio de la Pila, Calle San Sebastian, El Prado San Roque and General Davila. It operates driver-free non-stop daily from 6am-midnight and has a capacity of 20 people or 1,500kilos. And my final stat is that the dimensions are 1.6m x 2.1m x 2.2m so you can fit buggies, bikes and tall people. I read that the funicular did 500 trips a day in the first month but couldn’t find any recent data.


FYI If it’s windy outside – 75km/hour or more – the service is closed. As you can see in the video, which wasn’t a windy day at all – it does wobble a teeny bit.

The Cost
The funicular was launched on 11 July 2008 following four years of construction. It cost 5.1M EUR and 85 percent was EU funded. In 2010 a further 1M EUR was invested in the area around the funicular. The end result is a pleasant and accessible street with two long escalators, a nice inclined elevator and well-landscaped viewing area at the top. It is run free-of-charge.

What Was There Before
Seventeen family homes were demolished to make way for the funicular. 13 families accepted payment for their properties under the compulsary purchase order and 4 chose to take alternative accommodation in the city. As you travel up or down – you’ll get a glimpse of what was there before – rustic houses with chickens and vegetable patches – alongside the rails.

Funicular Trivia
• The first person to officially use the funicular was Juana Garrido – a 72 year-old lady who’s land was purchased for the site.
• In 2009 the project was awarded a prize by the publication ‘Elevator World’ in the category for inclined elevators.
• In 2011, the word ‘Animo’ meaning ‘Go for it!’ was added to the outside of the elevator.
• It was closed for 8 days in March this year due to a broken pulley. Curiously most of that downtime was due to poor logistics. It took five days for a new part to get from Valencia to Santander – much to the annoyance of the residents who had to take the metal steps instead.

Funicular Rio de la Pila General Davila Santander Cantabria

Animo – or Go for it! appears on the outside of the light rail car

Want To Give It A Go?
It’s tricky enough to find the entrance on the top at General Davila so catch it from down below on Rio de la Pila. To find this street – walk underneath the arches of the Banco Santander on Paseo de Pereda, go up Calle Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola (known locally as Calle Martillo) and when you reach a roundabout, cross it and you’ll get onto Rio de la Pila. You’ll thank me for it – the views are amazing – you can see the mainland across the bay and the slopes of the mountain ranges.

Funicular Rio de la Pila General Davila Santander Cantabria

View from the top is well worth the trip

Do you like the funicular?

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