The Portuguese beach town of Nazaré is divided into two distinct parts- Praia, which is the lower section of the town and built along the beach, and Sitio, which is the more traditional area built atop the cliff that overlooks Praia. There is a steep walking path that can be used to climb to Sitio, but the easier way is to ride the funicular.
A funicular is basically a railway car that is moved by a series of cables up and down steep inclines. Nazaré’s funicular was originally opened in 1889, but the current cars date from the most recent renovation in 2002. Riding the funicular up the 42-degree slope provides some great views of Nazaré and is pretty fun to boot. While one railway car makes its way to Sitio from Praia, a second car makes its way back down, passing each other at roughly the halfway point.
The ride takes just a few minutes and is popular with both tourists and Nazaré residents, who use the railway to visit shops in Praia or the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, the beautiful church in Sitio. The renovated lobby in Praia is quite nice,with a beautiful mural on one wall and traditional Portuguese pavement flooring.
Funiculars and elevators are quite common in Portugal and have been celebrated by the country with several postal stamp issues. This stamp, issued in 2010, celebrates Nazaré’s funicular.
If you’re visiting Nazaré, it’s well worth the time to take a ride on the funicular to Sitio. In addition to the sanctuary, you’ll find the Fortaleza, with the surfing museum, and the tiny Ermida da Memória, or Memory Hermitage Chapel, which celebrates the legend of Nazaré. You’ll also have some stunning views of Praia and, to the north, the famous North Beach, where world record waves draw surfers from all over the world.