Tunel Funicular Istanbul – an Underground Funicular

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I’ve had a passion for funiculars and vertical railways since my Dad took me on the Scenic Railway in the Blue Mountains in Australia when I was seven. Back then it went from the top of the cliff to the bottom of the valley at high speed in about ten seconds flat. These days it’s slower (and probably safer too) but the thrill has never left me. Wherever I go, if there’s a funicular, city elevator or high in the sky scenic railway, I’m on it. The first time I boarded the old-fashioned wooden tipped carriages used in Tunel Funicular in 1996, I fell in love.

All aboard Tunel Istanbul.
Tunel funicular carriage

These days the Tunel funicular carriages are modern streamlined versions in pretty vintage style, but when the service first opened on 17 January 1875, passengers travelled in steam powered open-sided wooden wagons with only gas lamps to pierce the nearly pitch black tunnel. Tunel funicular was the brainchild of French engineer Eugene Henri Gavand. He came to Istanbul as a tourist and was struck by the difficulty faced by people wanting to move between the finance centre based around Bankakilar Sokak in Galata up to the social centre of Pera, home to foreign embassies, hotels, cafes and restaurants.

Tunel funicular station

The grades were as steep as 24% in some places which ruled out trains and the area was already heavily developed. In order to build a service to provide economical transport with minimal disruption, Gavand came up with the idea of building a funicular underground. When it opened, Tunel funicular in Istanbul became the world’s second subway, and the first time ever a funicular was constructed underground. For the ferroequinologists among you, the starting point of Tunel funicular is 140 metres from the Galata Bridge at 1.15 metres above sea level, 90 metres from the Golden Horn and 70 metres from the Galata Mevlevi house. Once at the top, the track sits 62.70 metres above sea level. The carriages traverse the track approximately 200 times, carrying around 12,000 passengers, every day. They remained steam powered until 1971 when Tünel was completely overhauled and renovated, and converted to electricity.

In the 144 years Tunel funicular has been in operation, it only closed for one brief period during the Second World War when some of the materials necessary for maintenance couldn’t be obtained. I like to think the thrill of being able to travel 573 metres in 90 seconds up such a steep incline will still be available to residents and visitors to the city, long after I have any need for it.


Planning to come to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip.

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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