Winning trip: A wee dram on a pub tram, Helsinki
Helsinki has a small and sensible tram system, except for the wonderful SpåraKoff “pub” tram: a bright red single carriage that loops around the city, serving mostly beer and “long drink” (gin and grapefruit soda; please, try the long drink) to passengers. It covers most of the usual sights in town and without any annoying commentary. The seats aren’t particularly comfy and the decor is mostly wood but you’re on a tram, with beer, so already having the best afternoon/evening of the week. For Helsinki, drinks are reasonably priced at less than €8 a pint and there’s an ever-changing wine list. Just to make it extra special, it has a toilet, so you might never need to leave.
Hong Kong’s ding dings
The trams on Hong Kong Island are affectionately known as “ding dings” and run down the main road arteries for more than 13km, west to east, between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan. To drift along this urban canyon’s length takes about two hours and costs 25p, and the sights are unending. From the windows of towering residential monoliths in every pastel shade, satellite dishes and air con units strain outwards for light. Below, cardboard trolleys and shining automobilia are shunted through the narrow streets, lit by retail neon. From the slightest cracks jungle trees leap up, coalescing in parks. Float by the Bank of China and HSBC towers. There’s no better way to relax in the world’s most manic city.
Ripe for reopening: Trieste, Italy
The tram runs between the hills at Villa Opicina near the Slovenian border and the lovely Adriatic city of Trieste, about 6km away. It becomes a funicular using cables to help navigate the steepest sections. The views are wonderful, the experience is unusual and you have the opportunity to visit two countries in one trip. The tramway has been closed since August 2016, following an accident, but the authorities are hopeful that, after several scandals and mishaps, the line will reopen this year. I can’t wait to return and enjoy a ride, followed by beautiful food and wine in one of Trieste’s old squares.
Desirable streetcar, New Orleans
While they’re not quite urban icons in the way that trams often are, New Orleans’ characterful streetcars are undoubtedly the best way to explore the city’s charming scenery and rich history. Board the vintage streetcar on the outskirts of the French Quarter where Common Street meets St Charles Avenue, and make yourself comfortable on the mahogany seats. The St Charles line (the oldest continuously operated streetcar line in the world, having opened in 1835) takes passengers through Uptown and the eye-catching Garden District, passing iconic mansions, parks, museums and enticing local shops. For $1.25, this old-fashioned experience is well worth the money.
Halts for hikers, Germany
If you have ever taken the train between Dresden and Prague, then you may have already noticed the gorgeous rock formations of the Elbe Sandstone mountains along the Elbe River valley in the so-called Saxon Switzerland of Germany. The 8km-long Kirnitzschtalbahn or the Kirnitsch Valley Tramway runs between the spa town of Bad Schandau and the Lichtenhain waterfall. The tram will take you up to the waterfall or to various access points for hiking throughout the region – the Malerweg or Painters’ Way has inspired generations of artists. The tram’s final stop is home to the delightfully kitsch, half-timber Lichtenhainer Wasserfall hotel, which offers hikers and vintage tram enthusiasts alike a well-earned beer or, if you prefer, kaffee und kuchen.
Catch the yellow line to Meadowhall for £4.60 return. There’s a beautiful vista of Sheffield after Fitzalan Square as you ride over the viaduct. Alight at Attercliffe, cross the footbridge over the canal for another gorgeous view before heading down. Stroll along the Sheffield and Tinsley canal for as long as you like for a peaceful and picturesque walk through nature, cutting through the old industrial heartland of Sheffield. Head back on the tram at either Arena, Carbrook, Meadowhall South or even Rotherham to return home, all stops accessible via the canal.
River to sea, Porto
Porto has a few beautiful old reconditioned trams in operation on routes 1, 18, 22. We took the No 1, which has a stunningly scenic route from Rebeira to Foz overlooking the Douro River the whole way. The route does get busy and runs roughly every half an hour. You can go earlier in the day or wait for the next one, like we did. It costs €3.50 one way, or a bit more return – you can use contactless to pay on the tram. When at Foz it’s lovely to watch the mighty waves crash and admire the beautiful lighthouse.
Antiquity on the line, Alexandria, Egypt
This ancient city’s extensive tram routes, built in the second half of the 19th century and electrified in 1902, are the best way to sample the life, colour and people of Alexandria. For 5p one can have a 90-minute trip through the old areas of the city including the harbours and out to the eastern suburbs. Each carriage has its own conductor and the first one in the blue tram is reserved for women. The conductor squeezes his way through the passengers issuing tickets. Sellers of merchandise all pass through, plying their wares. Outside, the business of Alexandria is conducted on, and next to, the tram lines. If you want to see life slowly in one of the oldest cities in the world, take the tram.
Cream and green dream, Melbourne
Three cheers for Melbourne’s tram system, reputedly the world’s largest urban system, making travel a breeze for visitors and residents alike. It is sleek, modern, frequent, reasonably priced (some zones free) and covers more than 250km of track. We made good use of the tree-lined route 96, which runs 13.9km from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach. The day pass is especially good value. We also enjoyed the historic cream and green City Circle tram: free, with audio commentary, taking you round the major city landmarks – a great introduction to this lovely city.
Dinky and delightful, south-east Devon
Seaton’s vintage three-mile tramway is dinky in stature but it’s worth taking this trip in the Devon countryside. The narrow gauge line runs classic electric tramcars at half to two-thirds scale. The trams moved in after Beeching closed the Seaton branch line in the 1960s and the route now transports holidaymakers and enthusiasts inland to Colyton. It travels alongside the Axe estuary, Seaton Wetlands nature reserve and the River Coly, so the views change with the seasons and it’s worth bringing your binoculars if you like spotting birds. You can also book a driving experience where you can ring the bell yourself. Fares are £12 and £9.60 (children) but there are other rates for families.