7 Iconic Bridges You Must See Before You Die
The city’s oldest bridge was erected in 1578, connecting Paris’ Right Bank 1st arrondissement with the Left Bank’s 6th arrondissement, so just about every visitor walks across it at one time or another. This stone structure was radical for the time: it was not weighed down by houses and its few original shops were removed in a 1606 reconstruction. Featuring one of the world’s first pedestrian sidewalks, it remains a popular spot for strolls to this day; offering a dazzling view of Notre-Dame de Paris in one direction and the Eiffel Tower in the other. Ask kids to watch for the statue of Henry IV on horseback standing at the middle of the bridge.
Florence owns the bragging rights as fountainhead of the Renaissance, and no landmark is more steeped in history than the Ponte Vecchio. The name means “old bridge,” and this triple-arched stone bridge, lined with shops in the medieval custom, dates from 1220. In 1229, the Palazzo Vecchio (where today you can visit the Uffizi Gallery) was built at the foot of the bridge. Poet Dante Alighieri lived nearby and crossed the bridge often. Over the centuries, it has survived frequent floods, and been continually redesigned. Today, it doesn’t allow cars, but visitors may walk across it and poke around the high-end shops selling silver and gold.
This graceful suspension bridge has played a vital part in the growth of Budapest into a thriving metropolis. In 1849, it became the first permanent bridge across the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest into a single city. Designed by William Clark, who also designed the Hammersmith Bridge in London, it replaced a system of pontoon boats that were easily swept away by heavy weather. Blown up by retreating Nazis in WWII, rebuilt after the war, the bridge was a site for demonstrations for independence in 1989, cementing its status as a symbol of liberty. On summer weekends, when it’s traffic-free, it’s thronged with artists, craftspeople, vendors, and tourists.
Naturally, when they go to London, the kids will ask to see the London Bridge. But what they’re really thinking of is this, a graceful drawbridge spanning the Thames with a pair of Gothic-style towers that echo Westminster’s spires. It’s one of the world’s most celebrated landmarks, and possibly the most photographed bridge on earth. However medieval it looks, it was actually built in 1894 next to the Tower of London; an exhibition inside the bridge commemorates its history. Remarkably, the engine room still uses its Victorian boilers and steam pumping engine to raise and lower the bridge. Stroll across the walkways to get a stunning view of the loopy course of the Thames.
As thrilling a sight as this beautiful brown-hued East River bridge is from afar, with its Gothic-style towers and lacy mesh of cables, the view from the bridge is even more thrilling. A boardwalklike pedestrian walkway goes all the way across. One mile long, it should take half an hour to traverse—except you’ll be tempted to stop more than once to ooh and ahh at the vision of Manhattan’s skyscrapers thrusting upward, with the great harbor and Verrazano Bridge beyond. The bridge took 16 years to build, from 1867 to 1883, becoming the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world when it opened (Until then, the only way to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn was via ferry.)
Warn newbies ahead of time that the Golden Gate Bridge is not golden at all, but a flaming orange. Once past that surprise, though, they cannot fail to be bowled over by this glorious bridge spanning the Pacific Ocean where it meets San Francisco Bay. In all lights, it has a magical quality—brightening at dawn, glowing at sunset, glittering at night, or blazing proudly through the city’s trademark fog. It’s one of those quintessential landmarks, familiar from dozens of movies. Cars roll over it, boats cruise under it and airplanes buzz overhead, but this bridge is best experienced on foot. Be prepared: The traffic alongside the pedestrian walkway gets pretty noisy, and the bridge vibrates, but if you make it to Vista Point, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view.
This mighty steel arch soaring over Sydney Harbour isn’t the longest steel arch bridge in the world, but it’s the largest, bearing eight lanes of car traffic, two railway lines, a bike lane, and pedestrian walkway. It was opened in 1932, 5 years before the Golden Gate Bridge and shares in common with that famous bridge the distinction of being a Depression-era public works project. It’s the focal point of the classic Sydney postcard view, with its high-rise skyline backdrop, the water below bustling with ferries, barges, tall ships and yachts, and the Sydney Opera House looking like a fleet of white sails caught mid-billow over Sydney Cove.