Bridges are a means to get from point A to point B. In their most basic form, bridges are built for functionality and convenience. Architecture and structural engineering has long been used to bridge the gaps between physical objects, to connect people and landscapes and link geographies with foreign cultures and the outside world. While bridges are an integral part of infrastructures around the globe, these 10 landmarks, which feature a cutting-edge mix of architectural ingenuity and engineering, are works of art that transform the cities and landscapes in which they are constructed. From ancient stone viaducts to modern steel masterpieces, remote pedestrian bridges to hulking urban highways, here are the world’s most breathtaking bridges.
10. Oliveira Bridge, Brazil
Located in Sao Paulo and spanning the Pinheiros River, the Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge is the first X-shaped wire bridge in the world. The 138 m (450 feet) cable-stayed bridge was completed in May 2008. The structure features two separate curved bridge decks that cross each other through an X-shaped support tower. The decks are suspended by 144 cables, and the roadways link the Sao Paulo districts of Brooklin and Real Parque, connecting Marginal Pinheiros to Jornalista Roberto Marinho Avenue in the south of the city.
With over 6 million cars, Sao Paulo is one of the most congested cities in the world. While the Oliveira Bridge’s two curved tracks are designed to reduce traffic, the double helix-like structure is a feat of modern engineering.
9. The Pearl Bridge: Kobe-Naruto, Japan
The Pearl Bridge has held the title of “World’s Longest Suspension Bridge” since 1998 with a length of 3,911 m (12,831 ft.). Construction began in 1986, and it took 12 years to complete the bridge. Pearl Bridge was designed to withstand harsh sea conditions and earthquakes, and in 1995 the then uncompleted bridge was put to the test, surviving the Kobe earthquake. Spanning the Akashi strait, the Pearl Bridge serves as a link between Kobe and Iwaya and features six lanes of roadway.
8. The Oresund Bridge, Sweden-Denmark
Completed in 2000, the Oresund Bridge links Sweden and Denmark and has a total length of 8 km (5 miles). The bridge is structurally distinct in that it begins as a cable-stayed bridge in Sweden and ends as a tunnel in Denmark, connecting Malmo with Copenhagen.
The bridge’s “tunnel section” begins on a small artificial island built in the middle of the Oresund strait. Engineers believed the tunnel was the best way to compete the crossing without impeding boat traffic. The bridge has four lanes and a double-track railway. The Oresund Bridge received the “Outstanding Structure Award” in 2002.
7. Charles Bridge, Prague
Construction on Charles Bridge began in 1357, and the stone Gothic bridge was completed at the beginning of the 15th century. It was the only means of crossing the Vltava River in Prague until 1841, connecting Prague Castle to the city’s Old Town. The Charles Bridge is 621 m long, 10 m wide, and features three bridge towers.
The bridge tower located on the Old Town side is considered one of the finest examples of a civic gothic-style building in the world. Erected between 1683 and 1714, 30 baroque statues and statuaries of saints adorn the bridge’s balustrade. Today, Charles Bridge is a pedestrian zone (cars and trams were allowed in the past) and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Prague. Artists, musicians, and souvenir vendors line the bridge year-round.
6. Millau Viaduct, France
Designed by Michel Virlogeux and Norman Foster and completed in 2004, the Millau Viaduct was the tallest bridge in the world until 2012, when officials from Guinness World Records certified the Baluarte Bridge in Mexico as the world’s tallest. While the Millau Viaduct no longer holds the record, it has a summit of 343 m (1,125 ft.).
The cable-stayed bridge spans the valley of the River Tarn in southern France and is part of the A75-A71 autoroute from Paris to Beziers and Montpellier. The total length of the bridge is 8,071 feet, and it features the 12th highest bridge deck in the world. In 2006, the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering awarded the Millau Viaduct the “Outstanding Structure Award.”
5. Langkawi Sky Bridge, Malaysia
Located at the peak of Gunung Mat Chinchang, a mountain on Palau Island in Malaysia, the Langkawi Sky Bridge is a 410-ft curved pedestrian suspension bridge. Sky Bridge is accessible at the end of a cable car ride that begins at the Oriental Village at the foothill of the Machincang mountain range, and ends 2,300 ft. above sea level. The curving bridge deck, which is suspended from an 82-meter high single pylon, swings over the landscape, giving visitors a spectacular view of the forest canopy.
According to Amusing Planet, construction wasn’t easy and “the entire bridge had to be lifted to the top of the mountain by helicopter and was later assembled to its current position.” The Langkawi Sky Bridge was completed in 2004 and is one of the longest curved pedestrian bridges in the world.
4. The Forth Railway Bridge, Scotland
Completed in 1890, the 8,296-ft Forth Railway Bridge is one of the wonders of the industrial age. Connecting the cities of Edinburgh and Fife, it’s a symbol of Victorian structural engineering and a technological cousin to New York’s Brooklyn Bridge. Designed by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker, the Forth Railway Bridge features three immense, cage-like cantilevers set in granite footings 46 km below.
The Forth Railway Bridge is Britain’s first major steel bridge. It made an appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, and is featured on Scottish currency. In 2011, the bridge was refurbished and repainted; according to BBC Culture, the $223 million renovation is designed to last until 2050. Over the years, the Forth Railway Bridge has required a full-time maintenance team to look after it, leading to the popular expression, “Like painting the Forth Bridge,” which is a colorful term used to describe any never-ending task.
3. Ponte Vecchio, Italy
Ponte Vecchio is considered the oldest stone arch bridge in Europe. Located in Florence, the bridge spans the Arno River at its narrowest point and consists of three segmental arches. Few traces of the original 10th century bridge remain as all but two central piers were destroyed in a flood. The bridge was rebuilt in 1345. Ponte Vecchio is famous for having shops built along it; in the old days the bridge housed butchers and goldsmiths.
Today, the bridge’s tenants include art dealers, jewelers, and souvenir vendors. Unlike many bridges in Europe, Ponte Vecchio wasn’t destroyed by the Nazis, and legend has it the bridge was saved under an express order from Hitler.
2. Trift Bridge, Switzerland
Poised 100 meters above Lake Triftsee in the Swiss Alps, the Trift Bridge is a deceptively simple pedestrian suspension bridge modeled after Nepalese three-rope bridges. The original Trift Bridge was built in 2004, but high winds caused it to sway and it was replaced in 2009 by a safer structure. Developed by the Swiss architectural firm Ingenieurburo Hans Pfaffen, the 2009 bridge features a “parabolic underspan,” an engineering design that keeps sudden movements in check. Still, the Trift Bridge isn’t for the faint of heart.
The structure spans 170 m of nothingness, floating in space with breathtaking views of the lake, glaciers, and surrounding mountains. In order to access the bridge visitors need to ride a cable car (Triftbahn). However, that’s just the start of the adventure. It’s then a 90-minute hike to Trift Bridge.
1. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Designed by Joseph B. Strauss and completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco, California. The American Society of Civic Engineers declared the suspension bridge one of The Wonders of the Modern World, and Frommers Travel Guide considers it “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world.” When it was completed, the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world; it no longer holds that title, but is famous for its distinct reddish-orange color.
The color was specifically chosen to make the bridge more visible in the thick fog that rolls through the channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Sadly, the Golden Gate Bridge is as notorious for the number of people who have jumped to their deaths from its towering frame as it is for its beauty and elegant engineering.