The world’s oldest known bridge lies in Tello, southern Iraq and dates back to the third millennium – meaning we have been building these spans that connect A to B for more than four thousand years, and perhaps for much longer.
Bridges have always been built for their purpose, but over the centuries they have also served as inspiration for architects and engineers to build things of immense beauty and power. Today they represent some of the most extraordinary feats of human engineering ever created and many have become destinations worth visiting in their own right.
Millau Viaduct, France
Built in 2004, France’s Viaduc de Millau is a multi-span cable-stayed bridge that also happens to be the tallest bridge in the world and the highest in Europe. Spanning the Tarn Valley in the Massif Central in the south of the country, it is the definition of an engineering masterpiece – the work of French engineer Michel Virlogeux and English architect Norman Foster.
Today the Millau bridge is as much a tourist destination as a car conduit and rewards visitors with a free museum, visitor area, locally made specialty Capucins to eat and of course, awe inspiring views across the valley. For an epic view of the bridge itself, head down into the valley to the heritage-listed village of Peyre.
Øresund Bridge, Denmark to Sweden
Europe’s longest bridge crosses the Øresund Strait and connects Denmark to Sweden with a rail and freeway crossing. Øresund Bridge is one of the most spectacular man made constructions anywhere in the world, swooping up over the waters before seeming to dive under them as it enters the tunnel mouth on Peberholm island. To see it with your own eyes is to realize every mile of the journey there was worth it.
Running just shy of ten miles (16km) in length, it comprises the bridge, a tunnel and the artificial island of Peberhorn that’s now a breeding ground and home to more than 30 species of birds.
Forth Bridges, Scotland
Surely nirvana to any bridge aficionados, the beautiful Firth of Forth in southern Scotland is home to three extraordinary spans built side by side to connect the historic settlements of North and South Queensferry. What’s particularly awesome is the fact that these three bridges perfectly showcase the history and development of bridge building over time, each built in a different century and each representing the cutting edge of bridge engineering and construction for their times: cantilever, suspension and cable-stayed.
Most famous is the oldest, the Forth Rail Bridge. Opened in 1890 as the world’s first major steel structure it remains the longest cantilever bridge in the world and is now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Opening nearly a century later in 1964, its neighbor is the Forth Road Bridge, a long-span suspension bridge open to cars, bicycles and pedestrians where the views on foot and bike in particular are immense. Completing the triumvirate is the Queensferry Crossing, which opened in 2017 as the longest three-tower cable-stayed bridge in the world. Together, they are a testament to the tenacity and prowess of engineers over the ages.
The Helix, Singapore
A spectacular double helix shaped pedestrian bridge that links Marina Central with Marina South, The Helix is uniquely positioned to showcase the crazed architectural developments that have taken over the skyline of Marina Bay over the last decade.
The bridge has four viewing platforms strategically placed to drink in that skyline and the often spectacular events that take place there. The bridge is lit up at night to highlight its intentional left-handed double helix structure, and bears the colored letters c, g, a and t to represent the four bases of DNA: cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine.
The Charles Bridge, Czech Republic
Czech capital Prague’s oldest bridge spans the Vltava River and dates to 1402, although its construction began in 1357. A medieval stone arch bridge built under the auspices of Charles IV, it was named for him – an elegant arched row of sandstone blocks flanked by fortifying towers at each end.
Beginning in 1683 and taking nearly 250 years to complete, the bridge was adorned with 30 carved statues of saints, the most famous being St John of Nepomuk. Strolling over it on a snowy winter’s eve is like walking through a fairytale framed by Prague’s gorgeous gothic skyline.
The Krämerbrücke, Germany
Thought to have originated as a wooden bridge some time after the eighth century, the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, central Germany, is the only inhabited bridge north of the Alps. Repeatedly a victim of catastrophic fires that destroyed its buildings and monasteries, during the 13th century the local council acquired the rights to the bridge and set about building a stone version in 1325.
Lined with houses and shops dating back centuries, it is a uniquely atmospheric functioning high street like any other (well, not quite like any other) and even has its own festival in June each year, the Krämerbrückenfest.
Bridge of Sighs, Italy
Venice is home to many spectacular bridges – elaborate, historic and beautiful – but none is quite like the tiny, inconspicuous Bridge of Sighs. Built in 1603, it is an enclosed bridge of white limestone whose tiny windows are crisscrossed with intricate stone patterns almost obscuring the views of those within.
They are in fact a clue to the bridge’s function as a funnel for prisoners being escorted over the Rio de Palazzo from the prison on one side to the interrogation rooms of the Doge’s Palace on the other. For many, that obscured glimpse of the lagoon and San Giorgio beyond would be the last view of the outside world they would ever see, leading to their saddened sighs being adopted as the name of the bridge. Today you can walk the bridge yourself when exploring the Doge’s Palace and see for yourself the last look at freedom for so many.
Stari Most, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Stari Most, or Old Bridge, in Mostar has been around in one way or another for close to half a millennium and is regularly cited as one of the most pleasing to the eye and a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture. But the bridge we see today is not in fact the original.
First commissioned in 1566 by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, it stood solid over the Neretva River for 427 years until in 1993 it was destroyed by Croat forces in the Croat-Bosniak War. It took four years to begin reconstruction using the very same building techniques famed Muslim architect Mimar Hayruddin had overseen four centuries earlier so as to maintain its integrity. Today visitors come from all over the world to stroll its iconic profile, snap impossibly atmospheric photos and, if competing in one of the world’s oldest diving competitions, jump from its dizzying heights into the freezing waters far below.
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