SUSPENSION bridges, covered bridges, wind-and-rain bridges, rope bridges, ornamental bridges. There’s a practical purpose to every bridge; that river has to be crossed or that gorge spanned. But it’s the romance, legend and spectacle of a bridge that led online travel consultants Cheapflights.com (www.cheapflights.com) to create its list of the Top 10 most impressive bridges around the world.
1. Tower Bridge, London, United Kingdom
The world saw Tower Bridge this year during Britain’s remarkable summer of Diamond Jubilee festivities, the Olympics and Paralympic Games. It was built in 1894, all Victorian Gothic with Cornish granite and Portland stone, close to the Tower of London from which it gets its name. Standing 42m above the River Thames, its walkways are vantage points for many London landmarks. Plus, it’s the only bridge on the Thames that can be raised to let boats pass. The bascules are raised approximately 1,000 times a year.
2. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, US
No list of bridges is complete without this orange-vermillion wonder that spans the strait linking San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean. It has stood above the Golden Gate, often shrouded in fog, for 75 years. At 1,280m long, the Golden Gate Bridge was, for almost 30 years, the longest in the world. In a city of superb see-before-you-die attractions, the bridge tops the list. Visitors can walk or bike across it. Alternatively, the Bridge Pavilion tells the story of the bridge and has a range of souvenirs for friends and family back home.
3. Lions Gate Bridge, Vancouver, Canada
This is the bridge that Guinness built. Really. The Lions Gate Bridge, known officially as the First Narrows Bridge, spans Burrard Inlet and connects the City of Vancouver to the North Shore (North Vancouver and West Vancouver). The Lions Gate refers to the mountain peaks (The Lions) that are visible to drivers heading north. The wealthy Guinness family invested heavily in West Vancouver and part of the deal was that they — through their British Pacific Properties Company — would build all roads and water lines. Knowing that they needed to make the area more accessible, they were involved with the construction of the bridge and, in 1986, gifted its lights.
4. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia
The bridge is the largest steel-arch bridge in the world. It’s not the longest (that honour belongs to the New River Gorge in West Virginia), but it’s one of the most recognisable symbols of Australia. It’s 1,149m long and its arch span is 503m. The top of the arch is 134m above the sea and the clearance for shipping under the deck is a spacious 49m. Eager to climb to the Pylon Lookout? There are 200 steps to ascend to get to one of Sydney’s oldest tourist attractions. If you want to climb it, you can do that too for about $218. In overalls and secured to a safety line, you can climb 1,500m over the arch.
5. Glenfinnan Viaduct, Glenfinnan, Scotland
Fans of the Harry Potter films will recognise this as the railway viaduct that the Hogwarts Express chugs across. It’s not the only film to feature it. It "starred" in Charlotte Gray, Monarch of the Glen, Stone of Destiny and Ring of Bright Water too. Built by Sir Robert McAlpine at the end of the 19th century, the viaduct is composed of 21 arches, each spanning 15m and has a maximum height of 30m offering sumptuous views down to Loch Shiel below. The railway viaduct is on the West Highland Line in Glenfinnan, Lochaber in the Highlands and a round-trip ticket, between mid-May and the end of October, will set you back about $50.
6. Si-o-se Pol, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-se Pol, which means the Bridge of 33 Arches, has stood in Isfahan, Iran, since the 17th century. Spanning the river Zayandeh Rud, it’s one of 11 bridges in Isfahan. It’s one of the most famous examples of Safavid bridge design although Khadjou Bridge is considered to be more beautiful. There are two rows of 33 arches and its yellow brick and limestone masonry give it a buttery softness that, when the sun hits, makes it appear to melt into the river. It’s a charming bridge of alcoves, where you can sit and admire the view. Or, in the tea house, sip cups of steaming tea.
7. Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Ponte Vecchio means "old bridge" in Italian and it’s certainly that. The bridge on the River Arno was mentioned in a document as far back as 996ACE. Destroyed a couple of times but always rebuilt, it was spared by the retreating Germans in 1944 on the orders of Hitler (although the medieval buildings on each side of the bridge were demolished, blocking access). Once upon a time, bridges were places of commerce with butchers, tanners and fishmongers plying their trade there. By the end of the 16th century, the bridge was upgraded to sweeter-smelling businesses for goldsmiths and jewellers. Not too different to who’s there now. Lying across the Arno at its narrowest point, it’s just 29m long.
8. Victoria Falls Bridge, Zimbabwe/Zambia
The Zambezi River roars beneath the Victoria Falls Bridge, which links two countries: Zimbabwe and Zambia. On one side is Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and on the other, Livingstone, Zambia. A feat of Victorian design and engineering, it took just 14 months to build. To press home its Victorian credentials, it was opened by Charles Darwin’s son, George, in 1905. It’s a road, railway and footway and a launch platform for thrilling bungee jumps. At 198m long and 128m above the river, it’s a close second to the spectacular Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya).
9. Pont Alexandre III, Paris, France
Pont Neuf is Paris’s oldest bridge — and one of its most famous — but the Pont Alexandre III is the most extravagant and highly decorated bridge on the Seine. This arch bridge (connecting the Champs-Elysées quarter with the Invalides and Eiffel Tower quarters) was built for the Universal Exposition of 1900, the great world’s fair. Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II lay the first brick (it was at a time when France was courting Russia as an ally) and it was named after the Tsar’s father Alexander III. This historic monument is studded with gilded bronze-winged horses, compositions in copper that represent the nymphs of the Seine (the nymphs of the Neva in Saint Petersburg are represented downstream), and ornate lamp posts (candelabras really) that are adorned with cherubs.
10. Teufelsbrücke, Switzerland
This is the bridge that was built by the devil. Or so it is said. The story goes that the devil built the bridge and in exchange for his engineering and construction skills, he’d receive the first soul to cross it. The canny villagers sent a goat instead of a person, and, enraged by this, the devil tried to destroy his newly constructed bridge by throwing a boulder (the Teufelsstein, the devil’s stone) at it. However, catching sight of an old woman carrying a cross, he took fright and ran away, dropping the stone as he went. Myths aside, the Teufelsbrcke spans the Reuss River high up in the Swiss mountains in the canton of Uri. It provides access to the St Gotthard Pass. The bridge that is in use now is actually the third bridge. The first bridge (wooden and built by the devil) was built in 1230 and the second (built in the 1820s) is located close to this "new" (1950s) concrete bridge.
* Reuters has not endorsed the list.