These 12 stunning bridges are engineering marvels

See these gravity-defying architectural wonders, which span spectacular depths, reach dizzying heights, and offer thrilling views.

Published 12 Jul 2021, 11:25 BST
World's Longest Pedestrian Bridge In Arouca, Portugal, Becomes A Major Tourist Attraction
Some of the world’s most beautiful bridges, such as Portugal’s 516 Arouca, are architectural feats that keep visitors in a state of suspended disbelief.
Photograph by Horacio Villalobos, Corbis/Getty Images

Bridges all around the world, from West Virginia’s New River Gorge to Peru’s Q’eswachaka give every traveler an opportunity to connect and explore. In fact, this year, the Q’eswachaka quite literally brought communities together to rebuild a time-honored bridge that had collapsed from pandemic-caused neglect.

Whether you’re a thrill seeker or a nature lover, we’ve got a bridge for you. Here are 12 spans we just can’t get over.

Inca Rope Bridge: Apurimac River, Peru

Each year the Q'eswachaka is untied and woven anew by local bridge builders.
Photograph by WIGBERT RÖTH, GETTY IMAGES

For 500 years, a hand-woven suspension bridge has spanned 92 feet across the Apurimac canyon. Called Q’eswachaka, the bridge is rebuilt every year in a ritual where locals untie the existing bridge and weave a new one out of local ishu grass. The ancient bridge-building ceremony is then celebrated with traditional song and dance.

The annual reweaving was cancelled in 2020, due to the pandemic, causing the bridge—one of the last surviving Inca rope bridges—to collapse from disrepair. But community members were able to gather once more in June 2021 to rebuild the bridge that has connected communities divided by the Apurimac river for centuries.

Jet-setting north of the equator? Spot puffins and sharks from Ireland’s 100-foot-high Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge—first constructed by salmon fishermen in 1755. If that’s not high enough, take a drive across France’s Millau Viaduct or China’s record-setting Beipanjiang Bridge—a whopping 1,854 feet above the Beipan River.

Die Rakotzbrücke: Kromlau Park, Kromlau, Germany

Commissioned by Friedrich Hermann Rötschke in 1860, Rakotzbrücke’s perfect parabola and basalt spires make it a legendary “devil’s bridge.” According to Rakotzbrücke’s myth, the builder crossed the finished bridge, sacrificing himself in exchange for the devil’s help. A great time to visit is during the spring rhododendron bloom; for great views board the Muskau Forest Railway.

Devil’s bridges are a thing. You can visit others in Switzerland, Bulgaria, Italy, Wales, France, England, Spain, and Arizona.

Living Root Bridge: Nongriat, India

The name gives it all away: The Living Root Bridge is made from grounded tree roots, which prevent the bridge from being washed away by floods.
Photograph by ALEX TREADWAY, Nat Geo Image Collection

Nongriat, India, is one of the world’s wettest places—a jungle of waterfalls, beehives, and betel nut trees. For hundreds of years local Khasi have dealt with seasonal river surges by weaving living footbridges out of Indian rubber tree roots. Umshiang, a double-decker (soon to be triple-decker) root bridge is expected to survive several hundred years and can support the weight of 50 people at once.

For even more fresh air (both in and out of the city) check out Malaysia’s Langkawi Sky Bridge, or natural bridges in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Seoul.

Rolling Bridge: London, England

Completed in 2004, Heatherwick Studio’s Rolling Bridge provides access to the Grand Union Canal in London’s Paddington Basin. The bridge’s eerily quiet hydraulics were inspired by Stan Winston’s animatronic dinosaur tails from the film Jurassic Park. The shiny steel beams of nearby Paddington Fan Bridge mimic a Japanese fan as they cantilever open to boat traffic every Wednesday midday.

To see other unexpected designs, visit Netherland’s Moses Bridge, Beijing’s Lucky Knot Bridge, and the U.K.’s “Blinking Eye” (Gateshead Millennium Bridge).

Webb Bridge: Docklands, Melbourne, Australia

The Webb Bridge connects the Docklands to Victoria Harbor in Melbourne, Australia.
Photograph by Alamy Stock Photo

The Guditjmara people have been harvesting eels in Lake Condah, Victoria, for more than 6,000 years, using a system of canals and traps that is one of the earliest surviving examples of freshwater aquaculture. These basket-woven Koori eel traps served as inspiration for Melbourne’s Webb Bridge, designed by world-renowned sculptor Robert Owen. Webb Bridge is best explored by bike via the Capital City Trail or by paddling the Yarra River on a moonlight kayak tour.

Other bike-friendly bridges include Copenhagen’s Bicycle Snake, Arkansas’s Big Dam Bridge, Portland’s Tilikum Crossing, and Sweden’s Sölvesborg.

516 Arouca Bridge: Arouca, Portugal

Some of the world’s most beautiful bridges, such as Portugal’s 516 Arouca, are architectural feats that keep visitors in a state of suspended disbelief.
Photograph by Horacio Villalobos, Corbis/Getty Images

At 1,693 feet long, the 516 Arouca has surpassed Switzerland’s Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge as the longest suspension pedestrian bridge in the world. Breathtaking views of the Paiva Gorge and Aguieiras Waterfall may just be enough to distract brave souls from the 574-foot drop to the Paiva River below.

Other sky-high bridges to walk if you dare: Switzerland’s Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, China’s glass-bottom bridge in Huangchuan Three Gorges Scenic Area, Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge in North Carolina, and Austria’s Dachstein Glacier suspension bridge, Highline 179, and the glass-walled Stairway of Nothingness.

Bridge of Sighs: Rio di Palazzo, Venice, Italy

Visitors can take a gondola ride beneath the romantic Bridge of Sighs.
Photograph by Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

Poets, painters, and opera singers have swooned over Ponte dei Sospiri, Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, for centuries. Gondoliers claim that kissing below the bridge during sunset, as the bells of St. Mark’s toll, is a surefire recipe for everlasting love. The connecting palace offers tours through the bridge with blue-lagoon views of San Giorgio Maggiore. Kayak the Rio di Palazzo beneath the bridge to see its 17th-century limestone mascarons, ornately carved masks meant to ward off evil spirits.

Other starry-eyed bridge strolls: the Si-o-se-pol Bridge in Iran, the Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge in South Korea, and the geranium-flooded 17th-century frescoes of Kapellbrücke in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco, California

More than three million vehicles cross San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge every month. Skip the exhaust-filled bridge sidewalk and opt for a bird’s-eye view of the mountain-high suspension bridge from Hawk Hill, where a new trail offers easier slopes, plus new signage and guard rails. Or whale watch while lounging on a deck trampoline as you sail beneath the bridge at sunset.

Other epic suspension bridges include Japan’s Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, London’s Tower Bridge, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, and Colorado’s Royal Gorge.

Henderson Waves Bridge: Singapore

The Henderson Waves Bridge in Singapore is great for bird watching at sunrise, or from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. each evening when LED lights make it shine.
Photograph by fiftymm99, Getty Images

Steel and local Balau wood curve together to form the spectacular Henderson Waves, the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. The bridge connects Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park as part of the six-mile-long Southern Ridges walk. Visit the bridge at sunrise for fewer crowds and excellent birdwatching, including a chance to see the rare black baza.

Other treetop bridges worth a dillydally: Vancouver’s Capilano Suspension Bridge, South Africa’s Kirstenbosch Boomslang Tree Canopy, Baumwipfelpfad in Germany, and the Inkaterra Canopy in Peru.

Pont du Gard: Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

Arching over the Gardon River, halfway between Nîmes and Uzès, sits the massive Pont du Gard, a limestone aqueduct built by the Romans roughly 2,000 years ago. Visit in summer for a leisurely paddle and afternoon swim, then wind your way past a 1,000-year-old olive tree on the way to Les Terraces for a sunset glass of Clairette.

Want more than a calm kayak? Visit Bosnia’s Stari Most for diving, Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge for climbing (re-opens July 10, 2021), and Skypark Sochi in Russia for skybridge walks and bungee-jumping.

Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge: Selma, Alabama

In this 2015 photo, then-President Barack Obama and his family are joined by former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush, Georgia’s Rep. John Lewis, and other dignitaries to march across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Photograph by Pete Souza, Official White House Photo

On March 7, 1965, 600 voting rights activists, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., began marching across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery, Alabama. Because of the bridge’s design, they couldn’t see the violent counter-protestors waiting for them on the other side. When the activists finally saw those on the other side, they marched forward anyway. Two weeks later, the march began again, successfully, with not 600, but more than 3,000 supporters. The annual Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee honours this historic moment of bravery.

Other bridges that have made their mark on history include Turkey’s Taşköprü, West Virginia’s Philippi Covered Bridge, Israel’s Ad Halom, and Spain’s Alcántara.

Stepping stone bridge: Fenghuang, China

A woman crosses this stepping stone bridge on a rainy day in Phoenix Ancient Town.
Photograph by Xinhua/Redux

A traditional dingbu bridge, made of cut and sunken stones, stretches across the Tuojiang River in China’s Phoenix Ancient Town. Further up the river sits the Ming-dynasty Hongqiao, a lantern-strung, three-arch stone pavilion bridge. Its second-level teahouse offers comfy rattan chairs and unbeatable river views of diaojiaolou stilt houses, dragon boat racing, and, sometimes, some rather startled ducks.

Wander down other lovely footbridges in the Netherlands, South Korea (plaza closed through July 31, 2021), the U.K., and Switzerland.

This list was compiled with the help of structural and civil engineers, Mark R. Cruvellier and Stephen Ressler. Cait Etherton is a Virginia-based writer and frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel.

This story has been updated with new information since it first published on Jan. 31, 2018.

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