I don’t know whether it is because I am married to an engineer or because of my love for architecture that I am drawn to bridges. I love them all, from old Roman viaducts to hyper-modern pedestrian connections. And then there are those which we discover on our travels: Just think of Tower Bridge in London; Charles Bridge in Prague; Szechenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest; Rialto Bridge in Venice; Brooklyn Bridge in New York City; Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
These are all so famous and well-loved that I want to mention them, but I won’t put them on my list. I only have so much space, and even only the most beautiful bridges in the world could fill a book.
So here are some of my favorites, not necessarily the most famous in their respective places, but all chosen for their distinct and personal appeal. Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, but I hope that you agree with me on at least some of the following bridges and use them as inspiration for future travel.
1. Rakotzbrucke, Kromlau, Germany
This stone bridge dating to 1860 is pretty enough in itself, set in the verdant park that is the Azalea and Rhododendron Park near the Polish border. But what makes this little bridge special is its reflection in the calm lake it crosses: The bridge and its reflection form a perfect circle. It has the unfortunate moniker of Devil’s Bridge because when it was built, people thought it was dangerous and the devil’s work rather than an achievement by human hands.
Pro Tip: It is just as well that the reflection is the main draw of this bridge, as it is deemed too old now to allow people to cross it, for fear of it crumbling.
2. Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia
This is probably my all-time favorite bridge. A road bridge in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, this little road bridge crossing the Ljubljanica River is flanked by chubby little dragons. And who doesn’t love a little dragon? The bridge, built in 1901, was originally called the Jubilee Bridge of the Emperor Franz Josef I, but it was renamed Dragon Bridge in 1919. Four copper dragons, the symbol of the city, sit guard at each of the four corners and are particularly cute when seen from behind.
Pro Tip: Right by the bridge on one side lies the Central Market, while the other riverside is lined with cafes. You could keep crossing happily several times a day, keeping busy.
3. Khaju Bridge, Isfahan, Iran
The Khaju Bridge across the Zayanderud river in the central Iranian city of Isfahan is a double treat, quite literally. Not only is it a bridge, but also a weir (a low head dam). It is also two stories high. Built in around 1650, the bridge is 430 feet long, 40 feet wide, and has 23 arches that are beautifully lit at night. The upper floor walkway is wide enough for a horse-drawn carriage in the center and two sets of covered pedestrian walkways along the sides. There are two pavilions at the center, and their decorated and tiled arches are open allowing views to both sides. But it is after dusk that this bridge turns into a magic building that could, forgive the cliche, come straight out of One Thousand and One Nights.
The Si-o-se-pol bridge just along the river is remarkably similar — and with 33 arches is actually larger than Khaju Bridge — but it is missing the tiled detail, and, somehow, the magical appeal.
4. Pont De Bir-Hakeim, Paris, France
When asked, most people will mention Pont Alexandre III or the Pont des Arts as their favorite Paris bridges; me, I like the Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Designed by Jean-Camille Formige, this bridge across the Seine is another double-decker, with cars and pedestrians below and the metro above. It connects Paris’s 16th and 15th arrondissements and crosses the Island of Swans, where one of the city’s replicas of the Statue of Liberty stands. The views from the bridge are fantastic, as are the photo opportunities under the arches, where the film Inception and others were filmed.
Pro Tip: Cross the bridge on foot, and then also by Metro Line 6. If you sit on the right coming from Bir-Hakeim, or on the left coming from Passy, you’ll have the best views from a metro in the whole of Paris.
5. Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, UK
Designed by the fabulously named Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the UK’s engineer supreme, the Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the Avon Gorge and the River Avon in Bristol. From the river below, I love admiring the bridge’s span that hangs between the two Egyptian-inspired towers, and its imposing height of 246 feet. When you climb the very steep hill through the picturesque area of Clifton — stopping a few times to admire the views and to catch your breath along the way — and then walk across the bridge, it really brings home the achievement and beauty of the bridge.
Pro Tip: After exploring the bridge, go for a walk on the Clifton Downs, where you’ll find rare plants and Peregrine falcons soaring over the gorge.
6. Bridge Of Sighs, Venice, Italy
While most flock to the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I love gazing, and sighing, at the Bridge of Sighs. It connects two buildings of the Doge’s Palace: the New Prison and the interrogation rooms. It gots its name (Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian) from the prisoners who left the interrogation room and crossed the Rio di Palazzo, sighing at their last glance at beautiful Venice from the bridge’s window before being locked up in their cells.
Pro Tip: You can walk across the Bridge of Sighs, which is amazingly bland and rough inside compared to its outside, when you visit the Doge’s Palace, but best only head there during the off season — otherwise you will be queuing for hours to get in.
7. Vizcaya Bridge, Bilbao, Spain
This bridge might not be the most beautiful, but it is amazing nevertheless, and a firm favorite of mine. Located in a suburb of Bilbao, this bridge was designed by Alberto Palacio, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. While you can take the lift and walk across the very top of the bridge, if you want to cross by car, you will end up standing on a piece of road (of sorts) that gets transported across the river Nervion, hanging from the steel ropes like a gondola. The bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is not just an engineering marvel, but also offers great views.
Pro Tip: The cheapest way of getting there is by metro from Bilbao Center, on the metro line 1 and/or 2 to Kabiezes.
8. Viaduc De Millau, Creissels, France
This viaduct is the perfect modern comparison to the impressive Roman aqueducts and viaducts, such as the Pont du Gard in France or the Puente Nuevo in Spain. Spanning the Tarn valley, some 90 miles northwest of Montpellier, this is a motorway bridge with the highest road bridge deck in the world, at 890 feet. Each of its seven pylons reach up to a height of 1,104 feet, from which the triangular steel cables hold the road high above the valley. It is an incredibly elegant design, and it’s breathtaking when it stands above low clouds.
Pro Tip: Not far away, you can stop off to see the Garabit Viaduct by Gustave Eiffel. It looks remarkably like the Eiffel Tower he started building just two years later.
9. Chapel Bridge, Lucerne, Switzerland
This covered wooden footbridge across the Reuss in Lucerne dates originally to 1360, but it was destroyed in 1993 and faithfully restored in 1994, keeping its charm. The bridge used to be part of the city’s fortifications and leads to a sturdy old water tower. Inside, the ceiling of the bridge is vaulted and decorated with paintings. It has a proper medieval allure, yet it is so different from old stone bridges.
Pro Tip: Some 140 miles away on the border with Liechtenstein lies another wooden bridge, the Old Rhine Bridge. While it is very plain, it has the irresistible appeal of standing in the middle with one foot in Switzerland and the other in Liechtenstein — or hopping from one country to the next. The border runs along the middle of the river.