10 Record-Breaking Bridges
They’re the biggest, the boldest, the busiest—each of these bridges accomplishes a feat so fantastic our ancestors wouldn't have believed it possible. Yes, they're miracles of engineering, but they're also a testament to human creativity, seamlessly integrating function with style.
Longest Suspension: Akashi Kaikyo (or Pearl) Bridge, Japan
Imagine an iconic bridge (the Golden Gate, for example), and chances are you've thought of a suspension bridge. These elegant structures are formed by literally "suspending" the road deck from steel cables strung between towers. This style will never measure as far as other types—viaducts like the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge are supported from below by pylons and can thus stretch as long as needed—but suspension bridges rank among the lightest, strongest, and most beautiful bridges in the world. At nearly four times the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, Japan's Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (also known as the Pearl Bridge) is the clear winner in this category. With three connected spans—two at 3,150 feet and one at 6,532 feet—the Pearl stretches a total of 12,831 feet across the Akashi Strait from the cosmopolitan port city of Kobe to Awaji Island (which, not coincidentally, is the hub of Japan's pearl industry). Japan gets hit with extreme weather conditions, and this bridge, completed in 1998, was built to withstand them all, including winds up to 179 mph and earthquakes up to 8.5 on the Richter scale. But that doesn't mean this bridge isn't a beauty: In addition to its connection to the Japanese pearl industry, the bridge gets its nickname from the lights on its cables, which are said to resemble a strand of colorful pearls at night.
Best Vantage Point: From the Kobe side of the bridge, take an elevator to the Maiko Marine Promenade. The 984-foot tubular observation deck offers views of the strait, the bridge's interior, and Osaka Bay.
Most Photographed: Golden Gate Bridge, California
With its trademark "international orange" paint, its picturesque surroundings, and the daily rolling in of the morning fog, it should come as no surprise that the Golden Gate Bridge is said to be the most photographed in the world. David Crandall, assistant professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University, thinks the numbers back up this claim. In a recent study, he tracked text tags for nearly 35 million images on Flickr to determine which world sights were shot the most. While other bridges—namely London's Tower Bridge, Florence's Ponte Vecchio, and New York's Brooklyn Bridge—were close runners-up, two simple facts gave the San Francisco structure a winning edge: geography and size. The City of Hills has so many vantage points—and the bridge is such a looming presence in the skyline—that the Golden Gate manages to sneak into scores of photos, even when it's not the intended subject. Trying to take a shot of the Presidio? The harbor? The city skyline? There's a good chance the Golden Gate might make an appearance, whether as the main focal point or just a happy accident.
Best Vantage Point: At Kirby Cove, in the Marin headlands north of the city, you get the trifecta: a spectacular view, a healthy dose of nature, and no crowds. To get there from Highway 101, take the last exit for Sausalito and follow Conzelman Road until you reach the parking area on the left. From there, walk down the steep dirt path lined with eucalyptus and cypress trees until you reach the cove.
Longest Covered: Hartland Covered Bridge, New Brunswick, Canada
When the Canadian government was being wishy-washy about whether or not to build a bridge across the St. John River, a group of private citizens took matters into their own hands. They formed the Hartland Bridge Company and opened the 1,282-foot-long bridge in 1901. Five years later, in what had to be a vindicating we-told-you-so moment, they sold it to the government, who took over all maintenance. Though covered bridges are now seen as quaint and old-fashioned, the icon's construction was not without its share of controversy. Shelter made sense in terms of weather—snow and ice are a sure thing throughout the winters here—but the public worried it would encourage risqué behavior among the town's youth. In the end, it was covered, and perhaps their fears were warranted: Legend has it, men would train their horses to stop halfway across the bridge so they could sneak in a kiss before crossing over to the other side.
Best Vantage Point: There's something about a covered bridge that demands you take it slow. Rather than speed across in a car, take the walkway that was added in 1945.
Most Bricks Used to Build a Bridge: Goltzsch Valley Bridge, Germany
At 1,860 feet long, or about one third of a mile, the Goltzsch Valley Bridge in the eastern German state of Saxony may seem like a minor player in the bridge world. But the length isn't what sets it apart; it's the material. At a time when most bridges were built with stone or metal, this one was built with bricks—20 million of them. It would be an odd (and costly) choice of material in most places, but in this area of Saxony, where there were several large clay deposits, it was an economical one. In fact, it's thanks to those same clay deposits that the second-largest brick bridge in the world, the Elster Valley Bridge, is also in Saxony; it's a quaint counterpart, made with only 12 million bricks.
Best Vantage Point: Take the autobahn to the town of Mylau, and follow the signs to the bridge from there. You'll find a designated parking lot, but don't stay there. Instead, take the path on the left-hand side just before the lot. It will lead you to a meadow, where you'll get spectacular views of the bridge.