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.
Too often, man-made structures mar the landscape around them. A factory cuts a harsh silhouette against a once-picturesque riverbank; a gaudy hotel sprawls onto an otherwise pristine beach. But somehow, bridges do the opposite. Instead of detracting from the view, they enhance it. A valley that you might have overlooked on its own is suddenly breathtaking with a gleaming white bridge spanning it; an uninspiring river becomes grand when traversed by an elegant steel structure. Add to that the engineering prowess that goes into building them, and bridges become destinations in and of themselves. We've rounded up 10 of the most remarkable examples here, along with insider tips on how best to experience them.
Tallest: Millau Viaduct, France
Not long ago, Millau—a provincial town set between two limestone plateaus in the South of France—was known for little more than its traffic jams. Every July and August, the village would become jammed with travelers en route to their summer vacations in Spain. But thanks to the Millau Viaduct, the town is now home to one of the country's major tourist attractions. Seventeen years in the making, from the first sketches in 1987 to the final touches in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is an architectural feat in more ways than one. Sure, it is held up by the highest pylons in the world (803 feet high) and has the highest road-bridge deck in Europe (886 feet). But, most importantly, it reaches 1,125 feet at its highest point, making it the tallest bridge in the world (for reference, New York's Chrysler Building is only 1,046 feet tall). Impressive stats, to be sure, but it's the bridge's visual effect that has the most impact. Gleaming white and ultra-sleek, it cuts a striking figure against the green valley below and the blue skies above.
Best Vantage Point: Millau Viaduct is closed to pedestrians, but if you're a runner you can sign up for La Course du Viaduc de Millau, a 14-mile race that crosses the bridge. Barring that, hop in a car. The bridge was designed with a slight curve, so you can see it in its entirety just before you cross over. course-viaducdemillau.org.
Widest: Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia
Measuring 160 feet across, this suspension bridge has room for eight lanes of traffic, two railroad tracks, a pedestrian walkway, and a bicycle path. A bit much? Not when you consider that the bridge connects Sydney's business district with the residential North Shore, making it the primary route for the city's commuters. A bridge built to accommodate such volume would seem a modern-day creation, but Sydney Harbour Bridge opened back in 1932—it will celebrate its 80th birthday in 2012.
Best Vantage Point: On the walkway at the eastern side of the bridge, you'll find the entrance to the Pylon Lookout, a tower with some of the best views of Sydney and the harbor. As you climb the 200 stairs to the top, stop on each of the three levels to check out the exhibits on the history of the bridge. pylonlookout.com.au, $11.
Longest: Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, China
When it comes to bridges, China doesn't mess around—the country is home to 11 of the world's 15 longest. Three of the top five bridges are part of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, a $33 billion project that will nearly double the capacity of the route to 80 million annual passengers. Opened to the public in June 2011, the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge ranks as the world's longest. It stretches an astonishing 102.4 miles—that's longer than the distance between New York City and Philadelphia!
Best Vantage Point: This is a railroad bridge, so the only way to experience it is by hopping aboard the train. Thankfully, the high-speed rail travels up to 186 mph, cutting what used to be a 10-hour trip to a much more manageable five hours. trains.china.org.cn, from $89 one way.
Most Traffic: George Washington Bridge, New York
Last year, 51 million cars, buses, and trucks traveled eastbound across the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan and New Jersey over the Hudson River. Every one of New York City's 8 million residents would have to cross the bridge over six times to hit that number. Fortunately, the bridge is built to accommodate this kind of record-breaking activity, with a total of 14 lanes of traffic (eight on the upper level, six on the lower level). Of course, this statistic only takes into account motorized vehicle traffic. If you count absolutely everything that crosses the bridge, the unofficial winner is the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, India. The eight-laner is traversed by an estimated 80,000 vehicles, as many as 1 million pedestrians—and countless cows each day.
Best Vantage Point: There are additional lanes on either side of the George Washington Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, but that puts you too close to the action to get a good view. Instead, take the Circle Line's Full Island Cruise, a three-hour tour that circles the entire island of Manhattan and passes under seven bridges, including the George Washington Bridge. Boats leave throughout the day, but hold out for an evening departure so you'll be able to see the bridge lit up against the night sky. circleline42.com, $36.