As a child growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, crossing a big bridge meant entering a portal to a new world. The majestic, dual-span Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the 23-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel were our two main routes off of the rural shore towards “real cities” and airports with more than two gates. But they were also a trip in themselves— a chance to spot bottlenose dolphins and peregrine falcons, a chance to see both our home, and our destination, from a new, brave perspective.
Bridges all around the world, from West Virginia’s New River Gorge, to Dublin’s Samuel Beckett, to Myanmar’s U Bein, serve this same purpose, giving every type of traveler an opportunity to connect and explore. Whether you’re the glass-bottom-bridge-thrill-seeker type, or a Francophile drifting south from Paris, we’ve got a bridge for you.
Here are 12 bridges we just can’t get over.
If you’re in for a little mischief...
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. Board the Muskau Forest Railway to visit during spring rhododendron bloom.
If you’re a nature lover…
Living Root Bridge: Nongriat, India
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.
If physics is your favorite subject…
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 and Friday at noon.
If you’re not afraid of heights…
Inca Rope Bridge: Akpurimac River, Peru
Q’eswachaka, one of the last surviving Inca rope bridges, has spanned 124 feet across the Akpurimac canyon for more than 500 years. Every June, local bridge builders, Eleuterio Callo Tapia, Victoriana Arizapana, and their neighbors, gather to untie the existing bridge and weave a new one out of local ishu grass. The ancient bridge-building ritual is then celebrated with traditional song and dance.
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. And 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.
If you’re on two wheels…
Webb Bridge: Docklands, Melbourne, Australia
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.
If you like long walks in the sky…
Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge: Zermatt, Switzerland
At 1,620 feet long, the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge in Zermatt is the longest suspension footbridge in the world. Fairytale-worthy views of the Matterhorn may just be enough to distract you from the 278-foot drop between you and the valley floor.
Other sky-high bridges to walk if you dare: China’s new Hongyagu Glass-Bottom Bridge, Highline 179, Grandfather Mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge, and Austria’s Dachstein Glacier suspension bridge to the glass-walled Stairway of Nothingness.
If you’re a romantic…
Bridge of Sighs: Rio di Palazzo, Venice, Italy
Poets, painters, and opera singers have swooned over Ponte dei Sispori, Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, for centuries. And 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.
If you love a little “suspense”...
Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco
Over three million vehicles cross San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge every month. Skip the bus-fumy bridge sidewalk and opt for a bird’s-eye view of the mountain-high suspension bridge from Hawk Hill’s new trail, complete with easier slopes, new signage, and new guard rails. Or whale watch while lounging on a deck trampoline as you sail beneath the bridge at sunset.
If you like to linger…
Henderson Waves Bridge: Singapore
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 a part of the six-mile-long Southern Ridges walk. Visit the bridge at sunrise for less crowds and excellent birdwatching, including a chance to see the rare black baza.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
If you’re in for an adventure…
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.
If you’re a history buff…
Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge: Selma, Alabama
On March 7, 1965, 600 voting rights activists, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., began marching across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge towards Montgomery, Alabama. Due to the bridge’s design, they couldn’t see the violent counter-protestors waiting for them on the other side. And when that obstacle did appear, they marched forward anyway. Two weeks later, the march began again, successfully, with not 600, but more than 3,000 marchers. The annual Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee honors this historic moment of bravely moving forward even when the end is unknown.
Other bridges that have made their mark on history are: Turkey’s Taşköprü, West Virginia’s Philippi Covered Bridge, Israel’s Ad Halom, and Spain’s Alcántara.
If you like to up your steps on vacation…
Stepping stone bridge: Fenghuang, China
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.
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. Follow her journey on Twitter.