Crossing the world: 16 must-see bridges

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Alexandre III bridge in Paris at sunset.

By Ben Cosgrove

Whether monumental in scope or modest in intent, these striking bridges stir the heart and delight the eye.

Artfully designed bridges provide safe passage over rivers, harbors, gorges and ravines, lending drama and, occasionally, romance to the greatest cities (like Paris, seen here) and to the wilder places of the world. Here are 14 bridges -- most for cars, some for pedestrians -- that should not be missed.

1. Brooklyn Bridge

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Yes, it's a landmark. Yes, with its Gothic arches, understated stonework and immediately recognizable latticework steel cabling, it's an inspired blend of substance and style. But perhaps the most endearing aspect of New York's Brooklyn Bridge is that, more than 130 years after its 1883 opening it remains, emphatically, a working, utilitarian structure. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people walk and bike across the bridge every day, while more than 100,000 cars use it daily to cross the East River between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. 


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There are hundreds of beautifully crafted, timber covered bridges built in the 19th century -- and earlier -- still standing around the world, from North America to Europe and Asia. But the covered bridges of New England have a vibe of their own, and the West Cornwall Covered Bridge over the Housatonic River in Cornwall, Connecticut (1841) is as evocative an example as one is going to find anywhere.


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The Golden Gate Bridge's 4,200-foot-long span, built above the cold, roiling waters between the great bay and the Pacific, is among the most photographed manmade structures in the world. And with reason: An Art Deco-inspired masterpiece and a marvel of engineering, the bridge is so perfectly conceived and executed that it's impossible to think of California's Golden Gate Strait without it. Related: True Love 4 Ever: Karl the Fog + Golden Gate, a Love Story


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Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge -- reportedly modeled on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City -- is an unparalleled example of a perfectly serviceable, good-looking bridge made beautiful by its surroundings. The Sydney Opera House alone, five decades after it first opened, provides the sort of backdrop that most other bridges (or their designers) would kill for. 


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Resembling a cross between a harp and the billowing sail of a tall ship, Malaysia's 800-foot long Seri Wawasan Bridge opened in 2003 and carries both pedestrians and cars across the (planned) city's artificial Putrajaya Lake.


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Today's Kintai Bridge across the Nishiki River in Japan is the fourth on this often-flooded spot since 1673. (The current structure was rebuilt in 1951.) Tourists from Japan and elsewhere flock here -- especially during the region's annual Cherry Blossom festival. 


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The 17th-century Khaju Bridge, built by the Persian king, Shah Abbas II, is both a bridge and a dam (or, strictly speaking, a weir) across the Zayandeh River in Iran. But far more than a mere bridge or dam, the structure has long served as a kind of glorious public square -- albeit one that stretches across a river -- where people stroll, relax, chat and otherwise revel in the architecture and in Iranian culture. 


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Opened in 1849, destroyed by the Germans during World War II -- although its signature towers survived -- and rebuilt in the postwar years, Budapest's Chain Bridge across the Danube not only offers breathtaking views of the legendary river and its surroundings. It's also an architectural treasure that exudes an unmistakably Central European dignity and pride.


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Lined with dozens of statues and dating to the 14th century, Prague's Charles Bridge is a landmark in the Czech Republic and was for many years the main connection between Prague Castle and the city's Old Town district. A 700-year old cobble-stoned gem. 


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Spanning the Arno river at its narrowest point, Florence's Ponte Vecchio has a dreamlike quality: a jumble of seemingly random, irrational elements that, combined, make for an unforgettable whole. Goldsmiths and jewelers have plied their trades here for centuries. 


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It's difficult to say what's more impressive about this section of an ancient Roman aqueduct soaring across the Gardon River in southern France: its colossal size (160 feet high), its gracefulness or the mind-boggling precision with which it was built. For example, the span descends a mere 1 inch over the course of its 1,500 feet; the entire aqueduct, meanwhile, descends roughly 56 feet over its entire 31-mile length. 


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Designed by the celebrated English architect Norman Foster, the Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world: 1,125 feet at its highest point. One can only marvel that the French had the audacity -- in the very best sense of the word -- to greenlight a project this inspired and this daring.


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Sometimes referred to as the Blinking Eye Bridge because of its shape and its method of tilting -- in order to allow boats and other vessels to pass beneath -- the Gateshead Millennium spans the River Tyne in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Few bridges anywhere share its artful combination of whimsy and utility.


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Opened in 1983, South Africa's Bloukrans quickly became a bungee-jumping mecca -- and at 700 feet above the Bloukrans River, surrounded by glorious scenery, it's easy to see why. Today, the Bloukrans remains the site of the highest commercial bungee jumps in the world.


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Named for a former president of Brazil, the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge opened in Brasìlia in 2002 to entirely warranted fanfare. Designed by architect Alexandre Chan and structural engineer Mário Vila Verde, the bridge immediately became a symbol of the modernist, planned capital city of Brazil, and earned Chan the 2003 Gustav Lindenthal Medal, awarded "for a single, recent outstanding achievement showing harmony with the environment, aesthetic merit and successful community participation."


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Built in 1600, the Bridge of Sighs makes up in romance and legend what it lacks in size. Alas, the notion (via Lord Byron) that prisoners crossing the bridge to interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace would sigh at their last glimpse of the "Bride of the Sea" -- as Venice was long known -- is more myth than history. Little can be seen of the beautiful city through the stone grills covering the bridge's windows. And yet … is there any bridge more beautiful, anywhere? 

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