The most beautiful and iconic American bridges

The United States would not be what it is today without the 600,000 or so bridges that connect communities, cities and even nations. As well as being architectural inspirations, American bridges are often designed with looks to match their engineering ingenuity. Think along the lines of Brooklyn Bridge and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and you can see that the United States is serious about building famous bridges that set the bar high for the rest of the world. And some of the most iconic American bridges have a fascinating story to tell. Some famous bridges that never fail to capture the imagination span a distance of just a few dozen feet while others stretch on for miles. Benson Bridge might only be 45 feet in length, but it sits above a creek with a backdrop of cascading waterfalls. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, on the other hand, spans a distance of about 20 miles, and that’s not even the longest bridge in the United States. It would seem that, when it comes to American bridges, bigger isn’t always better. So, where are these show-stopping marvels?

In this guide to the most beautiful and iconic American bridges, we’re going to tell you how and why so many of these engineering masterpieces are known throughout the globe. Narrowing down the best bridges from so many contenders wasn’t easy, but we eventually arrived at the following 13.

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San Francisco

San Francisco | Photo: Carl Solder

1. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, is certainly the most iconic bridge in the US and probably also the world. Painted in ‘international orange’, the Golden Gate Bridge was designed by Joseph Stauss in 1917. When the bridge opened 20 years later in 1937, it took the title of longest and tallest suspension bridge in the US and the world, reaching a height of 746 feet and a length of 4,200. While Japan now holds the record for longest and tallest bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s proudest monument, almost certainly remains the world’s most famous bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge and the postcard perfect view of San Francisco Bay attract around 10 million visitors to this Wonder of the Modern World in an average year.

The Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco, California, may be an American icon for its looks and grandeur, but there’s more to this San Francisco symbol than meets the eye. Though it may sound a tad terrifying, the Golden Gate Bridge can bend under the weight of vehicles and pedestrians (don’t worry – it’s a part of its design). On its 50th anniversary, the Golden Gate Bridge sagged seven feet under the weight of 300,000 celebrating visitors, causing the arch to flatten. Decades on, the near-mile-long bridge that connects San Francisco to Marin County still comfortably accommodates 110,000 vehicles per day. And it has broken records for more than just its size. For example, it is – sadly – the United States’ top suicide spot. On a less sombre note, it’s also the nation’s most photographed and filmed bridge. You might have seen it being destroyed on big-screen hits such as ‘Godzilla’, ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’, ‘Terminator Genesis’ and ‘San Andreas’. Fortunately, the Golden Gate Bridge is very much still alive and well in reality.

You can walk or cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge without paying a cent to take in magnificent views of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, though a drive over this California Historical Landmark will cost you up to $8.60 in toll fees. If you’d rather soak up the view without looking down, we recommend heading to the Fort Point National Historic Site; the unobstructed view from the parking lot alone is spectacular, but you can see this icon with the San Francisco skyline in the distance by heading to the rooftop. The Welcome Center, though more crowded, is also well worth a visit. When you want to get away from the tourists, we recommend visiting local hotspots like Crissy Field and Baker Beach.

Golden Gate Bridge | Photo: Courtney Hill

Dolores Park San Francisco

San Francisco | Foto: Ahmed Syed

2. Brooklyn Bridge, New York

Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to build, but when the bridge opened in 1883, it became the world’s first steel-wire suspension arch bridge. It spans a whopping 1,595 feet above the East River in New York City, connecting Brooklyn Heights to Lower Manhattan. Functionality aside, Brooklyn Bridge is deservedly an New York City and United States icon due to its striking design, which includes Gothic towers connected by two arches with crisscross steel cables. Since 1964, Brooklyn Bridge has been designated a National Historic Landmark, and it certainly has quite the story to tell.

When it was built, Brooklyn Bridge was a feat of engineering, setting a new standard for suspension bridges the world-over. Caissons – which are wooden boxes filled with compressed air – were used to fix the towers in place deep into the river bed. As an unfortunate consequence of this construction technique, around 100 out of 600 workers developed acute decompression syndrome, otherwise known as caisson’s disease. Around a year after its completion in 1884, Phineas Taylor Barnum famously led 21 elephants across Brooklyn Bridge as a publicity stunt for an upcoming circus. Up until the 50s, Brooklyn Bridge was used for trolleys and rail traffic, and it’s been the stage for countless political parades in the decades since. It has also featured in films including ‘It Happened in Brooklyn’, ‘The Fifth Element’, and ‘Enchanted’.

Today, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge boasts six lanes for vehicular traffic as well as an elevated pedestrian walkway and cycling promenade in the bridge’s centre. Be warned – it usually takes about an hour to walk across the bridge, but the views of Manhattan from this architectural wonder are some of the best in the city, especially at sunrise and sunset. And at night, the illuminated skyline of NYC looks dazzling. If spending an hour crossing a noisy bridge doesn’t sound too appealing, you can take in close-up views of the bridge from vantage points such as the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

New York | Photo: Sven Becker

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For panoramic views of Big Sur’s scenic coastline, there are few – if any – better places to visit than Bixby Creek Bridge

3. Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur, California

The Bixby Creek Bridge is as elegantly beautiful as it is architecturally impressive. This three-span suspension bridge connects the Los Padres National Forest to the California State Route 1 in Big Sur, and when the bridge opened in 1932, it was the longest concrete stretch on the entire California State Highway System. While the awe-inspiring engineering and design of Bixby Creek Bridge make it one of the most beautiful and iconic American Bridges, it’s the views this bridge offers that draw the crowds. Watching the sunset from Bixby Creek Bridge is breath-taking, with shades of orange and pink bouncing off the Pacific Ocean on one side and the majestic canyon and cliffs of Bixby Creek on the other. The bridge itself can be admired in all its glory from two pull-outs at either end. Its beauty has inspired writers, poets, artists and bands including Death Cab for Cutie. For panoramic views of Big Sur’s scenic coastline, there are few – if any – better places to visit than Bixby Creek Bridge.

Bixby Creek Bridge | Photo: Natalie Chaney

4. Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Florida

Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a jaw-dropping 21,877 feet – or 4.1 miles – in length, connecting Bradenton and Saint Petersburg over the crystal-clear waters of Tampa Bay. This cable-stayed bridge looks like a line of billowing sails from a distance, a design that was apparently inspired by the similar-looking Brotonne Bridge, which was seen by the former United States senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham during a trip to France (the bridge is officially named the Bob Graham Sunshine Skywalk). Today, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Tampa is one of the most iconic American bridges, having also been named one of the ‘Top 10 Bridges in the World’ by the Travel Channel. But this vast bridge has a turbulent past.

The first Sunshine Skyway Bridge Tampa was completed in 1956, but it was at the centre of a disaster in 1980 when a ship collided with a pylon, causing a structural collapse that resulted in several trucks and cars falling onto Tampa Bay, claiming the lives of 35 people. The first bridge was replaced by a virtually invincible bridge in 1987 after five years of construction. If you want to enjoy the views provided by this modern American icon, you can access it via the Davis Islands and Howard Frankland causeways. Driving across is always a joy, but cycling or walking makes for a fabulous day out in the sun.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Florida | Photo: Yuriy Vinnicov

5. Mackinac Bridge, Michigan

At 26,372 feet in length, the Mackinac Bridge is the current title-holder of western hemisphere’s longest suspension bridge, connecting the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan between Mackinaw City and Saint Ignace. Despite being conceived way back in the 1880s, Mackinac Bridge wasn’t completed until 1957. Naturally, this suspension bridge is an engineering marvel that holds a special place in the hearts of Michiganians, and not just because it represents a historic labour of love. The Mackinac Bridge, affectionately known as ‘Big Mac’ or ‘Mighty Mac’, crosses two of the Great Lakes; Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Thousands of drivers follow the I-75 across America’s longest suspension bridge through the Straits of Mackinac daily. You can also take in the view of the Mackinac Bridge by joining one of the Great Lakes Circle Tours.

Mackinac Bridge, Michigan | Photo: Aaron Burden

6. Seven Mile Bridge, Florida

The second Florida bridge entry on our list of iconic American bridges is the Seven Mile Bridge, which – as you may be able to guess – spans a distance of seven miles above the Florida Keys. It’s a part of the much larger US Route 1 highway, and despite its undeniably impressive length, it only has two lanes. Still, Seven Mile Bridge has been a breeze to drive across since 1982, when much-needed upgrades made the lanes wider, safer, and perfect for soaking up the view. Prior to its facelift, the Seven Mile Bridge was infamous for being a harrowing journey for drivers, and before it was used by vehicles crossing over from Little Duck Key to Knight’s Key, it was used as what must have been a very daunting rail line.

You can rest assured the drive across the Seven Mile Bridge, Florida, is as safe as can reasonably be today, though you might feel a little queasy along the route. Fear not; the bridge is fixed in place, but being unable see land ahead can bring on motion sickness. Often quiet, the Seven Mile Bridge usually has space for sightseers to park up and admire the Florida Keys.

Seven Mile Bridge, Key West | Photo: Chase Baker

Florida | Photo: Stone Hood

7. George Washington Bridge, New Jersey

With over 103 million crossings each year, the George Washington Bridge is one of the busiest and most congested bridges in the US, but there are far worse places to get stuck in traffic. Named after the first president of the United States, the George Washington Bridge – also known as the Hudson River Bridge – connects New Jersey to New York City, and the design of this double-decker suspension bridge showcases the city’s power, beauty and prestige.

Double decker or not, the George Washington Bridge is burdened with the task of carrying more than 300,000 vehicles on most days, which is why this symbol of engineering excellence is inflicted with stop-and-go traffic, particularly in the morning. Nevertheless, this iconic Bridge doubles up as one of New York City’s best vantage points, and you can walk or cycle along its pedestrian pathway to avoid the congestion. On each end of the bridge, you’ll find great places to take photos of the bridge itself. Visit between 7am to 1pm on September 11 and during major holidays to see the world’s largest United States free-flying flag.

George Washington Bridge | Photo: Rutukesh Gavas

New Jersey | Photo: Fan Yang

8. Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Dallas

Since opening in 2012, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge has been an icon of the Dallas skyline thanks to its 400-foot-tall central arch. Adding to the bridge’s modern and sleek looks are 58 artfully splaying cables that look particularly remarkable when illuminated at night. The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge connects the downtown area of Dallas to West Dallas, spanning a total distance of 1,870 feet above the Trinity River. Designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge can be seen from just about anywhere in the city – and it’s a more than welcome addition to the already-striking cityscape.

9. New River Gorge Bridge – Fayetteville, West Virginia

Stretching a distance of 3,030 feet, the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia is an award-winning masterpiece of engineering, an enshrined American icon and a world-famous extreme sports site, not to mention one of the most breath-takingly beautiful structures and viewpoints in the United States. It was completed in 1977 and provides a route over the New River Gorge in Fayette County, eliminating the need to follow hazardous riverside roads and West Virginia mountain trails while reducing a 40-minute drive down to less than one. Add all that to the bridge’s home in the lush Appalachian Mountains with outstanding views of the New River Gorge National Park, and you can see why the New River Gorge Bridge scores top marks for practicality, location and style.

If you want to take photos of the New River Gorge Bridge, visit the Canyon Rim Visitor Centre; the view of this immense structure – one of the world’s longest single-span arch bridges – backdropped by the national park is sublime. If you’d prefer to see this West Virginia park while flying through the air, try a popular activity for daredevils such as base jumping or rappelling.

Every year on the third Saturday of October, the New River Gorge Bridge hosts the ‘Bridge Day’ festival, when pedestrians can walk across the bridge and celebrate its beauty and ingenuity with food, music and displays of local crafts. This West Virginia bridge is admired on a national scale, too, to the extent that the US Mint represented it on a commemorative state quarter in 2006.

New River Gorge Bridge | Photo: Elizabet Villalta

New River Gorge Bridge | Photo: EJ Strat

10. Royal Gorge Bridge – Canon City, Colorado

Once the highest suspension bridge in the world and still the highest in the United States, the Royal Gorge Bridge hangs above the Arkansas River over a 955-foot gorge, spanning a distance of 1,260 feet. Constructed over a period of six months in 1929 for a cost of $350,000, or $20 million in today’s terms, the bridge is the focal point of a 360-acre amusement park that has evolved around it over the decades. You can take in the view of the bridge on rides such as gondolas, a sky coaster and ziplines.

The Royal Gorge Bridge, located in a paradise for nature lovers and sightseers, boasts several vantage points that provide spectacular views of the Arkansas River and the rugged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The bridge’s scenic surrounds and steep drop below have also put it on the map for adventurers and thrill-seekers. Even walking across the Royal Gorge Bridge takes courage, especially when you find out that it’s made up of just under 1,300 planks of wood. Fortunately, vehicles can’t use the bridge during the park’s operating hours, and heavy vehicles are prohibited from using it entirely (although the bridge is not a thoroughfare and leads nowhere regardless).

The Royal Gorge Bridge is just a two-hour drive away from Denver and only an hour away from Colorado Springs. If you’re not interested in amusement park rides but still enjoy a thrill, you might consider a white water rafting adventure along the Arkansas River with the bridge on display above – though it may be wise to keep your eyes facing forward during such an activity.

Royal Gorge Bridge, Colorado | Photo: Colin Lloyd

Royal Gorge Bridge | Photo: K Mitch Hodge

11. Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, New Orleans, Louisiana

That it’s even possible to build a bridge this long almost beggars belief; the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway spans a distance of just under 24 miles above Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, connecting the fairly typical suburbs of Metairie and Mandeville. More accurately, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway refers to two famous bridges that run parallel to each other, with the longest measuring in at 23.83 miles. The Causeway – as it’s commonly known – held the Guinness World Record for being the world’s longest bridge over water from 1969 until 2011, when it was surpassed by China’s Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, though it still holds the record in the United States. It cost $30 million (which would amount to hundreds of millions today) to construct the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway back in 1956, and that was before the second bridge was opened to accommodate the increased traffic in 1969, bringing the total number of lanes up to four.

Driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway can be as unnerving as it is exciting. When you get out over the lake, there’s an eight-mile stretch where the land is out of sight, which can bring on a strange feeling of sea sickness in some people. Several crossover points that connect the parallel bridges offer a place to stand and capture panoramic photos of the Causeway and Lake Pontchartrain, which boasts a vast area of around 610 square miles and depths of up to 80 feet. Besides being excellent vantage points, the crossovers act as refuge areas for stranded drivers. People have been known to run out of fuel or lose their nerve while crossing the bridge.

Besides being an engineering marvel and a National Historic Landmark, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is a popular spot for birdwatchers. During July, the world’s largest purple martin roost takes place at sunset almost every night. You’ll see the birds swarming and swirling in the air before migrating under the bridge to roost. Plenty of nearby activities and attractions offer adventurers an added thrill, such as canoe trails, swamp tours and several craft brewery tours – just what you deserve after conquering the record-setting Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

Benson Bridge, Multnomah Falls, Oregon | Photo: Cristofer Maximilian

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This quaint-looking footbridge spans a distance of 45 feet across the scenic Multnomah Creek, backdropped by the two cascading waterfalls of Multnomah Falls

12. Benson Bridge, Multnomah Falls, Oregon

Benson Bridge might just be the most beautiful footbridge in the world, and that’s no exaggeration. This quaint-looking footbridge spans a distance of 45 feet across the scenic Multnomah Creek, backdropped by the two cascading waterfalls of Multnomah Falls, which thunder down a near-vertical rockface. Rumour has it that Benson Bridge is the most photographed architectural landmark in Oregon. Whether it’s the architecture or the view you admire, you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to see this paradisiacal attraction for yourself.

Benson Bridge takes its name from Simon Benson, who constructed this charming footbridge in 1914. Over a century later, it remains one of the most famous bridges in the US. You can expect to see plenty of sightseers crossing the bridge over summer. If you’d prefer to visit when the crowds thin out, plan a trip to Benson Bridge in spring or autumn, when the weather still makes for an exceptional day of outdoor exploration.

13. Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge

Seeing the breath-taking Niagara Falls is on the to-do lists of almost all explorers, and one of the best vantage points from which to witness this natural wonder has to be the Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge, which is a popular tourist attraction in itself. This bridge, commonly referred to as Rainbow Bridge, connects the cities of New York and Ontario on either side of the US-Canada Border. With its staggering view of the three waterfalls that comprise Niagara Falls, the Rainbow Bridge symbolises the special friendship between the two nations. The bridge’s primary purpose is to provide a route for non-commercial vehicles to cross the border, but pedestrians can walk along the bridge to see the falls from both Canada and the United States for a small fee. You can even take small pets along for the trip, provided they don’t enter any buildings along the bridge.

If you intend to cross from the United States into Canada or vice versa, remember that you might need to present your passport and any other necessary travel documents. On the Canadian Side of the Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge, you’ll see the historical Carillon Bell Tower, which regularly blasts out music with huge bells. There’s also an off-duty store for if you want to stock up on a few souvenirs (and discounted alcohol) during your time outside the United States. For a wide-angle view of the Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge itself, head to the riverbanks of the Niagara Falls State Park. You can get a misty photo of the bridge from the Cave of Winds.

Niagara Falls International Rainbow Bridge | Photo: Tanishq Jasoria B

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