Have you ever walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.? I did it today.
It took me less than an hour and I got better views of the famous Opera House and Sydney’s sparkling harbor than from anywhere else.
Bridges are there to be crossed. And it’s enormous fun to walk them – you see your surroundings from a different angle. The crossings of the Seine in Paris and the Thames in London are integral parts of those cities. Westminster Bridge is where you get those well-known views of Britain’s Houses of Parliament.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge gives you superb views of Manhattan. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a truly magnificent bridge to walk across. But my favorite is in Sydney.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the largest arch bridges in the world. It’s a seriously impressive looking structure, called by the locals ‘the coathanger’ after its distinctive shape. It was modeled on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, but it is much bigger. It was opened in 1932.
Climb it if you wish
There is a company called BridgeClimb that takes people up to the top of the span. It offers a few different options, starting at AUD 263 (about USD 200). It takes a couple of hours and has become a major tourist attraction. The company is licensed by the New South Wales state government, which owns the bridge, and it has a monopoly on the attraction – hence the stiff prices.
Or you can just walk across for free, like I did this morning. You are still 440 feet above the water, more than twice the height of the Opera House, and the views are spectacular.
It’s very easy to do. There is a wide footway across the eastern side of the bridge. (The western side, where the views are not as impressive, has a cycleway).
It is best to cross it from north to south, and the morning is the time to do it. That way you have the sun behind you and you are walking towards the Opera House and the city, which is an impressive sight in itself. This morning the view down the harbour towards Sydney Heads was as beautiful an urban vista as any in the world.
You can of course walk in both directions, but for a one-way north to south walk it is best to get the train to Milsons Point station, the first stop across the bridge from the city. The steps leading up to the walkway are just outside the eastern exit to the station.
These steps will soon be supplemented by elevators, which are currently being installed to be ready for the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded servicemen and women from around the world. They will be held in Sydney at the end of October 2018.
A short walk in the morning sun
It took me less than 30 minutes from the northern steps to the southern steps. I was alone and I walk briskly, so most people would take longer, if only to stop often to take in the views. Unfortunately there are large barriers topped with barbed wire on both sides of the walkway to stop people climbing the bridge or jumping into the harbour, but you can still get a good view and take unobstructed photographs.
There are too many security guards. I counted five of them, which seems like overkill. They have the world’s most boring job. I had a brief chat with one them, but you get the feeling they’re not allowed to be over-friendly. I did have a good chat with Chris, one of the workers surveying the bridge for the improved walking surface that will also be put in later in the year. He’s the one who told me about the new elevators.
The Bridge’s south-eastern pylon contains a lookout, with even better views than those from the walkway. Admission is AUD 15, but there is no elevator and you have to walk up 200 stairs. There’s lots of photographs of the construction. It took five years, providing many jobs in the Depression, and totally transformed Sydney. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed building the approaches.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is very busy. There are eight lanes of traffic and two train lines. It is closed occasionally for special events and for people to walk across via the roadway. Its inauguration is still well remembered in Sydney – a member of a fascist splinter group, mounted on horseback, slashed the ribbon with a sword before the official opening ceremony.
I walked down the southern steps to Sydney’s historic Rocks area, the oldest part of the city. When you reach the bottom you find yourself in front of the Australian Hotel, one of the few old-style Aussie pubs left in Sydney. I had a beer to celebrate my arduous crossing.
What a wonderful way to spend a clear autumn Sydney morning! It really is one of the great bridge walks of the world. And like many of the best experiences in travel, and in life, it is free.