The “Iron Lung”

For most first-time visitors to Sydney, the city icon that captivates the imagination is the Sydney Opera House. For Sydney-siders and anybody really familiar with the city, though, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is at least as much an icon and, in many ways, even more of a part of life in the country’s most populous city.

Formally opened in 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was an immense undertaking that took nearly 10 years to build – much of that time during the Great Depression. At the time, the local media dubbed it “The Iron Lung” as it seemed to keep the city alive and was one of the few projects that offered reliable employment. Since then, its impact on the city has been profound and today it’s a heavily travelled route in and out of the CBD (Central Business District.) In comparison to the newer Opera House, opened in 1973, the Bridge seems to be more a part of every day life and the focal point of the city’s transport infrastructure.

Visitors to this most famous of bridges have a few options to consider:

For those on a budget or short of time, it’s easily seen on foot. Climbing the stairs from Cumberland Street, access to the pedestrian-only pathway is easy and the walk across to the harbour-side hamlet of Kirribilli takes about 15 minutes – one-way. Inside the south end “Pylon” is a museum that affords, among other things, an outstanding view of the city and bridge arches from the observation deck. Even from the road level the views toward Sydney’s East are well worth the effort.

Those with a really keen interest might also want to try the famous “Bridge Climb” – a walking tour that follows routes over the arches and inside otherwise inaccessible parts of the bridge. With a local climb leader guiding the way, the standard route over the upper arches takes about 3 ½ hours, including a bit of pre-tour gearing up and a safety brief. Another trip follows the lower arches, still going all the way to the top, and it’s just as satisfying as the standard climb. Still another, dubbed “The Express Climb” follows the lower arches but is done at a quicker pace for climbers short on time.

No matter which way you choose to take in the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s something you’ll always remember. So when you’re planning your visit, make sure not to skip the Bridge just because you already have the Opera House on your itinerary.

Oh, and don’t forget to save room for a well-deserved post-bridge drink at the Glenmore Hotel after your time on the bridge. It’s a local tradition and a great place to meet fellow travellers too!