Exploring Sydney’s original landmark

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Connecting Sydney's CBD to the northern shore, the Harbour Bridge has long been one of Australia's most famous icons.

Locals and tourists alike love Sydney harbour. You have the majestic Opera House one side, bustling Circular Quay behind you, green and yellow ferries coming and going, and, of course, the Sydney Harbour Bridge defining the horizon.

Before the construction of the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge was the best known Sydney landmark. Today, it remains one of the first things people think of when they imagine Australia's most iconic capital city.

So many visitors make the mistake, however, of only looking at the bridge from afar, snapping a quick photo or two and moving on, but there's much more to the world's largest steel arch bridge, which connects Sydney and the southern suburbs to city's northern shores.

A unique history

When the bridge was built over a six-year period in the 1920s and 30s, Australia didn't have as many laws around compensation and up to 800 families living in the construction area were forced to move and have their homes demolished. Not a shining mark in our history, but the labours of the hundreds of workers who built the bridge have given us a stunning landmark, indeed.

Harbour Bridge was a symbol of refuge and relief for immigrants from Europe who moved to Australia at the end of WWII.

When it was unveiled in 1932, builders tested the capacity of Harbour Bridge by driving 96 steam locomotives onto it. After repositioning the locomotives in various ways, the structure passed inspection and has been helped Sydney drivers get around ever since.

Like the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a symbol of refuge and relief for immigrants from Europe who moved to Australia at the end of World War Two.

How did Sydneysiders used to get across the bridge? When the bridge opened in 1932, it cost drivers six pence to cross, and a horse and buggy could make it across the 1,149 metre-long bridge for just three pence. Today, the cost of travelling by car ranges depending on what time you're commuting, but it's between $2.50 and $4.00. Horses and buggies? Unfortunately, they've been banned.

A truly massive structure

With eight vehicle lanes and two railway lines, Sydney Harbour Bridge is the widest longspan bridge in the world. Pay attention driving across the bridge, however, because the direction of the vehicle lanes change according to traffic flow.

The top of the Harbour Bridge's arch is 134 metres above sea level, and the bridge allows a shipping clearance of 49 metres.

Ships aren't the only thing that has taken advantage of the bridge's massive clearance. There are many stories of pilots flying under the Harbour Bridge, including when a flight lieutenant and his crew flew a large Lancaster bomber under the bridge to raise money for the war effort in 1943.

If you've spent a summer in Sydney, you'll know how hot it gets. The Bridge was actually constructed with massive hinges to absorb the expansion caused by weather changes. In fact, the height of the arch actually fluctuates around 180 mm due to the temperature. 

Take in a different view

When you visit the Harbour Bridge, you might see silhouettes atop the bridge. Your eyes aren't playing tricks on you – adventurous toursits can actually climb the monument through a series of catwalks, ladders and stairs.

BridgeClimb has been operating since 1998, and although it might seem scary – the guided traverse is actually completely safe thanks to the precautions in place. 

You can't beat the views from the Harbour Bridge, and there are regular climbs during the day, at dawn, twilight or after dark.

Not a thrill seeker? Don't worry. Many tourists opt to get the full Harbour Bridge experience by walking across the bridge, which is free and still offers great views of the harbour.

There's a lot more to the Sydney Harbour Bridge than meets the eye. If you want to be close to this famous Sydney landmark and many others, check out the Macleay Hotel, located nearby in Potts Point.