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11 iconic civil engineering landmarks to add to your travel bucket list

04 August 2023

These are some of the amazing structures that civil engineers have worked on throughout history.

11 iconic civil engineering landmarks to add to your travel bucket list
These landmarks demonstrate how creative and skillful civil engineers are. Image credit: Shutterstock

Civil engineering has a long and vibrant history.

From its ancient predecessors to more recent, world-record-breaking feats of engineering, there are landmarks around the world that showcase the skills and creativity of civil engineers.

We’ve devised a (definitely not exhaustive) list of incredible structures that you can add to your travel bucket list.

1. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Llangollen, Wales

narrowboat on Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Image credit: Shutterstock

If you find yourself in the north of Wales, head to Llangollen and witness the grandeur of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

This beautiful structure spans the Dee River and provides a crossing for canal boats and people.

Completed in 1805, it was designed by Thomas Telford (you may know him as the ICE’s first president) to connect industrial northeast- Wales with the canals leading to England’s midlands.

It’s the longest and highest aqueduct in the UK, coming in at 1,007ft (307m) long and 126ft (38m) above the river. When it was built, it was three times the height of any existing aqueduct.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, you can cross ‘the stream in the sky’ on foot or by boat, admiring the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

2. Amphitheater of El Jem, El Jem, Tunisia

amphitheatre of el jem
The Amphitheater of El Jem. Image credit: Shutterstock

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Ampitheater of El Jem in Tunisia closely resembles its counterpart in Rome, the Colosseum.

Built between 230-238AD for spectator events, it’s constructed out of stone blocks and is free-standing, with no foundations.

Its façade is made up of three levels of arcades in the Corinthian or composite style, with tiered seating that could fit up to 35,000 people.

Our civil engineering predecessors built it to last – it even served as a fortress during the Middle Ages!

3. Ordsall Chord, Manchester, England

ordsall chord
The Ordsall Chord. Image credit: Shutterstock

If you’re travelling to Manchester by train, chances are you’ll enjoy the benefits if not the view of the Ordsall Chord.

The 300m-long viaduct connects Manchester’s main train stations – Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria – making it easier to travel into the city centre.

As the first asymmetrical railway bridge in the world, the chord is significant to civil engineering history.

It was also built near the site where George Stephenson first unveiled the Liverpool-Manchester railway – the first passenger railway line – in 1830.

The railway included the River Irwell Railway Bridge (or Stephenson Bridge), now a Grade-I listed structure, and another picturesque piece of civil engineering history you can enjoy in Manchester.

4. Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge, São Paulo, Brazil

octavio frias de oliveira bridge
The Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge. Image credit: Shutterstock

‘X’ marks the spot when it comes to the Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge in São Paulo, Brazil.

The cable-stayed bridge features two curved decks supported by a single X-shaped concrete mast.

Spanning the Pinheiros river, it was built to alleviate traffic in the city but has also undoubtedly become a landmark that symbolises São Paulo.

If you visit, consider doing so at nightfall, when the bridge is lit up in a variety of different colours.

5. Auckland Harbour Bridge, Auckland, New Zealand

auckland harbour bridge
The Auckland Harbour Bridge. Image credit: Shutterstock

Opened in 1959 and expanded 10 years later, the Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that connects the city of Auckland with North Shore, an area that was expanding at the time.

For the best views, get tickets to Auckland’s Sky Tower and admire the bridge from above.

And if you enjoy a ghost story, look out for the figure of a man floating above the water at dusk. Locals have reported seeing the apparition, believed to be a fisherman who drowned the harbour. Spooky!

6. The Falkirk Wheel, Falkirk, Scotland

falkirk wheel
The Falkirk Wheel. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Falkirk Wheel in Scotland is the only fully rotating boat lift in the world.

Built to link the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals, the wheel uses two gondolas to raise boats 24m so they can reach the aqueduct that leads to the latter.

The wheel was designed based on principles devised by Archimedes, the ancient Greek engineer and mathematician.

If you’d like to visit, you can watch the boats rotate from the visitor centre for free, or you can experience the wheel yourself on a 60-minute boat trip.

7. The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

eiffel tower
The Eiffel Tower. Image credit: Shutterstock

Although it needs no introduction, we’d be remiss not to highlight the civil engineering skill on display at the Eiffel Tower.

Its creator, Gustave Eiffel, was a true master of materials economy.

If you were to melt down the tower, with its 18,083 components and 2,500,000 rivets, its metal would only fill the tower’s base about 2.5in deep.

While admiring the tower from the Champ de Mars in Paris you could also appreciate how its curvature offers the most efficient wind resistance possible.

Or, you could take a photo pretending to hold the tower between your thumb and index finger.

We’ll leave that up to you.

8. Antrim Coast Road, Ulster, Northern Ireland

antrim coast road
The Eiffel Tower. Image credit: Shutterstock

Without civil engineering, some landmarks wouldn't be accessible.

Indeed, the Antrim Coast Road in Northern Ireland provides a scenic route to the natural wonders that are the Glens of Antrim, home to UNESCO World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway.

Since the road opened in 1842, it’s provided access along the Causeway Coast – a revolutionary idea at the time, since previous plans were to build the road some distance away.

The 313km-long path winds along the nine valleys of Antrim, with beautiful stretches of grass and a few grazing sheep rounding out the picture-perfect views.

9. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

burj khalifa
The Eiffel Tower. Image credit: Shutterstock

When it opened in 2010, the Burj Khalifa broke eight world records – the most notable making it the tallest building in the world, coming in at 828m.

That’s about three times the height of the previously mentioned Eiffel Tower!

Its striking design is inspired by a regional desert flower, the Hymenocallis, also known as a Spider Lily.

As the tower gets taller, the ‘petals’ of the flower re-configure the shape of the building. This makes it more resistant to wind and other elements.

A visit to the Burj Khalifa wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of its observation decks, one of which at 555km is, unsurprisingly, the highest one in the world.

10. Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

rideau canal
The Rideau Canal. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Ontario has been around since 1832.

It connects Canada’s capital with Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence river.

The canal was designed using a ‘slackwater’ system, meaning engineers built dams to drown rapids along the route. The 202km-long canal has 52 dams and 47 locks.

If you’re visiting in the summer, treat yourself to a boat ride or perhaps a paddling adventure.

But if you’re there in the winter, then you may enjoy the Rideau Canal Skateway, which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest naturally frozen ice rink.

11. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge

akashi kaikyo bridge
The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. Image credit: Shutterstock

If your road trip through Japan is taking you to Awaji Island, then chances are you’ll cross the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.

The world’s second longest suspension bridge, it connects Kōbe, in mainland Honshu, and Iwaya on the island. Its central span is 1991m long, with 960m end spans.

You can enjoy the bridge by walking on the Maiko Marine Promenade, a circuit of walkways under the bridge’s platform – just 50m above the water!

And if you’d like to learn why it’s earned the nickname of Pearl Bridge, then make sure you stick around to see the bridge illuminated at night.

Get in touch

Which of these structures have you visited before? Which one would you like to see next?

And which landmarks would make your bucket list?

Let us know!
  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE