Sydney is an expensive city, there’s no doubt about that. It’s expensive to live here and to visit as well. As a result, you may need to be selective about the fee-paying attractions you visit. There are plenty of things you can do for free but some things can be quite expensive. And there are very reasonable attractions not everyone knows about. The Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout is relatively unknown. Is this the most underrated tourist attraction in Sydney?
The Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout
Everyone knows the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Its imposing presence, linking the Sydney CBD and the North Shore, is impossible to miss in Sydney Harbour. Along with the Sydney Opera House, its shape has become a visual symbol of Australia.
The bridge was built between 1924 and 1932, under the direction of JJC Bradfield, Chief Engineer. The Harbour Bridge is the largest but not longest steel arch bridge. Its design takes after the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City. The Harbour Bridge has a nickname “The Coathanger” after its easily recognisable single-arch shape.
There are four pylons, in concrete and with a granite facade, towering at 89m. Interestingly, the pylons serve no engineering purpose and are for decoration only. One of them can be visited and is known as the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout.
History of the Bridge
After almost eight years of construction, the Bridge was opened on 19th March 1932, by the NSW Premier Hon. John T. Lang. The event drew huge crowds, between 300,000 and 1 Million. One man secured his place in history: Captain Francis De Groot, leader of a paramilitary group called the New Guard, slashed the ribbon with his sword before the official cutting ceremony. The captain was arrested, the ribbon tied together and the ceremony continued. However, Captain De Groot is forever associated with the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The South-East Pylon
The South-East Pylon has been a tourist attraction since 1934. After a hiatus during WWII, Yvonne Rintoul created an “All Australian Exhibition” from 1948 to 1971. There is now a museum telling stories about the construction of the bridge and viewing balconies on the top level.
You get some fabulous views from the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout, over the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney CBD, Port Jackson as well as the Western side of the Harbour.
The Bridge Climb
A great way to discover the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to participate in a bridge climb. You get fantastic views and you get to see the inside of the bridge, which is a very special experience. However, it’s not cheap, between AUD250 and AUD400, depending on the type of climb and the time of the day. I did the climb years ago and I absolutely loved it. Indeed, it’s an intimate way to explore the bridge, observe it’s structure up-close. You don’t need to be an engineering aficionado to appreciate it, it’s a beautiful structure. From the point of view of someone living in Sydney and using the bridge almost every day, it brings a different way of interacting with the structure. So, I’m not going to dissuade you from the BridgeClimb experience.
Access and Opening Hours
The Harbour Bridge Pylon opens every day, except Christmas Day, from 10 am to 5 pm. You can access the entrance from the pedestrian walkway on the eastern side of the Bridge. If you come from the city side, use the Bridge Stairs on Cumberland Street. However, you can also access the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout from Milsons Point, by walking across the bridge. Check their website for more information.
The Best Way to Describe the Sydney Harbour Bridge
This is a great quote from one of my favourite writers, Bill Bryson
… you can see it from every corner of the city, creeping into frame from the oddest angles, like an uncle who wants to get into every snapshot. From a distance it has a kind of gallant restraint, majestic but not assertive, but up close it is all might. It soars above you, so high that you could pass a ten-storey building beneath it, and looks like the heaviest thing on earth. Everything that is in it – the stone blocks in its four towers, the latticework of girders, the metal plates, the six-million rivets (with heads like halved apples) – is the biggest of its type you have ever seen… This is a great bridge.
— American travel-writer Bill Bryson’s impressions of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his book “Down Under”, (2000)
- The building of the bridge took almost eight years, from 1924 to 1932: 7 years and 356 days to be precise.
- Just like the Eiffel Tower, the bridge expands on hot days. It can “grow” up to 180mm, which is why engineers have designed hinges at both ends of the bridge.
- The bridge contains 52,800 of steel, 17,000 cubic metres of granite and 95,000 cubic metres of concrete.
- The pylons don’t have a structural purpose, they’re there for design effect. They are made of concrete and faced with granite.
- The Harbour Bridge is modelled on Hell Gate Bridge in New York City.
- It took 272,000 litres of paint to give the bridge its initial three coats. The colour serves a purpose of durability and its ability to hide any dirt or dust.
- Only sixteen men died during construction, which is quite low considering the number of workers and the safety conditions in place at the time. There were eight ironworkers, one painter, one carpenter, two quarrymen and four labourers. Also, only two of these men died falling from the bridge.
- During construction, 128 “tie back” cables held the bridge up and restrained the part-finished arches. These cables were each 365 meters long, 70mm in diameter, 8.6 tons in weight, and made up of 217 individual wires.
Is This the Most Underrated Tourist Attraction in Sydney?
Whilst the BridgeClimb is a fantastic experience, it is expensive and can be time-consuming. And of course, it can be off-limits for people who are afraid of heights. So, if you are on a budget or a short timeframe, don’t miss the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. The price is reasonable (AUD15 in 2017), you get fabulous views and because it’s a most underrated tourist attraction, it’s relatively quiet. I also love the fact that you get quite close to the bridge and can admire its beautiful structure.
The Pylon Museum will educate you on the history of the Harbour Bridge and will highlight what a fantastic event and human adventure the building of the bridge was in Sydney’s history.
Are you looking for more things to see and do in Sydney? Check out my blog posts on Middle Head, South Head and North Head. Also, visiting the most underrated tourist attraction in Sydney goes very well with a self-guided walking tour of The Rocks.
If you have more time in Sydney, don’t forget to check out my favourite day trips.
Have you visited the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.