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Portugal Opens World's Longest Pedestrian Suspension Bridge, And It's A Trip

Great news for anyone looking for a change of scenery once it's safe to travel again: The world's longest pedestrian suspension bridge has been completed in Portugal, and it's opening to the public on Monday.

The record-breaking bridge measures 516 meters (or roughly 1,692 feet) long and is suspended 175 meters (574 feet) above a river. It's in the town of Arouca — about an hour south of Porto — in the UNESCO-recognized Arouca Geopark, an area famous for its nature tourism and outdoor activities.

The 516 Arouca bridge, according to its website, is "not for the faint of heart."

"The new bridge, under construction since May 2018, is inspired by the Inca bridges that spanned the Andes mountain valleys," a release says. "Last year, the municipality of Arouca described the bridge as 'frighteningly beautiful.' "

The bridge connects the banks of the Paiva River, a popular destination for kayaking and whitewater rafting. It's also near the Paiva Walkways, a wooden pathway that winds through 8 kilometers (5 miles) of the natural landscape.

The hanging bridge is supported by two V-shaped concrete towers, and reportedly takes about 10 minutes to cross. Its floor and side railings are made of metal grids, providing a largely unobstructed view of the lush mountains and river gorge.

It was designed by Portuguese studio Itecons and constructed by a company called Conduril in a process that spanned several years. It will be officially inaugurated in a ceremony Sunday before opening to members of the public ages 6 and up the following day.

Brave locals have already been able to try it out, however, as the bridge opened to Arouca residents on Thursday.

Hugo Xavier, the first member of the general public to cross the bridge, described the moment as "extraordinary, a unique experience, an adrenaline rush," according to The Guardian.

"I was a little afraid, but it was so worth it," he said.

Officials hope that the new structure will bring more tourists to the area and give the economy a boost as they ease public health restrictions. The majority of the country will move into the final phase of its COVID-19 lockdown on Saturday, which the Portugal News reports marks the transition from "state of emergency" to "state of calamity."

Local authorities say they hope the pedestrian suspension bridge will boost the economy by enticing locals to stay and tourists to visit.
Octavio Passos / Getty Images
Getty Images
Local authorities say they hope the pedestrian suspension bridge will boost the economy by enticing locals to stay and tourists to visit.

Portugal has recorded more than 836,000 cases and 16,900 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and 8.41% of its population is fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Margarida Belém, Arouca's mayor, described the construction project to Reuters as part of an effort to incentivize locals to stay and tourists to visit.

"There were many challenges that we had to overcome ... but we did it," she said. "There's no other bridge like this one in the world."

Indeed, 516 Arouca has earned its spot in the record books, overtaking Switzerland's 494-meter (1,621-feet) Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge as the world's longest pedestrian suspension bridge.

The longest such structure in the U.S., by contrast, is the Gatlinburg SkyBridge in Tennessee, which stretches 680 feet across a valley in the Great Smoky Mountains and has a transparent glass floor at its highest point.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.