Princes Bridge, Melbourne

Princes Bridge, originally Prince's Bridge, is an important bridge in central Melbourne, Australia that spans the Yarra River. It is built on the site of one of the oldest river crossings in Australia. The bridge connects Swanston Street on the north bank of the Yarra River to St Kilda Road on the south bank, and carries road, tram and pedestrian traffic. The present bridge was built in 1888 and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Because of its position, Princes Bridge is often a focal point for celebratory events in Melbourne such as the Moomba Festival, New Years Eve and many celebrations taking place on the Yarra River where it flows through the city.


When the first European settlers settled in Melbourne in 1835 there was no permanent crossing point of the Yarra River. Over time various punt and ferry operators set up business to ferry people and other traffic across the river. The colonial government in Sydney was unreliable in providing funds for the construction of a bridge, resulting in most of Melbourne’s early infrastructure being provided by private enterprise. On 22 April 1840, a private company was formed to construct a bridge across the Yarra. Traders in Elizabeth Street vied with those in Swanston Street to have the through traffic that would be generated by a bridge. On the south bank of the river, St Kilda Road was still a dirt track.

Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe favoured an Elizabeth Street crossing, but despite such official pressure the private company favoured the construction conditions at Swanston Street, which had become regarded as the growing town's main street. It was on that street in 1840 that they opened their wooden toll bridge. In 1844, a wooden trestle bridge was built across the river, and was a toll bridge.

The foundation stone for a new bridge was laid in 1846 and the bridge was opened in 1851. The bridge was a single span sandstone bridge which was built with government funds. The bridge was designed by David Lennox and was at the time the longest single span bridge in the world. The bridge opened on 15 November without tolls. It was known as Lennox’s Bridge.

However, within a year, gold was discovered in country Victoria and Melbourne saw a massive increase in population. In addition to the increase in traffic crossing the bridge, there was also a need to handle increased shipping traffic on the Yarra River and the river was widened to cope with this. By that time the Yarra River had been heavily modified both upstream and downstream and the major floods of the early years were becoming less common. The new bridge was designed by John Grainger (1855–1917), the father of the Australian composer Percy Grainger, and built by David Munro. Construction on the new bridge began in 1886 and it was opened on 4 October 1888, in time for the second International Exhibition to be held in Melbourne. As with many historic Melburnian buildings and bridges, the bridge is built on solid bluestone bulwarks, unlike the sandstone popular in Sydney, with plenty of cast iron. The bridge was named Princes Bridge after Edward, Prince of Wales.


Pedestrians account for the majority of traffic volumes, as most people crossing the bridge do so on foot or bicycle, however there are many other forms of transport that utilise the bridge:

  • Pedestrian
  • Tram
  • Bicycle
  • Road

Princes Bridge was also the name of a railway station located on the northern side of the river, to the east of the bridge, on the current site of Federation Square. It was linked to Flinders Street Station by the railway tracks that run underneath the northern approach to the bridge.


Princes Bridge is 30 metres (99 ft) wide and 120 metres (400 ft) long, with bluestone squat half columns resting on piers supporting the three iron girder arches. The coat of arms on the bridge belong to the municipal councils who contributed towards the cost of construction. Other design features include an elaborate balustrade along the top of the bridge, and lamp standards crowning each pier.

The bridge bears a close resemblance to Blackfriars Bridge in London, built around the same time, both excellent surviving examples of Arch Bridge design in the late 19th century.

The bridge underwent a restoration before the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Building Activity

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