The Tower Bridge is one icon of London that I just can’t seem to get enough of. Every time I’m near I still take photos of it from every angle possible, from both sides of the Thames, and even from the river when we went on the Thames Clipper service this past summer. I’ve also visited the bridge to take in the Tower Bridge Exhibition twice in the past year. I tell you it is cool!
Back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries London saw ten new bridges built along the Thames to help cope with the increasing trade and traffic that came with the growing city. East of London Bridge, however, there wasn’t a bridge despite the population growing to over a million by the late 19th century. One of the reasons a bridge hadn’t been built by this time was because the shipping industry feared business would decline if ships couldn’t get any further up the river. In 1876 a competition was opened for a new design but it took until 1884 for a design to be offered that would provide the solution the city needed.
The design was created by architect Sir Horace Jones, who unfortunately died in 1887 and didn’t see his design completed. The task was passed to his assistant George Daniel Stevenson who saw the 8 years of construction to a finish.
Over the years since its construction the Tower Bridge has seen a few changes such as the closing of the upper walkways in 1910 to pedestrians because they weren’t being used, to the conversion to oil and electricity to power the raising and lowering of the bridge to allow ships to pass through. I would recommend doing the Tower Bridge Exhibition if you want to learn lots more about the making and history of the bridge as it’s very interesting and informative. Like I said, I’ve done it twice now and have learned something new each time.
Also included in the admission fee is access to both walkways which give you amazing panoramic views of London. Although the walkways are enclosed there are lots of little windows that can be opened that are plenty big enough to get your camera through so you can take great photos without the glass being in the way. Also along the walkways are photo exhibits – one walkway featuring “Great Bridges of the World” and the other walkway featuring changing exhibits. As of this writing that walkway is closed while they prepare for the next exhibit. On your visit don’t miss the Victorian Engine Rooms that show the original pumping engines and boilers once used to raise and lower the bridge. They are just down the street a little from the exit of the bridge (you can’t miss them if you follow the marked path and signs). And if you get lucky, like the kiddo and I did on our visit this summer, you might even get to watch the bridge in action!
- “Great Bridges of the World” photo exhibit in the East Walkway.
- Current exhibit (whatever it is when you visit) in the West Walkway.
- “Art at the Bridge” located in the Victorian Engine Rooms that features art pieces by local artists (sometimes you can even vote for your favourite pieces by dropping a little token in the box by the piece you like best).
- Victorian Engine Rooms showing the original pumping engines and boilers along with information about how the whole process worked.
- Videos along the tour route, starting with one that describes the history of the bridge along with interesting facts and stats from the building process.
- Look up! You don’t want to miss the “ghosts” of a few of the 432 workers as they build the bridge.
- And of course….the views from the walkways 43 m (140ft) above the Thames.
Plan Your Visit
- Basic Admission fees are £9.00 for adults, £3.90 for children 5-15, £6.30 for students with ID and seniors (over 60). They also offer various family packages and joint admission tickets to the bridge and the Monument that can offer some savings over purchasing tickets individually. To view their packages visit here. We saved money on our admission using the “2 for 1 London” offer by Days Out Guide combined with our National Rail tickets. These are good through October 31, 2014 but check back on their site if you’re planning a visit after that time as they have had offers like this over the past couple of years I’ve been going to London. The Tower Bridge Exhibition is also included with the London Pass as another money saving option.
- Opening hours are 0930- 1700 from October through March, and 1000-1730 from April through September. They are closed December 24-26 and open from 1000 on January 1.
- For bridge lift times please visit here. Ships need to request lift times at least 24 hours in advance and there are already several lift times on the agenda through January 1.
Make it a Day
In the Area
- Purchase the combination ticket for the Tower Bridge and the Monument to the Great Fire and enjoy more great views of London from the top of the Monument (after you’ve climbed the 311 stairs!) and learn about the Great Fire of 1666.
- Step further back in time to the 11th century and visit the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels, the White Tower, and take a tour by one of the Yeoman Warders.
- Take the bus from the Tower Hill stop to Monument stop (line 15) on one of the old Routemaster buses. They are becoming quite rare so take your ride on one while you still can.
- Visit the Roman Wall ruins at the Tower Hill tube stop.
- Start your day with a walk across Millennium Bridge, also known as “the Wobbly Bridge“, for great views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and up and down the Thames.
- Stroll across Westminster Bridge to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament one one side of the river and the London Eye on the other.
- View very unique architectural design in the Rolling Bridge– a pedestrian bridge at the Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin that rolls up to allow boats through. If your visit doesn’t allow you to see it open or close you can see it in action on this YouTube video.
- And of course…London Bridge which is one of many bridges in a long line that have spanned the Thames in that area. Thankfully heads of traitors aren’t still lining the bridge on spikes as they used to do!
This post is part of my London Love series.
For more information on common (and some not so common) sights in London, as well as itineraries to help you plan your time, please visit my growing collection of posts in London Love.