If anyone was asked to name their top list of London landmarks, it would surely include the iconic and beautiful Tower Bridge. Not to be confused with the less good-looking London Bridge, this Victorian structure was completed in 1894 and is still considered a marvel of engineering.
History of Tower Bridge
It was decided that a bridge was needed to ease congestion on the roads while still maintaining access via the River Thames to the Pool of London docks, then an important hub for trade, so plans were put in place to construct one with a moveable roadway that could lift up for passing ships.
More than 400 construction workers were brought in and two huge piers had to be sunk into the river bed to support the enormous structure. Two towers were built and tied together at the upper level by two walkways to act as a counter-measure against the huge tension forces exerted by the parts of the bridge that would be suspended.
Eight years later, the then-Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII officially opened Tower Bridge. People marvelled at the 244-metre long, 65-metre high structure – and they still do.
Today, Tower Bridge is a World Heritage Site that provides a roadway across the River Thames for more than 40,000 people, whether that’s on foot or in a vehicle, and it reopened to the public inside in 1982 for the first time since 1910.
Visiting Tower Bridge
It’s completely free to walk across the bridge and to watch it open to allow a vessel pass by, but you need to plan your visit to witness the latter – the scheduled lift times for each day are always posted on the Tower Bridge website. It’s said to be good luck to watch a passing and the bridge is raised some 850 times a year.
However, you may also wish to pay a small fee to enter and see the Tower Bridge Exhibition and Experience, which is open from 10:00am until 17:30pm between April and September and from 09:30am to 17:00pm from October to March.
You’ll be able to enjoy amazing views of London from 42 metres in the air and learn all about how the bridge works. There’s a permanent exhibition detailing the work of the people who once toiled on the bridge and the steam engines, coal burners and accumulators that once powered it, complete with interactive films and photographs.
And you definitely won’t want to miss the incredible glass floor above the walkways, which will make you feel as though you are stepping into mid-air above the pedestrians and red buses below. You might even time it with a lifting to see the bridge raise beneath your feet.
It might feel like there’s nothing between you and the road, but each glass panel weighs 530kg and took 20 people to lower into place.
One final and fascinating story to check out is that of London bus driver Albert Gunter, who found himself in a predicament back in 1952. As he drove the number 78 bus, a mistake by a watchman meant the bridge suddenly started to open with him part-way across it.
Making a split-second decision, he decided to accelerate his vehicle and cleared a metre-wide gap to drop 1.8 metres onto the north bascule below, saving his passengers from serious injury or death. He was given a £10 reward for his bravery and you can see his tale of adventure in the museum.
Getting to Tower Bridge
You’ll find Tower Bridge on the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark. It’s close to a number of other big attractions, including the Tower of London.
The closest Tube station is Tower Hill, which is just a few minutes’ walk away on the Circle or District lines, but the Monument and London Bridge stops are also nearby.
If you’re staying at the Park Grand London Hyde Park or indeed any other accommodation or hotel near Hyde Park, you could easily incorporate your Tower Bridge visit into a day of sightseeing. The structure is just a 45-minute ride on the London Underground away from the iconic green space, so head there first and enjoy a wander round and perhaps a lifting of the bridge.
You can then check out the Shard and HMS Belfast, pass through Southwark and discover Covent Garden and carry on straight through to Westminster.
With an itinerary like this and such a beautiful bridge to admire, you’re sure to create some brilliant photo opportunities for your social media and memories that will last a lifetime.