Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks, and most popular tourist attractions, in London. It is a beautiful piece of Victorian engineering, taking 8 years to build and first opening in 1894. Today, it is also one of the most photographed landmarks of London, looking great from any angle. It also contains an exhibition, museum, and access to the upper walkway linking to two towers.
When built, the bridge had two tasks; to allow for increased traffic across the River Thames, while at the same time allowing tall-masted clipper ships access to the docks within the Pool of London. A competition was launched and over 50 designs submitted. The winning design, which we see today, is an elegant bridge with 2 lifting spans called bascules or leaves each attached to a tower. These are then each linked to the land by suspension bridge sections. The tall horizontal platform linking the two towers was an essential part to the design, and not just for show.
The bridge took and was a modern marvel. When it was first built, the lifting engines, which were housed in the base of each tower, were steam powered. Though the lifting engines have changed, some of the original parts are still housed in the Southern Tower.
Thousands of visitors each year visit the bridge. The Tower Bridge Exhibition allows visitors to explore the past, seeing some of the original steam engines that once powered the lifting pistons, and also visit the upper walkway, which used to be in the open air. Tickets for the exhibition can be purchased at the bridge on the day, or online, which can save a lot of time. At the time of writing, the normal price is £9.00 for adults and £3.90 for children.
If you want to see the bridge in action then check out the Bridge Lift dates and times. And then find a suitable place on the banks to view it. Many of these are for sail barges or the Paddle Steamer Waverely in the autumnal months of 2014.
Tower Bridge is so photogenic that it seems as long as it is in sight it will look good at any time of the day or night. Probably the best place for a straight-on view would be from one of the river cruises or ferries that pass under it. If, however, you do not want to be on the water, then you can get a similar view from London Bridge providing you have a good camera and zoom lens. Other good places for bridge-seeing include:
Once you have finished with the bridge itself, there is plenty else to explore in the area. On the north bank of the bridge is the Tower of London, after which Tower Bridge is named. It has seen 1,000 years of constant service as a royal palace, fortress, prison, place of execution, arsenal, mint, menagerie and more, and is home to the Crown Jewels.
Also on the northern shore, close to London Bridge, is The Monument. This is Sir Christopher Wren's flame-topped monument to the Great Fire of London. Standing 160ft high you can climb 311 spiralling steps to one of the best views over the City.
Just down river from the bridge on the north side is St Katherine's Docks, built in the early 19th century and today modernised with a number of pubs and restaurants, marina and some of the traditional sail barges that once plied the Thames.
On the south bank is City Hall, parts of which are open to the public Mondays to Thursdays from 8.30am to 6pm and on Fridays from 8.30am to 5.30pm. City Hall has an interesting spiralling interior and sometimes houses exhibitions.
Close to City Hall, moored in the Thames, is the HMS Belfast. This warship saw active service in the World War II Normandy landings and the final battle with the German Warship Scharnhorst. The ship is now a floating museum. Close to this is Hay's Galleria, a modernisation of the 160 year old Hay's Wharf where many of the clippers would unload their goods. Today it contains a fascinating ship sculpture and many small boutique shops, cafes and restaurants.
Getting to Tower Bridge
You can get to Tower Bridge via:
• Tube - Tower Hill, London Bridge and Monument.
• Rail - Fenchurch Street or London Bridge.
• Ferry: - Tower Hill (London), Tower Pier
• Bus: Tower Bridge Approach (42, 78, RV1), Tower Hill / Tower of London (15, 737, 737, 799, N15)