London’s landmarks not only include Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, but also Tower Bridge, which is probably one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. The 800-foot-long bascule and suspension bridge spanning the Thames only dates back to the end of the 19th century and links the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark. Stay here to find out everything you need to know about Tower Bridge – including its history and interesting tips for visitors.
The history of Tower Bridge
London and the congestion problem
Over the course of the 19th century, London’s population exploded and the capital grew into the largest city in the world. Over 6 million people lived in London at that time. The growth in the population brought chaos to London’s streets – endless traffic jams became an everyday occurrence. In order to prevent the traffic from coming to a complete standstill and enable ships to access the docks, a committee was formed in 1876 to find a solution. Over 50 projects were submitted for careful review. It took years to reach a decision, during which time the traffic problem worsened continually.
The long-awaited solution: the construction of Tower Bridge
In 1884 one of the 50 projects submitted was finally approved. The idea for the construction of Tower Bridge originated from the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Two years later, five building contractors and 432 workers were busy building the breathtaking bridge. A staggering 11,000 tons of steel were used to support the towers and walkway. In order to lend the bridge an impressive appearance, the towers were clad with limestone. Years later, the metal components of Tower Bridge were painted in the national colors of the United Kingdom – red, white and blue – to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The bridge was officially opened on June 30, 1894, by the then Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII, and his wife Alexandra of Denmark.
Closed due to prostitution and pickpocketing
Unfortunately, the bridge walkways soon became notorious as a haunt for prostitutes and pickpockets, and there was a surge in crime. As a result, the bridge was closed to pedestrians in 1910. This was no great loss, as most pedestrians preferred to watch from the banks of the river as the bascules were raised and the ships sailed by. In 1982, the city authorities reopened the walkway to the public.
Tower Bridge today
Today Tower Bridge is a magnet for tourists. When you stroll along the 164-foot walkway, you get an amazing view of London. The walkway serves as a museum about the history of Tower Bridge and is open to the public. In 2014, one section of the walkway was fitted with a glass floor that visitors are welcome to walk along for a birds-eye view of the river 138 feet below – not recommendable for people with a fear of heights! The glass floor section is 36 feet long and 6 feet wide. While standing on the glass floor, you get an unobstructed view of the cars, bicycles and boats below. It’s particularly fascinating to watch the bascules being raised.
Click here to find out when the bascules are raised. The bascules of Tower Bridge used to be raised around 6,000 times a year. Nowadays this only happens around 850 times, as the ships operating on this part of the Thames are almost all river cruise boats. The sight of this imposing bridge being raised to let ships pass underneath is nevertheless an interesting spectacle that’s worth seeing. Be sure to inquire about the opening times beforehand.
Tip: View Tower Bridge at nightfall. The bridge is a majestic sight when it’s illuminated.
Visiting the Tower Bridge Exhibition
As one of London’s top attractions, Tower Bridge is definitely worth a visit. The Tower Bridge Exhibition includes exclusive access to the two main towers. You also get an amazing view of London from the walkways 141 feet above ground level.
- The glass floor section makes the view even more spectacular.
- The exhibition is very well organized and tells the story of the bridge in a way that captivates visitors.
- You can also climb down into the engine rooms that date back to Victorian times. Information displays explain the sophisticated technology that has kept Tower Bridge operating for so many years.
The main entrance and the ticket office for the Tower Bridge Exhibition are located in the northwest tower of the bridge. The entrance to the engine rooms is on the southern side of the bridge, on the riverside street Shad Thames. Just follow the blue lines on the floor. They connect the two parts of the exhibition.
- April through September, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission).
- October through March, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (last admission).
Tower Bridge Exhibition prices
Entry to the exhibition costs around 14 € for adults. Children aged 5 to 15 pay around 6 € (depending on the exchange rate).
Our tip: If you have a London Pass, you get free entry to the Tower Bridge Exhibition.
How to get to Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is only a few minutes’ walk from Tower Hill subway station. This station is on the Circle Line and the District Line. Alternatively, you can get to Tower Bridge from the south bank of the Thames via London Bridge subway station, where the Northern and Jubilee Lines intersect.
What else is there to see in the vicinity of Tower Bridge?
A visit to Tower Bridge is an opportunity to view two other popular London attractions:
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is a historic fortress located in the heart of the city on the banks of the Thames, only a few yards from Tower Bridge. The Tower of London is one of the world’s most famous fortresses and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Dating back over 1,000 years, this building provides visitors with a remarkable insight into the history of London. See our article about the Tower of London to find out more about all the guided tours in the surrounding area.
The breathtaking view from The Shard
Since 2013, it has been possible to view London from a very different perspective: from a height of 1,004 feet! There are several restaurants in the building, which owes its name to being shaped like a shard of glass. If you want to learn more about this masterpiece of modern architecture, take a look at our article about The Shard in London.
Guided tour of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge
This tour includes admission to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge and is a good way of exploring two of London’s most iconic landmarks. All admission fees are included in the price, as are the services of a friendly professional tour guide. This tour includes lots of different stops, lasts around three hours and costs £87.
Tower Bridge v. London Bridge
Important note! Tower Bridge is often confused with London Bridge. The latter is a road bridge across the Thames. It links the City of London on the north bank to the borough of Southwark on the south bank. London Bridge is also open to the public: the name of the exhibition on this bridge is the London Bridge Experience. Under the arches of London Bridge, visitors can learn some fascinating facts about its history in the famous Chamber of Horrors. With the London Pass, you also get free admission to the London Bridge Experience.
FAQs – frequently asked questions about Tower Bridge
- What are the opening hours for the Tower Bridge Exhibition?
April through September, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission).
October through March, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (last admission).
- How much does entry to the Tower Bridge Exhibition cost?
Approx. 14 € for adults and 6 € for children aged 5 to 15.
- What is included in the ticket for the Tower Bridge Exhibition?
The ticket gives you admission to the two towers of Tower Bridge, the glass floor section, and the engine rooms.
- Can you buy tickets for the Tower Bridge Exhibition in advance?
Tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket office. We recommend buying the London Pass, which also gives you free admission to other London attractions.
- How does the Tower Bridge mechanism work?
Tower Bridge is opened by means of a water-based hydraulic system. Originally, water was pumped under pressure into large accumulators by two steam engines. This water operated the cylinders, and the bridge took just two minutes to open. At a later date, the water-based system was replaced by an oil hydraulic system using electric pumps.
- What else is there to see in the vicinity of Tower Bridge?
There are lots of interesting places to see nearby, for example the Tower of London, The Shard or HMS Belfast, a British warship.
- When was Tower Bridge built?
- How long did it take to build the bridge?