London's iconic Tower Bridge is the city's most famous bridge, often mistakenly called "London Bridge." Built over 120 years ago, the bridge initially was constructed to ease road traffic. The roadways on the bridge have the ability to lift up, allowing ships to pass underneath, and the bridge has been a landmark of London for over a century. Today visitors can see Tower Bridge and its inner workings up close and personal, or elect to snap a photo of the impressive bridge from a nearby viewpoint. Many tourists pair Tower Bridge with a visit to the nearby Tower of London.
History and Background
Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 across the River Thames. It was selected from over 50 designs and ultimately created by Horace Jones, the City Architect, in collaboration with John Wolfe Barry. At the time, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built and the bascules continue to be operated by hydraulic power even today. In 1977, the bridge was painted red, white and blue for Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, but it was restored to its original blue and white color scheme in 2017.
The interior of the bridge officially opened to the public in 1982, featuring a permanent exhibition inside called The Tower Bridge Experience. Cars and pedestrians can access the bridge's main deck anytime, however the towers, upper walkways, and engine rooms are now part of the exhibition and only available with a ticket.
How to Get There
The best way to get to Tower Bridge is via public transportation. The closest Tube station is Tower Hill, accessible by the District and Circle lines. Visitors can also use London Bridge station, which is served by the Northern and Jubilee lines. Trains will bring you in to London Bridge, Fenchurch Street, or Tower Gateway DLR Stations, while numerous buses stop directly by the bridge. These include routes 15, 42, 78,100, and RV1.
A fun alternative is to take a riverboat service along the Thames to Tower Bridge. Boats stop at St. Katherine Pier and Tower Pier on the north side and London Bridge City Pier on the south side. Because of the busy location it's not recommended to drive to Tower Bridge, but if you do have a car the nearest parking garage is Tower Hill Coach and Car Park on Lower Thames Street.
How to Visit the Bridge
Tower Bridge is open daily from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. (with the exception of Dec. 24 through 26, when the exhibition is closed). Visitors will get to go inside the two bridge towers, visit the Glass Floor—a viewpoint 138 feet (42 meters) above the River Thames—, and learn about the history of the site. The visit includes a peek into the Engine Rooms, where you can see steam engines, coal burners, and accumulators that used to power the bascules.
Purchase tickets online in advance to take advantage of lower prices. There are various group discounts and family ticket prices if you're traveling in a larger group, and children under 5 are free. It's recommended to go at less busy times, like weekday mornings, and avoid weekends or holidays.
For bonus information, book into one of the Behind the Scenes guided tours. The tours last two hours and include access to areas of the bridge, towers and Engine Room not seen by regular guests. The tours don't run every day, so it's best to check the available times and dates online and book in advance when planning a trip.
Best Views of the Bridge
The best view of Tower Bridge may not actually be from the bridge itself. To snap a great photo of the iconic site, head to one side of the Thames, either in front of the Tower of London on the north bank or in front of City Hall and Potters Fields Park alongside the south bank. Those visiting the HMS Belfast, another ticketed attraction, can also score amazing views from the upper deck. For a straight-on look at Tower Bridge walk along the pedestrian sidewalk at London Bridge, where you can catch an uninterrupted glimpse from right in the center.
Things to Know
Tower Bridge is fully accessible for guests needing special access. A lift is available to all levels, including in the towers and to the Engine Room exhibition, and there are also accessible toilets available. Strollers and wheelchairs are welcome in all areas and not restricted.
It's important to note that all bags will be searched upon entry to Tower Bridge and guests should not bring any glass items, including glass bottles, to the walkway area. Dogs are permitted, in case you want to bring along your furry friend.
Tower Bridge is a working bridge and it does raise the platforms regularly (about 850 times per year) to allow ships to pass through. The bridge lift times are listed online, so check ahead if you want to see the bascules in action.