Tower Bridge is one of the most recognized bridges in the world and the views of London from the high walkways are impressive. When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built ("bascule" comes from the French for "see-saw").
The High Walkways
The Tower Bridge Exhibition is on the two high walkways (above the opening section) and then down in the Engine Rooms. All areas are completely accessible and there's a lift/elevator to take you up to the high walkways (and back down again).
You can get some great views from the two high walkways and the staff are knowledgeable so do ask questions. The Tower Bridge glass floor was added in 2014 on both walkways so there are now sections in the middle where you can see the road and river below. This has brought in many more visitors and it's well worth checking the Tower Bridge lift times to see if you can visit to see one from above.
There is also free wifi on the high walkways so you can share your photos to social media immediately. Plus, there's a free app to download to see the bridge raise on your phone or iPad, in case you don't see an actual bridge lift while visiting.
The high walkways also have displays in multiple languages including touchscreens for quizzes and information.
Photography is absolutely encouraged and there are small 'camera windows' you can open to take photos of the sights.
What To Expect
From the ticket office in the north tower, you start with an elevator (lift) up to one of the high walkways, 42 meters above the river Thames. The lift attendant explains what to expect on the high walkways. Up in the North Tower, there is an animated video of John Wolfe-Barry, Horace Jones and Queen Victoria as talking portraits discussing the bridge and how it came about. It's interesting and informative yet fun too.
Top tip: Look out of the window in the north tower, where you first arrive, for a great view of the Tower of London.
There are two high walkways offering incredible views and there are some signs to explain the history of Tower Bridge. There is usually a temporary exhibition in one of the walkways so you can learn something topical. I discovered the Thames is 9 meters deep at low tide and there are 100 species of fish living below the bridge.
The elevator (lift) down is from the south tower and takes you to bridge level. From there you follow a blue line painted on the sidewalk (pavement), go down some steps and enter the Victorian Engine Rooms. If you can't manage the steps it's a short walk to the end of the bridge and turn left, left, left and you'll reach the same spot.
In the engine rooms, you can find out about hydraulic power and be amazed by this masterpiece of Victorian engineering. Learn about the 6 stages of steam and hydraulic power used from 1894 to 1976. In 1976 Tower Bridge changed to electric power.
Your visit ends at the small gift shop selling plenty of London souvenirs.
Visit Duration: 1.5 hours
When Tower Bridge was powered by steam it raised 600 times a year but now it is powered by electric motors it is raised about 1,000 times a year. Tower Bridge needs to lift to allow tall ships, cruise ships, naval vessels, and other large craft to pass through.
Tower Bridge History
In 1884, Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry started building Tower Bridge but Horace Jones died a year later. Barry continued and it took 8 years to build. 432 men were employed to build the bridge and over the 8 years, only 10 men died which is quite exceptional as there were no health and safety rules back then.
Two massive piers had to be sunk into the riverbed to support the construction and over 11,000 tons of Scottish steel provided the framework for the Towers and Walkways, with 2 million rivets holding it all together. This was then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone; both to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the Bridge a more pleasing appearance. The Prince of Wales opened Tower Bridge on 30 June 1894.
The high walkways were originally completely open, i.e. no roof or windows. By 1910 they were closed as people preferred to wait at street level when the bridge was raised rather than heading up the stairs with heavy loads.
On 28 December 1952, a number 78 double decker bus failed to stop as the Bridge began to rise. It just managed to clear the three feet drop to the other bascule. No photographs exist, but an artist's impression immortalized the event.
In 1976, Tower Bridge was painted red, white, and blue to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee (25 years as Queen). Before that is was a chocolate brown color.
In 2009, freestyle motocross star Robbie Maddison performed a backflip over an open Tower Bridge in the middle of the night. His bike is now on display in the Engine Rooms.
Information for Visitors
- Summer Opening Hours: April to September: 10:00 – 17:30
- Winter Opening Hours: October to March: 09:30 – 17:00
- Closed 24 and 25 December. Open from 10am on 1 January.
Address: Tower Bridge Exhibition, Tower Bridge, London SE1 2UP
Official Website: www.towerbridge.org.uk
Nearest Tube Stations:
- Tower Hill (on the north of the river)
- London Bridge (on the south of the river)
Tickets: There is a charge for the Tower Bridge Exhibition. See the latest admission prices.
Where to Eat Locally:
- St. Katherine's Dock
- Cafe in the basement of City Hall (weekdays only).
- The Refectory at Southwark Cathedral
You can also look for Love Locks on Tower Bridge and at other locations in London.