The iconic Tower Bridge adjacent to the Tower of London is a combined bascule (drawbridge) and suspension bridge that was opened in 1894. The Tower Bridge Exhibition is housed in the bridge’s two 65 m (213 ft) towers and the upper walkways. The exhibition has displays about the bridge including the original steam engines that operated the bascules and upper walkways offer brilliant views of the Pool of London.
The iconic Tower Bridge adjacent to the Tower of London is a combined bascule (drawbridge) and suspension bridge that was opened in 1894.
When the bridge was constructed in the 19th century, a bascule bridge was needed as London was still a busy port at the time and ships needed to gain access to the Pool of London, the area of London’s port between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. At the time the bridge needed to be raised 20–30 times a day. The upper walkways were included in the bridge’s design so foot traffic could continue to cross the river when the bridge was open; however, this area is now used to house the Tower Bridge Exhibition.
The bascules are raised around 850 times per year with the opening times published on the bridge’s website. River traffic always takes priority over road traffic and the bridge is opened on schedule even if it means splitting the US president’s motorcade as was the case when Bill Clinton visited in 1997.
It is free to walk across the bridge and you can also cross the bridge by bus (route 42 runs along Tower Bridge Road en route between Liverpool Street and East Dulwich and route 78 crosses Tower Bridge en route between Shoreditch and Nunhead). In 1952 the number 78 bus was caught on the bridge as it began to open and the driver was able to accelerate the bus to clear a 1.8 m (6 ft) drop.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
The Tower Bridge Exhibition is housed in the bridge’s two 65 m (213 ft) towers and the upper walkways.
You enter the exhibition via the North Tower and either climb the Victorian staircase or take the lift. At the top of the tower, you are able to access both the eastern and western upper walkways, 42 m (138 ft) above the River Thames.
The eastern walkway has exhibits describing how the bridge was constructed and explaining how it operates. There is also the Great Bridges of the World exhibition that showcases 20 famous bridges around the world.
The western walkway features a glass-floor where you can look directly onto Tower Bridge Road below. It is well worth timing your visit to coincide with a bridge opening as it is a unique experience to get a bird’s eye view of the bascules being raised to let a ship through. You do have to be lucky to experience a bridge lift from the glass-floored walkway as most bridge openings occur outside the Tower Bridge Exhibition opening hours and entry to the walkways is sometimes restricted during bridge lifts.
The western walkway also offers fantastic views of the city and the Pool of London.
After descending the South Tower, it is possible to visit the engine rooms on the bridge’s southern approach where you are able to see the steam engines that once powered the bascules.
Allow around 1½ hours for your visit, a little longer if you time your visit with a bridge raising.