Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Tower Bridge review. If you want to see the drawbridge being raised then we keep a list of the scheduled bridge lift times in our events guide. You might like to combine a trip to Tower Bridge with a visit to the Tower of London nextdoor.
Tower Bridge is one of the most famous sights in the City, but despite its Gothic exterior it has only been a London landmark for a little over a hundred years. Before that time the most easterly crossing in the capital was at London Bridge – but the city’s rapid expansion meant that another was needed by 1870.
A design competition was launched amongst the nation’s engineers with a few provisos: 1) London’s docks were still in use, so the new bridge had to allow tall-masted ships to pass beyond, and 2) it had to be big enough to allow vehicles to cross over the top.
The winning design came from Horace Jones, whose two towers supported a central drawbridge which could be raised by two huge engines. The engines were fed by six water tanks hidden inside the mock-Gothic towers.
The construction of Tower Bridge began in 1886, and the cost of construction was £1,184,000 (roughly £122 million in today’s money). It was opened by the future Edward VII in 1894.
Tourists doing a Tower Bridge tour can visit the two towers and the walkways as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. It includes a museum filled with facts, films and photos about the bridge’s history. You can also visit the original Victorian engine rooms.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
Everyone has to visit Tower Bridge at least once during their holiday, but take a tip from me: don’t bother going inside. I knew it was going to be rubbish when the first thing they did after you hand over your money is make you stand in front of a big screen for a green-screen photo. Then they try and flog you some mouse mats and cups and keyrings with your face superimposed on them. (When you’ve got a face like mine, the last thing you want is your ugly mug on a mug!)
The first part of the Tower Bridge tour is a sit-down movie which lasts for about five minutes. It explains why they needed to build the bridge, who came up with the idea, and how they actually built it. It’s interesting enough if you like bridges, I suppose, but a lot of people didn’t bother waiting for the end and strolled out halfway through. I decided to soldier on to the end. But when they showed another video a in the next room I decided I had already done my duty and sneaked out with them.
When people visit Tower Bridge they want to see two things: firstly, they want to stand on the riverbank and watch the drawbridge going up and down (see here for Tower Bridge’s scheduled lift times); and then they want to visit the walkway at the top for some views down the Thames. But the walkways at the top are the most disappointing bit. For starters, they are both closed off to the weather behind big steel girders and a layer of glass, which totally messes up your photos.
The little exhibitions are hardly worth bothering with. The first one is just a collection of photos of famous bridges around the world. They’ve got a picture of Brooklyn Bridge, for example, and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and a hundred others that you’ve never heard of… all padded out with Top Trump-style facts like how long they are, and what year they were built.
The second exhibition is just a collection of black and white photos of London. Being a London nut I actually found this quite interesting, but I’m not sure how fun it will be for a tourist. [Note: They’ve improved the walkways by installing some see-through glass floors. Have a read of my latest review of Tower Bridge to see what I thought of the glass walkways.]
It gets a bit better when you go downstairs to the Victorian engine room. You’ll find a few push-button models of the bridge for the kids to mess round with, and the actual engine rooms themselves are worth a quick look. It would have been better if they were actually going round and round and pumping up and down, but they are no longer in use. You just stand behind a barrier and stare at them.
After that you get led straight to the shop, and that’s about it. You can do the whole thing from start to finish in thirty minutes flat – and ten of those I spent watching those two movies.
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