There’s more to Tower Bridge than walking across and admiring breathtaking views of London. You can now explore the inside of the bridge and a walkway between the two towers. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about its history and construction.
What’s in this guide?
- Tower Bridge vs London Bridge
- Tower Bridge history and facts
- Restaurants, bars and shops near Tower Bridge
How to get to Tower Bridge
If you’re planning on visiting Tower Bridge, you’ll need to get there first. Travelling to Tower Bridge is quick and easy thanks to London’s public transport systems, including buses, trains and an underground train system (tube).
London Bridge is the closest train station to Tower Bridge, only an 11-minute walk away. This station welcomes train services from surrounding towns and cities, including Kent, Brighton and Bedford. Alternatively, take the tube to Tower Hill station on the Circle (yellow) or District (green) line, and walk 9 minutes to Tower Bridge.
Walking or cycling along the Thames is a great way to travel to Tower Bridge if you fancy a bit of sightseeing. You can plan your route with Transport for London’s (TFL) handy Route Planner.
Tower Bridge vs London Bridge
Tower Bridge is often confused with its neighbour, London Bridge. However, critical differences between London Bridge and Tower Bridge make it easy to tell them apart.
There’s no doubt that London Bridge’s history makes it the more well-known of the two (there’s even a nursery rhyme about London Bridge!). However, Tower Bridge is more recognisable, thanks to the towers that sit at either end.
Construction of the modern London Bridge was completed by 1973. In contrast, Tower Bridge was finished earlier, in 1894. Compared with Tower Bridge’s suspension design, London Bridge is a box girder bridge made from concrete and steel. Apart from a spike sculpture on the bridge’s southern side, it doesn’t feature many architectural details, and its design is simple.
Tower Bridge crosses the River Thames near the Tower of London. London Bridge crosses the river between Borough High Street, Southwark and King William Street in London.
Both bridges feature a road for traffic and a pedestrian walkway. Unlike London Bridge, Tower Bridge has never had to be reconstructed.
Tower Bridge history and facts
London’s commercial development rose during the 19th century, and the city required an additional river crossing downstream from London Bridge. That’s when the idea for Tower Bridge came about.
The design for Tower Bridge
In 1876, the Special Bridge or Subway Committee was formed to solve the issue of how to design a bridge without disrupting river traffic activities. A public competition was launched to find a plan for Tower Bridge, and over 50 designs were submitted to the Committee. Some of these are still on display at Tower Bridge today.
Tower Bridge construction
In October 1884, Sir Horace Jones – architect and surveyor to the City of London – put forward the chosen design for Tower Bridge. Jones collaborated with John Wolfe Barry, a civil engineer, to draw up the plans.
Construction of Tower Bridge began in 1866, and it took eight years and the labour of 432 construction workers to complete. Around 11,000 tons of steel make the walkways and tower framework.
On 30th June 1894, the Prince and Princess of Wales officially opened Tower Bridge. It has remained a significant crossing of the Thames ever since.
Since the bridge was built near the harbour, it needed to allow tall ships to pass underneath. The bridge's central span was split into two equal bascules (sections that can be raised and lowered).
Tower Bridge’s bascules were powered by hydraulic methods when it was built. They were raised or lowered to allow river traffic to pass. The energy created was stored in six giant accumulators, always readily available.
Since 1976, the bascules have been operated by oil and electricity rather than steam. The bascules weigh over 1,000 tons each and allow raising for 5 minutes. You can view the original pumping engines and accumulators in Tower Bridge’s Engine Room.
Tower Bridge today
Around 40,000 motorists, pedestrians and cyclists cross Tower Bridge in both directions every day. In 2008, the tower underwent renovations that lasted for four years. The suspension chains were repainted with protective paint, and new lights were installed in the walkways.
Tower Bridge facts and figures
- The bridge cost £1 million to construct; this money was funded by a committee rather than by public money
- Sir Horace Jones died in 1887 and never saw the completed version of Tower Bridge
- The bridge’s towers rise 65 metres above the Thames
- Tower Bridge was once brown in colour; in 1977, it was painted red, white and blue to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee
- The bascules were raised over 6,000 times during the bridge's first year – that’s an average of 17 times a day
- In August 2020, the bridge experienced a mechanical fault, and the bascules were suspended in a raised position for some time
- During the London 2012 Olympics, the five Olympic rings were displayed on Tower Bridge. The rings were 25 metres wide, 11.5 metres tall, and weighed three tonnes
Restaurants, bars and shops near Tower Bridge
The area around Tower Bridge is packed full of vibrant restaurants and bars, where you stop for a bite to eat and admire picturesque views of the bridge. Tower Bridge also boasts a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs after your visit.
Vicinity – The Tower Hotel
Vicinity is inside The Tower Hotel, a popular venue nestled along the River Thames. This excellent dining spot offers stunning panoramic views of Tower Bridge and The Shard with floor-to-ceiling windows. You can choose to dine indoors or enjoy afternoon tea out on the deck.
Vicinity’s menu features a delightful range of dishes, including a tempting Barrel & Stone pizza selection. You can also choose from an impressive menu of cocktails, wines, spirits and beers. This restaurant is the perfect place to take in views of Tower Bridge before exploring inside.
Coppa Club London Tower Bridge
If you need a break during your day of sightseeing, Coppa Club London Tower Bridge is the ideal place to relax and refuel. The restaurant is located steps away from Tower Bridge and boasts a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere.
Coppa Club’s menu is full of flavourful European dishes, ranging from small plates and snacks to sourdough pizzas and salads. If you fancy something sweet after your meal, enjoy one of the restaurant’s classic desserts, including warm treacle tart and sticky toffee pudding.
Le Pont de la Tour
Le Point de la Tour is a charming riverside restaurant and one of the best fine dining options around Tower Bridge. Here you can enjoy exquisite French cuisine on a stylish terrace while looking out over Tower Bridge.
There are several menus available, including à la carte and an extensive list of wines. Le Point de la Tour is a great spot to visit in the evening when you can enjoy views of Tower Bridge illuminated.
Tower Bridge – Official Gift Shop
Opened in 1894, Tower Bridge Gift Shop is a perfect place to purchase memorabilia for yourself or loved ones. Whether you plan to explore the inside of the bridge or simply stroll over its walkway, it’s worth popping into the gift shop at the end of your visit.
In the shop, you’ll find a unique selection of gifts and souvenirs inspired by Tower Bridge and the rest of London. There are many beautiful items to discover, from bags and books to soft toys and coin sets. Profits from Tower Bridge Gift Shop go towards supporting the City Bridge Trust’s work across England’s capital city. The entrance to the shop is located on the south side of Tower Bridge.
Taking the train to London?
Planning on spending some time in the capital of England and want more information on travelling to London by train? Start your journey now! Travelling to London by train is simple due to the high-speed rail connections operated by 28 major train companies across the UK. You can travel to London from some of the most popular cities in the UK, including Oxford to London (47m), Manchester to London (2h 3m) and Brighton to London (1h).
Need more information about travelling to London by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to London.