Tower Bridge London is a historical and fascinating English icon and is one of the most famous bridges in the world. It has proudly stood over the River Thames since 1894, connecting the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Southwark together. Meaning that there is no surprise that there would be so many cool facts about Tower Bridge, London.
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Facts about Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is one of the prettiest bridges that I have seen in my travels and one of my favorite places to visit in London, especially when I go to the Tower of London England. It still amazes me to this day, how many people mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge, which is further up the Thames connecting Southwark to the City of London.
⇒ Thinking of visiting the Tower of London or wanting to know more? – What to do at the Tower of London
To help get you started on your journey over Tower Bridge, London. Here are some cool facts I have put together:
Tunnel under the Thames
Before Tower Bridge London was opened to the public, the only way to cross the Thames was through a tunnel underneath the Thames. This was called the Tower Subway and I believe it was 1 penny to cross through the tunnel to each side. This was also a way to monitor the traffic between the two boroughs.
Unfortunately, this tunnel and others were closed down and bridges replaced them. However, there are still two left in London that can be used by the public.
How about catching a boat along the Thames which goes underneath Tower Bridge? You can book a ticket in advance with Greenwich River Thames Cruise to Westminster
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
If you ever want to experience walking under the Thames then visit the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Which goes from Isle of Dogs to Greenwich deep underneath the Thames. I recommend it as something different to do while in London and it is free to use. Check out the Royal Observatory Greenwich, another top London historic attraction while in the area.
Named after Tower of London
Tower Bridge is not named after the two towers on the bridge itself but after the medieval palace White Tower that is located inside the walls of the Tower of London. The final design of the bridge was also heavily influenced by the architecture of the Tower.
The Tower of London is another popular landmark in London and the bridge crosses the Thames close to it. If you are thinking about visiting the White Tower, seeing the crown jewels, and learning 1000 yrs of history, then you can purchase your ticket in advance and skip the line.
Tower Bridge is mistaken for London Bridge
One of my favorite facts about Tower Bridge is that it’s often mistaken for London Bridge. It’s a common misconception, one that I have seen and heard a few times, even in movies. London Bridge is actually located upstream from Tower Bridge and is about 100 meters from the Shard.
What is even more interesting is that the original London Bridge was dismantled in 1967 and relocated to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. There have since been several bridges built over the River Thames in the same position and named London Bridge.
⇒ The Westminster to Greenwich River Thames Cruise goes under both London Bridge and Tower Bridge.
Double-decker bus jumping
One of the more interesting facts about Tower Bridge London is an incident that happened in 1952. A number 78 double-decker bus was crossing Tower Bridge when the bascules began to rise. Instead of slowing down and stopping, Albert Gunton accelerated and jumped over from the south bascule to the north bascule which had not started to rise yet.
Fortunately, the driver and passengers on board the double-decker bus came away with only a few injuries.
I can not promise any bridge jumping but if you want to experience travelling across Tower Bridge on a double-decker. Then you can either catch the 78 or RV1 that still go over Tower Bridge, as it is part of the public transport route. Or take The Original London Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour.
⇒ How about reading more on another Royal Residences? A Palace fit for a King, Hampton Court Palace, England
A Plane flew between the bascules and walkways
In 1912, a pilot named Frank McClean created history by flying his short biplane between the bascules and walkways without touching the water.
There was an emergency and the pilot wanted to avoid an accident from happening. This meant flying through Tower Bridge unintentionally.
A Jet flew between the bascules and walkways
Another cool flying fact about Tower Bridge is that a Hawker Hunter jet once flew between bascules and walkways. The incident happened in 1968 by a Royal Air pilot name Alan Pollock. He took a jet on an unauthorised flight past some of London’s landmarks before flying through span on the Bridge.
His stunt caused a storm of controversy at the time and the Royal Air Force refused to court martial him for his actions. Instead, the Royal Air Force Medical Board discharged him.
The Walkway used to be a hangout for prostitutes
The walkways were originally designed to allow pedestrians to cross even while the bridge was raised. However, they ended up becoming a hangout for prostitutes and crime. Eventually, they were closed in 1910. Before being reopened as an exhibition to the public, many years later.
Glass floor in the walkway
A glass floor has been installed in the Walkway of the Tower Bridge, allowing you to stand above the River Thames at a height of 42 meters. If you are anything like me, l cannot stand on glass and look down as it scares me senseless! It looks really cool though to look up at and see the people.
If you have the courage to cross over the glass floor in the walkway and don’t want to miss out when in London. Then I suggest purchasing a London pass for the Tower Bridge exhibit to avoid disappointment for both the walkway and exhibition.
Over 40,000 People use Tower Bridge per Day
More than a whopping 40,000 people use Tower Bridge in both directions every day. This includes walking, catching the double Decker bus, and driving across it.
⇒ Looking for a medieval castle to visit just outside of London? Bodiam Castle – England
River traffic on the Thames takes priority over people or vehicles crossing over Tower Bridge London. However, if you want to go under the bridge with your tall boat and need the bascules to be raised you have to give 24 hours’ notice. You have to check of course the height restrictions to determine if you need to notify the bridge.
⇒ Pass under Tower Bridge, when taking a Westminster to Greenwich River Thames Cruise.
- You can see some great views of the bascules being raised at the top of The Shard, where you can even enjoy a drink.
The 2012 Olympic rings on Tower Bridge
To celebrate the 2012 Olympics being held in London, the Olympic rings were suspended from the Walkway on Tower Bridge. To achieve this, the bascules needed to be fully opened and the bridge was closed both under and over for 12 hours while the 12-tonne rings were put in place.
They did look pretty amazing when they were lit up at night and a sight that might not be seen again. Especially as they were 82 by 38 feet in height with an estimated cost of £259,817, Plus a further £53,000 to install.
While the 2012 Olympics are well and truly over, you can still visit Olympic Park, which has now been redeveloped. Where you can ride the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide ArcelorMittal Orbit.
The moving parts in the middle are known as bascules
The moving parts in the middle of the bridge are known as bascules. It’s actually a French word meaning see-saw. The bascules rise to an angle of 83 degrees and weigh over 1,100 Tons Each. When completed, it was one of the most advanced bridges in the world.
Tower Bridge use to be powered by a Steam Engines
When Tower Bridge first opened it was powered by steam engines to operate the hydraulics and raise the bascules. This was created by the burning of coal.
However, in 1976 they were replaced with a combination of electricity and oil to raise the bascules.
The bascules on Tower Bridge rise average of 2-3 times a day
The bascules on Tower Bridge rise roughly 800 times a year, working out to be an average of 2-3 times a day. However, this was not the case when it first opened in 1894, within the first year the bascules raised over 6,000 times. An averaging of 17 times a day.
This was due to all the large sailing ships at the time. Today though most boats that go down the Thames are tourist boats, transport boats. On rare occasions, you will also see a cruise liner pass under the bridge.
Watch Tower Bridge live
A new addition to facts about Tower Bridge is that you can now watch the Bridge live 24 hours a day. Modern technology has come a long way and an HD Webcam has been set up at the Bridge and other famous London landmarks. This gives users all around the world a live view of Tower Bridge and the city.
You can watch here live and maybe even see the bascules being raised.
How about some of these activities around Tower Bridge London
Good Luck to see bascules being raised
To see the Tower Bridge bascules being raised is considered to be good luck. Ok, this is more of a myth than a fact about Tower Bridge London. However, I thought it was a good one to know. Apparently, it is a rare occurrence to see the bascules being raised and lowered for ships.
The twin towers rise 200 feet (61 metres) above the Thames and provide an opening 250 feet (76 metres) wide. The Tower Bridge bascules were originally operated by hydraulic pumps before moving to electric motors.
If you witness this happen, you are supposed to receive good luck but I have seen it twice now and I am still waiting for my luck!
Best spot to watch the Bascules rise
One of the best spots to see if the bascules will raise on Tower Bridge is at the top of the Shard. You can purchase a ticket in advance for the 72nd floor of The Shard. Where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city, with the option of having champagne.
Another great spot to watch the bascules rise is at Coppa Club, which is along the Thames with views of the Bridge.
Tower Bridge was originally brown
Tower Bridge was originally brown until 1977 when it was painted red, white, and blue for Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Since then, it has another paint facelift which is what you see today. Every 25 years a major restoration of the bridge is required.
You can take your dog inside Tower Bridge
A new fact about Tower Bridge is that it is now a dog-friendly landmark and you can take your dog inside. Owners are able to take their dogs up the historical Tower onto the glass walkway and into the Engine Room.
Which I think is a great idea as dogs become part of your family and don’t have to miss out. As long as they behave, on a lead, and supervised at all times inside Tower Bridge. What a cool way to get some photos of your dog on the walkway.
Quick Facts about Tower Bridge
- Tower Bridge is a part of the famous London Marathon route
- It only takes five minutes for the bascules to rise and is powered by hydraulic pumps.
- The walkways were once known as the informal red light district of London.
- The vertical distance between the upper walkways and the deck of the draw bridge is 141 feet, 0 inches (42.977 meters).
- Tower Bridge was officially opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales, on 30 June 1910
Pubs and Restaurants near Tower Bridge
There are lots of restaurants and pubs around Tower Bridge London that are a good spot for a drink or a bit to eat before or after you have visited the bridge. Here are a few recommendations for both pubs and Restaurants:
Restaurants near Tower Bridge
Pubs near Tower Bridge
- The Dickens Inn (Historical Pub) is in St Katharine Dock and one of my favorites to visit
- The Horniman at Hay’s situation on the Thames with an outdoor seating area
- The Anchor Tap a typical old English pub in Bermondsey
Discover more of England
Want to discover more of England and other fun facts? Feel free to read the following articles. All are great options for groups of friends or family, especially those who love the outdoors.
- London: Historic Pub, Food & Beer Tour – Old Docks
- Nottingham: A Perfect Weekend Away
- London: A Palace Fit for a King Hampton Court Palace
⇒ Travelling by train to other parts of England, Wales or Scotland? How about the Interrail Great Britain Pass, a convenient way of taking a train journey? Book your tickets at the same time)
Thank you for reading this article, I hope you learned some fun facts about Tower Bridge, London. It is definitely one of the prettiest bridges that I have seen.
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⇒ Looking to discover other parts of London, please feel free to head to my England page.
Do you know any other facts about Tower Bridge London that I could add to the list? I would love to hear your comments below.
Disclaimer: All views are my own based on my own experience and research.