Tower Bridge: Iconic Building of London with Great History

| July 9, 2020

Aside from (maybe) Big Ben/The Clock Tower, Tower Bridge is London's most recognizable landmark. Despite what you might think, it's also only 134 years old (often confused with London's 2000 year old London Bridge).

Unlike previous walking tour articles that were primarily focused on neighborhoods, this article will only explore some of the various spots you can get a great shot with the bridge in the background.

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So don't forget your camera and your favorite outfit, I’m sure you’ll get a bunch of Instaworthy snaps during this journey. At the same time, you’ll be immersed in part of the impressive history of this country.

First Thing's First, What's Tower Bridge?

Tower Bridge is a magnificent structure made with the combination of bascule and suspension bridge with impressive towers at both sides over the River Thames located downstream to the London Bridge. It's one of the most visited bridges in the world, with more than 500k visitors per year.

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The Tower Bridge is full functionating bridge, so you can have the chance to see how it lifts to open the way to any ship. It’s a great experience, to see this wonder working with the hydraulic and electric power arising the bascules, giving you a different view of this engineering gem.

How to get to Tower Bridge?

Getting the Tower Bridge is quite easy, with several public transport options in the area. The closest tube station is Tower Hill, which takes trains from the District and Circle lines. You can also take the Jubilee and Northern lines that stop at the London Bridge Underground station, which is about half a mile away, but will give you the opportunity to walk one of the most picturesque sections of London.

If you prefer using the bus services, there are plenty of routes that serve the areas near to bridge, such as: 15, 42, 78,100 and 343. Or something a bit different? There are three nearby piers with riverboat services: two located on the North Bank, St. Katherine Pier and Tower Pier, and another located on the South Bank, London Bridge City Pier. You’ll have the chance to see the Tower Bridge from every angle even before starting your journey on land.

A Little History Behind Tower Bridge

Its construction began in the 1886, and it took almost nine years to finish. It was the results of the growing commercial development in the East End London which demanded another path along the river. However, the challenge in its construction was that it cannot be just a traditional fixed bridge at street level because it would obstruct the access of the maritime transportation to the port facilities between the London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

After several designs proposals, the Tower Bridge was finished, being considered the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever constructed of those times. An engineering marvel that operated with steam to power the enormous pumping engines, to open the massive bascule in just one minute. In the latest 1800’s was the main path used by pedestrian to connect from the Tower Hills to the Southwark, used it for most of the foot traffic. At the same time, the highest level of pathways gained the reputation of being populated by prostitutes and thieves therefore they were close. It wasn’t seventy years later that they were reopen, after a full transformation to be converted in one of the best panoramic views of the city including the thrilling experience of walking over glass floor.

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Besides the bridge is fully functional, it has become more that transportation piece, being an important tourist spot offering you a great exhibition of history and give you the opportunity to see the engineering development behind this magnificent structure. If you have the time, include the visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition on the top of the bridge. It’s paid but totally worth it.

What Can I do there?

Obviously, the walking along the bridge is the main activity when you’re visiting the Tower Bridge, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular Victorian Gothic architecture, appreciate the engineering development that this structure represents a century ago when it was built and of course get immerse in the history of an iconic part of London. The walking along the bridge is free, but you can have access to the Tower Bridge Exhibition and walk along the high-level pathways and enter to the engine rooms if you pay the admission fee, showing you the history behind the construction of the bridge using a wide selection of visual displays and also an incredible panoramic of London.

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The area surrounded the Tower Bridge is full of places with historic significance that worth a visit too, it’s the case of Tower of London, The Wall Walk and Tower Hill located just next to the north end of the Tower Bridge. At less of one mile is the London Bridge that although its structure is not so remarkable, it’s a great spot to see, in one side the majesty of the Tower Bridge and in the other the London skyline with the skyscrapers and modern infrastructures.

Another relevant feature of this area is, it houses a great selection of restaurants where in addition to enjoy tantalizing dishes you’ll be pampered with incredible views of this historic building and its surroundings. The options are wide that ranges from an establishment located at the London’s highest building offering stunning aerial view of the bridge and London’s skyline to a terrace restaurant at floor level with a privileged view of River Thames. And if you plan your visit in advance and you looking for experiencing something unique, you can enjoy a delicious meal on a riverboat and be delighted with the scene of the quite river and the Tower Bridge as background.

Where to Eat Around the Tower Bridge Area?

The areas around The Tower Bridge receive floods of visitors every day looking for the perfect shot with the giant towers, this make the area will invade with plenty of food options to satisfy the tourist cravings. However, as many big attractions you’ll find some tourist traps, places where the quality of the food is not the priority, so be aware to avoid them and do not miss the great gastronomy options around there.

There are a great variety of restaurant, not only considering the different cuisines you can taste, but the locations that along with food take the dining experience to another level. Whether you’re looking for quick snack in a casual place or you fancy a first-class meal while you’re amazed with the spectacular views of the landmarks around you, there is the perfect option that will suit you. Some of the most popular restaurants in the area I can mention are: Sargeant's Mess (Tower Hill), Butlers Wharf Chop House (London Bridge), Vicinity (Tower Hill), The Coal Shed (London Bridge), Temakinho (London Bridge), Tom Simmons (London Bridge) among others.

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If you like to upgrade your dinner with an amazing atmosphere and spectacular views, there are restaurants in this area it will offer you to satiate your appetite for delicious food and fabulous pictures. One of the favorite restaurants in the area among the Instagrammers is the Aqua Shard (Old Quebec St) being the tallest restaurant in London, will take your meal to the next level allowing you to take the best shots while you’re enjoy kind of pricey meal, but the whole experience worth every penny. Another popular place with totally different angle is Le Pont de la Tour (Shad Thames) delicious French food serve in both inside and outside tables with the stunning Tower Bridge a few meters away. Other places I can mention are: The Ivy Tower Bridge (London Bridge) and Cantina del Ponte (Shad Thames).

For those that prefer using all the time available walking and knowing this bustling area of London, there are plenty of supermarkets and stores where to grab some snacks to recharge the energies and continue with the journey. The large chains have some branches in the area such as: Tesco Express with two locations (Tooley St and Eastcheap) and Mark and Spencer (at More London Riverside). Do you enjoy wandering around the street markets? You can stop at the Flea London Vintage & Makers Market located at Vinegar Yard, there you can hunt a valuable antique and enjoy a quick meal in the variety of food stalls.

Fancy a Coffee?

Walking around the Thames and climbing the Tower Bridge can be a tired activity that in some point you’ll need to stop in any of the many cafeterias in the area, to get a boost of energy with a well-crafted cup of coffee. Or maybe you’re not tired at all but you want to enjoy a delicious dessert with a hot drink having the Tower Bridge in front of you.

Some of the most famous in the area are: Three Wheels Coffee (London Bridge St), Monmouth Coffee Company (Park St) and Chapter 72 (Bermondsey St). There are two coffee shops that stands out among the other because their lovely decoration and privileged location: London Grind (London Bridge) and Watch House (Shad Thames). Having delicious coffee and taking amazing snaps is mandatory there.

Best Walk Tour Near the Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge and its surroundings has so many things to offer to the visitors, who can be delighted with historical significance of the buildings and the awesome views of London’s skyline they’ll get from there, in addition of great places to enjoy delicious food. So, I created a guided tour to show you the best spots where to take amazing photos having the iconic bridge as part of the landscape, at the same time you get into the fascinating history in this bustling part of the capital.

Walk Tour Around the Bridges

There are few things that will make you feel more the London atmosphere that walking around the River Thames while you’re approaching the Tower Bridge. Visiting this spectacular structure is whole experience just by its own. However, there are other places around it that worth a visit and offer privileged views of the center of London. The walk will take you around 3 and half hours covering a distance of 2.2 miles.

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The walk starts at Tower Hill Undergroud, when you exit the tube station, you’ll immediately see the antique buildings that are reference in the area, to the right you’ll see the Tower Hill monument, a memorial for the mercantile marines who died during the WWI and WWII, if you continue your walk through cobbled pathways to the left side you’ll reach the Sundials, the first spot in this route where you get amazing snaps. Crossing the street using the pedestrian path you’ll be in front of the Tower of London, a castle with a lot history behind its walls. You can do a tour in its interior where you’ll be dazzled with the impressive collection of the crown jewels or meeting the ravens that protect the Tower. There are a lot of things to see inside, if you’re fond of history, consider saving a least 2 hours to make the complete tour. If not, continue walking around it without forgetting to take amazing photos while you’re doing it.

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At the end of the path you’ll encounter a stair that will guide you to the Tower Bridge, from there you’ll already can see the majesty of this impressive landmark. At the left side just before getting the arch you can take the stairs to go down to the cobbled corridors alongside the River. Around there you’ll find restaurant and one very popular spot among the Instagrammers, the Girl with a Dolphin, a little fountain where you can sit and see the bridge in different angles. This terrace is a great place to take photos of London Skyline, with skyscrapers and modern buildings on the other side of the river.

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Continue your walk, going back to the bridge using the same stairs. At this point you can start taking photos in front of the massive arches and the north tower in the entrance of the bridge. You’ll find plenty of people passing by all the time, but it will add to your photos a special touch reflecting the buzzing vibe of London. When you reach the tower you can go up and get access to the Tower Bridge Experience where you’ll get amazing views of the city from the elevated pathways located at 42 meters above the River Thames at the same time you’ll learn everything about the history behind this famous structure. It’ll make you appreciate more its architecture and the engineering development that it represented one hundred years ago.

If you have skipped the paid experience continue your walk along the bridge. You’ll have a privileged view of the city at this point, take many photos as you can. On the other side of the river turning to the left, you can see plenty of restaurants that offers both incredible location and delicious food. Also, you’ll find a little stair that will guide to the bank of the Thames from there you’ll get the famous photos over stony sand having the Tower Bridge as background and stunning perspective of river. Do not miss the Shad Thames, a beautiful cobbled street with Victorian converted warehouses at both side and the overhead gantries that gives a unique vibe to your snaps.

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Retrace your steps and go to right to continue your journey along the Southbank until you reach a large green area, the Potters Field Park, perfect place to relax over the grass, have a quick snack and of course be delighted with the scenery. After the short nature bath keep going along the riverside when the path gets wider, you can enjoy the modern architecture of the City Hall and sculptures like the Jayco Monument. This area is a great place to photo sessions with the splendid view of the bridge.

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After taking amazing shots, as you continue your walk, you’ll see a massive war cruiser docked at the Pier, the HMS Belfast was a Royal Navy ship that was converted in a museum ship. If you enjoy the history and the military artifacts do not hesitate to visit this museum, also you’ll get a unique 360 degrees’ views over the River Thames. Whether you get onboard or not, you can get amazing snaps in front of this iron beast.

As you walk along the river you can see one building that stands out among the others, The Shard, the highest building in the United Kingdom and the sixth in Europe. Dock into a narrow street, Hay’s Lane at the right and walk straight until the street become Tooley Street, then turn right to find a pedestrian elevated pathway that will guide you to the complex around the massive building. Its architecture is modern made with glasses and metal structure, creating an interesting contrast with the ancient buildings. In addition of taking fabulous shots, you can access to the observation desk and enjoy an impressive view of London or having a spectacular dinning experience in the famous Aqua Shard restaurant located on 31st floor. But I warned you, the experience won’t be low-priced at all.

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Turn over your feet and make your way back to the riverside and continue your journey along the river and turn right to take the London Bridge. This bridge is quite simple and nothing spectacular in comparison with the Tower Bridge. However, it offers great spots to take amazing shots with the iconic landmark at the distance. During this crossing of the river you’ll have the chance to enjoy even more the maritime traffic and surroundings of the river as you’ll not be “distracted” with striking structure of the bridge.

After your passing the bridge keep walking a short stretch of King William St and turn right at Monument Street where you’ll find the Monument to the Great Fire of London, or commonly known as The monument, a tall structure built more than 400 years ago to commemorate the Great Fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the city. You’ll have the opportunity to climb the monument having access to special view of the city, the spiral staircase can be kind of claustrophobic, so take in consideration before going inside this historical icon of London.

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To get back to the pathways along the river, walk south onto Fish St Hill and turn right Lower Thames St, cross the street and find your way to the river through the pedestrian path around the commercial buildings. While you’re walking next to the Thames you can enjoy the boats passing by with the Tower Bridge at the distance. Be aware there’s always a hidden spot with an incredible perspective of the London landmarks and the growing financial centre that have transformed the city skyline. This walk finishes when you see the pier turn right to reach Petty Wales, a cobbled street that will guide you again to Tower Hill where you can get the Underground Station.

This quite small area has a lot to offer to the visitors from iconic historical monuments to contemporary massive buildings, and everything in middle including war museums and sculptures. And having one of the most visited landmarks as the main attraction, it definitely should be included in anyone London’s itinerary.

To make your walking tour easier, I’ll give you the link to access the route through Google Maps, and you don’t miss any spot.