Why you should go
It doesn't matter from where you first glimpse Tower Bridge, with two neo-Gothic towers rising gracefully from either side of the Thames: London's emblematic river crossing, with its lifting road section, is astonishing.
These days Tower Bridge is electrically powered, and lifts around 800 times a year (as often as 10 times a day in summer). The best spot to see it raised is at the 11m-long glass walkways of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, 42m above the river. Views plunge into the Thames, outshining the story of the bridge's construction, which is also recounted here.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
The inner workings of Tower Bridge can't compare with its exterior magnificence, but this geeky exhibition tries to bridge that gap with details of the construction and access to the Victorian steam-powered machinery that once raised the bascules. Archive footage at the start of the exhibition shows the bridge lifting for the first time, and girders in the South Tower show the bridge's original drab chocolate-brown paint job. Highlights include the view from the upper walkways and walking on the glass floors above the River Thames.
London was a thriving port in the 1880s when building work started on Tower Bridge as a much-needed crossing point in the east. Designed by Horace Jones and tweaked by engineer John Wolfe Barry, the bridge was made entirely from British materials, including Glaswegian steel, Portland stone and Cornish granite. Sadly Jones never saw the bridge completed, dying in 1887, a year into its construction.
Draped with curved suspension struts, the city's most easterly bridge was finished in 1894. On completion, its then-revolutionary steam-driven bascule mechanism could raise the bridge's roadway in three minutes, allowing ships to pass underneath.
Tickets and other practicalities
Tickets to Tower Bridge Exhibition can be booked online up to 50 minutes before your visit and include access to the Towers, West Walkway, Glass Floor and Engine Rooms. More expensive guided tours and behind-the-scenes tours run at weekends. The site is fully accessible to wheelchair-users.
Bridge lift times are published online. The nearest Tube station is Tower Hill, on the Circle and District Lines, and the Tower Gateway DLR stop is just up the hill.