Bridges of London, London

Bridges of London (Self Guided), London

Around thirty bridges span the Thames river in London, each with its own story. Our self-guided walk takes you to see nine such historical structures located in the heart of the city, starting from the storied Westminster Bridge and ending at the iconic Tower Bridge.

The latter has stood over the River Thames in London since 1894 and is one of the finest, most recognizable bridges in the world. It is the London bridge you tend to see in movies (e.g. "Mission: Impossible", "Trainspotting", "The Elephant Man", "Killing Eve") and on advertising literature for London.

Meanwhile, Millennium Bridge has been quite popular with Harry Potter fans since being featured in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince".

Earlier on, in the 1930s, Robert E Sherwood's play ‘Waterloo Bridge’ was such a popular story, it was made into three separate films, released in 1931, 1940 and 1956; the second of these film versions starred Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, and was Oscar-nominated. The film tells the story of a soldier who falls in love and marries a woman he meets on Waterloo Bridge during a First World War air raid.

On this leisurely stroll along the north bank of the Thames, you will find many other historical landmarks of the British capital whilst taking in excellent views of Westminster Parliament, the London Eye Wheel, the South Bank and more.

Before setting out, just make sure to have your camera ready because the views will be incredible!
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Bridges of London Map

Guide Name: Bridges of London
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 Km or 3.2 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Westminster Bridge
  • Hungerford Bridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Millennium Bridge
  • Southwark Bridge
  • Cannon Street Railway Bridge
  • London Bridge
  • Tower Bridge
1
Westminster Bridge

1) Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge faced staunch opposition from the Church, the City, and the watermen when it was initially proposed due to concerns about potential losses in ferry traffic and trade. However, upon its completion, the bridge, featuring fifteen semi-circular arches, was hailed as a remarkable achievement, marking the first stone bridge to span the Thames in 500 years. Numerous artists, including Samuel Scott, Canaletto, and Claude Monet, found inspiration in the Old Westminster Bridge and depicted it in their works.

In 1831, the dilapidated old London Bridge was demolished, leading to increased water flow that resulted in erosion, undermining the foundations of Westminster Bridge's piers. In response, a Parliamentary Act was passed in 1853, transferring ownership of the bridge to the Commissioners of Public Works and permitting the construction of a new bridge. Thomas Page, the Commission's engineer, was tasked with its design. To ensure harmony with Sir Charles Barry's new Houses of Parliament, built after a fire in 1834, Barry was enlisted as an architectural consultant. The new bridge was inaugurated on Queen Victoria's 43rd birthday, May 24, 1862, accompanied by a 25-gun salute to commemorate her 25 years on the throne.

Measuring 827 feet (250 meters) in length and featuring seven elliptical cast-iron arches with abutments made of gray granite, Westminster Bridge boasts the highest number of arches among all Thames bridges. The Gothic revival ornamentation on the cast-iron parapets and spandrels was crafted according to Barry's designs. The bridge's verdant green paint pays homage to the leather seats in the House of Commons, the nearest part of the Palace of Westminster to the bridge. Decorative ironwork showcases symbols of parliament and the United Kingdom, including a portcullis, the cross of Saint George, a thistle, a shield, and a rose.

Why You Should Visit:
What truly sets this bridge apart are the breathtaking views it offers. The Palace of Westminster, the London Eye, County Hall, and the majestic Thames itself create a magnificent backdrop. The vistas to the north, east, and south are all exceptionally stunning.
2
Hungerford Bridge

2) Hungerford Bridge

Hungerford Bridge is a railway bridge that spans the Thames River, situated between the Waterloo and Westminster bridges. The bridge comprises two distinct sections. The older central part, known as "Charing Cross Bridge", consists of steel beams housing railway tracks. Flanking this central portion are newer footbridges, each measuring 4 meters in width, referred to as the Golden Jubilee Bridges, which were added in 2002. Access to these footbridges is available via staircases and elevators.

The original bridge was constructed in 1845, initially intended solely for pedestrian use. Fourteen years later, it underwent reconstruction to accommodate railway needs. Subsequently, in the 1990s, the pedestrian walkways, then named Hungerford Footbridges, underwent modernization. In 2003, the Golden Jubilee Bridges received the Royal Fine Art Commission Award, followed by the Institution of Structural Engineers Award in the following year.

Hungerford Bridge offers spectacular vistas, particularly when heading towards the South Bank. Along the way, you'll encounter artists and entertainers, and you'll have the opportunity to enjoy sweeping views of the Thames adorned with prominent landmarks, including the London Eye. On a sunny day, it's a delight to stand here, but its allure remains equally captivating after dark. Walking beneath the suspension cables at night provides an unparalleled experience, making it an ideal spot for capturing panoramic photos of the Thames.
3
Waterloo Bridge

3) Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge, named in commemoration of the British triumph at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, marks the eastern boundary of the Southbank Centre and is renowned for more than just its stunning sunsets. During the Second World War, it was predominantly constructed by women, and in 1978, it gained notoriety as the site of the assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who fell victim to a ricin-loaded umbrella. On clear evenings, it's a common sight to encounter a lineup of both professional and amateur photographers along its length. This vantage point offers a 360-degree vista of the London skyline, providing fantastic photographic opportunities in both daylight and nighttime settings.

For a particularly romantic perspective of London, stand at the midpoint between the north and south banks of the Thames on the bridge. Facing east, you'll behold the magnificent Saint Paul's Cathedral and the graceful neoclassical facades of Somerset House, along with contemporary landmarks such as the distinctive "Gherkin" skyscraper on the north side and the towering Shard pyramid to the south. Gazing westward, you'll spot the iconic Victorian Gothic towers of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Big Ben on the north bank, as well as the Edwardian elegance of The Savoy hotel and the National Liberal Club. You'll also catch a glimpse of Westminster Abbey. Turning your attention to the south bank, your eyes will be drawn to the London Eye's wheel and the striking Southbank Centre with its Brutalist architecture. If timed right, you may witness the sunset that inspired the Kinks' famous song.

Tip:
Should you find yourself in London during a full moonlit night, take the opportunity to spend an hour on this bridge after sunset and indulge in the awe-inspiring vistas!
4
Blackfriars Bridge

4) Blackfriars Bridge

In 1769, the first Blackfriars Bridge was inaugurated, bearing the creative touch of Robert Mylne, a talented Scottish architect who was just 26 years old at the time. Having honed his architectural skills in Rome, Mylne's design for the bridge drew inspiration from Piranesi, resulting in an elegant and classically designed construction featuring nine semi-elliptical arches crafted from Portland stone. This picturesque bridge, set against the backdrop of St. Paul's Cathedral, served as the subject of numerous 18th-century oil paintings, including William Marlow's renowned portrayal of Saint Paul's from the South Bank, which he completed in the early 1770s.

On November 6, 1869, Queen Victoria inaugurated the current Blackfriars Road Bridge, almost precisely a century after the opening of its predecessor, which had suffered irreparable masonry damage. This modern road bridge boasts five elliptical wrought-iron arches, the pioneering use of such a design aimed at avoiding cross-currents and disrupting river traffic. Towering granite piers, resembling pulpits, serve as a tribute to the ancient 13th-century Dominican monastery from which the bridge derives its name. The construction is adorned with a palette of red, white, and gold, featuring golden emblems embedded into its supports. It is said to mark the tidal turning point and is adorned with images of seabirds on the east (downstream) side and freshwater birds on the west (upstream) side. Additionally, the bridge signifies the boundary of the historic City of London, with a silver dragon statue guarding its southern landing.

In 1910, the bridge underwent expansion to accommodate trams and the increasing volume of traffic. With some 54,000 vehicles crossing it daily and spanning 105 feet, it now ranks as the widest bridge spanning the Thames in London.

Tip:
One can still observe Robert Mylne's original design depicted on decorative tiles inside the bridge's southern pedestrian subway.

***HARRY POTTER MOVIE***
Blackfriars Bridge appeared in the 2007 movie "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". It was featured in a scene where the members of the Order of the Phoenix flew beneath it during their journey from number 4, Privet Drive, to Grimmauld Place.
5
Millennium Bridge

5) Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge boasts three noteworthy distinctions: it stands as the Thames River's newest crossing, serves as London's exclusive pedestrian-only bridge, and has earned a place in history for having the shortest duration of operation before closure, shutting just two days after its grand inauguration.

The bridge was conceptualized to coincide with the year 2000, symbolizing the dawn of the 21st century. In 1996, Southwark Council conducted a competition, inviting architects from around the globe to devise a new structure that would embody the spirit of the new era. The winning designs, submitted by Foster & Partners and Ove Arup & Partners, marked the commencement of construction in 1998.

This strikingly contemporary suspension bridge spans a length of 325 meters and is supported by eight suspension cables intentionally positioned low to preserve unobstructed views of Saint Paul's Cathedral and Tate Modern. These cables are precisely tensioned to exert a formidable 2000-ton force against the sturdy piers rooted on each bank.

The bridge was formally inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II and originally opened its gates in 2000. However, an unforeseen oscillation, brought about by the immense pedestrian throng (comprising 90,000 individuals) on its opening days, earned it the 'Wobbly Bridge' moniker. This issue was rectified by retrofitting 37 fluid-viscous dampers, designed to dissipate energy and control horizontal movement, as well as installing 52 tuned mass dampers to regulate vertical movement. Consequently, the bridge was reinstated in 2002 and has since remained free from significant vibrational disturbances.

***HARRY POTTER MOVIE***
It might have been this bridge's association with instability that led the filmmakers to depict it as a target of Death Eaters in the film adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", deviating from the book where the Brockdale Bridge suffers a similar fate. Thankfully, despite its dramatic destruction in the harrowing opening scene of the film, where it snaps and crumbles as Death Eaters wreak havoc across London, the now iconic Millennium Bridge was not harmed during filming and you can safely walk on it today.

Why You Should Visit:
An excellent connection between the Tate Modern and Globe Theatre on one side and Saint Paul's Cathedral on the other, making it highly convenient for those exploring both riverbanks. This pedestrian-only bridge offers a delightful walking experience, with the cathedral serving as a picturesque backdrop.

Tip:
Wear comfortable shoes. Take an umbrella or a rain-proof jacket, just in case.
Also, note the paintings or stickers that are on the floor of the bridge.
6
Southwark Bridge

6) Southwark Bridge

The original Southwark Bridge, previously known as Queen Street Bridge and designed by John Rennie, reached completion in 1819. To promote a remarkable innovation, its official opening occurred at midnight, featuring the illumination of 30 gas lamps. This bridge, during its time, stood as the largest cast iron structure; however, it suffered from low utilization and lacked the capacity to support heavy goods vehicles, ultimately leading to its demolition.

In 1921, a new bridge designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Basil Mott was inaugurated, albeit after substantial construction delays caused by the First World War. Distinct from London and Blackfriars Bridges, Southwark Bridge does not bear silver dragons to demarcate the city boundary on the southern bank of the Thames, as its financing was privately arranged.

The bridge comprises cast iron arches complemented by grey granite abutments and balustrades. It is painted in green and yellow hues and features sentry-box-like structures atop the turreted pier headings. Beneath it, on the southern landing, remnants of old steps remain, once serving as a landing dock for Thames watermen to moor their boats and await customers. In an era when there were fewer bridges spanning the Thames, these watermen provided the primary means of river transportation.

On the north bank of Southwark Bridge, there is a pedestrian tunnel adorned with a wall mural depicting scenes of Thames frost fairs. During various winters between the 17th and early 19th centuries, a period known as 'the Little Ice Age', the Thames froze over, allowing Londoners to host festivals with food stalls, shops, sporting events, and even temporary pubs on the frozen river's surface. The tightly spaced piers of London Bridge disrupted the river's flow, contributing to the freezing phenomenon during these extraordinary events.
7
Cannon Street Railway Bridge

7) Cannon Street Railway Bridge

Cannon Street's name has no connection to artillery; instead, it originates from the Middle English term 'candelwrichstrete', signifying the 'street of candle makers', dating back to the 12th century. The bridge itself, initially opened in 1866, boasts five impressive spans supported by cast iron Doric columns. It was officially designated the Alexandra Bridge in tribute to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, who wed Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1863.

The original construction featured two footpaths, one serving as a public toll-path and the other reserved exclusively for railway employees. In 1893, during a widening and strengthening project, these footpaths were removed, and four additional cast-iron cylinders were added to the upstream side of each pier.

Over the past century, the bridge has undergone two complete reconstructions. The Second World War inflicted significant damage on the station, leading to the removal of many original ornamental elements during extensive renovations carried out by British Rail in 1982. Nonetheless, two brick towers from the original bridge still stand along the riverfront. These towers flank the northern side of the bridge and conceal sizable reservoirs containing water, which powers the hydraulic lifts at Cannon Street station.
8
London Bridge

8) London Bridge

For nearly as long as the city of London has existed, a bridge has stood at this very location. The inaugural bridge was constructed over 2,000 years ago, and successive bridges were erected during the Roman era, William the Conqueror's reign, and King John's rule.

In the year 1014, the Danes held control of London, prompting King Ethelred the Unready, a Saxon monarch, to join forces with a Viking raiding party led by King Olaf of Norway in a bid to reclaim the English throne. They navigated up the Thames, fastened their boats to the wooden bridge supports, and, as the tide carried them away, pulled down the bridge behind them, giving rise to the famous chant, 'London Bridge is Falling Down'.

During the Tudor era, about 600 structures lined the bridge, some soaring to heights of over six stories. It was so densely populated that it became its own city ward. The heads of traitors were a gruesome sight, impaled on the poles of the bridge's gatehouse. However, as automobiles became widespread, and traffic continued to surge, the bridge began to sink at one end in the 1960s. The structure was acquired for £1 million (equivalent to $2.4 million at the time) by the McCulloch Oil Corporation, which then transported the bridge across the Atlantic and reassembled it, piece by piece, over Lake Havasu in Arizona, where it stands today.

The current London Bridge, completed in 1973, comprises three spans of pre-stressed concrete cantilevers and is rather minimalist in appearance, featuring only granite obelisks on the pier faces and polished granite cladding on the parapet walls.

Each autumn, on one Sunday, vehicle traffic yields to a unique tradition known as the Sheep Drive by the Freemen of the City of London, a practice dating back to the 12th century, where sheep replace vehicles on the bridge for the day.
9
Tower Bridge

9) Tower Bridge (must see)

Tower Bridge, surprisingly, only opened its iconic spans in 1894, a fact that often astonishes both tourists and Londoners. Nevertheless, this relatively brief history hasn't stopped it from becoming an iconic symbol of London and the Victorian Era.

Interestingly, Queen Victoria initially harbored reservations about Tower Bridge. Her concern revolved around potential security compromises for the Tower of London, which was serving as an armory during that period. Despite her reservations, the bridge was originally adorned in Queen Victoria's favored hue: Chocolate Brown.

Sophisticated steam-powered engines orchestrate the bridge's ascent and descent, enabling the passage of tall-masted ships through its span. In its inaugural year, Tower Bridge was raised an impressive 6,160 times, and to this day, it continues to open approximately 1,000 times annually. Remarkably, despite this extensive operation, there have been no major accidents. If you happen to be fortunate, you might witness the bridge's operation as it swings open to allow barges and ships to navigate through.

For a memorable experience, take in the panoramic views of the bridge, the river, City Hall (the distinct egg-shaped glass building on the opposite bank), the Shard (London's striking architectural statement), and the vibrant cityscape. Alternatively, consider purchasing tickets that include elevator access to and from the top of the bridge. From there, you can enjoy unobstructed vistas of the east and west banks of the Thames River, complete with a captivating glass floor on the elevated walkways. Visitors also have the opportunity to explore the original steam engines that were once responsible for raising and lowering the two bascules—a genuinely captivating and informative experience. To top it off, there are convenient restroom facilities at the top for added convenience.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique and majestic structure; amazing to see especially at night!

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