What's the confusion between the London Bridge vs. Tower Bridge? A lot of people get these two famous bridges mixed up.
London Bridge and Tower Bridge are two of the most iconic images representing the UK, but many people get them mixed up. In fact, some people don’t realize that they are actually two separate structures with their own history, purpose, and personality.
We want to clear up the confusion for all curious minds. Keep reading for a condensed version of the history behind both of these bridges. We’ll start with a short answer that tells you the difference then move on to a more detailed discussion of each bridge.
These two bridges are often confused because they’re located close together on the Thames River. The London Bridge is perhaps better known by name, but many people mistake it for the more eye-catching Tower Bridge probably due to aesthetics and expectations.
The London and Tower Bridges are two separate structures. The London Bridge was constructed first and served as the only crossing point along London’s portion of the Thames River for many years. It differs from the later-built Tower Bridge in how it operates and looks.
The London Bridge is a drawbridge made from concrete and steel. It doesn’t have many decorative features unless you count the spike construction on one end. The Tower Bridge is what you could call ornamental. It was designed for breathtaking beauty, which is why it’s one of the most photographed London attractions to this day.
The Tower Bridge is also a bascule bridge, which operates a bit different from a drawbridge. Let’s look at each bridge individually for more details.
In Roman times, the London Bridge was the only way to cross the River Thames when going to or from London. The first bridge was constructed from wooden planks laid over a line of boats around 43 A.D. It wasn’t until 1176 that a more stable bridge made from stone was constructed. The bridge was fully constructed by 1209 with 20 gothic-style arches and a drawbridge made from wood.
The original stone London Bridge became the foundation for a line of houses and shops with the wheels below the arches helping to grind grain and move water into London. A stone gate house held the heads of traitors. By the 1620s, many Londoners were moving away from the bridge in the aftermath of two large fires and signs of wear and tear on the bridge.
In the 1820s, the construction of a new London Bridge began. It was placed further west over a narrower piece of the river and took six years to construct. This bridge was made from granite and was wide, spacious, and instantly a popular place for Londoners to live and shop. The bridge was widely used for commuters and lasted until the 1960s when it started to sink due to heavy traffic.
In the early 1970s, the London Bridge that we know today was fully constructed. Instead of stone, it is now made from steel and concrete for greater durability. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in London and even the UK. You’ll come across it as you explore attractions along the South Bank, including beautiful views of the bridge from the Shard and the London Eye.
Construction of the Tower Bridge started in 1886 but wasn’t completed until about 8 years later. The London Bridge was already established, and the goal was to erect a new bridge downstream without interrupting the flow of traffic along the river. While the London Bridge has been rebuilt several times, the original Tower Bridge is the same bridge that you can visit in London today.
Instead of using the drawbridge design of the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge was constructed with two bascules that move in a seesaw-like motion. The bascules were originally powered by steam and moved up and down to control the flow of traffic. They still operate the same way today but are powered by electricity and oil instead of steam.
The London Bridge design also includes two grand towers joined by a walkway that stretches above the bascules. It was designed to look older than its actual age, which doesn’t help visitors struggling to tell the difference between the London and Tower Bridges.
The London and Tower Bridges aren’t far apart, which fuels a lot of the confusion between the structures. Many people think the Tower Bridge is the London Bridge because it’s more elaborately designed and looks much older than expected. You can tell them apart by looking for the two tall towers joined by a decorative walkway and lower bascules, which are all clear features of the Tower Bridge.
Anyone can walk across the London Bridge free of charge. If you want to walk across the upper walkway of the Tower Bridge, you need to buy tickets for the London Bridge Experience. Keep in mind that the full experience includes some darker twists into the history of the bridge that aren’t suitable for younger kids.