London bridges are celebrated and renowned for myriad of reasons. London Bridge is best known for falling down, even though it’s still standing 600 years later. Tower Bridge arguably has the most striking design. Waterloo Bridge is known as the ‘ladies bridge’ due to the number of women involved in its construction during World War II. And the Millennium Bridge is defined by.. its wobble.
The steel suspension bridge connects the north bank of the Thames near the south bank. As you look along the River Thames, the Millennium Bridge lies in between Southwark Bridge to the east and Blackfriars Railway Bridge to the west. Unlike Blackfriars and Southwark bridges, no traffic or trains can cross the Millennium Bridge. The London Millennium footbridge was the first pedestrian bridge to cross the River Thames in over 100 years.
And a very useful bridge it is too. The crossing is five minutes away from St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London on the north bank. To the south, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a mere two-minute walk, with Tate Modern about four minutes away.
Our London aficionado and guide extraordinaire, David, points out that the two bridge ends are very different (and a good guide will point this out to you). The City of London end just flows straight off. Yet the Bankside/ Southwark end doubles back on itself. That hairpin design feature turns people back towards the river to take in the spectacular view of St Paul’s across the Thames. Clever eh? It’s a charming design feature, placing focus on the historic London landmark.
The London Millennium Bridge opened on 10th June 2000. Construction started in 1998. At the time, many worried that we wouldn’t make it to the 21st century as fears of Y2K disasters were rife. But several new London landmarks were rather bravely developed to mark the millennium. They included:
That wobble wasn’t intentional. The bridge had a cracking design team behind it too. The architects were Foster and Partners, lead by Sir Norman Foster, along with the celebrated sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. The structural engineers were Arup.
The bridge was hailed as an engineering innovation, being a lateral suspension bridge without supporting columns. It was designed to resemble a blade of light across the River Thames. It was unlike any other.
On its opening day, around 90,000 people crossed the Millennium Bridge. Huge numbers of them were rather disconcerted by the bridge’s swaying motion. It swiftly earned the nickname ‘the wobbly bridge’ due to the significant vibrations felt as you walked on it.
The Millennium Bridge Trust investigated and put the oscillations down to the high volume of people crossing the bridge at one time. The bridge was closed for nearly two years while the wobble was fixed. Dampers were fitted to soften the scale of the tremor on the bridge and now it’s a lot less wobbly.
That all depends on how fast you walk! The Millennium Bridge is about as long as the Shard is tall. The total length is 325 metres. It’s 4 metres wide and sits approximately 10.8 metres above the River Thames at high tide.
So, to answer the question, it takes around five minutes to cross. But that’s assuming you don’t get distracted by the breathtaking view along the Thames. It’s hard not to stop and take in the fabulous sights like Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, Tate Modern and the South Bank.
One vision of the Millennium Bridge etched in many minds is Voldemort’s Death Eaters turning the bridge topsy turvy as they swarm from the sky in the 2009 Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Five years later, the bridge made another cameo in the Marvel superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy. That time it narrowly escaped total destruction in an attack.
It may be one of the younger bridges across the Thames, but the Millennium Bridge has overcome a fair few traumas already. It’s worth a visit just to take in the majestic views back towards St Paul’s and the City. But while you’re there, we highly recommend you discover Shakespeare and Dicken’s London too.