How much do you really know about central London’s newest Bridge? Discover everything you need to know with these interesting facts about the Millennium Bridge – complete with some handy tips for visiting.
At only 21 years old, the Millennium Bridge stands proudly as one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Thousands of Londoners use it to travel across the Thames by foot every day whilst soaking up the views of the incredible skyline.
BUT. There is far more to this crossing than mere convenience.
Here I will show you everything you need to know about London’s Millennium Bridge and tonnes of handy tips to help you to get the most from your visit.
Interesting Facts About the Millennium Bridge
It Got Off to a Very Bumpy Start
So bumpy, in fact, that the bridge didn’t actually open until 2002.
To the delight of the nation, the Queen initially opened the Millennium Bridge in June 2000. However, this grand opening was two months later than planned and £2 million over budget.
Maybe that was a sign of what was about to come.
Undeterred, Londoners immediately headed out in their thousands to marvel at this beauty. It is estimated that a staggering 160,000 people visited the new landmark in the first two days of opening.
To the shock of the public and the designers alike, the bridge began to shake on day one. Although the builders were confident this wasn’t a life-or-death sort of situation, they still made the wise decision to close the bridge on opening day (albeit for only 10 minutes).
The bridge was reopened within minutes, and visitors headed back to enjoy the new central London attraction. But, to the disappointment of many, two days after opening, the ‘swaying’ became significantly worse, and the team decided to close the bridge.
Reports at the time mentioned that the bridge ‘might be closed for many weeks’, but little did they know it would take two years before visitors would again be permitted to stomp along the famous aluminium deck.
During this period, over 90 dampeners were installed to help combat the issue. Finally, in February 2002, the bridge was reopened – this time for good.
…And That’s How It Earned Its Nickname
Following the pretty traumatic initial opening, locals nicknamed the Millennium Bridge the ‘wobbly bridge’, and the name stuck.
Whilst I’m not going to bore you with the technical details of why the bridge was quite so shockingly ‘wobbly’ on the 2000 opening, the research is fascinating.
It turns out that the springs in the unique suspension design were causing a subtle, purposeful movement on the bridge. However, this forced many visitors, often subconsciously, to change the way they walked.
All taken in tandem, these modified strides caused the ‘wobble’ to get significantly worse and eventually close the bridge for the best part of two years.
Now, no matter how sturdy the structure may now be, it will never shake the wobbly bridge nickname.
It Links Two Pretty Incredible London Landmarks
Two of the most popular landmarks in the city, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern museum, are linked by this fantastic bridge.
Combine this with the vast amount of offices, schools and other workplaces in the area; it is no surprise that the designers created the bridge to withstand over 5000 people at once.
The Bridge Was a True Collaborative Effort
The engineering team at Arup worked with the architects at Foster and Partners and the late sculptor Sir Anthony Caro.
However, this contract wasn’t the result of them knowing the right people to get their foot in the door.
Instead, the trio got their heads together and entered a competition run by the Southwark council. Their extraordinary ‘blade of light’ design wowed the judges, and so the Millennium Bridge we know and love was born.
It Is Completely Pedestrianised
Of course, Tower Bridge and London Bridge are terrific sights, but navigating the many cars and double-decker busses can be a daunting task, especially for those with small children.
Chances to enjoy the wonderful London skyline without any vehicle fumes or noisy car horns are few and far between. So, be sure to take your walk along Millennium Bridge slowly and steady, soaking up the beautiful view along the Thames.
The Millennium Bridge Has Over 400 Pieces of Tiny Art
This is, by far, my favourite quirky Millennium Bridge fact.
The magnificent structure is covered in 400 tiny pieces of artwork, all made from chewing gum!
The aptly named ‘Chewing Gum Man’ (or Ben Wilson as his family probably call him) can regularly be seen on the bridge, dragging along his toolbox and transforming minuscule pieces of discarded chewing gum into works of art. This guy has become somewhat of a local celebrity, with passers-by often stopping to grab a quick selfie.
Graffiti on the bridge is illegal, however, Chewing Gum Man insists his work transforms trash into something beautiful – and I have to agree. For street art lovers, Millennium Bridge’s unique chewing gum masterpieces offer a fresh perspective.
Its Sheer Size Is Astounding
London loves all things supersized, and the Millenium Bridge is no exception to this.
The length is built from three separate sections, totalling well over 300 meters. The width is an impressive four meters, making it fit for the thousands of visitors it withstands every single day.
And a project of this scale does not come cheap.
It is reported that the construction of the bridge cost in excess of £18 million, funded by the Millennium Commission and the London Bridge Trust.
The First New Bridge in London in a Century
The Millenium Bridge was the first new river crossing in London for over 100 years – there is no wonder it attracted such a huge amount of attention.
Interestingly, a new river crossing in the capital usually requires an Act of Parliament to permit its erection. The team behind the Millennium bridge managed to escape this by gaining a permit from the Port of London Authority, allowing them to speed up the process considerably.
The Millennium Bridge Uses Unique Lateral Suspension
The Millennium Bridge couldn’t look more different to Tower Bridge which sits just a little further along the Thames. The suspension system is what makes Tower Bridge so recognisable, drawing visitors from around the world.
Whereas for the Millennium Bridge, the focus was on creating an opportunity to enjoy the amazing scenery. Therefore, the design eliminated the use of overhead suspension, which would have tarnished the panoramic views. Instead, the developers used the innovative lateral suspension to secure the bridge and maintain the skyline.
It’s Not the Only One
So it turns out the millennium was quite a big deal, and London was not the only city that decided to mark the event with a bridge.
In the UK alone, six other bridges go by the same name – with many others across Europe and the US.
Since the Reopening in 2002, It Only Had to Close Once
Due to some pretty disastrous weather conditions in 2007, the council decided to temporarily close the bridge to keep visitors safe.
Luckily, no one was injured, and the bridge was reopened shortly afterwards. Other than this brief interlude, the Millenium Bridge has been open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, since 2002.
The Bridge Makes an Excellent Movie Set
I mean, it comes as no surprise that this phenomenal structure lends itself as the backdrop to many movies. These include Run, Fat Boy, Run, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Harry Potter (a group of death eaters actually destroy the bridge in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).
So, do not be alarmed if you see visitors re-enacting a little wingardium leviosa in this iconic spot.
Tips for Visiting the Millennium Bridge
Grab Your Camera
A quick Instagram search will show you just how magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral and the surrounding skyline is.
Access the bridge from the Southbank (just next to the Globe Theatre) for a superb photo opportunity.
Visit Early (or Late) For the Best Views
It will come as no surprise that visiting a central attraction at midday on a Saturday will not result in the best views.
Of course, dragging the family out of bed at the crack of dawn is not the easiest of tasks – but the payoff is so worth it! Uninterrupted views of St Paul’s Cathedral from one side and the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern from the other are truly magical.
There Is Nearby Parking
Baynard House Car Park is just a three-minute walk from Millennium Bridge, making it ideal for those who need to drive.
However, people who know the city well will be aware of how intense the traffic in this area can be. Especially if you plan to visit first thing in the morning, or early evening, be sure to add a little extra time onto your journey to account for this.
Dedicate an Hour to the Sight
I recommend dedicating an hour of your day to the Millennium Bridge. This will give you ample time to appreciate its beauty and capture all the Instagram snaps you could dream of.
However, the attraction lends itself well to sightseeing in the vicinity. You will be able to spend the remainder of the day exploring the many museums and attractions in the area. To complete a family-friendly day out, you could head to the London Dungeons or even enjoy a Trafalgar Square treasure hunt.
Visit via Tube
As with most of London, the most convenient and quickest way to reach the Millennium Bridge is on the tube. The closest station, Blackfriars, is just a three-minute walk away. Alternatively, St. Paul’s is an eight-minute jaunt from the bridge.
The Designers Prioritised Accessibility
As should be the case (but unfortunately is not throughout much of London), the designers focused on making the bridge accessible.
There are gentle ramps on either side of the landmark so those with limited mobility can still enjoy the beautiful sights and convenience of the Millennium Bridge.
Make a Day of It
There is certainly no shortage of places to eat and drink on the Southbank.
The Anchor is probably the most famous along there, or try Lyaness (a personal favourite) for something a little more upmarket.
As mentioned, the central location of the Millennium Bridge makes it the ideal base for a weekend in the city. So whether you’re museum hopping your way around the capital, enjoying the vast green parks, or out for a spot of designer shopping, a hotel in this area will be perfect.
London is packed with excellent places to stay, with boutique offerings generally being the favourite among couples. Those with children shouldn’t be concerned as there are plenty of hotels catering for the whole family (including those that welcome our furry friends).
Millennium Bridge London: Map
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