THE CITY is magical at night,” says Stella Ioannou, Project Director of Celebrate the City. She’s right, of course. The London skyline is among the most recognisable anywhere in the world and its finest rooftops and spires – from the dome of St Paul’s to the tip of the Gherkin – are clustered in and around the Square Mile.
On 22 June, Celebrate the City is offering members of the public a rather special viewpoint: from the top of Tower Bridge as the sun sets over London with a glass of champagne in hand. As London experiences go, they don’t come much more iconic than that.
So much so, in fact, that the bridge was the location for The Apprentice final in 2006, with the last two remaining candidates challenged to host an event in one of the walkways.
What’s more, the Bridge will play host to the five Olympic rings, creating a visual focus for the Games this summer and reinforcing its position as London’s best-loved landmark.
The two high level walkways above Tower Bridge stand 143 feet above the River Thames and offer spectacular views. To the west, you look out over the Tower of London, HMS Belfast and towards Blackfriars Bridge. However, with the Olympics only a month away, the activity will be in the east towards Docklands, Canary Wharf and Greenwich. Look down and you’ll see the City’s lights reflected in the river itself.
In fact, the only thing that won’t be in your eye line will be Tower Bridge itself. It is a definitive London icon that appears on signposts pointing this way all over London. Set to grow more recognisable as it becomes a symbol of London’s Olympic presence, the Bridge was also the climactic backdrop for the pageant marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Construction started in 1886 and Tower Bridge took eight years to build at a cost of £1.18m – equivalent to £100 million today. When the Bridge used to open on a regular basis, allowing ships passage into the Pool of London, the walkways were just that; pedestrian footbridges reached by passenger lifts. Today, with the opening a rarer occurrence, they serve as an award-winning venue for hire and as one of London’s most popular visitor attractions.
But without an invite to one of the various events held in them or by paying the admission fee for the Tower Bridge Exhibition, there’s no getting in. But on Friday 22 June from 6.30pm, admission is free – all part of Celebrate the City – a feast of exhibitions and entertainment and the City of London’s response to the 2012 Games. “If you live in London and you haven’t been onto the walkways on Tower Bridge to watch the sunset, then, quite frankly, you’re missing a trick,” says Ioannou.
That’s totally in keeping with Celebrate the City’s programming policy, by which it intends to open up the Square Mile’s best-loved buildings and treasures to the public. On the 22nd, once the sun has gone down, there’ll be a spectacular light show showcasing the Bridge’s brand new energy-efficient LED makeover to round the evening off. “It’s basically date-night,” laughs Ioannou.
In fact, budding romantics are well catered for throughout Celebrate the City. Also on Friday evening, at 6pm, opera group Amore will be giving a free concert in the Gothic ruins of nearby St Dunstan’s Church. The Wren-designed building was a victim of the Blitz, but its remains have been turned into an elegant garden that will provide a gorgeous setting. Youthful and fresh, Amore aren’t your average opera stars and have been called “sultry singing sensations” by Hello Magazine. Expect popular classics.
In fact, the City often does romance all by itself, as showcased by the various walks through its secrets. The Blooming City treads a route around the City’s public parks, while the two church tours and another filled with John Keats’ romantic poetry should also set hearts throbbing.
For a more unstructured route, the Great St Helen’s Sculpture Space is ideal. This newly installed outdoor sculpture space, can be reached by a free rickshaw from Cheapside on Saturday and contains work by Tracey Emin, Michael Craig-Martin and Julian Opie, as well as Yayoi Kusama’s rather appropriate Flowers That Bloom Tomorrow.