If you – or, perhaps more likely, your kids – are the sort fascinated by the macabre, blood-thirsty history of centuries past, then of all the major cities you might choose to visit, London surely has to be top of your list. That’s because the UK capital’s history isn’t just rich in cultural, political and engineering innovation, but also in the less admirable but equally as intriguing elements of crime, violent death, disease, pestilence and torture. And, yes – like it or not! – all these disagreeable but irresistible facets of city life past are brought together in a hugely popular attraction on the banks of the Thames, The London Bridge Experience.
Famed nowadays as a much-visited tourist-trap full of restaurants, markets, cafés and bars, the area around London Bridge (to be found in the borough of Southwark on the south bank of the river) is nonetheless full of historical resonance, having been a centre for trade, entertainment and, thus, vice and criminality for many centuries thanks to a major river-crossing standing on the site ever since Roman times. As such, this attraction celebrates – if that’s the right word! – these darker aspects of London’s history, using a state-of-the-art combination of costumed guides, animation and computer-generated (CGI) special effects to bring to life the area’s fearsome tales from the past.
In actual fact, the venue offers two ace adrenaline-inducing attractions in one. Because, on the one hand, there’s the ‘Experience’ itself, which sees guests guided through the vaults and tunnels beneath London Bridge to discover its potted history (and that of the capital’s other notable bridges), beginning with the first pontoon-like bridge erected by Roman settlers and going right up to the modern iron bridge that was opened in 1971.
This journey, during which visitors get to meet a coterie of charismatic characters, takes in grisly episodes such as Queen Boudica and her East Anglian Iceni tribe’s revolt against the Romans, the tearing down and rebuilding of the Vikings’ medieval bridge and the devastation and death wrought on the area and wider city by the 17th Century’s Great Fire of London. For sure, it makes for a perfectly gruesome but educational and fun day out for the family if you’re staying nearby at, say, London City Suites Montcalm Brewery.
And, on the other hand, there’s The London Tombs. These catacombs, dating back to the 14th Century, were excavated while the attraction was being built around 10 years ago – and so frightening are the wonders they contain that, apparently, a pair of builders working on the project were so perturbed by a clutch of skeletons unearthed they refused to work there alone!
Effectively the remains of a plague pit, the ‘haunted’ tombs feature a ‘scare maze’, around which guests are invited to creep, trying to avoid the unspeakable nasties (zombies included!) that may, at any moment, jump out at them from the darkness. Do note, though, that this part of the attraction is only for those aged 11 years-old and up; a less scary ‘guardian angel tour’ option is available for younger children. All the same, The London Tombs are definitely worth your while (especially if, while staying in the capital, you’re making use one of the many London City break deals available) – indeed, they won the Screamie Award for the nation’s ‘best scare attraction’ eight years running up to 2016.
And, even if you’re not planning on making it to London this summer, don’t fret; The London Bridge Experience is open all year round. In fact, it makes for a terrific family attraction – as you may have guessed – at that most spooky time of year, Hallowe’en. Its ‘Phobophobia’ event is a blood-curdlingly brilliant delight of a show that runs throughout the month of October every year – you have been warned!
Address: 2-4 Tooley Street, London SE1 2SY
Open: 10am-5pm Monday-Friday; 9.30am-6pm Saturday and Sunday; note: last entry is one hour before closing
Nearest Tube: London Bridge station