London has always had a number of locations that one could ascend to look out upon the city, such as Saint Paul's Cathedral and the Tower Bridge. But before there was the super high viewing area of the Shard, the tallest public observation point in the city was the London Eye, or as it was previously known, the Millennium Wheel. While the London Eye was not the first Ferris-wheel type contraption to grace London, the idea for the London Eye was the winning entry to a 1993 contest in which Londoners were asked to design a new landmark for the city that would celebrate the millennium. And while the London Eye did not open to the public in time for the New Year’s Eve festivities in 1999, it has become one of the most popular London sights and new iconic destinations within the city confines.
While exact numbers are somewhat hard to come by, what is clear is that the London Eye receives upwards of 3.5 million visitors per year, which makes it the most popular paid attraction in the entirety of the United Kingdom. Along these lines, in 2008, it was announced that the London Eye had had more than thirty million visitors. In practical terms, what this means is that there are no “slow” times to visit the London Eye – it has been popular, and remains popular through the present day. While it appears to be a Ferris Wheel, it is in fact a “Cantilevered Observation Wheel” as it is supported on one side. Irrespective of what term one chooses to call it, the London Eye remains impressively high at four hundred and forty three feet (120 meters), and dominates the area near it on the south bank of the Thames.
Directions/Cost: The London Eye is located on the south bank of the Thames, almost directly across from Big Ben. The nearest Underground stop to the Eye is Waterloo station; however, Westminster Station is a short walk away from the Eye as well. Since 2014, the Eye has been owned by the Coca-Cola Corporation, and is technically known as the Coca-Cola London Eye. Through their website, they offer a number of packages, both involving tours through London, and rides on the Eye itself. Although prices vary, the base price as of 2017 for a single ride booked in advance is £21.20 ($25.00 USD). This price covers one thirty minute rotation of the Eye in one of the thirty-two capsules. From this price point, there are a number of other options, including private capsules, drinks, and various other items for the interested. Based on my personal experience – and the numbers quoted above – I’d strongly recommend purchasing tickets in advance if you want to ride the Eye.
The Experience: Despite having a pair of tickets with a pre-set time, we happened to arrive slightly late for our time. While the Eye was able to accommodate us, and were fairly kind about doing so, I’d recommend that everyone arrive some fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, in order to ensure they are in the right spot, and to allow time for the security screening. Once we were aboard, we found ourselves in one of the capsules, which started ascending with a gentle nudge. Having been on a variety of Ferris Wheels before, I was pleasantly surprised at the gradual – if not somewhat slow rotation of the Eye.
This speed allowed for plenty of time to take in the sights from a variety of altitudes and angles. Obviously, if one has a fear of heights, or enclosed spaces, this is not the attraction for you. But, for people who can handle a bit of moderate movement, the Eye lives up to the billing of providing great views. To me, London is a very photogenic city, and even though we elected to go during the evening, the views – and photographic opportunities were still stunning. As we went during the end of year holiday months, much of the city was lit up in fantastic fashion, and we could also see a number of local holiday fairs and trees in the various regions of the city. Even if it was not holiday time, I would still favor riding the Eye at night, as it allows one to enjoy the city from a different perspective. Finally, even though this is not part of a standard package, we also enjoyed a cocktail service during our ride which was quite stellar, and definitely was a unique experience on London’s premier viewing attraction. For those visiting London with a little extra discretionary income, I would strongly also recommend this service as well. My final verdict on the Eye: excellent. While it mainly is a viewing platform, the experience as a whole is unique, fun, and relaxing, and is something I would recommend to either first time visitors to the city, or long term visitors who may be reluctant to do something as obviously touristy as it is. Even if one doesn’t want to ride the Eye, it’s worth walking by due to its size, and its proximity to Westminster.
Facts that May Only Interest Me: The Eye has thirty-two capsules, each one for one of London’s different boroughs, but no number thirteen capsule for fear of bad luck.