The London Eye opened in March 2000 as part of the millennium celebrations, and although, like the Eiffel Tower, it was not originally intended to be a permanent structure, it soon became an iconic symbol of the capital and top of many visitors’ “must do” list. It’s tall, has fabulous views over the city, and it rotates – take that Paris!
How to get to the London Eye
The London Eye is on the south bank of the Thames in Jubilee Gardens, opposite the Houses of Parliament. The nearest tube station is Waterloo, or you could use the riverboat service – the Eye has its own pier. Bus routes 211, 77, and 381 stop at the London Eye, and so do the Big Bus Sightseeing hop on/off tours. If you fancy a scenic route, get off the train at Westminster and stroll across the bridge. If you have a London Pass all these modes of transport are free!
Facts and stats
The London Eye is a 443 ft high cantilevered (supported on one side only) observation wheel with 32 sealed capsules, or pods – one for each London borough – and each pod can hold up to 25 people. The 32 pods are number 1-33, with no number 13, to avoid scaring superstitious people! Each revolution takes 30 minutes, and its ultra slow movement is almost imperceptible when you’re on board, which is ideal for taking photos and allows people to get on and off without stopping the wheel. The average number of passengers per day is 10,000, and it can hold up to 800 people per revolution. On a clear day you have a 360’ view spanning 25 miles. More than 5000 people have got engaged on board the London Eye, and so far 50 weddings have taken place!
The best time to go to avoid the queues
The best way to avoid the queue is to book your ticket in advance online as there are actually 2 waiting lines: one to buy the ticket and another one for boarding. So save yourself 20 minutes and smugly skip to the boarding gate.
At times the queues can be quite long, with an average waiting time of about 20-30 minutes and considerably longer in high season, but it does move quite fast. In fact, the best times to arrive is either at the opening time or in the evening, it’s less crowded. After 15:00 the queues are usually shorter than at midday.
Sunset surprisingly doesn’t attract bigger crowds, the queues are often really short or nonexistent. Plus, you get to see the twinkling city lights come on.
What’s on board
In the centre of each air-conditioned capsule there is a large oval shaped wooden bench, should you want to sit down for a while. There are six interactive tablet tour guides attached to a custom rail around the perimeter of the pod, that can tilt to combat glare. The pods go round so slowly that you have time to zoom in on the sights and learn interesting facts about about the 44 landmarks featured, such as how far away they are, when constructed, size, etc. The “Look Inside” feature allows visitors a sneaky peek at the interior of places like 10 Downing Street and The Gherkin, and you can also flip between day and night settings.
While you wait to rotate, enjoy an uplifting family 4D film!
Unless you have fast track tickets, you may be grounded for a while, especially at peak periods like weekends and school holidays. The London Eye 4D Experience will keep impatient little ones entertained with its touching story of a little girl whose view of the London sights is always obscured by big people and traffic getting in the way. A passing seagull leads the girl and her Dad to the London Eye, where they get the unobstructed view of London’s sights with added extras – a time lapse scene, a capsule party and a fireworks display – with special effects such as wind, bubble and mist. Aah!
Remember, if you purchase a standard ticket you’re expected to arrive 30 minutes before your boarding time.
Fast Track experience
Why wait? With the London Eye Fast Track Experience you only have to check in 15 minutes before you board at the priority check in desk. You will be escorted to your capsule by a member of staff and be given a free guide book, which has a panoramic map of London’s landmarks with information about them and the construction of the London Eye. If you’re pushed for time or have young children with you it’s well worth the extra charge. Just try not to gloat at those waiting in line!
For special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas, or just for fun, the London Eye Champagne Experience has been highly praised by guests. It includes fast track entry, priority boarding and a souvenir guidebook. You can check in just 15 minutes before the next available departure time and will wait in a private lounge until escorted to your pod. Your host will serve you a glass of Pommery Brut Royal champagne, and children get a free soft drink and an in-flight pack which contains a mini guide and Eye Spy binoculars in a London Eye duffle bag. There are usually fewer people in a pod on the Champagne Experience, so you will get a better view.
If you book a London Eye private capsule you get priority boarding and a free mini guide each. Minimum number is 3, maximum 25 (20 if you order food) Private capsules are ideal for groups of family and friends or corporate entertaining. Food options include gourmet canapes, finger food or nibbles with wine or champagne, and if you order food you get a free extra rotation.
During the festive season the London Eye holds its annual Frostival, with the Eyeskate ice rink and entertainment for all ages. The trees lining the path to the Eye are lit up, and London’s Christmas decorations make the view of the city extra special.
At Easter there are egg hunts for children, circus style acts at ground level and the Easter Bunny opens his chocolate factory. Adults can indulge in a luxury chocolate tasting with sparkling wine.
The London Eye Witch Academy, where kids are taught spells and rituals by a sorcerer host, is popular with families at Halloween, and over 18’s can venture into a spooky capsule for trick or treat cocktails.
The London Eye is open daily, from 10.00 – 20.30, except on Christmas Day and during its maintenance closure between 1st and 24th January 2016. From 25th – 31st January opening times will be 11.45 – 16.45.
The Southbank area is known as an arts and entertainment district, and has many restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques. There’s always something going on, and the Christmas Markets are magical. London Dungeon, Sea Life Aquarium, and Shrek’s Adventure are 2 minutes walk away. Thames Clipper riverboats stop frequently at London Eye Pier (Waterloo Millennium Pier) and if you cross Westminster Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Horseguards Parade and 10 Downing Street are a short walk away.
Save money when you visit the London Eye
You may have already made savings by booking online, but trips on the London Eye can be combined with visits to 15 different popular attractions for further discounts, including Eyeskate. The London 30 Day City Fun Pass gives you entry to 4 attractions for the price of 2, London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure, Sea Life Aquarium and Madame Tussauds.