Since its construction and taking pride of place on London’s South Bank at the turn of the millennium, the London Eye’s fast become one of the UK capital’s most unmistakable and instantly recognisable landmarks – right up there alongside Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge – and one of the nation’s premiere attractions. Quite simply, it’s one of the first things many visitors, newly arrived in the city, want to have a go on. But why? What’s so special and irresistible about the London Eye?
Also known – for obvious reasons – as the Millennium Wheel, the London Eye is a giant, 135 metres-tall Ferris wheel located in Jubilee Gardens, on the south bank of the Thames right beside Westminster Bridge. It revolves very slowly, enabling visitors to ascend and descend its enormous rotation through the air and see all of the city – and for miles around – before they’re returned to the ground around 30 minutes later. As such then, a trip on ‘the Eye is a fantastic way to kick-off any short stay in the capital; giving you the chance to spot all the landmarks and become familiar with Central London thanks to the bird’s-eye–view it affords you.
When it was erected in late 1999, it was the world’s tallest wheel of its type – and now, nearly 18 years later, it’s still the fourth largest Ferris wheel on the planet and remains Europe’s largest. Perhaps it’s really for this reason they why it is – and has been for several years – the most popular paid tourist attraction throughout the UK; a staggering 3.75 million people go up on it each year. Naturally, should you choose to make the base for your stay a hotel suite London at the relatively nearby London City Suites (just a short hop on the Tube away from the Eye), you’ll be able join them.
Held up by an enormous A-frame on one side, the rim of the Eye is supported by tension-steel cables, ensuring its wheel resembles, well, a humungous bicycle wheel with equally huge spokes. And on the outside of the giant wheel are, of course, positioned at equal points from each other its 32 separate, sealed and air-conditioned capsules – or pods – in which guests take in their London Eye experience.
Oval in shape, each pod holds up to 25 people and is roomy enough for occupants to move about (better to take in the spectacular views), but there’s seating provided too. And, don’t worry; given the Eye rotates at just 0.6mph it’s highly unlikely you’ll suffer from any sort of travel sickness from taking a ride in one of the pods – in fact, so slowly is the rotation speed that the wheel doesn’t actually stop to take on new passengers as each pod reaches ground level.
So, no question then, the London Eye is undoubtedly one of the must-dos for any leisure visitor to the UK capital. But don’t just take the word of this humble blogger for it; why not take the word of one of the world’s foremost architects, the renowned Sir Richard Rogers?
On the topic of the Eye, Rogers wrote in a 2007 book about the attraction: “The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That’s the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London”.
Address: Jubilee Gardens SE1 7PB
Open: 10am-8.30pm Monday-Sunday
Transport links: Waterloo, Charing Cross, Embankment and Westminster stations (Tube); London Waterloo and London Waterloo East stations (national rail) and London Eye Pier (Thames Clippers and City Cruises).