London Eye

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Just across the bridge from Westminster Palace and Big Ben, you’ll find a strikingly modern addition to the London skyline.  It’s currently known as the EDF Energy London Eye, but you might still hear it referenced as the British Airways London Eye or the Millennium Wheel.  It was built in 1999, in celebration of the new millennium, and was originally planned to operate for just five years.  But, the London Eye proved to be such a hit with tourists, that it remains.

The London Eye declares itself to be the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.  The key word there is “cantilevered”, which describes it’s unusual support system, with legs on just one side.  When it opened, it was the largest Ferris wheel in the world, but it has since been eclipsed by structures in Singapore and China.

Even though there are bigger Ferris wheels out there, you still have to be impressed with the London Eye’s numbers: it’s 443 feet tall (135 meters), and features 32 capsules for passengers, each of which weighs 11 tons (or 10 tonnes).  25 people can ride in each capsule.  The ride lasts about 30 minutes, or one revolution.  Rarely does the wheel stop, since most people can get on and off while it’s moving slowly.

It’s a real treat to see the wheel at dusk or after dark, thanks to the LED lights that circle the wheel, and reflect off the Thames.  If you’re going to ride the wheel, an evening ride would be great (after sunset), but a morning ride would be even better, since the sun will set behind Big Ben, washing out your late afternoon photos.

I did not ride the London Eye for a couple of reasons.  For one, it’s expensive (and it’s not covered by the London Pass), and two, it’s crowded.

On the morning of my first full day in London, I walked over to the London Eye, just to take an up-close look.  There was a huge line of tourists waiting to board the wheel, even on a gloomy day like this one!  And for the cheapest ticket, you must purchase in advance, and select your date and time of departure — which means you’re gambling on London’s finicky weather.

More expensive tickets give you the option to select your departure time after purchasing, and allow you to skip some of the line.  As of 2011, you can expect to pay anywhere from £17 to £31 ($27 to $50 USD).  Check the London Eye website for current pricing.

Even if you don’t ride it, the London Eye is still a sight to behold.

The London Eye is next door to the London SeaLife Aquarium, another worthwhile stop, especially if you have children.  (You can see the entrance in one of the photos above.)  Tickets start at £13 online.  Check the Aquarium website for updated ticket information.

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