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A follower on Instagram told me not to bother going on The London Eye, one of London’s top tourist attractions because it was pricey and the lines long.
Initially I was unsure and nervous. Was this going to be a little overrated like my experience climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
Side Note: Since I’m close enough to being a born and bred Sydneysider, The Sydney Harbour views are so familiar to me that the WOW factor was probably missing. But, I still recommend people to do it.
I lived in London for over two years before the completion of the London Eye, so I knew the River Thames views well. I was ho-humming about it.
Did I need to see the Thames and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from atop of the London Eye? Would it be just another kitschy tourist trap?
NO! NO! NO…in London, there is no kitschy tourist trap. It’s just not that kind of city or culture. Actually, I don’t think anywhere in England or the UK can be called kitschy!
I absolutely loved our experience on the London Eye, as did everyone in our family and I now recommend this as one of the wonderful London attractions for kids.
The views of London are extraordinary and worth the price. (We were guests of the London Eye and under no obligation to write this post. But I am because I loved it and it’s so worth it for any visitor to London).
When you visit London, you will love seeing the perspective from above as often as you can.
The London Eye is one that will stand out as a huge WOW moment. It wasn’t just a snapshot of one London scene, but a rotating perspective that slowly changed over 30-minutes.
You could easily soak up every angle, capture family photos, as well as find time to dance as you can see from our dancing Savannah below. I have about twenty photos of her doing her leg splits and cheer moves. I don’t think she’ll ever forget dancing on top of London.
So YES! The London Eye is totally worth it. I think just like you’d visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, you’d visit the London Eye in England’s capital.
We experienced many incredible views of London during our 10-days in this city, and will be writing a post sharing them all soon. Jump in our virtual suitcase so you don’t miss our London travel tips and future travel updates and tips.
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What is The London Eye?
It literally is like an eye to the world of London.
The height of the London Eye is 135m, making it the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel, similar to a bicycle wheel. This means it is supported on one side only and is what separates it from a Ferris wheel. It is called an architecture marvel because of this unique design.
Conceived and designed by husband-and-wife duo David Marks and Julia Barfield in response to a 1993 competition inviting Londoners to build a new landmark to commemorate the new millennium. The competition was a flop, without a decisive winner, but once an idea like this is born, life has a way of bringing it into reality.
The wheel opened on March 9, 2000 and was an instant hit. They originally intended to open for five years, but it was soon quite evident it needed to become a permanent London landmark.
Originally called the Millennium Wheel, it was renamed the London Eye in 2011 because of the stunning panoramic views of the city that the ride offers – some call it the Eye of London – but it is not the London Ferris Wheel.
It has since become the number one paid attraction in London for the past decade, with over 3.5 million visitors per year. It has won over 85 awards for national and international tourism, outstanding architectural quality, and engineering achievement.
This global icon has become the modern symbol representing the City of London.
The London Eye regularly changes colors and lights, depending on events happening in London and across the United Kingdom. It also has dramatic fireworks every New Year’s Eve, similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is becoming just as popular.
The London Eye Experience
The London Eye revolves at a speed of 26sm per second, which is a quarter of the average walking speed. Unlike a Ferris Wheel, which will stop and start to let people on and off, the London Eye keeps on moving. Because of its slow pace you can easily board the capsule.
There are a total of 32 capsules, one for each borough in London. The capsules however, are numbered 1-33 as they’ve taken out number 13 to preserve good luck. Phew. I was worried.
Capsules hold up to 25 passengers and the entire London Eye can hold 800 people per revolution – the equivalent of the capacity of eleven red double-decker buses in London. Lines can move quite quickly as a result.
Once you’re on, it’s simply a matter of relaxing into the views for the next thirty minutes. Disconnect from social media and use your time to look around and observe one of the biggest and best cities in the world.
Since it is in the area of London where there aren’t any skyscrapers, and you’re on the edge of the water, your view is unobstructed.
I like how in one rotation your view points change from ground level, to front on, and up to bird’s eye. Keep looking the whole time as it changes so much and the higher you go the more, you’ll see.
I also loved looking back, down, and across to the capsules as we rotated.
At the very top, I felt like I was a spaceship floating in the air. That was the only time my tummy fluttered a little. Other than that, I wasn’t afraid at all on the London Eye. If you’re scared of heights, you may find it a little unnerving.
Within the capsules are interactive guides on-board with information on 55 top London landmarks.
What can you see on the London Eye?
What you see while you’re on the London Eye will depend on how clear those clouds are. On a sunny day, you can see as far as 30 miles away over to Windsor Castle.
Even if it’s cloudy, you’ll see many of London’s top attractions and notable sights. Most of your viewing will be north, or opposite the London Eye, but don’t forget to turn around and see what is behind you as well.
Here are the famous landmarks to look out for:
- Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
- Westminster Abbey
- Buckingham Palace
- St James Park
- Hyde Park
- St Paul Cathedral
- Tate Modern
- Tower Bridge
- The Shard
- Jubilee Gardens next to London Eye
- Whitehall Gardens
Really, it’s more about what can’t you see? On the London Eye you can see All. The. Things.
You can see more in our London Eye Reel.
To have all the space (and freedom to dance) consider a private pod. London Eye gifted that experience to us and it was wonderful. Savannah would not have been doing the splits otherwise. And we had no strangers crowding our view and were able to capture great images and video.
If you are traveling with a large group of people, private pods may make more sense.
And passengers in private capsules get fast track access!
Lines for the London Eye can get very long. We were so happy to visit during March 2022, before the summer crowds, and still recovering from the pandemic so queue times were very short.
In order to bypass the extensive line, purchase a skip the line ticket.
With so many incredible things to do in London, I’d spend the money to avoid waiting in lines and wasting time. If that is not feasible for you, get the standard ticket and arrive as early as you can.
Pre-pandemic, the London Eye also had a 4D Cinema experience and other offerings like a VIP Champagne Experience. Be sure to check with them for your visit to see what has, hopefully, returned.
Where is the London Eye?
The London Eye is located in South bank of the River Thames in a prime location opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
It is within easy walking distance from the following London Underground stations:
- Waterloo Station (the closest)
- Charing Cross
- Waterloo and Charing Cross are the closest train stations.
When is the best time to ride the London Eye?
The London eye is open daily from 11am to 6pm, with the last time slot for boarding at 5:30pm.
If you get there first thing, you may beat the queues. You’ll also want to consider how you time it with the River Thames cruise (see that down below) and other London attractions you may want to see in the area (see below).
My top tip would be to aim to get there for dusk to see the London skyline bathed in golden light. In the wintertime that will mean also seeing some twinkling lights!
The light for photos will be better during the afternoon hours. Of course, timing it for dusk depends on what time of year you are visiting.
We originally planned to visit for dusk around 5pm so we’d catch the views of London in the day and as it moved into sunset.
However, we did not anticipate a time change to daylight savings while we were visiting London, which pushed sunset back to after the London Eye closing times!
Check the weather forecast and consider moving your schedule around to suit the weather if you’re flexible.
Although the weather in London is usually cloudy with a chance of rain, November, December, and August see the highest rainfall in London.
Lastminute.com London Eye River Thames Cruise
Again, some may wonder if a cruise on the River Thames is worth it?
Yes. Yes. And more, yes! There is nothing like seeing London from the perspective of its snaking River Thames.
The Lastminute.com London Eye River cruise is a 40-minute circular tour of the Thames on a small open-top ferry with guided commentary. The departure landing dock is right under the London Eye.
I loved the commentary that taught us a lot about the history of the Thames and the role it’s played in London life.
Did you know the Thames is considered to be the cleanest river in the world flowing through a major city? Since it used to be a cesspool for the city’s filth, this is a major accomplishment to celebrate.
The cruise will take you past Big Bend and the Houses of Parliament before turning around to head east passing under many of London’s bridges spanning the river – each with their own name and story.
You’ll learn many stories about the iconic Landmarks you’ll pass like Big Bend, London Bridge, HMS Belfast, The Shard, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge, which you’ll get to sail under before turning around to cruise back.
For the entire journey, you’ll be under the ever-watchful eye of St Pauls’ Cathedral dome, which soon came to be one of my beloved London landmarks.
London has made it possible for you to see St Pauls’ Cathedral from wherever you go in the central London area (and sometimes further).
As our cruise host told us, in order to construct buildings taller than ten stories, the city made a law in 1938 that St Paul’s must be viewed from eight places in London.
This is one reason the modern skyscrapers in London have unique shapes. It’s so they don’t overshadow or obstruct the views of this magnificent cathedral.
The only problem I had with the river cruise is that it’s open deck – the best for views – but it meant that it was difficult to hear the commentary on the way back when we were going against the wind.
We had quite a windy day. I could still hear it but it was a challenge, and I loved the commentary.
Obviously, there is not much you can do about the weather, and I still got a lot of value out of the cruise and would do it again.
There is inside seating downstairs if you want to escape the weather, but I do recommend sitting up top for those clear London views. If you can snag a front or outside seat, they are the best. Be sure to line up about 30-minutes before to increase your chances.
Book your Thames River cruise ahead of time.
I think it’s best to do your London River Cruise first as it’s a timed experience, and then do the London Eye after.
It departs at 45-minutes past every hour. The cruise is wheelchair accessible and audio commentary is available.
You can see more in our Reel of the River Thames cruise. (Follow us over there for more fun travel adventures and tips!)
London Eye Tickets / Combo tickets
Click on the links below to book in your London Eye experience:
Want splendid views of the London Eye?
Walk over the Golden Jubilee Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge spanning the River Thames between Charing Cross and Southbank. There are two of them on either side of the Hungerford Bridge.
If you take the side closest to the London Eye you will have splendid views from the side.
As you cross over the bridge turn left and walk along the north side of the river for more views of the London Eye back over the river.
Moored on the Thames is the Tattershall Castle, a former passenger ferry turned pub with views of the London Eye.
We didn’t get to step in for a drink as it was always busy and we weren’t sure how family-friendly it was. I think drinking a Pimm’s here on a warm English afternoon with those views would be a memory.
The Whitehall Gardens here are also very beautiful and worth looking at.
You can also see the London Eye from the 72nd floor of The Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe. We visited The Shard on our first night in London.
The London Eye looks so small from up there, which was another reason I wondered if the view would be any good. If you are thinking the same, let me tell you, the views are that good. It’s a much different perspective, but just as wonderful. Sometimes getting the furthest away is not always the best way.
What is there to do near the London Eye?
When exploring a vast city like London, you need to plan your days carefully. We explored one region at a time and around the top attractions in London.
It’s important for us to know what was near the London Eye so we could plan accordingly.
As our tips in our getting around London post share, walking between attractions is one of the best ways to see London (plus it’s free, good for your health, and Mother Earth).
Near the London Eye on the South bank of the Thames
- SEA Life Center London Aquarium (I personally would not visit London to go to an aquarium)
- The London Dungeons: We did the similar London Bridge Experience, and it was so much fun! Our girls loved it – well in between the scary bits. It was one of the attractions on our London Pass by Go City.
- You could keep walking along the south bank of the river to:
- Oxo Tower (another London view)
- Shakespeare’s Globe (20 mins)
- Borough Markets (30 minutes)
North of the Thames
Once you walk over the bridge you are in the Westminster area of London, so can visit the following London attractions:
- Big Ben
- Westminster Abbey
- St James’ Park
- Churchill War Rooms
- Buckingham Palace
- Trafalgar Square
- Covent Garden
A walking route that connects these London attractions is three miles long. I have mapped it for you. Click this link and make a copy of it. With your copy you can add any other attractions you want to visit for this London Eye day experience, including places to eat and drink.
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