Visit the London Eye, the ferris wheel of London


The London Eye, London’s Ferris wheel, has been in operation since 2000 and offers a magnificent view of Big Ben, Westminster, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and many parts of the capital.

In this article, you’ll learn more about the history of the London Eye, the view you can enjoy from the top but also a lot of practical information to book your ticket at the best price.

The history of the London Eye

If I had to sum up the history of the London Eye in one sentence, I would say that this attraction, which was meant to be temporary, has now become the most visited ticketed attraction in the UK!

A success and longevity that was not really foreseen at the beginning! As early as 1993, the English Architecture Foundation and The Sunday Times newspaper organised a major competition to choose the new venue that would mark the start of the third millennium in London. If you are young, you may not know this, but at the time it was a big event, most cities wanted to mark the occasion!

A capsule of the London Eye
Capsule overlooking Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Marks Barfield Architects (founded by a couple, Julia Barfield and David Marks) proposed this Ferris wheel project. David Marks, who died of cancer in 2017, was also behind the i360 observation tower in Brighton. As it turned out, their project was not selected… nor were all the others that were submitted in the competition! Despite this, they decided to give it their all to make their idea a reality.

At the time, it was the world’s largest Ferris wheel (it has since been surpassed), the London Eye measuring 135 metres in height (443 feet) with a diameter of 120 metres (394 feet). It was erected between 1998 and 1999, initially horizontally on barges floating on the Thames, before being gradually straightened.

View of the Thames and St. Paul's Cathedral
View of the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral

Behind this monument, which is now part of London’s history, there is in fact a little bit of Europe: the cables that hold the Ferris wheel together come from Italy, the capsules from France with Italian glass, the hub and the pivot of the Ferris wheel come from the Czech Republic, and let’s add to that English steel manufactured in the Netherlands and German bearings!

The monument opened to the public a little late, on 9 March 2000, due to a technical problem… but its inauguration did take place on 31 December 1999, just before the new millennium. The wheel was called the “Millennium Wheel”, but this name is not often used today.

As early as 2001, the owners applied to convert their 5-year temporary lease into a permanent one, which was granted. On the other hand, promotional partnerships are concluded at regular intervals: brands will sponsor the wheel for a period of a few years, allowing them to have their brand name and branding in the broadest sense of the word attached to the wheel. These have included British Airways (one of the original owners), The Merlin Entertainments, EDF Energy, Coca-Cola and, most recently, lastminute.com.

The Ferris wheel branded with lastminute.com colours
The Ferris wheel branded with lastminute.com’s logo

The London Ferris wheel now welcomes over 3 million visitors a year. Each year, half a million pounds from ticket sales is donated to the neighbouring South Bank Centre (a group of music and concert venues) to fund its cultural activities.

So much for that bit of London Eye history! Now to the most exciting topic: what do you see when you board a capsule?

The view from the London Eye

I’ll talk about this below, but you’ll find out pretty quickly that the ticket price is very high. However, this is not a Ferris wheel that only takes 10 minutes to ride. Here, you stay in the capsule for about 30 minutes, a perfect amount of time to enjoy the scenery without frustration. And to tell you the truth, I love taking pictures, I even had time to change my lens several times during the ride, so it’s a great duration!

At the foot of the London Ferris wheel, you have two queues (a classic queue and a priority queue to board more quickly). You can have your photo taken on a green background at the entrance (and buy the photo in the small shop at the exit if you like it), this is of course optional.

Afterwards, you board a large, fully glazed capsule. The wheel has 32 of them, numbered from 1 to 33. Is this a calculation problem? Not at all, there is simply no capsule number 13 (which will delight the most superstitious among you). The capsules have seats in the centre for those who wish to sit down… but there is no obligation, you can stand and walk around freely to enjoy the view and take photos!

Inside a London Eye capsule
Inside a London Eye capsule
View of Big Ben and Westminster
View of Big Ben and Westminster

It’s extremely stable, no feeling of wind. Moreover, the capsules are air-conditioned, which allows the attraction to function in the best possible conditions, even during the cold season (a great thing to know for those who are afraid of the icy wind that we sometimes have in London in winter!)

We take off at a very slow speed, about 0.9 km/h (0.6 mile/hour)… and it’s time to discover the landscape in a new light!

Of course, you will be able to admire the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the famous Big Ben bell, from every angle! Up close…

Zoom in on Big Ben from the London Eye
Zoom in on Big Ben from the London Eye

From further away, with Westminster Abbey just behind.

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey
Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

We pay more attention to its architecture from here!

Westminster Abbey towers
Westminster Abbey towers

The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge are always bustling with activity, between the traditional red buses and the stream of tourists and Londoners.

The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge
The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge

On the other side, Hungerford Bridge

Hungerford Bridge
Hungerford Bridge
Aerial view of the Thames and Hungerford Bridge
Aerial view of the Thames and Hungerford Bridge

The Shard skyscraper can be seen with its sharp silhouette, which also has its own observation deck (you can book tickets online here). In the background, you can see all the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf.

The Shard and the city of London
The Shard and the city of London

In the City of London, you can spot another popular skyscraper to view the city from above, the Walkie Talkie, which houses restaurants and a garden, the Sky Garden.

The City of London
The City of London

Harder to spot is the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square with the dome of the National Gallery to its right.

Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square
Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square

There is also a great view of St Paul’s Cathedral, which is one of my favourite sights in London. It’s beautiful on the inside but also offers a great view of the city from its terraces and dome. You can also book a ticket in advance to visit it.

St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral

And let’s not forget Buckingham Palace, a bit drowned in greenery, with the Victoria Memorial in front, the trees of Green Park and St James’ Park and the government buildings nearby.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

During the tour, a global photo of the passengers in the capsule will be taken, with an audio message warning you moments before! You can look at and possibly buy the photo at the exit, where there is a small shop (not very well stocked for my taste!).

Despite the high ticket price, this is an attraction worth seeing! It’s nice for someone who is new to London, because it gives you an idea of the topography of the city… but also for someone who already knows the English capital very well, because you can play at spotting known and less known places.

How to visit the London Eye?

The London Eye address

It’s hard to miss! It is located on the opposite bank of the River Thames from Big Ben, on The Queen’s Walk, near the Riverside Building and a stone’s throw from the Jubilee Gardens.

To get there, you can arrive by boat and stop at “Waterloo Pier”, literally at the foot of the Ferris wheel (this stop is served by Thames Clippers and City Cruises).

You can also arrive by tube, there is:

  • Approximately a 6 minutes walk from Westminster Station (on the Jubilee, District & Circle Line);
  • 8 minutes from Embankment Station (Bakerloo, Circle, District and Northern Line);
  • 7 minutes from Waterloo (railway station + Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern, Waterloo & City Line).
Waterloo station seen from the London Eye
Waterloo station seen from the London Eye

Booking and ticket prices

Ticket prices will vary according to the time of day: there are ‘off-peak’ periods and other periods are ‘peak’ periods. Their timetable depends on the season.

Ticket prices also vary according to the type of access: either standard access, via the classic queue, or cut-through access via a much shorter dedicated queue.

This gives 4 main prices, knowing that you can book your ticket online in advance:

  • The Standard ticket during the “off peak” period – This is the cheapest ticket and gives you access to a 30 minute ride on the Ferris wheel. The price is approximately £33 per adult.
  • The Fast-Track aka Skip-the-Line ticket during the “off peak” period – Same thing but with priority access. The price is approximately £46 per adult.
  • The Standard ticket during peak period. The price is approximately £36 per adult.
  • The Fast-Track aka Skip-the-Line ticket during peak period. The price is £51 for an adult.

The adult rate applies from the age of 16. Children from 3 to 15 years old benefit from a small discount of a couple of pounds. Children under 3 do not pay but you still have to get a ticket for them (reservation possible on the link I gave). Note also that a minor of 15 years old or less must be accompanied by an adult to board.

View of the city from the London Ferris wheel
View of the city from the London Ferris wheel

In addition to these prices, you can find combined offers with other monuments and activities, which are very interesting if you have several visits planned.

Note that if you choose the London Pass, a tourist pass that gives access to many attractions and activities in London, the Ferris wheel is not included.

If you ask me, it is not necessarily useful to take the fast-track ticket for this attraction. Each capsule can hold up to 25 people, so the queue moves quite quickly. Unless you have small children who find it difficult to wait or you have a busy schedule, the standard ticket is sufficient in my opinion.

Opening hours of the attraction

The place is open every day, from 11am to 6pm.

It is important to note that from the beginning of October in England, the sun sets at around 6.30pm. If you go during the last few slots, you can enjoy the sunset and the golden hour when the weather is good, which gives a nice light. From November onwards, during these same slots you can enjoy the London Eye by night, a slightly different experience!

The London Eye by night
The London Eye by night

I hope you enjoy it! I much preferred this attraction to The Shard, both for the view and the photos. The Shard is much higher so you don’t get the same sense of “immersion” in the landscape. Also, I found that there was a lot more reflection on the windows for the photos in The Shard than in the London Eye… whereas I expected the opposite. If you’ve tried it, feel free to share your experience and give your opinion in the comments!

Also, don’t hesitate to post a message if you have any questions!

What is the name of the Ferris wheel in London?
The Ferris wheel is known as the “London Eye”.

When was the London Eye built?
It was built in 1998 and 1999, and welcomed its first tourist visitors in 2000.

How high is the London Eye?
The London Eye is 135 metres high (443 feet). This is twice as high as Westminster Abbey (69 metres/226 feet).

How much does a ticket for the London Eye cost in euros?
Tickets generally cost between £33 and £51, depending on the time of day (peak or off-peak) and whether you are a standard or a fast-track ticket holder.


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