A staple on the southside of the river Thames, standing tall over the riverside path and offering some of the best views across central London and beyond, the London Eye is a giant Ferris Wheel which combines access to views and photo opportunities with a memorable and genuinely enjoyable experience. Accessible from your accommodation in Paddington via tube or on foot, this attraction is at the very top of most London itineraries and to-do lists.
For once, however, we’re not interested in the views or in what you can see from the very top of the London Eye. This blog is all about the history, how the wheel was designed and built, and how you can make the most of your time in one of the capsules which circles the London Eye experience.
The History of the London Eye
The London Eye was not part of some grand plan to drive forward an immersive experience which combined the views of London with a tourist-friendly activity. In fact, it wasn’t even originally conceived by London officials. Rather, the London Eye came about as the result of a competition launched in 1993 which invited London residents to design an idea for a landmark which could mark the millennium.
The London Eye was the winning idea which came from an English couple, and the attraction was officially opened by Tony Blair in 1999 – welcoming the first paying guests on board in 2000.
And another fun fact relating to the history of the London Eye is that, if the original plan had been followed, the wheel would not have lasted much beyond 2005. This is because originally the winning landmark would only remain in place for five years before being taken down – however, the success of the London Eye as an attraction for those visiting London meant that it was granted permission by the local council to remain in place.
Dimensions of the London Eye
If you’ve ever wondered how the London Eye manages to grant views as far as the hotels near Paddington Station and beyond, it’s because of its extraordinary height – which sees the capsule at the very top of the wheel reaching 135 metres at its highest point.
The circumference of the wheel is 424 metres, and it takes around 30 minutes to complete a full rotational ride on the wheel – with all manner of activities and experiences available on board the different capsules from various hospitality packages to drinks, guided tours, and more.
In terms of the capsules which offer the experience, there are 32 in total around the complete circumference of the London Eye, with one to represent each borough of the city. This is a nod to the design and build of the wheel as part of the millennium celebrations in the city, however eagle eyed visitors will note that the capsules are numbered from 1 to 33 rather than 32. This is because, as a result of superstition, there is no capsule 13 in rotation.
The Coronation Capsule
Another fun and unique fact about the London Eye is that one of the 32 capsules is painted in a layer of red across its exterior – and this is because that specific capsule if the Queen’s Coronation capsule. Painted to honour the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, this is the only capsule which is coloured with the rest a clean and bright white to match the frame and infrastructure of the wheel itself.
The London Eye can be hired for private events
We probably don’t need to tell you that the London Eye is one of the most popular attractions in London, with over four million visitors flooding to the site from their surrounding London hotel deals, eager to get tickets for the first ride of the day, to see the sunset from the top of the wheel, or to get a chance to ride in the iconic Coronation capsule.
However, the incredible popularity of the wheel is not limited to tourists and those wanting to experience London from up high. There are a number of upgraded and hospitality packages that visitors can enjoy to enhance their own experience, and the wheel can also be booked out as part of a corporate event day, a team building exercise or to celebrate something personal and highly special – for example a proposal or even a wedding!
Each capsule can hold around 25 people which allows for a small and intimate ceremony before you head towards one of the top hotels in the surrounding area for your reception celebration – with the very first London Eye wedding being held in 2001. (We hope that they visited the Park Grand Paddington Court London for their reception afterwards!)
What you’ll see from the London Eye
The beauty of the London Eye is that once you’re aboard one of the capsules, your view will continue to change as you make your way up, over the highest point, and then back down again. Allowing for different perspectives of the city throughout the ride, this attraction is popular on both clear days and moody days, with sunrise and sunset rides among some of the most coveted for those seeking a memorable or romantic experience.
With 360 degree views across the city and beyond, and the ability to see well beyond the boundaries of central London on a clear blue day, just some of the sites and landmarks that you can expect to see from the London Eye include Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, the O2, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Royal Parks, and even Windsor Castle well outside London.
It’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular attractions in London, or that it outlived its original and expected lifespan of just five short years. And make sure to pick up a postcard of the London skyline featuring the London Eye, as a lifelong mark of your experience on board London’s millennium celebration.