One of the best ways to see London is from the air. Unfortunately, that was fairly difficult until recently. Now it’s as easy as stepping onto a platform that moves slower than the average escalator into the London Eye pod.
The London Eye can only approximately be described as an enormous Ferris Wheel. The designers beginning with the originators Julia Barfield and David Marks have produced an engineering marvel. True enough it rotates in a circle through a vertical plane. But it never stops or starts apart from the occasional need to accommodate the elderly or handicapped.
Conceived as part of the British Millennium celebration, the wheel was eventually worked on by several architects under the sponsorship of British Airways. So large it had to be cast and constructed in sections, it took over a week to hoist into position.
Though not open to the public due to technical problems until March 2000, the wheel now provides rides to thousands of daily visitors. Even at the current somewhat high prices the cost of rent, construction, and interest on loans keep the operation from being in the black.
Given its status as a major tourist attraction, though, the British government has vowed to keep it in London and in operation for years to come. With 15,000 per day who come to ‘take a flight,’ there’s definitely the potential for a profitable operation.
The bicycle-hub-and-spoke design supports oval-shaped pods that accommodate visitors in comfort and style.
The 135m high (443 ft) wheel holds 32 of the glass pods, all with 360-degree views of London. The pods, which hold 20, are air-conditioned and the wheel provides a smooth, nearly noiseless ride. The passengers may not so choose your partners well.
Not only spectacular to look at it provides unobstructed views that, on a clear day, can extend all the way to Windsor Castle dozens of kilometers outside London.
The total trip is around 30 minutes and during that time riders can see Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), and the Thames as it meanders through the city.
During the continuous ride, you can take in the view of everything from the mundane Ministry of Defence building across the way to the Saatchi Gallery and the spectacular Millennium Dome. The latter, largely a failure as a turn of the Millennium tourist attraction, is finding new life as a sports arena and concert venue.
Open all day and year-round, many visitors take the trip early in the day to get a clear view of daytime London. Another visit allows seeing the scenery at dusk when the setting sun makes the city glow.
The London Eye has located nearby the IMAX cinema and the London Aquarium, not to mention Big Ben and the Tower, so there are lots of attractions within a short walk. Getting there is easy, too, via the London Underground, i.e. the ‘tube’ or subway. Exit at Waterloo station.
To minimize the wait, get tickets online and collect them from the automated ticket machine inside the main hall. See http://www.ba-londoneye.com/ for additional info and prices.