i360 - Brighton's Very Cool Eye in the Sky

It May Look Like a Doughnut on a Stick but the i360 is a Gas

BA's i360
British Airways i360

Brighton, aka London's Beach, has a super new seafront attraction, the i360. Hop on a train and get there fast because, on a clear day, you can see forever. . . and when it's cloudy, the view is not bad either.

In the 1860s, when Brighton's West Pier was built, its promoters promised you could "walk on water."
Now the designers and backers of i360, opened to the public on  August 4, 2016, promise that by taking a ride on their "vertical pier" you can "walk on air."  

Okay, maybe that's a bit of promotional exaggeration, but a twenty-minute ride on what is billed as the world's tallest moving observation tower is a magical experience. And if you enjoy fabulous views from high places, this is one you should not miss.

Views From the i360

The i360 rises more than 530 feet (162 meters) above Brighton Beach between the skeletal remains of the Victorian West Pier and Brighton's Regency Square. Passengers travel to a height of just over 450 feet (138 meters) in a glass pod that resembles a giant doughnut, fitted around the tower like a painted ring fits over a tall peg in a child's toy. Some other observers have compared to a lollipop on a stick.

Movement of the pod, rising at a speed of 1.3 feet (0.4 meters)per second, is almost imperceptible. One moment, you're checking your camera and the next you're looking down at a local bus from a height of 50 feet. And as it rises, the view gradually unfolds.

On a clear day, the view extends up to 26 miles. To the north, past Brighton, the Devils Dyke and the South Downs wrap the city. To the east, you can see the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. Westward, lie the beach promenades of Hove and the shore attractions and to the south, on the horizon, the shadow of the Isle of Wight.

Even in overcast weather, the view is pretty spectacular. You ride high above the birds with the pattern of Brighton's Regency terraces, the Royal Pavilion, it's Lanes and North Laines districts laid out beneath you. So are the ever-changing moods of the sea and the ruins of the West Pier, where murmurations of starlings swoop and turn in the autumn evenings.

A 21st Century Attraction

Fires, storms, and neglect left only the haunting and still oddly graceful skeletal remains of the once lovely Victorian West Pier. Once the West Pier Trust and English Heritage (which continued to protect it as a listed building) determined that it was beyond repair, the search was on for a replacement attraction to draw visitors back to this quiet end of Brighton Beach.

The solution, the £46 million British Airways i360, conceptually a vertical pier. As a reminder of the heyday of the West Pier, its two Victorian cast iron "toll houses" have been reconstructed (one actually restored from parts of the original, the other a reproduction) and placed at what would have been the foot of the original pier. One now serves as a ticket booth and the other as a tea house. 

The tower rises from a glass-fronted beach pavilion that houses shopping and a seaside restaurant.

A Community Asset

The i360 is a joint public/private partnership between Brighton & Hove City Council, Marks Barfield ( the architects who designed it as well as the London Eye), The West Pier Trust and several other organizations. Financed by complicated loans rather than public funds, the arrangements will bring the local community a guaranteed annual £1 million in local taxes and loan interest. The i360 will also pay Brighton and Hove 1% of the annual ticket revenue even when the loans are repaid. 

Though the opening attracted a small flack of the usual professional whingers and hand-wringers, on the whole, this attraction looks like a win-win for its backers and the local community.

Vital Statistics of the i360

 Here are some more vital statistics:

  • Diameter of the Tower - 12.8 feet (3.9 meters), at a 40:1 height to diameter ratio, it is the world's most slender tower, certified by Guinness World Records
  • The Pod - At  60 feet (18 meters) in diameter, it is 10 times the size of the pods on the London Eye and is spacious enough to comfortably hold up to 200 people.
  • The Ride - The "flight", with a pause to enjoy the view at the top, takes 20 minutes during the day and 30 minutes after 6 pm.

i360 Essentials

  • Where: British Airways i360, Lower Kings Road, Brighton BN1 2LN
  • When: Sunday - Thursday 10 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday to 11 pm. Hours may be seasonal so check the website to be sure.
  • Contact: Telephone +44 (0)3337 720 360. A £2 surcharge applies to telephone bookings or email hello@britishairwaysi360.com
  • Tickets: The cost is £13.50 for adults and £6.75 per child under 15 when booked online or £15 and £7.50 on a walk-up basis. There is student and senior discounts and children under 4 go free. Local residents are eligible for half-price discounts and annual tickets for unlimited entry are also available.
  • Refreshments: A bar onboard the i360 serves locally made wine, sparkling wine, Brighton Gin, local ale and apple juice. There is a tea shop in one of the two restored Victorian toll houses and the Belle Vue, a fine dining restaurant in the glass-fronted base. 
  • Access: The i360 is wheelchair accessible. Disabled visitors can bring an assistant or carer free of charge and should ring the booking number (no telephone surcharge applies) to discuss any special needs.
  • Getting There: 
  • Parking: Regency Square underground municipal parking is located directly across the street from the i360. Parking on exit is relatively reasonably priced. 
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