The London Eye has been in operation since 1999 and offers views of up to 440 feet above the Thames River in central London. A travel review of the attraction should begin with cost -- and the prices here tend to be high.
A family of four (two adults and two children) pays £57.60 ($91 USD), and individual adults pay £18.90 ($30). There are discounts for seniors and children under the age of four ride at no cost.
Individual London Eye tickets are discounted 10 percent if purchased in advance online, and the online family rate represents a discount of 20 percent (£46.08 or about $73 USD).
If you'll be in a group of 10 or more, there are price breaks: Group Adult £15.12 ($24)
In peak season, lines here tend to be lengthy and could represent a significant time investment. Fast Track tickets are offered online starting at £37 ($47 USD) for adults. You skip to near the front of the line with Fast Track, and one version of the pass allows you to choose the time of day you'll board (a good option to have in light of London's weather).
Operating Hours and Directions
Operating hours vary by season: April - June, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; July 1-26, 10 a.m.- 9.30p.m.; July 27-August 12, 10 a.m.-12 a.m.; September-December, 10 a.m.- 8.30 p.m.
London public transportation tends to be the best choice for visitors to the London Eye, which is located within walking distance of two major train stations, Waterloo and Charing Cross, which is pictured above. It is on the opposite side of the river. Waterloo is closer and connects nicely with the London Underground. Other Underground stops within walking distance include Embankment and Westminster. Buses 211, 77 and 381 serve the London Eye area.
Driving to the site is not recommended because traffic is congested and parking spaces, when available, tend to be expensive.
Time in Line
As you can see in the photograph above, I chose to visit the London Eye on a March day when the crowds were relatively thin. The total wait time was less than 15 minutes.
This will not be possible on many summer days, when ticket lines and admission lines are long. Take stock of your available hours in London and ask yourself if you want to spend valuable sightseeing time winding your way through these lines. As mentioned previously, there is a Fast Track option that allows you to skip the lines, but requires a larger financial outlay.
Views - Up to 440 ft. above Thames
The London Eye bills itself as "the world's largest cantilevered observation wheel." The entire cycle lasts just under 30 minutes. There are excellent views on the way up and on the way down, but know that you will reach the peak height of 440 ft. in 13-15 minutes.
On clear days, you'll be able to see the central business district, the parliament buildings and both Charing Cross and Waterloo train stations. You can buy a map for £1 ($1.58 USD) that opens into a perfect circle showing the panoramic location of London landmarks. One side is a day view, while the reverse is a night view.
If you'll be taking pictures from the London Eye, be sure to allow for glare off of the capsule walls, and remember that the walls are curved. It's best to step away (one foot or more) before you snap the shutter.
The parliament buildings are difficult to shoot well in the mid- to late-afternoon, because the sun creates harsh back-lighting.
You should have about a 25-mile panorama on a clear day. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and postpone any plans you have to visit if there will be low clouds.
Want your own private London Eye capsule? It will cost £480 ($760 USD) but you can bring a total of 25 people at that price. For £592 ($938 USD) you can include champagne, mineral water and orange juice.
At several points during the experience, you'll be asked to pose for pictures. One of these poses is on the capsule itself, with a marked spot for you to stand. Another occurs after a "4D movie experience" that is shown in preparation for boarding. Costs for these pictures are steep, but if you buy more than one a discount is sometimes offered.
There is a gift shop at the base selling guidebooks, postcards and the aforementioned pictures of you enjoying life at the London Eye.
London Eye and Children
Children under four years of age are free at the London Eye. Ages 5-15 pay £9.90 ($16 USD) at the ticket window and £8.91 ($14) online.
For whatever it's worth, most of the children I saw looked rather bored. You must determine whether or not your child will enjoy being enclosed in a small space for 30 minutes in exchange for a sweeping view of London.
Alternative Views of London
If you want a panoramic view of London, the London Eye isn't your only choice.
Atop St. Paul's Cathedral is a small observation deck that can be seen in the photo above if you look closely. The catch is that you'll have to walk up about 500 steps for a view from about 365 ft., slightly lower than what is offered at the London Eye. The bonus here is that on the way up, you'll look down at the floor of the cathedral -- a sight you'll always remember because it's unique.
The cost for ascending St. Paul's (aside from physical exertion) is £13 ($21) but that includes access to the entire cathedral, not just the observation opportunity.
Among London hotels, the Hilton Park Lane offers impressive views from its loftier guest rooms and from a restaurant on the 28th floor.
Oxo Tower London is a restaurant with a terrace at the 250 ft. level that affords diners a nice overlook.
Other Expensive London Attractions
London Eye is among a number of London attractions which charge a hefty admission price. Some budget travelers decide to prioritize their spending so that they see a few of the expensive sites and also mix in some free London attractions to ease the financial burden.
Here are adult admission fees for three major London attractions:
Madam Tussauds Wax Museum £30 ($47.50 USD) or £22.50 ($36 USD) with online discount
Tower of London £20.90 ($33 USD) or £18 ($28.50 USD) with online discount
Churchill War Rooms Adults £16.50 ($26 USD) includes admission and free use of audio headphone guides.
At £18.90 ($30), the London Eye is priced in line with these other attractions. A question: Does it offer as much for the price?
The original plan for the London Eye was to run it for five years and then remove it. The thought was that in five years, admissions would more than pay for construction. But the attraction became so popular that the decision was made to leave it as a permanent part of the London skyline. It attracts about three million visitors each year.
It is one of the few major attractions not covered by the London Pass, a sign it has carved out a unique niche on the London tourism scene.
I am the type of person who loves viewing a cityscape and taking pictures from lofty positions. For me, the London Eye was a good choice. But I have seen most of the other major London attractions and I visited on a day when crowds were small and skies were clear.
You'll spend about $1 USD/minute for each person in your party during your ride, and perhaps more if you buy Fast Track tickets. Without Fast Track, the time expenditure during peak season is likely to cost you an entire morning or afternoon.
If you will only be spending a brief layover in London or if you have lots of other major attractions to visit, my advice is to skip the London Eye or at least put it well down on your itinerary priority list.