Photos: Take a Tour on the London Eye

The London Eye, built for the year 2000 Millenium, soon became an important city landmark and is now a must-see for many families visiting the British capital.

The giant observation wheel rises high on the banks of the Thames, and riders are treated to a panoramic birds-eye view of the London skyline. If the weather's clear, you can see for 25 miles.

At 135 meters high, the London Eye is the sixth tallest structure in London. It is a great family activity, even with small kids, because the flight is a gentle. The entire trip takes 30 minutes inside a capsule that holds 25 passengers.

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Capacity and Queues

London Eye - half circle. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

The 32 sealed and air-conditioned oval-shaped passenger capsules of the London Eye can carry 15,000 visitors a day. Be aware that during the peak summer season, lines to buy tickets can go on for hours.

Visitors can buy "fast-track tickets" to avoid the queues, but they cost  a bit more than "saver tickets." The best way to avoid lines is to book saver tickets online. The only hitch with pre-purchasing your ticket is tht you'll be taking a chance on the weather the day of your flight.

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London Eye - approach. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

The London Eye is located on the Thames' South Bank between the Westminster Bridge, which leads across to the Houses of Parliament, and the Hungerford Bridge. 

Near the Eye is the London Aquarium; and beside it are the Jubilee Gardens, a modest greenspace with picnic area and playground. Continuing on the walkway beside the Thames, you'll pass street entertainers and sidewalk artists.

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Up, Up and Away

London Eye - gondola girders. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

Inside the capsule, passengers are free to walk around, though seating is provided. The wheel moves slowly enough that it does not have to stop to let off and take on passengers; instead, passengers simply walk on and off the moving capsule at ground level. The passenger capsules are suspended in such a way that visitors get a 360-degree view.

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London Eye - gondola. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

The London Eye was designed by architects Frank Anatole, Nic Bailey, Steve Chilton, Malcolm Cook, Mark Sparrowhawk, and the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Mark, who entered a competition to design a millenium landmark. The competition was scrapped, but the couple didn't give up on their project and luckily, neither did the original sponsor, British Airways. Currently, the wheel is sponsored by Coca-Cola.

The wheel was so big that it had to be constructed in sections, which were floated up the Thames on barges and then assembled lying flat floating platforms in the river. Once the wheel was complete, it was lifted into an upright position.

Iconic Pritzker Prize-winning architect Sir Richard Rogers wrote of the London Eye:

"The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That's the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London."

When first opened, the London Eye was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Today it is still Europe's tallest Ferris wheel. It was the highest viewing point in London until the 804-feet observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard opened in 2013.

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View from the London Eye

View from the London Eye. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.

On the day of our ride in August, we had decent but not perfect weather. If you book ahead to avoid lines, you are taking your chances with weather during your flight. Another option is to take a night flight, which fans say is absolutely magical with the city lights twinkling below.

Note: the Eye closes for several weeks each year for maintenance. Check dates if you're visiting off-season.

– Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

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