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The London Eye viewed from Jubilee Gardens public park on the River Thames in London.

The London Eye viewed from Jubilee Gardens public park on the River Thames in London.

“Why do they call it the London Eye, anyway?” I asked of no-one in particular.

The only answer was the creak of the steel monster’s A-Frame as electric pumps and hydraulic motors slowly rotated the “cars” or capsules.

This giant ferris wheel hasn’t always been called the London Eye. In fact, it began life as the Millenium Wheel.

Why? That one is easy.

Because it looks like a giant bicycle wheel with 64 spokes–and was designed to be a metaphor for the end of the 20th century and time turning into the brand new 21st century, at least back in 1999 when it was being constructed.

It later became the British Airways London Eye and then the Merlin Entertainments London Eye, as it changed ownership.

FAQ about the London Eye

  • The London Eye is 443 ft (135 meters) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 ft (120 metres). Allowing a full 10 ft per story, that would make the London Eye over 44 stories high!
  • The London Eye is the tallest ferris wheel in Europe, and was the tallest in the world in 1999, but is now third.
  • This huge cantilevered observation wheel (another name for a ferris wheel and one that’s more apt to the function of the London Eye) sits on two giant legs 65 feet (20 meters) apart that are each over 190 feet (58 meters) in length.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair officially opened the London Eye on New Year’s Eve, 1999, although visitors didn’t get to ride in it until March 9, 2000.
  • The London Eye sits at a 65-degree angle.
  • There are 32 capsules attached to the rim.
  • Never stopping, it takes about half an hour for a full revolution of the wheel, so passengers simply step on and off when a capsule reaches the platform. It can, however, stop for passengers that need special assistance.
  • You never end up upside down during the rotation of the wheel because the cars or capsules are also rotating to keep level.
  • Cars can’t tip even if everyone in the capsule rushes to one side for a scenic view.

Many cities in the world have huge iconic attractions like Toronto’s CN Tower and the Calgary Tower with the highest 360° observation deck in the world. While London has many large famous historic attractions, such as the Tower of London, the London Eye became its modern icon. In fact, by June 5, 2008, 30 million people had visited! Today, it’s the most popular paid attraction in London.

 

Passengers boarding the London Eye as it revolves slowly.

Passengers boarding the London Eye as it revolves slowly.

I, of course, had to see what the all excitement was about!

What’s it like to ride the London Eye?

It was easy to board the London Eye even though it never came to a full stop. There were only half a dozen boarding on my ride, rather than the 25 each car can carry, but even with more of a line-up it wouldn’t be problematic to get safely onto this ferris wheel.

And, since the car is a completely enclosed bubble, there wasn’t any frantic grabbing for a seat belt to hold me safely in place during the ride.

 

View of Big Ben and Westminster Bridge as the London Eye capsule starts to rise.

View of Big Ben and Westminster Bridge as the London Eye capsule starts to rise.

The car gradually rises, and with each foot of elevation more and more of the incredible vista of London becomes visible. Hanging out over the River Thames, the cars almost seem to be rising on their own.

 

River Thames and the Hungerford Bridge from the London Eye.

River Thames and the Hungerford Bridge from the London Eye.

Moving at about 0.6 miles an hour (0.96 kph), I watched things become smaller and smaller below me. At the top I could just barely make out Windsor Castle in the distance (with a few pointers from riding companions)! In fact, depending on the day, you can see for up to 25 miles (40 km).

 

View across the River Thames from the London Eye.

View across the River Thames from the London Eye.

 

Our car reaches max height on the London Eye and we can see the city and other cars below us.

Our car reaches max height on the London Eye and we can see the city and other cars below us.

 

So why do they call it the London Eye?

Because, of course, you have a bird’s eye view of London from the top! At least, that’s what my research and experience turned up. If you have another reason, please do add it to the comments.

 

Linda Aksomitis on the London Eye.

Linda Aksomitis on the London Eye.

How to visit the London Eye:

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