The London Eye dominates the skyline on the south bank of the Thames at Westminster. When it was built, it was the world’s largest observation wheel – it was intended as a temporary attraction but, like the Eifel tower before it, was so popular they kept it going. The wheel offers some of the most astonishing views out over London, which is a surprisingly low rise city in the centre, out towards Greenwich and Olympic park in the East and the rest of the city to the West. It’s probably the best place to get an impression of the sheer size of London, rather than the few square miles of history in the centre which is what most people think of as London. The views are particularly good at sunset. There are some interpretation boards to tell you what you are looking at, but you might be better off bringing a guide book as well, as these are at one end of the capsule. The capsules don’t dangle like normal pods, but rotate in their casing very slowly, so you keep a good view without being obstructed by the structure of the wheel all the way round.
I’ve seen some reviews complaining you have to share your capsule. This is true. The capsules are very large, and there is plenty of space for everyone to walk by each other and take their own photos. I can’t guarantee you won’t have a view-hog in your capsule but that could happen at any observation deck. Anyway, I’ve never been rich enough to get private viewings in the Eifel Tower, CN Tower or Empire State Building either – I don’t see why people think the London Eye should be different! I’ve also seen complaints that you just see “the top of some buildings.” This is the point of all observation decks everywhere. If you don’t like seeing the tops of buildings, this would be a very bad use of your money.
It’s expensive, at about £20 a ticket by the time you factor in booking fees if you book online. But the view from St Pauls doesn’t give you as good a view over Westminster, and although you can now see the view from the observation deck at the Shard, that’s more expensive and doesn’t have all the fun of being in a giant ferris wheel. Disabled access is good, especially if you phone ahead – if someone with you can’t manage queues easily, even if they aren’t registered disabled, the staff will let them sit down until the rest of the group get to the front of the queue, and I think in some cases wheelchair users can even skip the line. They will slow the wheel right down to help you on and off if needed, and there’s a seat to rest on in each capsule. The ride takes about half an hour. The queues used to be astonishingly long, and probably still are at peak times like Easter Weekends, but on the February Sunday when I went it was only about 5 minutes. Tickets can be pre-booked online, although that only skips one of the queues.
All in all, this is good attraction for your first trip to London and for any fans of observation decks and impressive engineering. It’s not cheap, and you should skip it if you don’t like heights, or aren’t impressed with views. It is, of course, a great big tourist trap, but it never pretended not to be and sometimes that’s OK.