What you can see from the London Eye
The London Eye
What is the London Eye?
It's the World's tallest cantilevered observation wheel, at 135 metres, making it the fourth highest construction in London. It stands right next to the River Thames, alongside the former County Hall and very close to the South Bank complex of theatres and art galleries.
It offers a perfect opportunity to view London "at a glance", with the whole city laid out beneath you. You might find a pair of binoculars helpful, and you'll really kick yourself if you forget your camera!
The Eye revolves at a steady 0.6 miles an hour, so a complete revolution takes about 30 minutes. You travel in one of 32 capsules that gives you an all-round view of London. You can stand or sit, or take in the experience from your wheelchair. The wheel keeps going all the time, but slowly enough for you to step on and off in perfect safety.
The Eye was opened for business in March 2000, originally as a temporary structure to mark the Millenium. However, it has proved to be so popular that it has stayed put, and it now carries about 3.5 million passengers every year. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was supposed to be temporary, too!
What can you see?
The Eye revolves from east to west, so your first views are towards the east, and London's business district. To be strictly accurate, this IS London - much of what most visitors think of as London is actually the City of Westminster!
Although the Thames runs through the heart of Greater London, at least 90% of the buildings and sights of interest are north of the river. Not surprisingly, most visitors point their cameras in that direction
Picture 1 below was not taken from the Eye itself, but it gives a good impression of how the view has changed within a short space of time. Had this picture been taken when I first visited London, as a boy in the 1960s, the building dominating the scene would have been Wren's St Paul's Cathedral, which was the tallest building in London from its construction after the Great Fire of 1666 until only 30 years ago.
You can see St Paul's to the left of the picture, and you can also see a few more spires of Wren churches poking up. However, the dominating features of the skyline are now the NatWest Tower and the Swiss Re building, which is now known familiarly, for obvious reasons, as the "Gherkin" (Incidentally, if you are seriously rich, I gather that dinner in the restaurant at the top of the Gherkin is quite something!)
Out of shot, but visible from the Eye, are Canary Wharf, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. Future visitors should be able to catch a glimpse of the facilities being built for the 2012 Olympics.
Picture 2 gives you a good impression of how London sits in a basin. A few miles from the centre, hills rise above the plain, and these now comprise some of the more desirable residential districts, such as Hampstead, Highgate and Muswell Hill. If you look to the south, you can see the land rising towards Crystal Palace and Croydon.
Just below the Eye, on the north bank, is Cleopatra's Needle, which must be London's oldest monument, having started "life" in ancient Egypt.
On the left side of the picture you can see the green dome of the former reading room of the British Museum. This is where Charles Dickens and Karl Marx once studied. Just beyond, you can see the white tower of the London University Senate House. Most of the tower comprises the stacks of the London University Library, where I had my first job. I used to think that the view from there was quite good, too!
If you use Cleopatra's Needle as a pointer, you can just catch, in the far distance, Alexandra Palace and its radio mast. This was the building where BBC television was born.
In pictures 3 and 4 you are looking up-river, with the Palace of Westminster very visible to the right, and St Thomas's Hospital almost directly beneath you on the left. Also on the left is Watlerloo Station, and, if the evening sun catches the rails, you can see them snaking away into the distance, with trains taking commuters home to the suburbs or south central England.
You get an excellent view of the heart of government, from the Houses of Parliament (with the Big Ben clock tower, see picture 4) to the government buildings in Whitehall and Buckingham Palace at the end of the Mall. You can also pick out Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square and the unmistakably spindly shape of the Post Office Tower.
One thing you will be struck by is how green much of this part of London appears to be. There is a chain of parks, stretching from the Palace Gardens (the Queen's private back garden!) through St James's Park and Green Park to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and several of these have quite large lakes in them as well. However, many of the squares and streets that were laid out in Regency and Victorian times made good use of green space, and were lined with trees, particularly the London plane that is able to shed its bark and thus survive the ravages of a polluted city (at least, as it was then).
Picture 4 also demonstrates that, especially in the evening, the view can be disrupted by haze. London has almost no heavy industry these days, so the "pea-souper" fogs are long gone. However, exhaust fumes have replaced factory smoke to spoil the view, despite the undoubted success of the "congestion charge" that has discouraged private motorists from driving into central London. On a clear day, you can see about 25 miles into the distance, which is as far as Windsor Castle, but not when this picture was taken!
A few more details
The London Eye is open every day except Christmas Day, and during its annual maintenance (10 days in mid-January). It starts running at 10.00am and continues until 8.00pm (later in high summer, 9.00pm or 9.30pm). After dark trips are a completely different experience, as you can see just how much electricity a city consumes at night!
The basic price for a pre-booked flight (it's their terminology, not mine, but you don't have to fasten your seatbealts on takeoff!) is £15.50, with concessions for children and seniors, but you can turn up and go for £25.00 (no concessions). There are other packages available, including champagne trips and special party deals with private capsules for up to 25 guests.
The London Eye website gives all the details, and a facility for online booking: