Tuesday, November 07, 2006

London Eye (British Airways London Eye or Millennium Wheel)

View of the London Eye and London Aquarium from Westminster Pier

This photo of the London Eye is part of one of the panoramic images found on the PanoramicEarth.com Tour of London. There are over 100 images taken from around London linked to an interactive map.

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The British Airways London Eye has fast become one of the most visited attractions in London since it opened in 1999, when it was also called the Millennium Wheel. The London Eye is situated next to Wesminster Bridge and gives panoramic views over London as you travel in one of the pods. Built by British Airways much of the terminology relating to London Eye rides refers to flying. Therefore one does not ride the London Eye, but takes a flight on it. The check in procedure and security at the London Eye is also very similar to that at an airport.

Seeing London from the top of the London Eye is quite an amazing experience. I have ‘flown’ on it twice, both at night when the city is lit up. It is surprising how the focus of London seems to change at night. Much of the area over Westminster is dark due to the presence of the parks. By contrast to the south are large residential areas which shine out like some kind of space station. Even better is the view over London from the Eye on Guy Fawkes night when you can see fireworks rising up from all over the city. If you get to the London Eye at the right time then it is possible to literally walk on without queuing and to have a capsule almost entirely to yourself.

Flights on the London Eye come in all sorts of various shapes and sizes, from standard walk on class to first class Champagne Flights or a Cupids Capsule for the romantic with a little money to burn. The London Eye has been used for weddings, and corporate events. Such is the demand that sometimes the whole Eye may be rented out to the corporate sector on special occasions.

The London Eye is currently the largest observation wheel in the world, though current plans in Dubai may well remove this status. It stands 135 meters tall, with a purpose built London Eye Approach path next to Jubilee Gardens (which is lined with trees lit with deep blue lights at night). Attached to the outer rim are 32 sealed and air conditioned capsules each capable of carrying 25 people. Even carrying 25 people the London Eye capsules feel fairly spacious. The wheel revolves at 0.26m per second and a flight takes 30 minutes to complete.

As you ascend with the Eye you will be presented with a view down the Thames and over the City. You will clearly be able to see St. Paul’s Cathedral and the tower of the Tate Modern with parts of the Docklands in the distance. Nearby to the south is the green dome of the Imperial War Museum and the broadcasting tower on Crystal Palace in the background. However, maybe the second half of the flight is more impressive with Westminster coming into clear view. The Houses of Parliament (Wesminster Palace) in the foreground next to Wesminster Abbey is spectacular. You can also make out Horse Guards Parade, St. James Park and Buckingham Palace quite easily. However, the tower of Westminster Cathedral, and Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square are easily missed amongst the buildings. The same can not be said for the BT Telecom Tower or Parliament Hill behind it.

The Millennium Wheel is now wholly owned by the Tussaud's Group, and like the wax museum is not covered by the London Pass. However, many of the other attractions nearby, including the London Aquarium and Westminster Abbey, are. The image you see here was taken from near to Westminster Pier opposite the London Eye. To the right of the London Eye you can see the old GLA HQ, which now houses the London Aquarium and Dali Exhibition.

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The full panoramic image taken from Westminster Pier can be found on the London tour by PanoramicEarth.com. An enlargement of this photo can be found on Flickr.

For more articles on London see the London Index or select one of the labels at the bottom.

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