The past and the present blend together in London – a metaphor exemplified by the London Eye, a millennial creation standing proud in the midst of London’s iconic old-world charm. One of the top attractions of the UK capital, London Eye stands tall on the banks of the city's lifeline, the river Thames.The Eye gives stunning views of almost every major landmark in London, which is the reason why it was named the ‘London Eye’. The icon of the city's skyline was constructed as a new landmark to commemorate the start of a new millennium. The ‘Millennium Wheel’ is the most popular paid attraction in London, attracting 3.5 million visitors every year.
Answering the first question that pops in the minds of those who witness the London Eye for the first time – it is 443 feet high, which is almost 80 times the height of an average human. However, it is not even among London's top 20 tallest structures. If its circumference of 1,392 feet is straightened out, it would comfortably surpass the Shard, which is the tallest London structure at 1,004 feet.
Unlike your regular Ferris wheels, the London Eye isn’t a fast, thrilling experience, but a steady, relaxed affair. It takes approximately half an hour to complete a full revolution, moving at a speed of 0.6 miles per hour. The pace guarantees 360-degree views of the London landscape ‘as far as your eyes can let you see’. A fun London Eye fact – the Eye never stops moving during its operational hours.
The London Eye was the brainchild of the couple, David Marks and Julia Barfield. They suggested the idea in a competition where Londoners had to pitch in designs for a new landmark to celebrate the start of the millennium. The concept, ideated in 1993, came to life with the start of the new millennium, hence, the London Eye was inaugurated on March 9, 2000.
To answer another popular question in the minds of the Eye’s admirers– there are a total of 32 capsules on the rotating wheel. Made of plexiglass, each transparent capsule represents one of London’s 32 boroughs. If you weigh one of the capsules, their weight will be equal to 1,052,631-pound coins. An interesting London Eye fact is that the capsules are numbered 1 to 33, but there is no number 13 capsule, in accordance with the age-old superstition that the number is unlucky
The structure of the wheel weighs more than 1 million pounds or 1,000 tons. Setting up the wheel had, thus, been a huge task. The Eye was assembled flat and was then moved on to eight temporary islands on the Thames River. The process of raising the wheel had its own complications, as one of the cables in the structure had snapped before the lift and had to be replaced. The fact about London Eye that it was still able to get hoisted in place in September 1999, is remarkable
A less-noticed fact about London Eye is that, in the most technical terms, it is not a Ferris wheel. Rather, it is a cantilevered structure. This means that it is supported by a beam on only one side, instead of being supported on two sides like regular Ferris wheels. The Eye is Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel and is one of the largest observation wheels in the world.
The UK and world tourism industries have appreciated the London Eye over the years through numerous prestigious award nominations, of which the Eye has won over 85 awards. It has been recognised as the ‘World’s Leading Attraction’ four times and also as ‘Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction’. Conceived and designed by three Marks Barfield Architects, appreciation has also poured in for its architectural design quality, engineering achievement, experience, and attraction.
A London Eye fact that showcases its popularity is that check it more than 3.5 million tourists out every year. It is the most popular paid attraction in the United Kingdom and attracts more visitors than the world’s wonders of the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal. The Eye is popular among celebrities too, with some riding the attraction numerous times. America’s Jessica Alba has taken the ride a mind-boggling 31 times, while UK’s Kate Moss has gone on the Eye 25 times.
Although the London Eye’s popularity is one-of-a-kind, it is not the only big wheel that has adorned the London skyline. There used to be a Great Wheel, which was opened to the public for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court, London in 1895. It was 308 feet tall and had a diameter of 270 feet, which is more than 100 feet smaller than the London Eye. It also weighed 100 tons less, with a weight of 900 tons. It was in service till 1906, when it had carried over 2.5 million passengers – a million less than the number of annual London Eye visitors. It was demolished in 1907.
The London Eye lights up in beautiful colours at night, which makes it an absolutely stunning view of the London nightscape. The lights sometimes have a cause, the Eye showcases special colours to celebrate important national events or to promote sponsors. It lights up in red to promote its current sponsor, Coca Cola. It was lit up in blue to honour the frontline warriors of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in red, blue, and white to celebrate special events in the Royal Family.
A lesser-known London Eye fact is that it was planned to be a temporary structure. It was supposed to stay on the banks of Thames on Lambeth Council’s ground for five years. Yet much like the Paris Eiffel Tower, it stayed on permanently, with the Lambeth Council providing the London Eye with a permanent licence in July 2002. A later dispute with the Southbank Centre ended with the London Eye getting a 25-year lease. The lease agreement allows the Eye to stay on by providing the Southbank Centre with at least 500,000 pounds annually.
Another London Eye fact is that it is as multicultural as the city it resides in. The Eye was designed by a UK-based team, but its parts were procured from all over Europe. The steel came from the UK, the cables were Italian, and the bearings came from German lands. The iron spindle and hub were from the Czech Republic, the double-curved laminated glass for the pods was made in Venice, and the capsules were created in the French Alps. The wheel was developed and constructed in the Netherlands and then assembled on the banks of the Thames.
A popularly known fact about the London Eye is that it has starred in numerous movies and shows. Much of the romance about the Eye portrayed on screen has been brought alive in the real world by thousands of couples. More than 5,000 people have got engaged on the Eye, celebrating the occasion in serene happiness with classic champagne, or with enthusiastic flash mobs. The Eye has also witnessed more than 500 weddings since 2001.
The London Eye has seen quite a few wildly memorable instances. People have scaled the Eye for political and entertainment reasons, and note, not inside one of the pods. A man dressed as Spider-Man in 2004 and spent 18 hours on top of one of the pods to call attention to father’s rights in the UK. A magician, David Blane, did a full rotation while standing on one of the pods in 2003. The Red Bull Academy 2013 transformed 30 of the Eye’s capsules into different nightclub parties to celebrate the UK’s club culture. Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey have also served meals in a capsule as the Eye once turned into a pop-up dining experience.
The London Eye has inspired several cities to construct similar observation wheels. From Las Vegas to Seattle, Atlanta and Orlando, the designs of their wheels took direct ideas from the Eye. The Legoland in Windsor, 30 miles from London, has a perfect replica of the Eye in miniature form as part of its Miniland exhibit. However, none of the other wheels can give you views as far as the London Eye does. On days with really clear weather, you can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions. So, look out for the Queen’s Windsor Castle while standing right across Buckingham Palace!