It’s a giant Ferris wheel. It appeared with the Millennium and it hasn’t gone away. It’s the London Eye, your bird’s-eye view of the world’s greatest city (not that I’m biased or anything). Should you go on it? Should I?
I only went because my friends wanted to. We bit the bullet, got the tickets online, made our way to the South Bank and started our aerial adventure.
I bought the line-skipping class of ticket, because I really hate standing there waiting for anything from buses to cups of coffee. It was a good choice, sort of. We passed the point of no return before our brains could say to our bodies, “Run!”
In Your Bucket Because …
- It’s one of London’s most popular tourist attractions and all your friends will ask if you went on it.
- It’s a unique way to get up high and have a good look at London.
- It was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel when it opened and is still the tallest in Europe.
- Good for: people who love Ferris wheels, photographers, families provided the children are really interested and thrilled by this type of ride, people who love London and want to see it from a new angle.
How to Hide Your Fear of the London Eye
I wasn’t scared of actually getting onto the Eye. Having frittered away much of my youth at the ski hill, I thought I could easily board any uphill-bound people carrier known to mankind. It looks easy. You stand on a platform. Your Pod slowly moves from left to right in front of you. You step in.
Because the Pod was going sideways, it was a bit of a mental challenge. I wasn’t boarding a gondola. I was stepping across a giant chasm. Not so easy after all, even though the two seven-year-old children ahead of me were laughing and skipping and dancing their way through the whole procedure.
Oh sure, it’s very safe. There are well-trained attentive attendants attending. There is no significant amount of air to cross. The chasm is small. It only feels massive to those of us with gephyrophobia, the fear of bridges.
Fear of bridges isn’t like fear of spiders or clowns. I’m not afraid of looking at bridges or thinking about them. I’m afraid of getting too close to the edge. It’s part of the larger fear of falling, an entirely rational, self-protective response that all normal humans have. It’s so rational I’m not sure why I feel I should mention it except for this one thing. I don’t like to be around people who lack this rational, self-protective response. Some of them may be cute little seven-year-olds, but all of them are reckless, foolhardy and possibly dangerously insane.
The London Eye Pod is Comfortable
Perhaps you’re beginning to understand my inner war about the Eye. Thanks to purchasing the super-duper-skip-the-line ticket, I had to have my panic attack and get it over with while boarding, so no one would suspect.
I also had to be brave because one of the people in the Pod was already not too happy. She had oculusLondiniiphobia, fear of the London Eye. I certainly didn’t want to upset her with any contagious screams, fainting, or hysterics. Otherwise, I would have done all three.
Lots of people from all over the world got into our Eye Pod. I don’t know who they were or where they came from. Rarely in my life have I been less interested.
You can either sit on a bench in the middle of the Pod and look at the backsides of the world, or you can casually and imperceptibly break into a cold sweat at the Edge, where the floor to ceiling glass is all that stands between you and eternity. Here I discovered the truth about my own intestinal fortitude (I have some) and continence (fortunately, also not in doubt for me and my fellow Pod people).
I couldn’t turn around to look (or I would have died), but it sounded like a couple of people were weeping tears of bitter regret and cold-blooded terror on the wimp bench. I silently felt like joining in. Three things stopped me. My pride, my left leg (wouldn’t move) and my right leg (ditto). My friends were pretty calm about all this. One of them wants to be a Formula 1 race car driver, so clearly, she’s not normal in the fear department.
The Pod ascends. We see the water, the great river, the lifeblood of London, the mighty Thames, etc., below. So this is how I will die, I thought. Not with a whimper but a plop.
But then, then I just had to look upstream and see Westminster, and the sunlight touching the sand castle spires of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. I was forced to trace with my eyes the historic streets from there to Trafalgar Square. I looked down on Nelson’s Column, instead of having Admiral Nelson look down on me as is our usual relationship. Take that, Horatio! We’re even now!
It was easy to spot St. James’s Park, large and green and leafy. We Great Unwashed are allowed to walk there, so I already knew it was big. What surprised me was the size of the grounds of its neighbour, the more exclusive Buckingham Palace. The Queen has a bigger back yard than I realized.
Yes, the View is Fantastic
Despite the gephyrophobia and not being that great at actually using bridges, I loved watching the traffic crossing them. Westminster Bridge, which we’d crossed over to get to the Eye. Waterloo Bridge, connecting the train station with Somerset House. Hungerford Bridge, with its many suspension cables.
As the Pod went higher, the close-by buildings, towers and steeples were still recognizable but a little bit in the distance they became blocks and dots on an eternal circuit board, energized by flowing currents of red double-decker buses and black London cabs. This is London, endless and grand. And here am I, staring down the Gherkin and communing with St. Paul’s Cathedral.
These dramatic thoughts got me over the top, and by the end of the ride of terror, I could actually move from my place without suffering heart palpitations and weak knees. The little kids and 99% of the adults were having a blast. We disembarked via another leap across the Thames and onto the shore, narrowly avoiding death one more time.
I have done the London Eye and lived. That is my story and all of it is true.
- The London Eye is 135 metres high. Each ride goes around once and takes about half an hour.
- The Pods are completely glassed in. You may sit, stand, and walk around inside.
- People who use wheelchairs can ride the London Eye. The Eye’s website has extensive information about arrangements and pricing for guests with disabilities.
- Everyone is different but most visitors appeared comfortable and relaxed in the Pod. I was OK despite my fears. The children on board were totally at ease.
- Because the London Eye is one of London’s very popular tourist attractions, it’s worth spending a little time consulting the website for hints on avoiding busy times, and pre-purchasing tickets.
- In London, as in any city, you have to be aware that there are pickpockets around. Don’t be distracted, especially when you are in and around Westminster Tube station, Westminster Bridge, and the South Bank. At busy times these are good hunting grounds for opportunistic thieves.
- The South Bank, where the London Eye is, is a very popular riverside walk. There’s lots to see here, particularly for children. This is where you find a concentration of buskers, human statues, clowns and so on. They’re fun to watch, but again, be mindful of the potential for pickpockets and pay attention to your purse, camera, and phone.
- The street performers expect to be paid. Put some money into their bowl if you are going to take their picture.
- If you arrive via the Tube at Westminster, you will exit the station and walk across the bridge. There are some aggressive touts here, people who offer very little (negative!) value for money. When you stop to look at Big Ben, you give the panhandlers a chance to move in and make their pitch. Try to get through them before you stop to look at the sights.
- Don’t let my warnings put you off. This is a fun part of London, for children as well as adults. Even if you don’t ride the Eye, it’s fun to walk along the South Bank and have a look.