London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

London's New Landmark - The London Eye

18/03/2002, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 17739 votes


Imagine for a moment being able to peer down at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paulís Cathedral and Westminster Abby, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as well as viewing the Thames River in both directions as far as the eye can see.

No, youíre not a bird soaring above the city, neither are you Wendy Darling or one of her brothers flying above London in the company of Peter Pan, headed in the direction of Never Land; youíre on a flight on Londonís newest, and what is rapidly one of its most popular attractions: the British Airways London Eye (aka the Millennium Wheel).

Built on the South Bank of the Thames for Londonís celebration of the millennium, the huge observation or Ferris wheel; the worldís largest, is rapidly becoming among Londonís most identifiable landmarks; one that many hope will be a permanent addition to its skyline.

Conceived by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield along with British Airways and the Tussaudís group as part of the millennium celebration, the London Eye has proved much more successful than Londonís other project to mark the start of the next thousand years the Millennium Dome. While the Dome turned into a financial black hole with attendance below original projections, the London Eye has is still drawing capacity crowds- both residents and visitors.

Construction of the towering Eye (it reaches 450 feet or 135 metres above the banks of the Thames) started in the 90's and the project could be termed pan-European since different parts were fabricated in different countries. The British made tubular steel of the main structure was assembled in the Netherlands while casting of the hub and spindle took place in the Czech Republic. The bearings upon which the giant wheel rotates come from Germany; the capsules or pods in which visitors take flight come from France and the cables from Italy.

The pieces had to be brought up the Thames and assembled at the site next to the London County Hall. Assembly actually took place horizontally and the Eye was lifted in stages into the Jubilee Gardens. After that the pods, which would carry passengers, were then attached to the wheel.

At your flightís highest point you will be able to enjoy a 360 degree panorama of London, viewing the River Thames in both directions. Your flight begins however as you look south and see the Houses of Parliament and St. Stephenís clock tower (called Big Ben by everyone even though the name actually refers to the biggest bell in the tower) and rest of Whitehall, the government section of London.

Looking toward the North Bank and you look into the heart of commercial London where the City - the financial district is located. You are greeted by a view of the BT Tower, Embankment Place and the Waterloo Bridge.

Looking eastward you see Sir Christopher Wrenís masterpiece, St. Paulís Cathedral, as well as much of the City; further in the distant you can make out another section that is fast becoming the financial centre of Europe: the Docklands which includes the Canary Wharf (so named because that was where the merchant ships from the Canary Islands once moored after their voyages).

For a particularly spectacular flight on the Eye, try an evening take-off; London at night- no other word than breathtaking can describe the sight. You gaze down upon the Houses of Parliament (if the inside lights are on it means that members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords are putting in a late night) and Big Ben bathed in light, look in the other direction and you see the South Bank, where Londonís cultural elite frequent numerous concerts and events; look in any direction and you see a sparkling city alive in the night time. An added benefit of a night flight is the wait is not as long as during the day.

Since opening in March of 2000 the Eye has carried over seven million passengers high above London exceeding even the most optimistic projections of backers. The Eye has also proved popular for special events and holidays, with companies using the wheel to promote their products. One study even estimates that the Eye has added 1.5% in earnings to Londonís tourism industry while at the same time acting as an economic spur that is brining new development to the South Bank.

Itís even been the site of weddings and in at least one case, a couple of teenagers with a capsule to themselves who decided to become founding members of what newspapers dubbed "the Mile Eye Club."

Making reservations for a flight on the Eye is as easy as logging onto the British Airways website and going to the London Eye section or go to www.ba-londoneye.com. You book for a specific flight time; you should arrive at the Eye about a half-hour before your flight.

You then pick up your tickets at ATM-like machines in County Hall next to the eye. Same day tickets are also available inside County Hall. The lines move quickly and the staff members at the Eye are courteous and efficient.

Getting there is easy enough, the best way is to take the underground to Waterloo tube stop, which is right across the street. You can also get there from the Westminster and Embankment stops on the Underground as well as by bus and even by river since a number of tour boat companies make stops at the Waterloo Millennium Pier.

Like another world famous landmark: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the British Airways London Eye was conceived and built as part of an international celebration, and if approval is granted by the government, like Eiffel Tower, the Eye will be providing pleasure for generations to come.

Link to the London Eye:

http://www.virtual-london.com/entertainment/default.asp?type=sightseeing&subtype=details&subareaID=2&attractionID=163

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