The London Eye, or the Millennium Wheel, is a cantilevered observation wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London. It is Europe's tallest cantilevered observation wheel,[14] and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with over three million visitors annually.[15] It has made many appearances in popular culture.

London Eye
Alternative namesMillennium Wheel
General information
TypeObservation wheel
LocationLambeth, London
AddressRiverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road
Coordinates51°30′12″N 0°07′10″W / 51.5033°N 0.1194°W / 51.5033; -0.1194
CompletedMarch 2000[1]
  • 31 December 1999 (ceremonial, without passengers)[2]
  • 1 February 2000 (first passengers carried)[3]
  • 9 March 2000 (opened to general public)[2]
Cost£70 million[7]
OwnerMerlin Entertainments[6]
Height135 metres (443 ft)[8]
Diameter120 metres (394 ft)[8]
Design and construction
Architecture firmMarks Barfield[9] [1]
Structural engineerArup[10]
Other designers
Awards and prizesInstitution of Structural Engineers Special Award 2001[13]
Other information
Public transit accessLondon Underground National Rail Waterloo
London Underground Westminster

The structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft). When it opened to the public in 2000 it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel. Its height was surpassed by the 140 metres (459 ft) Sun of Moscow in 2022, the 160 metres (525 ft) Star of Nanchang in 2006, the 165 metres (541 ft) Singapore Flyer in 2008, the 167 metres (548 ft) High Roller (Las Vegas) in 2014, and the 250 metres (820 ft) Ain Dubai in 2021. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike these taller examples, the Eye is described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel".[16] The Eye offered the highest public viewing point in London until it was superseded by the 245-metre-high (804 ft) observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard in early 2013.[17][18][19]

The London Eye adjoins the western end of Jubilee Gardens (previously the site of the former Dome of Discovery), on the South Bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge beside County Hall, in the London Borough of Lambeth. The nearest tube station is Waterloo.[20]


Design and construction

Supported by an A-frame on one side only, the Eye is described by its operators as a cantilevered observation wheel

The London Eye was designed by the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks of Marks Barfield Architects.[21][22]

Mace was responsible for construction management, with Hollandia as the main steelwork contractor and Tilbury Douglas as the civil contractor. Consulting engineers Tony Gee & Partners designed the foundation works while Beckett Rankine designed the marine works.[23]

Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners assisted The Tussauds Group in obtaining planning and listed building consent to alter the wall on the South Bank of the Thames. They also examined and reported on the implications of a Section 106 agreement attached to the original contract, and also prepared planning and listed building consent applications for the permanent retention of the attraction, which involved the co-ordination of an Environmental Statement and the production of a planning supporting statement detailing the reasons for its retention.[24]

The spindle, hub, and tensioned cables that support the rim

The rim of the Eye is supported by tensioned steel cables[25] and resembles a huge spoked bicycle wheel. The lighting was re-done with LED lighting from Color Kinetics in December 2006 to allow digital control of the lights as opposed to the manual replacement of gels over fluorescent tubes.[26]

The wheel was constructed in sections which were floated up the Thames on barges and assembled lying flat on piled platforms in the river. Once the wheel was complete it was lifted into an upright position by a strand jack system made by Enerpac.[27] It was first raised at 2 degrees per hour until it reached 65 degrees, then left in that position for a week while engineers prepared for the second phase of the lift. The project was European with major components coming from six countries: the steel was supplied from the UK and fabricated in The Netherlands by the Dutch company Hollandia, the cables came from Italy, the bearings came from Germany (FAG/Schaeffler Group), the spindle and hub were cast in the Czech Republic, the capsules were made by Poma in France (and the glass for these came from Italy), and the electrical components from the UK.[28]


The London Eye was formally opened by the Prime Minister Tony Blair on 31 December 1999, but did not open to the paying public until 9 March 2000 because of a capsule clutch problem.[2]

The London Eye was originally intended as a temporary attraction, with a five-year lease. In December 2001, operators submitted an application to Lambeth Council to give the London Eye permanent status, and the application was granted in July 2002.[29][30][31]

On 5 June 2008 it was announced that 30 million people had ridden the London Eye since it opened.[32]

Passenger capsules

Each of the 32 ovoidal capsules weighs 10 tonnes and can carry 25 people

The wheel's 32 sealed and air-conditioned ovoidal passenger capsules, designed[33] and supplied[34] by Poma, are attached to the external circumference of the wheel and rotated by electric motors. The capsules are numbered from 1 to 33, excluding number 13 for superstitious reasons.[35] Each of the 10-tonne (11-short-ton)[36] capsules represents one of the London Boroughs,[25] and holds up to 25 people,[37] who are free to walk around inside the capsule, though seating is provided. The wheel rotates at 26 cm (10 in) per second (about 0.9 km/h or 0.6 mph) so that one revolution takes about 30 minutes, giving a theoretical capacity of 1,600 passengers per hour. It does not usually stop to take on passengers; the rotation rate is slow enough to allow passengers to walk on and off the moving capsules at ground level.[36] It is stopped to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely.[38]

In 2009 the first stage of a £12.5 million capsule upgrade began. Each capsule was taken down and floated down the river to Tilbury Docks in Essex.[39]

On 2 June 2013 a passenger capsule was named the Coronation Capsule to mark the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.[40]

In March 2020, the London Eye celebrated its 20th birthday by turning several of its pods into experiences themed around London. The experiences included a pub in a capsule, a west end theatre pod and a garden party with flower arrangements to represent the eight London Royal parks.[41]

Ownership and branding

London Eye at twilight
The Eye on the South Bank of the Thames, with Jubilee Gardens (left) and County Hall (right) in the background

Marks Barfield (the lead architects), The Tussauds Group, and British Airways were the original owners of the London Eye.[42] Tussauds bought out British Airways' stake in 2005[42] and then Marks Barfield's stake in 2006[43] to become sole owner.

In May 2007, the Blackstone Group purchased The Tussauds Group which was then the owner of the Eye; Tussauds was merged with Blackstone's Merlin Entertainments and disappeared as an entity.[44][45] British Airways continued its brand association, but from the beginning of 2008 the name British Airways was dropped from the logo.[46]

On 12 August 2009, the London Eye saw another rebrand, this time being called "The Merlin Entertainments London Eye". A refurbished ticket hall and 4D cinema experience were designed by architect Kay Elliott working with project designer Craig Sciba, and Simex-Iwerks as the 4D theatre hardware specialists. The film was written and directed by Julian Napier and produced by Phil Streather.[47]

In January 2011, a lighting-up ceremony marked the start of a three-year deal between EDF Energy and Merlin Entertainments.[48]

Coca-Cola began to sponsor the London Eye from January 2015. On the day the sponsorship was announced the London Eye was lit in red.[49]

In February 2020, replaced Coca-Cola as the sponsor.[50] Grammy Award-winning singer Meghan Trainor performed at the launch party on a boat overlooking the London Eye.[51][52]

In March 2020, the wheel was illuminated blue every Thursday at 8pm in support of the National Health Service as part of the ‘Clap for our Carers’ campaign created during the COVID-19 pandemic.[53]

Financial difficulties

Colourful London Eye near County Hall

On 20 May 2005, there were reports of a leaked letter showing that the South Bank Centre (SBC)—owners of part of the land on which the struts of the Eye are located—had served a notice to quit on the attraction along with a demand for an increase in rent from £64,000 per year to £2.5 million, which the operators rejected as unaffordable.[54]

On 25 May 2005, London mayor Ken Livingstone vowed that the landmark would remain in London. He also pledged that if the dispute was not resolved he would use his powers to ask the London Development Agency to issue a compulsory purchase order.[55] The land in question is a small part of the Jubilee Gardens, which was given to the SBC for £1 when the Greater London Council was broken up.

The South Bank Centre and the British Airways London Eye agreed on a 25-year lease on 8 February 2006 after a judicial review over the rent dispute. The lease agreement meant that the South Bank Centre, a publicly funded charity, would receive at least £500,000 a year from the attraction, the status of which is secured for the foreseeable future.[29][56] Tussauds also announced the acquisition of the entire one-third interests of British Airways and Marks Barfield in the Eye as well as the outstanding debt to BA. These agreements gave Tussauds 100% ownership and resolved the debt from the Eye's construction loan from British Airways, which stood at more than £150 million by mid-2005 and had been charging an interest rate of 25% per annum.[57]

Critical reception

London Eye as a boat passes on the River Thames, with Big Ben in the background

Sir Richard Rogers, winner of the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize, wrote of the London Eye in a book about the project:

The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That's the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London.[58]

Big City Review wrote that:

If you're an amateur or professional photographer, the London Eye delivers the chance to get breathtaking photos of the city of London. The ride moves so slow which enables one to have ample opportunity to shoot photos and video from all angles. When your [sic] done shooting your photos, the ride's slow speed lets you just sit back and take in the incredible views of London. From the time your carriage reaches the highest point your breath will have been take away. That is why the London Eye is worth visiting.[59]

Panoramic skyline seen from the Eye, with Palace of Westminster and Big Ben to the left, Charing Cross railway station centre, and Waterloo railway station to the right

Transport links

The nearest London Underground station is Waterloo, although Charing Cross, Embankment, and Westminster are also within easy walking distance.[60]

Connection with National Rail services is made at London Waterloo station and London Waterloo East station.

London River Services operated by Thames Clippers and City Cruises stop at the London Eye Pier.


  1. ^ a b "London Eye". Marks Barfield. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "London's big wheel birthday". CNN. 8 March 2001.
  3. ^ Wells, Matt (2 February 2020). "London Eye begins its millennium revolution". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  4. ^ "The London Eye". UK 31 December 1999. Archived from the original on 16 January 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  5. ^ "The London Eye". Architect Magazine. 25 February 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  6. ^ "Midway Attractions". Merlin Entertainments. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  7. ^ Reece, Damian (6 May 2001). "London Eye is turning at a loss". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Structurae London Eye Millennium Wheel". web page. Nicolas Janberg ICS. 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  9. ^ "About the London Eye". Archived from the original on 11 July 2012.
  10. ^ "How big can Ferris wheels get?". 23 September 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  11. ^ Taylor, David (1 March 2001). "ISE rewards the biggest and best". The Architects' Journal.
  12. ^ "London Eye, UK".
  13. ^ "Winners and Commendations" (PDF). Institution of Structural Engineers. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  14. ^ Royal Mail Celebrates 10 Years of the London Eye Archived 3 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "The London Eye a complete visitor guide". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 1 May 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  16. ^ "Merlin Entertainments Group". Archived from the original on 29 March 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Up you come, the view's amazing... first look from the Shard's public gallery". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 31 December 2014
  18. ^ "Shard observation deck to be Europe's highest". 20 May 2009.
  19. ^ "Shard rakes in £5million from visitors to viewing platform in first year". London Evening Standard. 21 March 2014.
  20. ^ "Location and Directions". Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  21. ^ Hibbert, Christopher (2011). The London Encyclopaedia (3rd ed.). London: Pan MacMillan. ISBN 9780230738782.
  22. ^ Rose, Steve (31 August 2007). "London Eye, love at first sight". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  23. ^ Beckett Rankine – London Eye Pier Design Archived 16 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "NLP – Project". Archived from the original on 21 March 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  25. ^ a b "Making of The London Eye". Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  26. ^ "Color Kinetics Showcase London Eye". Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  27. ^ Enerpac strand jacks lift London Eye Archived 27 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  28. ^ Mann, A. P.; Thompson, N.; Smits, M. (2001). "Building the British Airways London Eye". Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Civil Engineering. 144 (2): 60–72. doi:10.1680/cien.2001.144.2.60.
  29. ^ a b Craig, Zoe (17 January 2017). "11 Fun Facts About The London Eye". Londonist. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  30. ^ "London Eye aims to go permanent". BBC News. 10 December 2001. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  31. ^ "London Eye 'to stay'". BBC News. 16 July 2002. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  32. ^ "All Eyes on Eighth Wonder: The London Eye greets 30 millionth visitor and joins Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal as a world wonder". EDF Energy London Eye. June 2008. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  33. ^ Ashby, Charles. (15 November 2011) High-flying deal for Leitner-Poma. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  34. ^ Colorado's Leitner-Poma to build cabins for huge observation wheel in Las Vegas. The Denver Post. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  35. ^ "The London Eye in numbers". The Daily Telegraph. 9 March 2015. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022.
  36. ^ a b "Interesting things you never knew about the London Eye". London Eye. Archived from the original on 30 July 2014.
  37. ^ Hester, Elliott (23 September 2007). "London's Eye in the sky not just a Ferris wheel". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 26 November 2010.
  38. ^ "Disabled Guests". London Eye. Archived from the original on 29 March 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  39. ^ Woodman, Peter (26 June 2009). "London Eye capsule taken away as refit starts". The Independent. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  40. ^ "Queen lookalike unveils Coronation Capsule at London Eye". 2 June 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  41. ^ "London Eye transformed to celebrate 20 years". ITV News. 6 March 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  42. ^ a b "Blackstone to buy Tussauds' parent". Los Angeles Times. Reuters. 6 March 2007. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  43. ^ Rose, Steve (27 March 2006). "Towering ambition". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  44. ^ "Merlin conjures up leaseback deal". The Daily Telegraph. 17 July 2007. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022.
  45. ^ Cho, David (6 March 2007). "Blackstone Buys Madame Tussauds Chain". The Washington Post.
  46. ^ "London Eye to get (another) new name". London Evening Standard. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  47. ^ "A new eye on London". London Eye. Archived from the original on 17 August 2009.
  48. ^ "EDF Energy naming rights". Attractions Management. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
  49. ^ "Coca-Cola to sponsor London Eye". The Guardian. 16 September 2014. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  50. ^ "The London Eye is turning pink in 2020 (at night, anyway)". Time Out London. 14 November 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  51. ^ Hayhurst, Lee (20 February 2020). "Video: paints London town pink once again with London Eye sponsorship". Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  52. ^ "London Eye will be in the pink with". Travel Weekly (UK). 14 November 2019. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  53. ^ Penna, Dominic (23 April 2020). "Clap For Our Carers: what time is the NHS applause tonight?". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  54. ^ "London Eye given eviction notice". BBC News. 20 May 2005. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  55. ^ "Mayor's 'prat' jibe over Eye row". BBC News. 25 May 2005. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  56. ^ "London Eye gets new 25-year lease". BBC News. 8 February 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  57. ^ Marriner, Cosima (11 November 2005). "BA sells stake in London Eye to Tussauds for £95m". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  58. ^ Marks Barfield Architects (2007). Eye: The story behind the London Eye. London: Black Dog Publishing.
  59. ^ Kay, Brian (18 July 2018). "Why the London Eye Is Worth Visiting". BigCityReview. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  60. ^ How to get here Archived 13 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine

External links

Preceded by World's tallest Ferris wheel
Succeeded by