(CNN) — Originally designed as a temporary attraction to celebrate the new Millennium, the London Eye has long surpassed its intended five-year shelf life to become the most popular paid-for attraction in the UK.
Standing 443 feet tall over the River Thames, each 30-minute rotation grants ever-changing, 360-degree views spanning the length and breadth of London (and beyond, if the weather plays ball).
First things first — it’s not a Ferris wheel. It is, in fact, a “cantilevered observation wheel,” with 32 fully enclosed capsules moving at a leisurely 0.6 miles an hour. If you’re superstitious, don’t panic — it seems the designers were as well, so there’s no capsule number 13.
Each capsule fits up to 25 people, but there’s enough space for you to walk around and see how many landmarks you can spot. If you want a bit of privacy (or to join the more than 5000 people who have proposed on the wheel) then you can book a ‘Cupid’s Capsule’ for two at £380 ($489), Champagne included.
Avoid the crowds
If you can’t stretch to that, then bear in mind that the crowds (and lines) are almost inevitable. There are two ways to make life easier—by avoiding peak times, or by paying a little extra.
The London Eye is busiest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the UK school holidays, and is quieter at the beginning and end of their opening hours, which vary throughout the year. As a rough guide, summer hours are 10am — 8.30pm, and winter hours are 11am — 6pm, but do check in advance on their site. It’s worth bearing in mind that it closes for around two weeks every January, for annual maintenance.
A standard ticket is £26 ($33), if bought in person on the day. Upon arrival, there are three lines—one to buy a ticket, one for fast track boarding and one for standard boarding.
Buying tickets online will allow you to skip the initial ticket office line and also save you 10%, if you book more than 24 hours in advance. You will, however, be tying yourself into a timeslot, unless you opt for an Any Time Flexi ticket at £29 ($37). All of which would be fine, if the unpredictability of the London climate wasn’t an issue—if your visit coincides with fog, or rain, you might not get the same out of it.
If you want to avoid waiting as much as possible, your best bet is buying a Fast Track ticket for £36 ($46), which can be bought on the day or online (again, with a 10% discount and the bonus of skipping the ticket office line). It’s an extra £10 ($13), but will grant you fast track entry through a dedicated entrance.
Waterloo station (served by the tube and overland trains) is the closest to the London Eye, at just a five-minute walk away. Both Embankment and Charing Cross are fairly close, at around a ten-minute walk. Westminster station is a short and picturesque walk over the river.
Westminster station is a short and picturesque walk over the river, where you’ll also find the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Head in the other direction and you can walk along the river through South Bank, with its skateboarders, secondhand book stalls and food trucks—a Bleecker burger is one of the best in town. If you need to rest your feet, pop into Canteen right by the Royal Festival Hall, for classic British cuisine in a modern setting (their Eton Mess is to die for).
The London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB
Bleecker Southbank, Royal Festival Hall, The Queen’s Walk, Lambeth, London SE1 8XX, UK, +44 7495 821283
Canteen Royal Festival Hall, 337-338 Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8XX, UK, +44 845 686 1122
All copyrights for this article are reserved to http://rss.cnn.com/rss/edition_travel.rss