The London Eye is incredibly touristy in all the worst ways: shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, crying babies, a line out the door to restrooms, heat, overpriced bottles of Coke, and carnival attractions like street magicians and a carousel and exhibits like "Shrek's Big Adventure!" and "The London Dungeon (it's a SCREAM!)" and a very cramped aquarium.
The view itself from the giant wheel is remarkable, assuming you aren't stuck with jerks in a pod with greasy hand prints on the windows. Oh, and while you're wishing for an impossible scenario you might as well hope for good weather in London.
But it's on the top of every "Top 10 Things to do in London" list, so sure, you might as well do it. You might get lucky and they might still have Fanta in the beverage kiosk while you're standing in line, or you might catch the bathrooms at a slow moment, or you'll be smart and buy the fast track ticket so you don't spend a ridiculous amount of time in line (seriously, it's worth the extra pounds).
We bought the Flexi fast pass which lets you pick a day for your 30 minute ride on the London Eye without committing to a specific time frame. We'd heard the ride is best experienced around sunset, but we happened to be in the area earlier in the day after exploring Westminster Abbey and strolling past the Houses of Parliament, so we figured we'd just knock out the ride on the London Eye.
The Eye usually doesn't stop (unless there's a delay with some riders who need assistance or somebody left a serious mess), so keep calm, mind the gap, and step into the plexiglass pod that offers 360 degree views. There are 32 pods (one for each London borough), but the numbers go up to 33, because who is stupid enough to use unlucky #13? (Actually, it's just Unplottable so all the wizards can use it without Muggle knowledge, duh.) And at 10 tons per capsule, the wheel ain't light.
The London Eye is sponsored by Coca-Cola and I had a horrible realization that we were willingly going into a pod where we would be locked in and subject to Coke advertising for a solid 30 minutes, but after some initial announcements, some safety notes, and just a couple name drops for Coke, we were on our way up and around in relative peace and quiet.
I was intrigued by the one guy who popped out of his apartment to oversee the spectacle of the crowd on the wheel and those milling at the entrance. Can you imagine having an apartment right by the London Eye?! (I wonder how much he pays per month!)
Technically the London Eye is not a ferris wheel but a "cantilevered observation wheel." Instead of a double A-frame it's got one A-frame support which can give it a pretty jarring look. The wheel seems to float just over the Thames.
It takes 30 minutes to complete the rotation so make sure you hit up the bathrooms before you step on the attraction. At 135m high you can see things (like Windsor Castle) 25 miles away on clear days. Purchasing tickets online provides a discount, and I definitely recommend the fast pass option. If you want to get fancy you can have champagne on your ride, or you can go crazy and book a private capsule, but you better have some fancy cash on hand for that luxury.
It's right by Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament (including Elizabeth Tower, because AHEM "Big Ben" is just the bell inside the tower), so you can time your visit well if you check out Westminster Abbey first thing in the morning, then the Palace of Westminster, and then the Eye. When you're done with the ride check out the Jubilee Gardens and mosey along The Queen's Walk and the Golden Jubilee bridge for some great pictures of your buddies with the wheel in the background. If you're interested, check out some river cruises in the area or go straight to Embankment or Charing Cross for quick access to the Underground. Or, if time (and your feet) permits, head straight to Trafalgar Square to check out the scene there and enjoy some quality museum time (#nerd!).
All in all I'd say it's worth checking out the London Eye even if it's just to say you've done it. The views are nice and the ride is a novelty. Just know what you're getting into: don't expect it to be some fantastically romantic spin over the London skyline or some hip and unknown spot to explore on your own and pretend to be a local. Prepare for crowds, noise, and a theme park atmosphere and enjoy accordingly.
Have you been on the London Eye? Do you think it's a "must-see" attraction or is it overrated? Tell me in the comments!