The London Eye was her only request. And try though I may to avoid expensive, commercial experiences, a big part of traveling with kids is getting them excited to see new things, not getting them excited about seeing the things I am excited about seeing. So we put the London Eye on the list and made it a first must-do.
As it happened, the very first night we were in London, a combination of jet lag and scrambling for a last minute hotel landed us a few short blocks from the Eye. It must have been 11:00 p.m. when we scrambled up to the front desk, delirious. The insanely nice hotelier handed us keys, and when we finally figured out how to turn on the British lights and open the British door. There is was. Looking out at us from our window. Glowing in rainbow colors from the riverfront. Oooooooh. We do like the London Eye after all.
We ordered fish and chips from room service and set out (at 1:00 a.m.? Quite possibly) to investigate.
Booking the London Eye
The next day, we regained the ability to take non-blurry photos and cope with the time difference. The last-minute hotel stay down by the river was a blessing in disguise because a concierge booked our tickets, printed them for us, and then had a cab waiting so we could check out late upon strolling back from our ride. Score.
If you’re coming from another part of London, you’ll probably want to be there at opening time to avoid crowds. While most tickets are time stamped, waiting in the line outside to board can be a longer hassle as the day goes on, particularly in the summer and if you don’t pre-book.
At a different time, in early December, we strolled in around 10:30 in the morning when the wheel was already turning, walked up to the counter, bought 11:00 tickets and had no crowds at all.
If you don’t know what time you’ll be visiting the line, or need the luxury of bypassing the queue, there are other ticket options:
- Standard: the most affordable ticket, with a set day and time
- Fast track: can be purchased at home beforehand, and allow users to bypass the line
- Flexi: Pick a day and time is open. Good if you don’t know when you’ll make it to the eye.
We found that standard tickets were just fine for our two spins around the eye (September and December). HOWEVER, the real issue with small children is that you may have to stand in line twice. If you do not pre-book on the website or by phone, you can visit the ticket office at the London Eye itself. DO NOT TRY THIS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SUMMER WEEKEND DAY. Tickets may not even be available. If they are, you’ll wait in this line to buy, then possibly another line to watch the 4D cinematic experience, then another line to board the Eye. Whew.
This is why I’m a firm believer in getting to the Eye at opening no matter what time of year you go.
If you print your tickets at home (or the concierge takes care of arrangements for you) you can skip the first line and get right on the Eye at the designated time (enter this line 30 minutes before your ride-time). If you do not have access to a printer and are not staying at a hotel where this can be done for you, rebooking means you’ll have to go inside the Eye building and wait in the first ticket line for your tickets. It’s an extra step, but on a busy day, at least you’ll be assured you’re scheduled when you want to be and your tickets will be waiting for you.
Cost of the London Eye
Standard tickets cost 21.20 online or 24.95 at the ticket window for that day. That’s about $30 per person, or $1 a minute.
Flexi tickets currently cost 27. 45 each.
Discounts: National Rail Service often has 2 for 1 passes for the London Eye when you travel to London by train, book through them, and don’t want to ride on a popular holiday or weekend.
London Days out brochures with 2 for 1 offers are often in train stations around London. If you arrive by train check the booking office for the brochures and discount offers when you’re traveling. This is a little hard, because I found that for the offer, you have to book online, then travel by train using the voucher, then go to the attraction with your voucher AND train tickets. For families on the road, it was a little too difficult. Besides, in our case, we rode Eurostar out of London but flew in. So no dice.
Go to https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk to see if you have better luck.
Another option is that if you’re going to buy LOTS of expensive tickets to big-item London attractions, booking combined tickets (on the London Eye website) offers savings. Visiting two attractions, for example, like the London Eye along with Madame Tussaud’s, is 39. So what was that, 2 pounds off? I was unimpressed. But if you’re going anyway, 2 pounds is two pounds.
Ability and the London Eye
We actually stopped once on the eye for a wheelchair loading. At least half a dozen adults in our pod looked around when the wheel stopped, clearly not wanting to have been there in the first place and upset that something might be wrong! But I didn’t even notice when we started moving again a few seconds later, so slow is the progress of the Eye.
I tell this story to help you understand not only wheelchair issues on the London Eye (the platform is very wheelchair-friendly) but anxiety issues. Once trapped inside that thing, everyone starts talking about how they really didn’t want to be trapped in that thing. I brought a coffee, no problem, so if that’s your security blanket, you’re good. There is a security check at the base of the Eye, but your medicines are also more than welcome. No one wants to panic while they should be enjoying the view!
Loading and unloading guests with wheelchairs seemed seamless, like a Disney experience. Since the Eye doesn’t stop when ambulatory guests walk on, it will need to pause for guests requiring assistance. No biggie. Nothing’s broken. If you’re wanting a wheelchair, they even have them available with a deposit, and carers can ride free though the attraction says you should bring documentation.
Autism kids may have a harder time. Without pre-printed tickets, there are multiple lines for the attraction and the film you can watch before or afterward, as well as the ticket line in the first place. The line for the London Eye is outdoors and crowded. Coming early and asking for assistance, waiting off to the side, for example, might be a good idea. The fast pass is a solid option if it’s a busy time. Once you’re on the wheel, the pods aren’t so crowded inside and have a big middle bench. The sights should be distracting for kids and the ride is a visual smorgasbord.
The London Eye River Cruise
One thing that families should consider booking while at the London Eye is the river cruise. Is spans the important sites along the Thames, gives you some colorful commentary as you go, and is far less confining than the wheel. Once you know all the buildings from above, it’s a great educational experience to get to know them on the river and see how the city is laid out. The boat leaves from the area right next to the London Eye.
More Fun Stuff By the London Eye
- Starbucks. For picky eaters and Americanized kiddos, you can’t beat a familiar frappucino.
- Awesome playground: You can’t miss a beautiful wood and ropes playground under the Eye in a green space called Jubilee Gardens. Great for letting off steam, climbing on things, and getting stuck. Once when we were playing, giant costumed Wonder dogs invaded. It was awesome.
- Carnival: Depending on the time of year, there may be merry-go-rounds and other carvnival rides at the base of the wheel.
- River walk: The London Eye is on the Thames River which runs through London. Depending on the direction you stroll down the pedestrian walkway along its bank, you can find all kinds of goodness, from doughnuts to the Tate Modern Museum in its old electric station building and St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are often caroling schoolchildren in the holiday season and a European Christmas market outside the museum. Millennium bridge leads you across to the other side. You can get a sense of modern London (and Harry Potter scenery) from the bridge, while checking out old London in the form of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
- Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament are all clustered right across the river from the Eye.