How the London Eye Works

The London Eye Ride

The 25-mile view from the London Eye
The 25-mile view from the London Eye
Maremagnum/Getty Images

Instead of "rides," the London Eye has "flights." The attraction is open daily except for Christmas Day, and is regularly closed for a week in January for maintenance.

At the top of the London Eye, on a clear day, you can see 25 miles (40 km) -- as far as Windsor Castle. Each rotation takes about 30 minutes, and the wheel moves at about 0.6 miles an hour (0.96 kph). Its speed is quite slow, and passengers can easily step on and off without the wheel ever having to stop -- though for elderly or disabled passengers, the wheel can come to a complete stop for safety.

The London Eye carries 3.5 million customers each year. Each of the 32 capsules holds up to 25 people, allowing the London Eye to transport 800 people at a time. A standard ticket is about $28, or 15.50 pounds, and entitles passengers to one rotation, about 30 minutes. The Eye also offers special packages, including private capsule flights, flights with champagne or cocktails, flights with wine tastings, flights with breakfast and the list goes on. Many couples get engaged or married on the London Eye. Just don't forget your wallet -- obviously the more amenities you want, the more you'll pay. For example, a private capsule "champagne flight" costs almost $800, or 430 pounds, and that doesn't even include the champagne. The Eye advises booking flights in advance for any special packages.

Originally, fluorescent tubes lit the London Eye by night. This system proved costly to maintain. In order to bathe the London Eye in different colors for special occasions, workers had to manually cover each fluorescent tube with a colored gel "slip." In 2006, a company named Color Kinetics took over lighting duties and installed computer-controlled LED lighting. The LED Chromacore® lighting technology adds a microprocessor to each cluster of LED lights, allowing networked control of color, intensity or effects. Today, the London Eye can be coated in all sorts of colors and even perform light shows.

We've all read enough horror stories about amusement park rides to wonder if anything has ever gone awry with the London Eye. The answer to that question is, "Yes." In March of 2008, the wheel malfunctioned and stranded 400 passengers for about an hour. Engineers noticed an error in one of the tires that rotates the Eye, and they stopped the wheel to make emergency repairs. Nobody was hurt, but many passengers were quite frightened and angry once they safely returned to ground [source: McCathie]. Back in 2002, engineers closed the London Eye for a few hours after they noticed it was rotating a little too fast. No passengers were on board at the time, however.

During its construction, the London Eye underwent extensive safety monitoring, testing and evaluation. This monitoring continues on a constant basis. Each morning, computers and humans perform a safety check on all aspects of the London Eye. During operation, safety sensors in each capsule send ongoing reports back to a control room on the ground. Every safety system has a back-up system as well. In the event of a problem, the ride operator can return a capsule -- no matter where it is -- back to the boarding platform in eight minutes, by either changing direction or speeding up rotation.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Barrow, Becky. "Eye focuses on permanent residence." Dec. 11, 2001. (Sept. 17, 2008)
  • Skyscraper News. "One Canada Square." 2008. (Sept. 23, 2008)
  • Color Kinetics. "London Eye." Philips. 2008. (Sept. 17, 2008)   
  • Essential Architecture. "The London Eye." London Architecture. 2008. (Sept. 17, 2008)
  • Gayford, Martin. "How London Got Its Eiffel Tower." March 3, 2001. (Sept. 17, 2008)
  • London Eye. "Case History - the design process." 2008. (Sept. 17, 2008)
  • London Eye. "Structures." 2008. (Sept. 17, 2008)
  • Marriner, Cosima. "BA sells stake in London Eye to Tussauds for £95m." Nov. 11, 2008. (Sept. 23, 2008)
  • McCathie, Charlie. "Hundreds stuck in mid-air on London Eye." March 26, 2008. (Sept. 17, 2008)
  • Science Daily. "Explaining Why The Millennium Bridge Wobbled." 2008. (Sep. 17, 2008)
  • Worsley, Giles. "Pull down the London Eye." Sept. 3, 2002. (Sep. 17, 2008)