The London Eye, Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey
No visit to London is complete without a ride on the London Eye, the world’s tallest cantilevered (anchored on one side only) wheel which takes you 135 meters above the ground and gives you a 360-degree view of the city.
But getting on the wheel is not easy. Lines run miles long especially during summers and school holidays. We left home early and were in the queue by half-past nine. Luckily we got our tickets within half an hour and were in the queue to get in the capsule for less than an hour.
Before getting on the wheel we watched the London Eye 4D movie, a multi-sensory, four-minute show which brings the city to life through video and special effects including bubbles and scents.
Opened in 2000, the London Eye was going to be a temporary attraction to mark the Millennium but was so successful that it was granted a permanent permit. A figure released in June 2008 revealed that thirty million people had ridden it since the day it was opened. More recently an estimated 3.75 million visitors ride it every year.
It took us less than half an hour to complete the circle. Although I am not scared of heights, going that high up in a glass capsule was still a big ask. My biggest worry was that the capsule will shake with the wind at the top. But it didn’t. It was fixed. The ride was even easier than some of the suspension bridges I have crossed which shook violently when I got in the middle. The ride was smooth and I was totally engrossed in the unfolding scenery around me particularly of the various bridges, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace.
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.
We walked the Jubilee Bridge to go to the Northbank. We could have taken the Westminster Bridge but on his last trip to London, Jubilee Bridge was the first one my husband walked across and really liked it and he wanted to walk across it again.
The Thames, London’s main river, has many bridges across it and you can get a good view of some of those from the London Eye. I found a very nice painting in a souvenir shop which gives an aerial view of at least ten of them.
Big Ben and the House of Parliament
We walked past the Whitehall gardens and got to Big Ben which was covered by scaffolding. Pity, it was going through renovations and we couldn’t see it in its full glory.
I was really surprised by how many London buildings clocks on it. In the times when people didn’t have their own clocks and wristwatches, they used to drive people’s lives. Perhaps English punctuality can be attributed to them.
Crowds were moving towards Parliament Square, a small clear area surrounded by many important buildings, and we went with the flow. Once in the square, we sat down for a while to get our bearings. In front of us was an impressive Gothic building, once the Palace of Westminster and now the Parliament House. On the right was the Westminster Abbey and on the left were Government Offices of Great George Street.
The parliament square is where a number of protests are held. It has a number of statutes on its grounds, Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Robert Peel, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandala, and Gandhi to name a few. It is really a lovely place to sit and take in the surroundings.
After having something to eat we gathered our backpacks and jumped into the sea of tourists to have a closer look at the Palace of Westminster.
The initial royal palace was constructed in the 11th century and was the primary residence of the English monarchy since then. In 1512 it was destroyed by a fire. After that, since the 13th century, it served as the home of the Parliament of England and also as the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice. In 1834 an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt House of Parliament and the only significant medieval structures to survive were Westminster Hall. It has since been rebuilt.
We walked around the complex admiring the architecture of the buildings and mastery of the people who have skillfully carved almost every surface. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I regretted not pre-booking an inside tour. It is something I would like to do on my next visit.
Westminster Abbey was just next to the House of Parliament and was one of the most impressive buildings I had ever seen. It has a legendary status in the English monarchy. Founded by Edward the Confessor, it is the church where all the monarchs have been crowned since 1066. Not only that it has 3,300 tombs on its grounds including King Henry VII, Elizabeth I and Isaacs Newton.
But most importantly it is the church for royal weddings, particularly of crown princes. Prince William and Kate Middleton got married here and so did Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Even the current Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip got married here. In fact, there have been 16 Royal weddings here, first one being of King Henry I and Matilda of Scotland in 1100.
We returned to Parliament Square and we could hear some music playing at some distance. Walking in that direction we reached near Hyde park where some very enthusiastic young musicians were playing African drums. A lot of people were gathered there listening to the vibrant music and enjoying the perfect day in the sun.
It has been a perfect morning so far. We walked from there passing the Churchill’s War Rooms and Horse Guards Parade which is a large parade ground for annual ceremonies. It was being prepared for Trooping the Colour (see post Buckingham Palace Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery) ceremony on next Saturday. We went to the Trafalgar Square where we had lunch and prepared ourselves to tackle the National Portrait Gallery which I will write about in my next post.
What has been your experience of the London Eye? Have you been inside the House of Parliament or Westminster Abbey? Have you got any stories to share about today’s post? I would like to hear them. Drop me a line please through the comment section below.