The battle for London’s skyline has seen some pretty unusual architectural choices spring up over the last 30 years or so. Some of these – the Fenchurch Building, the Leadenhall Building and 30 St Mary Axe – have become famous (or infamous) because of their unusual, nickname-inviting contours (they’re the Walkie-Talkie, Cheesegrater and Gherkin respectively, fact fans). But few more so than The Shard and the London Eye, two towering icons of the 21st-century cityscape. But how do these two titans of tourism measure up? Which has the better views? How long should you expect to spend at each? Check out our London Eye vs The Shard comparison to find out…
The London Eye
Name: The London Eye, silly! Although readers of a certain vintage may also remember it as the Millennium Wheel.
Age: The London Eye was completed in 1999 and opened to the general public as the British Airways London Eye in March 2000.
What is the London Eye? It’s only Europe’s largest cantilevered observation wheel, standing 443 feet tall on the South Bank of the River Thames, and taking 30 minutes to complete a full 360-degree rotation. It was the biggest wheel of its kind on the planet when it first opened in 2000, but subsequent Ferris wheel one-upmanship rapidly put paid to that. The title is now held by the Ain Dubai, which is a shade short of twice the London Eye’s height. Impressive.
The London Eye: Vital Statistics
- Height: 443 feet (135 meters).
- Number of capsules: 32, one for each London borough; each capsule holds 25 people.
- Revolutions per hour: two.
- Visitors: over 3.75 million annually, making it Britain's most popular paid attraction!
What is The London Eye Experience Like?
Step aboard your capsule for a spine-tingling 30-minute spin that takes you high above the South Bank. The wheel doesn’t stop to let you board (unless you have reduced mobility), but moves slowly enough that most people – yes, even unruly toddlers – are able to step on with ease, and there’s both seating and standing room inside. Grab a prime spot to catch birds-eye views of some of London’s most iconic attractions. The Eye’s location means you’re in pole position for ogling Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. And, yes, that pointy glass thing a little upriver is indeed our old pal The Shard. On clear days, and if you squint a little, you might even spot the distant turrets of Windsor Castle.
Fascinating London Eye Fact of the Day
Triskaidekaphobics, rejoice! There’s no number 13 on the London Eye; the 32 capsules are instead numbered from 1-12 and 14-33.
London Eye: Fast Facts
- Opening hours: 11.30AM-6PM on weekdays; 10AM-8.30PM at weekends.
- Tickets: various options are available direct, from standard to fast track and combi tickets.
- Closest Transport Links: the nearest Tube and rail connections are at Waterloo and Charing Cross stations, both a short walk from the London Eye. Multiple bus routes also service the area.
Name: The Shard. The name was inadvertently provided when architect Renzo Piano’s angular architectural design was criticized by English Heritage, who complained that the building would be like "a shard of glass through the heart of historic London." And, lo, a legend was born.
Age: The Shard was completed in 2012 and its observation platform, The View from The Shard opened to the general public in February 2013.
What is The Shard? This extraordinary feat of glass-and-steel engineering tapers to a series of jagged points some 1,000 feet above the streets of Southwark; 1,016 feet (309.6 meters) to be precise. It was the tallest building in Europe until 2022, when Warsaw’s Varso Tower topped it by mere inches. Inside, the space is occupied by a huge office complex, plus restaurants, the 5-star Shangri-La The Shard hotel, and several residential apartments for the uber-wealthy. Up top, set between the 68th and 72nd floors, The View from The Shard is the UK’s highest viewing gallery, with panoramic vistas that stretch for up to 40 miles.
The London Eye: Vital Statistics
- Height: 1,016 feet (309.6 meters).
- Number of floors: 73.
- Elevators: 36, with a top speed of six meters per second.
- Panes of glass: 11,000.
What is The Shard Experience Like?
There are various activities available at The Shard. Cruise up to floors 31-33 for dinner, drinks or afternoon tea with a view from the selection of bars and fine-dining restaurants. Or go all the way up for the best city views in town. If the 60-second elevator ride to the 69th floor hasn’t already made you light-headed enough, a glass of champagne at the bar here, accompanied by those awe-inspiring views, surely will. Continue up to the 72nd, where the open-air sky deck provides further natural highs and the knees of all but the most stoic thrill seekers will very likely turn to jelly. There's no time limit on how long you can spend up here in the clouds (apart from going beyond The Shard's actual closing time, at which point malingerers will obvs be turfed out by security).
The Shard’s position by London Bridge makes for fine aerial views of London’s most famous nearby attractions, including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Battersea Power Station, Big Ben and, of course, the River Thames. Views, on a clear day, stretch for around 40 miles, as far as the South Downs and Thames Estuary.
Fascinating Shard Fact of the Day
During construction of The Shard in 2011, a fox was discovered living on the 72nd floor. Nicknamed Romeo before being captured and released back into the wild, the vulpine daredevil’s legacy lives on as The Shard’s mascot, with Romeo plushies and other souvenirs available to buy in the shop there.
The Shard Fast Facts
- Opening hours: 10AM-10PM (closes 7PM Sunday-Wednesday between October and April).
- Tickets: various ticket options are available direct from The Shard. Access to The View from The Shard is also included with The London Pass, which gets you entry to 90+ London attractions for up to 10 consecutive days.
- Closest Transport Links: the nearest Tube and rail connections are at London Bridge station right next to The Shard. A number of regular bus services also stop here.
The Shard vs The London Eye: Which Should You Visit?
This is like choosing a favorite child! The Shard certainly has the wow factor in terms of views, and adrenaline junkies will no doubt prefer it for its dizzying height. But the novelty factor of the London Eye’s ever-changing perspective as it rotates to its highest point and back down again, makes for a never-dull experience that may well edge it as the better choice if you’re visiting with small, easily-bored children. In both cases, you can expect to spot many of London’s best-loved landmarks and, afterwards, there are plenty more attractions to visit in the immediate vicinity – the SEA LIFE London Aquarium and Big Ben by the London Eye and London Bridge, the Tower of London and bustling Borough market (a fine spot for street food) in the shadow of The Shard.