New Year’s Eve at the London Eye: What to Expect

New Year’s Eve in London, England, is one of the most exciting nights of the year.

As the clock strikes midnight, the bells of Big Ben ring out like a siren’s call through the streets of London. Each year, the sky above the Thames River comes alive with the glow of 10,000 fireworks. Not even the brightest evening stars can compete with the rainbow of colors that bursts through the darkness over the Coca-Cola London Eye as part of city’s largest annual fireworks display. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about New Year’s Eve in London, from how to get tickets to what you can expect on the big night.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Plan Ahead

Many people think they can just show up on the day of the event and walk through the gates, but that simply isn’t so. You actually need to purchase tickets to the event, and you need to do it well in advance. In fact, tickets typically go on sale in late September and cost about £10 each. There are no guarantees you will be able to see the fireworks if you do not buy a ticket. Tickets sell out fast. I mean really, really fast. I bought my tickets the same day they went on sale, and already the prime viewing sections were sold out.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

There are six viewing areas for the event, which is officially known as the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks. Each one provides its own unique view of the fireworks. It’s recommended that you think about how you will be traveling to and from the event before you choose a viewing area. Most main streets are closed down to public transportation, so you may have to walk quite a distance to reach your destination.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

When to Arrive

As noted previously, most streets are closed down to traffic, so plan to arrive early if you want to take public transportation to the main area. We chose to walk from our hotel. It was a lovely night, and the walk took only about 45 minutes. Based on my aforementioned Time’s Square experience, I was expecting massive crowds. As a result, I insisted we get to our designated entrance before the 8 p.m. opening time. I thought it would take hours to navigate the streets to our viewing area, but I was totally and utterly wrong.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

The streets were utterly empty until we got about a block away from the entrance. Then, suddenly, we were swallowed up by a massive, but very friendly, crowd until the entrance opened a short while later. When it did open, the guards let in only a few people at a time. We ended up standing should-to-shoulder with some very friendly people for about an hour, and it felt like time was standing still. There was a lot of pushing and shoving as we got closer and people became less patient. I was with my 60-something mother, and I was a bit concerned for her safety. That said, the people around us were quite protective and did their best to keep us out of harm’s way.

Pro Tip: Dress in layers. In our case, the temperatures were unseasonably warm, so I peeled off a few layers to keep from melting. But the weather could just as easily swing in the other direction. It doesn’t hurt to come prepared for anything.

What to Expect Inside

Once we finally made it through the gate, the staff made sure we actually had in our possession tickets and that we were in the correct viewing area. We then passed through a security check before making our way inside…which was actually outside, of course! I was pleasantly surprised by just how spacious the area was. I had plenty of room to dance and stretch out. At first, I assumed the crowds would fill in around us as the minutes ticked by, but that wasn’t the case.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

We didn’t wander too far from the gates, so I’m not sure how far our viewing area spanned in any one direction. There are no seats and no one tells you where to stand. It’s a free for all once you’re inside. A DJ spins tunes and pumps up the crowd, and there are a few vendors selling refreshments and souvenirs. We found a curb we could sit on for the next two hours while we waited for the official countdown to midnight. We chatted idly with the people around us and made a few new friends who were also visiting from other parts of the world.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Pro Tip: You are only allowed to bring small bags inside the viewing area. You can have food and drink, including small amounts of alcohol — only enough for you to consume so make sure your friends bring their own beverages. There are also portable toilets on site, and there are enough of them that you won’t have to wait long to use them.

When Sparks Fly

I’ve celebrated New Year’s in cities all over the world, including the ultimate New York Time’s Square experience, and I can honestly say that London is my top choice to date. When Big Ben begins to chime and the first sparks ignite over the London Eye, the wave of energy that rips through the crowd is truly contagious. The 12-minute pyrotechnics show lights up the sky in time to a specially crafted custom soundtrack that dazzles every bit as much as the visual display.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

You’ll be blown away — literally and figuratively by the sheer volume of fireworks and quick clip of the fireworks as they explode across the sky. It’s a sight to behold and a memory to hold dear. I’ve popped in a few super poor-quality pictures to give you an idea of the experience, and while I am a professional photographer by trade, you would never know it. Admittedly, I was much more focused on watching the show and enjoying myself than getting the money shot. It was truly stellar. I’ve interspersed a few more impressive photos taken by others as well.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye  

Pro Tip: Look for benches within your line of sight. People will stand on those benches once the show begins, and you will not be able to see around them. We sat in the same spot for two hours only to have to find a new location once the show started for this very reason. It was especially awesome when they started taking selfies and were not even watching the show. 

Getting Home

The entire ordeal lasts only mere moments, but it’s worth every minute. And when the show’s over, it’s really over. In fact, there’s nothing left to see. Most people beeline for the exits and begin making their way to their next destination, which for us was the hotel. Streets that were open to traffic on our way to the show were now closed down to cars. We were in shock and awe to find even Piccadilly Circus at a standstill. But the streets were abuzz no less with pedestrians and partiers. We walked the entire way back to our hotel near Paddington Station. And while the trek took more than an hour, there were plenty of exciting sights and sounds along the way.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

For those of you wondering where I stay when I’m in London, it all depends on my budget. If money is no object —  which, let’s face it, is rare — I love to stay at Hazlitt’s Hotel in Soho. The upscale 1800s ambiance and boutique service is second to none, and the location near shopping, entertainment, and eateries is ideal. However, when I’m in need of a more budget-friendly accommodation, I turn to the Paddington Point A. Just a five-minute walk from Paddington Station, the location is perfect if you’re planning to take a few day trips by train to places such as Oxford or Windsor. The no-frills hotel is clean, the staff is friendly, and it’s only a 15-minute walk to the ever-popular Oxford Street.

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Parade Day

As an added bonus, for the past 30 years on January 1, the city hosts London’s New Year’s Parade. Starting at noon, more than 10,000 participants ranging from cheerleaders to marching bands and cultural performers strut their talent through some of London’s most popular places, including Trafalgar Square and the aforementioned Picadilly Circus. You can purchase seats — yes actual seats in bleachers — in advance so you can rest your feet and stay covered in the case of inclement weather. Or you can take your chances on the weather and find a place to stand on the sidelines at the last minute. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend the day, especially since many stores and attractions do not open on New Year’s Day.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

If you’re looking for a fun-filled New Year’s Eve experience that’s action-packed but not overcrowded, check out New Year’s Eve at the London Eye. You’ll be delighted and awed by the spectacular display. And if you’re up for it the next day, the London New Year’s Parade is worth checking out, too.

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New Year's Eve at the London Eye

One Day in London, England: From Soho to St. Paul’s Cathedral

There are so many things to do in London, England.

So what should you do when you only have one day to spare? It’s a big city with lots of amazing sights to see. The good news is that if you don’t dawdle, you can pack in many of them in fewer than 12 hours. Follow this comprehensive plan, and you won’t miss out on anything.

Morning

Staying at a central hotel is key to seeing as much of London as possible in just one day. I stayed at a cozy and quirky boutique hotel in the heart of Soho. The upscale Hazlitt’s Hotel is in an ideal location if you’re planning to walk to London’s main attractions. The staff is exceptional, and the beds are some of the comfiest I’ve ever slept in. And did I mention my room had a claw-foot tub? It was pure bliss.

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There’s not much to do in London before 10 a.m., so sleep in a little and then make your way to the Covent Garden district for a traditional English breakfast. If you choose to stay at Hazlitt’s or another nearby hotel, after about 10 to 15 minutes of walking, you’ll be in the very heart of the Covent Garden district. London is such a great walking city that it’s worth every step.


There are loads of shops along the way, and it’s fun to do some window—or actual—shopping en route. You’ll pass everything from trendy clothing stores like my personal favorite Anthropologie and future queen Kate Middleton’s former employer Jigsaw to quirky, upscale jewelry shops like Les Nereides. So good…and don’t even get me started on the number of cafes and bistros you’ll see. If you’re not too hangry, hang tight and wait until you get to Covent Garden Market before chowing down.

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You’ll find plenty of casual restaurants offering affordable prices—by London standards—at Covent Garden Market. I chose to dine downstairs at The Crusting Pipe, where I got poached eggs and toast for just £6. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a steal of a deal considering the prime location. If you sit outside, you’ll likely be treated to live entertainment by one of the many talented street performers that are known to busk in the area. And if the mercury is low, they’ll even leave a blanket on your chair to help keep you cozy.

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After breakfast, spend a bit of time strolling through the streets and stopping in at some of the market shops. Offerings range from handicrafts kiosks to gourmet tea boutiques (many of which have affordable afternoon teas). It’s a real eclectic mix where you just might find a one-of-a-kind keepsake. My Pomeranian is the proud owner of a handmade Union Jack coat, for instance. But I digress…there are still so many things to do in London. The hands on Big Ben will be roundabout noon by now, and you’ve got a ways to walk before you’ll get to see them.

London

Afternoon

Once you’ve had a good look around Covent Garden, make your way toward Henrietta Street and walk for half a block, until you reach Southampton Street. Take a right on Southampton and walk another block or so, until you hit Strand. From here, just keep on walking, and eventually you’ll reach Trafalgar Square, where you’ll find the National Gallery. Admission is free, so pop in and take a look around. The gallery even offers suggestions about must-see sites for people who are short on time, which you definitely are if you plan to see the best of London in one day.

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When you’re done taking a quick look around the gallery, toss a few pennies in the Trafalgar Square fountains, and walk straight across the street to the traffic circle on Strand. Take a quick picture with Charles Statue at the roundabout, and then curve right toward Whitehall. After just a  few minutes, you’ll be yourself snapping selfies with the poker faced guards at the Horse Guards Parade. The entire journey from Covent Garden to this point shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes of total walking time if you don’t stop anywhere along the way.

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From here, it’s smooth sailing to some of the most popular sites in London. If you’re facing the Horse Guards, turn left and start walking along Whitehall, which will eventually become Parliament Street. Soon, you’ll be ticking off the boxes on your to do list like mad. Up first, 10 Downing where the prime minister resides. Across the street-ish, you’ll see Big Ben and the parliament buildings, and up the road is Westminster Abbey…they’re all along this route. Take your time, and breathe it all in.

Pro tip: You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction if you see lots of red, double-decker, tourist buses as you walk. Let the buses be your guide.

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Over the next hour or two, simply drink in your surroundings. Take pictures, walk around the Abbey, and soak it all up like the sponge that you are. Want an authentic souvenir? Check out the House of Parliament Shop on the corner of Great George Street and Parliament Square. Then, hone in on the London Eye and start walking in that direction. Crossover the Thames River via Westminster Bridge, and walk along the water until you reach the famed Ferris wheel that offers an unparalleled view of the city. Afraid of heights? Me, too. The only thing I’m more afraid of than heights is wasting money, so I bought a skip the line pass in advance and forced myself to take the plunge.

Pro Tip: Depending on the season, the line to get on the London Eye can be prohibitively long if you’re on a tight schedule. Pre-purchasing a skip the line pass is a must to ensure you get right on the ride.

London

From here, a fun idea is to visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. And it’s easy to get to from the London Eye—no map required. All you need to do is walk along the banks of the Thames until you come to a rustic, round building. According to Google maps, it should only take about 30 minutes, but I wandered in and out of shops along the way so it took an hour or two.


Pro Tip: By now your stomach may be starting to grumble. When it comes to seeing all you can in one day, eating on the go is a necessity. Grab a bite to eat from someplace on the street, something like a pastry or a burger that you can eat while you walk.

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It was about 2:30 p.m. when I arrived at the Globe, and the next guided tour was starting in a half hour. This gave me just enough time to check out about half of the exhibits in the museum portion of the theater before joining the rest of the group. The tour takes only a half hour, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of the actors rehearsing. When I was there, the girl next to me swore up and down that one of the actors was from “Game of Thrones” was onstage, but I’m not convinced.

London

At £16, the price of admission to the theater ain’t cheap, but for a Shakespeare buff like me, it’s well worth every penny, and it’s a unique experience. The globe provides unparalleled insight into what life was like in Elizabethan times. After the tour, you may need another half hour or so to check out the rest of the exhibits. Then, be sure to check out the shop, which is filled with an abundance of merchandise featuring some of the most famous quotes from Shakespeare’s infamous plays. You may even choose to dine at one of the cafes or bars located on the theater premises.

Evening

You’ll already have put in a packed day at this point, but it’s not quite over yet. When you leave the theater, walk out the doors and over Millennium Bridge toward St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is where members Lady Diana and Prince Charles go married. I took a minute to pretend I was a princess and walked right down the center aisle. Located at the highest point in the city, St. Paul’s is the home of the Anglican church in London and is a sight to behold with its enormous domed roof and other adornments. Stay for a service if you don’t have any other plans for the evening. If not, spend 15 or 20 minutes taking a look around and then start of in search of your next attraction, which will likely be dinner.

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By now, it will be about 6 p.m., and you’re bound to be hankering for something savory. Just about a block up the street from the cathedral on Ludgate Hill is a little bistro called Joe’s Kitchen. Casual, trendy, and affordable, Joe’s was the perfect place to kickback and enjoy some fish and chips. The generous portions came at an affordable price and truly hit the spot. And the service was fast and friendly, which suited my needs perfectly.

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Once your appetite is sated, it’s decision time. How will you spend the rest of your night? I chose to make my way back to Soho to take in a Broadway-style production. If you’ve got the time and your feet aren’t too tired from your earlier adventures, it’s only about a half hour walk along Strand to Leicester Square. Here, you find half-price ticket booths just like the ones in Times Square, New York. If you’re lucky, you might be able to snag yourself a deal at one of the hottest tickets. I happened to get a seat at the very final showing of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at a fraction of the regular rate. I also happened across the adorable Primrose Bakery along the way, where I grabbed a delicious cupcake to snack on after the show.

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Other options for the evening include heading back toward Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and catching a performance there. Or you may choose to simply take a stroll along Oxford Street to do a little shopping at the plethora of trendy boutiques and chain stores that line either side of this long and bustling street. Before you know it, the moon will be casting its cool glow over you, and your jam-packed day in London will be over.


I know, I know…what about Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London? You only have one day, so something’s gotta give, right? That said, if this is your first time in London, you’ll definitely want to take in these awesome sites. However, if you’ve been to London plenty of times, this offers you a fun alternative to get a little bit off the beaten path while still taking in some of the attractions that never get boring no matter how many times you see them.

Alternative Agenda

I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging, so I’ve also included a few other options for your day in London. As an alternative, you could always skip the morning at Covent Garden to take in the palace instead. Then, substitute the afternoon visit to Shakespeare’s Globe with a trek to the tower. Both are completely viable—and doable—alternatives. I love a good, long walk in a new city, but keep in mind you may need to hop onto the London Underground or hail an infamous black taxi to make it the extra miles in just one day.

The walk from Soho to Buckingham Palace takes a little over a half hour. Try to time your visit with the changing of the guard for a bit of extra fun, and be sure to check out the palace shop. You can even take a tour of the interior or enjoy afternoon tea if you’ve decided to hit the palace later in the day. When you’re ready to continue with the rest of the tour, simply walk straight down the main road leading from the palace, called The Mall, and it will take you all the way to Trafalgar Square in just under half an hour. From here, you know what to do!

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If you are dying to see the crown jewels, you’ll definitely want to skip Shakespeare’s Globe and head straight for the Tower of London. If you’re walking from the London Eye, you can still walk along the Thames past the Globe, but you’ll want to cross back to the other side at some point. I recommend the Millennium Bridge so you can still stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral en route. It’ll take you just under an hour to make the journey if you don’t stop anywhere along the way. If you’re super short on time and only have a few hours to spend or simply aren’t up for quite such a long walk, consider taking a hop on hop off tour instead.

Have I missed anything? Drop me a comment, and let me know. I would love to know what attractions you’d visit if you only had one day in London.

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Afternoon Tea at Covent Garden: A Wanderlust Experience

Covent Garden is the place to be for an affordable afternoon tea in London.

 

There are few things I enjoy more than a traditional afternoon tea. All those pretty sandwiches and dainties are simply delightful. So as soon as I knew I was traveling to London, England, I began researching afternoon teas. And I found the most adorable Alice in Wonderland option at a high-class hotel. It came with a mighty hefty price tag, but I decided to treat myself and reserved a seat. Sadly, 24 hours before I was scheduled to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice, I received an email stating the tea had been canceled. So, I set out in search of an alternative.

As I walked along, I passed the B Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, a vintage, red double-decker bus that takes you past London’s best-known sights as you enjoy your tea. I also took note of the lovely spread Patisserie Valerie advertised in its windows adorned with scrumptious delights. Shop after shop, it seemed there dewas no end to the abundance of afternoon tea options. And while many caught my eye, none were quite right, so I kept walking.

Finally, I came upon one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in London, Covent Garden Market. It is comprised of a delightful mix of unique boutiques, kitschy kiosks, and fabulous foods. And many vendors offer a version of afternoon tea. But one adorable little bakery stood out to me, Sweetheart Cake and Bake Shop.



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Located in a tiny shop tucked into a corner on the lower level of Covent Garden, this adorable little bakery is everything you hope a cupcake shop will be. From pastel-colored accents, dangling chandeliers, and froufrou wall art, I just about melted the minute I set eyes on this place. And for just £18, you can enjoy an afternoon tea that lives up to every expectation you might have. The best part is that no reservations are needed. Simply show up anytime between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. any day of the week, and they’ll be happy to serve you. Though the shop is just wee, there are a handful of seats inside, or you can choose to sit outdoors and enjoy the live entertainment from the Covent Garden buskers.

What to Expect

When you arrive, simply head straight to the counter, and tell the server you would like to have the afternoon tea. The server will ask where you plan to sit, as well as what type of tea you would like. You’ll also get to select a cupcake flavor from their robust selection of about a dozen different types.

A few minutes after you’re comfortably seated, the server will bring your pot of tea. Because this is a not a formal tea and everything is made to order, it will take a bit of time for the chef to prepare your spread. They make each and every sandwich fresh for you. And it’s well worth the wait. About 15 minutes after I was first seated, the server set a proper three-tiered china dainty stand on my table. It was filled with all sorts of delectable delights, and I could barely wait to dig in.

To be honest, there is enough food to share with another person. But I hadn’t eaten a thing all day in anticipation of this moment and was hungry enough to eat a horse. I started with the bottom tier, which contained a traditional cucumber and egg salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with the crusts cut off. Next up was a sweet brioche topped with a vegetarian spread. Lastly, there was a savory tart filled with a salmon cream and smoked salmon that was to die for.

Afternoon tea simply wouldn’t be complete without a traditional English scone. And that’s just what was awaiting me on the center tier of the tray. With a side of jam and clotted cream, it was everything I’d hoped it would be. And finally, the top tier with its sweet treats was the pièce de résistance. In addition to the cupcake of my choice—red velvet with cream cheese frosting—there was a tiny fruit tart filled with a creamy custard and three small homemade chocolates. My sweet tooth was completely sated by the time I took my last bite.

Each tier of my afternoon tea tray was a feast for the senses, and I got to listen to a beautiful string quartet play while I ate. It was a wonderful way to spend part of my afternoon. If you are looking for an affordable afternoon tea that you can visit on a whim and serves up scrumptious fare, this is an amazing option. And don’t worry if you can’t eat it all—your server will be more than happy to box it up for you.

Pro tip: Start with the foods that won’t keep as well, such as the clotted cream and salmon tart. That way, you don’t have to worry about any of your leftovers spoiling while you’re wandering about the rest of the market later in the day.

Do you have a favorite place to enjoy afternoon tea in London. Share your ideas with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

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afternoon tea