East London › Emirates Air Line & Aviation Experience

The Emirates Air Line is a 1 kilometre gondola that whisks you up to a height of about 90 metres to cross the Thames in a journey that takes about 6 minutes.

When you arrive at the Greenwich Peninsula, on the south side of the river, take in the Aviation Experience, a small but informative museum about commercial air travel.

The journey 

If you are taking a one-way trip, we suggest leaving from the Royal Docks station, on the north side of the Thames, and taking the cablecar to the Greenwich Peninsula, on the south side of the River.

The Royal Docks station, close to the Excel Centre, is accessed by the Docklands Light Railway (an experience in itself – these being efficient driverless trains). 

Goldolas leave every 15 seconds and travel at 6 metres per second.  The gleaming cablecars are kitted out with a videoscreen and have a capacity of 10 people, meaning that 2,500 people can be transported every hour.  In practice, the cablecars are rarely filled with more than six people. 

There may be queues in peak summer season, so avoid travel between 10am and 4pm if you can. 

The closest attraction to the Emirates Air Line is the O2 Arena, formerly the Millennium Dome and now the world’s busiest indoor arena.  Slightly further ahead is the Canary Wharf complex, with numerous skyscrapers surrounding the Canary Wharf tower itself. 

If you look west, you can see the new buildings that have been popping up in the City of London over recent years, such as the Gherkin, Heron Tower, Walkie Talkie and Cheese Grater.  You can even see the arch of the new Wembley Stadium on the horizon on a clear day. 

Coming back, why not focus on the east London attractions and landmarks.  Straight ahead of you is the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park and the ArcelorMittal Orbit, to the left of which is found Victoria Park.  As you look right, you will have great views of the Excel Centre, London City Airport, the Thames and its estuary, the Royal Docks, and the Thames Barrier.

There is no best time of the day to take your trip: just try and choose a day or night with a clear sky.    

Construction & Controversy

The Emirates Air Line was opened in time for the 2012 Olympics, at a cost of £60 million. Of that sum, Emirates are providing sponsorship of £36 million over 10 years.  Numbers were initially very good indeed, with 180,804 journies recorded during a single week of the August 2012 Olympic Games.

Since then, use has tailed off somewhat. In particular, virtually no commuters have used the Air Line to get into work: the number of regular commuters is thought to be 16, causing one newspaper to suggest it would have been cheaper to buy them a "gold-plated minibus".

The left-wing Guardian newspaper has been especially critical, describing the Emirates Air Line as:

... [a] pointless project built for spurious reasons connecting two places no one wants to go to.

That is unfair: this is a great tourist attraction which will bring money and investment to the east London. And the figures are certainly holding up: there were 52,684 passenger journies during one week of August 2014, with 20,000 weekly journies regularly recorded during the off-season.

Tickets

One of the best things about the Emirates Air Line is the low cost.  An adult single fare is £4.40, and for £10 you get a return fare and entry into the Emirates Aviation Experience.  Children cost £2.30 for a single far, and £6 for a round trip and the Emirates Aviation Experience.  

Compare the London Eye, which costs an eye-watering £29.55 for both adults and children!

The Emirates Aviation Experience

The Emirates Aviation Experience is East London’s newest attraction. Opened by Mayor Boris Johnson in June 2013, the Experience gives an insight into the operations of a commercial airport.

Occupying 300 square metres, the Experience has three zones:

  • On the Ground: this zone includes a video wall showing how an A380 is turned around after landing, a replica of an A380 nose cone, and a film showing the route baggage takes in Dubai’s state-of-the-art handling system;
  • Science of Flight: this zone contains a virtual wind tunnel and a Rolls Royce Lego engine made from 165,000 plastic bricks;
  • Flight simulators: in this zone you can try your hand flying an Airbus A380 or Boeing 777.

Attractions around Royal Docks station

The Crystal is an attraction found about a minute away from the Royal Docks cablecar station.  It is an angular building owned by Siemens which generates its own power through the use of solar panels and a source heat pump.  Inside you will find interactive exhibitions on city living and how things might change by 2050.   

Slightly further afield is the Excel Centre, one of the world’s largest convention and exhibition spaces.  Though the area is far less developed than the Greenwich Peninsula, there are still a number of decent restaurants.

Attractions around the Greenwich Peninsula station

Aside from the Aviation Experience, there are numerous famous things to do on the south side of the river.  The closest attraction is the O2 Arena.  Even if you can’t get tickets for the concert playing in the main arena, this entertainment district has scores of restaurants and bars, a multi-screen cinema, a bowling alley, smaller music venues and interesting visiting exhibitions (currently Elvis at the O2). 

Or you could take a boat from the Greenwich pier back to central London or take a walk or a bus south to Maritime Greenwich and its host of attractions, including the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park.