The world’s first Ferris wheel debuted at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. A creation of George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., an American bridge builder, the “Great Wheel” was 264 feet tall, an incredible feat of engineering and design at the time. If you’d like to learn more about the history of Ferris and his wheel, check out this excellent video from WQED Pittsburgh:
While you might have imagined the first Ferris wheel as a tiny contraption similar to what you’d find at the county fair, it was anything but. It featured 36 passenger cars, each capable of carrying 60 people for a total capacity of 2,160 passengers. With some minor adjustments, it no doubt could have been wheelchair accessible!
More than a century later, the Ferris wheel remains a popular attraction. Although accessibility is not always guaranteed, there are incredible wheelchair-friendly observation wheels worth experiencing. Here are my top 9, quite a few of which are much smaller than the world’s first, but which still have the power to mesmerize travelers of all ages.
London Eye — London, UK
Opened in 2000, the London Eye attracts more than 3 million tourists annually and is a can’t miss attraction for visitors to London, England. Located on the bank of the River Thames, the 443-ft. wheel offers sweeping views over the capital city.
From the top of the wheel, visitors can see attractions including the Palace of Westminster (i.e. Parliament), Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, the River Thames and more. It’s a remarkable spectacle.
Wheelchair access is superb, with it being possible to roll about inside the spacious 25-person pods. A maximum of two wheelchairs are permitted in each pod, and it is advised that wheelchair users pre-book a time slot to ensure availability. Securing a time slot is possible via the London Eye booking platform — a paid ticket is required in addition to a time slot reservation.
High Roller Ferris Wheel — Las Vegas, NV, USA
At 550 feet tall, the High Roller in Las Vegas, Nevada reigned at the world’s tallest Ferris wheel from 2014 to 2021, but has since been eclipsed by the Dubai Eye (820 ft.).
With 28 40-person cabins, the High Roller can accommodate up to 1,120 passengers. The wheel, which offers wheelchair access to each cabin, has become an iconic fixture of the Las Vegas skyline. It is located at The LINQ Hotel and Casino, right across from Caesars Palace.
Tickets start at $23.50 for adults during the daytime (2 p.m. to 6:59 p.m.) and $34.75 for adults at night (7 p.m. to 12 a.m.). The ticket covers one revolution of the wheel, about a 30-minute ride.
Niagara SkyWheel — Niagara Falls, Canada
As far as views from the top of a Ferris wheel go, it really is tough to beat the Niagara SkyWheel. Take a ride and you’ll see two countries, Canada and the United States, and the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls.
Standing only 175 feet tall, the Niagara SkyWheel is the smallest on this list, but its accessibility is up to par, with cabins large enough to accommodate a power wheelchair. It was, in fact, the very first Ferris wheel that I rode as a wheelchair user in 2014, and what a memorable experience it was!
Tickets to ride the SkyWheel are priced at $15 CDN plus tax for adults and $7 CDN plus tax for children. Additional information is available from the website of the attraction’s operator, Clifton Hill.
Hong Kong Observation Wheel — Hong Kong, China
The Hong Kong Observation Wheel, which stands at 197 feet, looks small in comparison to the towering skyscrapers which surround it in Hong Kong, China. But on a clear night, the view is magnificent, with the city’s glittering lights reflecting off Victoria Harbour.
The wheel’s 42 air-conditioned gondolas offer level-entry boarding to wheelchair users, lining up evenly with the boarding platform. Tickets are priced at 20 HKD for adults, with half-price tickets available for children, seniors and people with disabilities. The wheel makes several revolutions and the ride lasts about 15 minutes.
For learn more about the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, consult the HKOW website or see the pamphlet with information for wheelchair users (PDF document).
Singapore Flyer — Singapore
One of the highlights of my ill-fated trip to Singapore, where I was admitted to the hospital, was the Singapore Flyer, which at 541 feet tall is the world’s third largest Ferris wheel.
Opened in 2008, the Singapore Flyer offers riders incredible views of the city skyline from one of its 28 air-conditioned capsules. On a clear day, it is possible to see the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia, but at the very least visitors will see Singapore’s iconic Gardens By The Bay and Marina Bay Sands, as well as other fixtures of the metropolitan skyline.
Assistance is provided to guests during the boarding process, and each of the wheel’s 28 capsules are wheelchair accessible. Tickets for the 30-minute ride cost 33 SGD for adults and 21 SGD for children. Additional information is available on the Singapore Flyer website.
Seattle Great Wheel — Seattle, WA, USA
At 175 feet tall, the Seattle Great Wheel in Seattle, Washington is tied for the smallest on this list, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with its stunning location at Pier 57 on Elliott Bay.
The Great Wheel is a copy of the Niagara SkyWheel, and offers wheelchair accessibility with 30-inch wide boarding doors. My power wheelchair, at the time a Quantum Q6 Edge, fit easily inside the capsule.
Rides on the Ferris wheel last between 10 and 20 minutes and consist of three full revolutions. Riders will enjoy excellent views of the downtown Seattle skyline, the nearby piers and Elliott Bay, which is typically busy with marine traffic.
The cost of tickets is $17 for adults, $15 for seniors (65+) and $12 for children (ages 3-11). Children 2 years of age and under ride free. For more information, visit the Seattle Great Wheel website.
Centennial Wheel — Chicago, IL, USA
The city that was home to the world’s first Ferris wheel, Chicago, Illinois, celebrated the opening of the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier in 2016. Named in honor of the pier’s 100th anniversary, I think its naming was a missed opportunity — shouldn’t the city have included “Ferris” in the attraction’s moniker?
Navy Pier’s website advertises that riders can “soar to heights of nearly 200 feet,” but I’ve not yet been able to nail down the wheel’s true height despite numerous Google searches.
Despite the fact that “nearly 200 feet” is quite a bit smaller than the 264 feet attraction Mr. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. brought to Chicago in 1893, today’s wheel offers a decidedly different view. Chicago has one of America’s most impressive skylines, and the wheel’s position on Navy Pier allows visitors to take it all in from a unique vantage point.
Tickets for the Centennial Wheel are $18 for adults and $15 for children (ages 3-11). To cut the line, a fast pass ticket can be purchased for an additional $10 over the standard ticket price. For more information, visit the Navy Pier website.
Rio Star — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Rio Star was under construction during my first visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2019, but on a return trip in 2021, I was finally able to enjoy a ride!
With a height of 288 ft., the Rio Star is the tallest Ferris wheel in all of Latin America. Located along the waterfront of Guanabara Bay and within walking distance of popular Rio tourist attractions like the Museum of Tomorrow, the wheel is in a great spot for sightseeing. If, like me, you’re interested in tall things — like the tallest buildings and towers or Ferris wheels — that’s the main attraction here. Tallest in Latin America? That’s cool.
Wheelchair access to each of the wheel’s capsules is provided via a portable ramp. Tickets cost 59 BRL for adults and 35 BRL for seniors (60+), children (ages 4-11) and students. For more information, visit the Rio Star website (in Portuguese).
The Wheel at ICON Park — Orlando, FL, USA
Orlando, Florida is home to the Walt Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks — did it really need a Ferris wheel? Probably not, but if it was going to have one, it needed to be big.
At 400 feet tall, The Wheel at ICON Park is the second tallest in North America (behind the Las Vegas High Roller). The wheel is outfitted with 30 air-conditioned capsules, each with a capacity of 15 riders, meaning there is plenty of space for wheelchair users.
Riders will enjoy views of the city’s theme parks, its nature preserves, and the popular International Drive, affectionately known as I-Drive. Tickets purchased online are priced at $28.99 for adults and $23.99 for children (ages 3-12), with additional discounts for Florida residents. Additional information is available on the ICON Park website.
Ferris wheels I’d still like to ride…
Haven’t you ridden enough Ferris wheels? No! While I’d like to ride them all, here are a handful that I’ve circled and hope to ride in the near future!
- Melbourne Star — Melbourne, Australia (394 ft.)
- Ain Dubai (Dubai Eye) — Dubai, U.A.E. (820 ft.)
- Bailang River Bridge Ferris Wheel — Weifang, Shandong, China (476 ft.)
- Bay Glory — Shenzhen, China (420 ft.)
Have you ridden a Ferris wheel? Tell me about it in the comments below, or let me know which of these observation wheels you’re most interested in taking for a spin!