A millennium marvel for London visitors


The start of the new millennium was a heady time for the people of London, with fears over Y2K and the unknowns of entering a new century, coupled with the optimism and trepidation that this created.

So what better way was there for the city of London – an iconic metropolis and a symbol of modern Britain – to embrace the next 1,000 thousands of its history, than with a new landmark.

With one-dozen 100-metre towers supporting a fabric roof with a diameter of 365 metres – one metre for every day of the year – the Millennium Dome cost £789 million to construct and was (and still is) one of the largest dome-shaped structures to have ever been built.

millenniumDesigned by architect Richard Rogers, the venue was opened to the public on January 1st 2000 and throughout its first full year housed a stunning attraction devoted to celebrating all that was great about Britain and of the human condition in general – the Millennium Experience.

It saw three distinct zones created within the dome, each dedicated to an individual aspect of what makes up a person – ‘who we are’, ‘what we do’ and ‘where we live’.

Each of these areas was then divided up into a range of individual exhibits, where the different facets of these wide-reaching topics were explored.

At its heart though was a large performance area, where every day The Millennium Dome Show took place. It featured music composed by the late great Peter Gabriel and told the tale of star-crossed lovers and their endeavours to create a better future for themselves and their people. The show was performed a total of 999 times during the year.

While early estimates had been for more than 12 million people to visit the exhibition during 2000, in reality, the actual number of visitors was closer to the six million mark. As a result, many believe the event and the venue did not fulfil its potential – but this was soon to change.

Transition to the O2

Following the early successes of the Millennium Exhibition, the dome became something of a white elephant for the government, with monthly costs simply to upkeep the structure running to more than £1 million.

As such, in December 2001, ministers took the decision to divest the dome and sold its rights to Meridian Delta – a firm devoted to transforming the structure from solely an exhibition space into one of the premier venues for live music and performances in the whole of Europe.

The O2 Arena officially opened to the public on May 5th 2005 and has since gone on to host some of the biggest musical and sporting events of recent years.

Now one of the largest covered arenas in the whole of Europe, the venue provides capacity for up to 20,000 guests and played a crucial part in the recent London 2012 Olympic Games – being renamed the North Greenwich Arena for the duration of the global event.

It is not just the many live acts and performers that continue to draw visitors in their thousands to the O2 every year though, as the venue is also an attraction in its own right, with Up at the O2 opening in 2012 and offering a 360-degree viewing platform atop the structure that provides a stunning lookout over the surrounding city.

Visiting the O2

Today, getting to the O2 Arena could not be simpler, with a wide selection of transport options for both local residents and visitors to the capital alike.

It can be found at the Greenwich Peninsula in south-east London on the River Thames and is a sight travellers will not easily miss.

North Greenwich Underground Tube station sits on the doorstep of the popular venue and is connected to the rest of the city via the Jubilee line. Meanwhile, regular bus services also stop at North Greenwich station: 108, 129, 132, 161, 188, 422, 472 or 486.

For anyone planning to drive to the venue, the O2 is signposted from the M25, the A2 and A20 for visitors entering the capital from the south-east and on the M11 for those travelling  from the north.

Moreover, for anyone wishing to arrive in style, the MBNA Thames Clippers river bus express runs directly from from London Eye pier to the arena via the River Thames, with boats leaving every 30 minutes.

The journey takes around 35 minutes to complete and gives those looking to avoid the stresses of travel the chance to simply sit back, relax and watch the iconic streets of London sail past their window.

And finally, the Emirates Air Line is London’s only only cable car experience and runs between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks – just a five minutes’ walk from the O2.