Not many people throughout the history of humankind can say they witnessed the dawn of a new millennium, but many of us alive today will remember the sense of occasion that accompanied the arrival of January 1st 2000.
The government wanted to do something special in London to allow people to come together and celebrate, so they decided on a new building that would house an exhibition centre and museum-cum-exploration space.
After much deliberation, a Millennium Dome was decided upon – and the structure has become one of the most iconic on today’s London skyline, still visited by thousands of tourists and locals each year.
History of the Millennium Dome
In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, architect Richard Rogers called the design process “a great adventure”, with just six months to conceive the whole idea. Project architect Mike Davies explained that they drew inspiration from the heavens to assist them.
“I drew 12 masts for the 12 months, 24 scallops for the hours in the day, and if you look up inside the structure, you’ll find the celestial lines of latitude and longitude,” he said.
When it was finished, the Millennium Dome – situated on the Meridian Line in north Greenwich – occupied 300 acres of a formerly contaminated derelict gasworks but provided 100,000 square metres of enclosed space. At 365 metres in diameter with a maximum height of 50 metres, it boasted twice the area of the previous biggest dome in the world, the Georgia Dome in the US city of Atlanta.
The dome was made from PTFE-coated glass-fibre fabric and suspended from 12 100-metre steel masts, all held together by high-strength steel cable.
Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the topping out ceremony in June 1998 and a year later, the contents were unveiled to the public ahead of the grand opening to coincide with the arrival of the new millennium.
Originally, the Millennium Dome contained a scientific exhibition called the Millennium Experience, a series of themed zones representing things like ‘money’ or ‘the body’ that visitors could walk around and interact with in the manner of a theme park.
More than six million people flocked there during the year 2000 to enjoy the structure as part of a day out in the city and, as planned, it closed on December 31st 2000.
A new purpose
With a total cost of around £789 million, it would have been wasteful to simply take the Millennium Dome down, so tenders began to decide who would take it on and give it a new lease of life.
Mobile phone network O2 was successful and in June 2007, the dome was reopened and rebranded as entertainment district the O2 with a concert from Bon Jovi. Since then, it has flourished and now incorporates an indoor arena, a club, an 11-screen cinema, exhibition space, bars and restaurants (although no fast food joints to preserve its high-end image).
It also played a big part in the London 2012 Olympic Games, hosting both the gymnastics and basketball finals.
What can I do at the O2?
The O2 is open daily from 09:00 until 01:00 and you definitely won’t be short of things to do if you include it as part of your itinerary on a sightseeing trip around London. You can see a movie, enjoy a delicious meal and visit Sky Studios to see how the news is made – and even read your own bulletin.
There are also interesting and regularly changing exhibitions. For example, in 2017, Star Wars Identities wowed visitors with props, models, costumes and artwork from the original films and interactive sections to allow fans to immerse themselves in the story.
You can check out the Nissan Innovation Station if technology is your thing, or climb onto a viewing platform high above the city to marvel at the dazzling views.
Entry is free, but you may have to pay for some events and activities.
How do I get to the O2?
The North Greenwich station of the London Underground is right on the doorstep of the O2 and you can reach it from central London in around 20 minutes. If you’re staying at the Park Grand Lancaster Gate or another hotel near Lancaster Gate, you’ll just need to make a 40-minute trip on the tube via the Jubilee and Bakerloo lines.
Alternatively, the 108, 129, 132, 161, 188, 422, 472 or 486 buses all stop within walking distance of the O2 – and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can catch the MBNA Thames Clippers river bus express, with boats going from the London Eye pier to the O2 every half an hour and the journey taking an enjoyable 35 minutes.