The Capital Wheel at National Harbor

IMG_1755So, apparently huge Ferris wheels are now a thing. This trend probably traces its roots to the opening of the London Eye (still one of the granddaddies of these tourist wheels) in 2000.

Ever since, huge Ferris wheels have been popping up all over the place. And in May of 2014, Washington DC got its very own…..sort of. The Capital Wheel is actually located at the National Harbor, which is in Maryland just across the Potomac River from Alexandria, VA, about a 20-minute drive from downtown DC.

The National Harbor itself is still a relatively new addition to the region. “Phase 1” opened in 2008, and the area is now home to more than 150 shops, 30 restaurants, several hotels (including the massive Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center), the National Children’s Museum, and a Tanger Outlets. And it continues to expand.

The Capital Wheel is one of the newest attractions to open, and we finally got a chance to check it out while the National Harbor was decked out for the holidays.

IMG_1757The top of the wheel is 180 feet above the Potomac waterfront, and there are 42 gondolas big enough to seat 8 people. That’s the claim anyway. We were 4 (including 2 little ones), and that was plenty crowded for me. I don’t think I’d want to cram 8 full-size adults inside one of those things.

Still, it was of course remarkably stable, and we never felt off balance—despite those two little ones bouncing from side to side to check out the view.


The wheel itself has 1.6 million programmable LED lights, which provide quite a show at night. It is, admittedly, rather beautiful.


During the ride, you get a fantastic view of the National Harbor below and Alexandria across the river (including the stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb George Washington Masonic National Memorial).

The Washington Monument and Capitol Building might be visible in the distance, depending the weather and time of day. However, we couldn’t see either on the night we were there.

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Rides last about 15 minutes, and we went around 4 or 5 times. It’s certainly enough time to snap all the pictures you could want and appreciate the view.

If you’re local to the area, it’s certainly worth it for the experience. Our kids really enjoyed it, and they asked to go up again during the day, which promises to be an entirely different experience/view.

If you’re visiting Washington, I’m not sure if you’d even make it to the National Harbor, to be quite honest. However, if you do or if you’re across the river in Alexandria, it’s certainly worth the diversion. The view doesn’t compete with those from the top of the Washington Monument or the Old Post Office Tower in DC, but it’s a fun ride and definitely worth checking out. (From Alexandria, you can even catch a water taxi to the National Harbor.)

If you’re a Ferris wheel nut, then it’s a no-brainer.

Tickets cost $15 for adults and $11.25 for children 3–11. There’s also a “VIP gondola” (National Harbor One) that’ll set you back $50 a pop. It includes leather seats, a glass bottom, and an AppleTV. Why you’d want an AppleTV on a Ferris wheel, though, is beyond me. Purchase tickets in advance here or just buy them there.


(Disclosure: As a member of the media, I was provided with complimentary tickets to ride The Capital Wheel. All opinions are my own.)



Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He's the founder and owner of The Roarbots and also a contributor to Syfy Wire,, and GeekDad. On top of that, he hosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates creativity in popular culture, science, and technology by talking to a wide variety of people who contribute to it.

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