As someone who travels frequently between France and the UK, I can’t count the number of times I’ve hopped on a Eurostar train from Paris to London (and back again). I practically consider the high-speed train and the two stations on either side of the English Channel (Paris Gare du Nord and London St. Pancras, respectively) homes away from home. I can confidently say I know them back to front.
And for reasons I detail below, I much prefer the high-speed train– and its unfathomable but perfectly safe passage through an underwater tunnel– to any other way of getting between the two cities.
I don’t especially enjoy flying. I find the whole process stressful, from airport security lines to boarding, taxiing, turbulence, and the infuriating wait to exit the sardine can. If I can take the train instead, I’ll jump at the occasion. Especially for short trips.
And while it’s not ideal for all situations and travelers, there are also plenty of reasons why you should consider taking the Eurostar. Keep reading to learn why I recommend it for trips between Paris, London, and other major European cities like Amsterdam, Brussels, and Lille.
1. It’s Quick– and Saves the Hassle of Airport Transfers
Why not just fly, you ask? Well, on paper, that may seem like the quickest and cheapest option. And it can be. But in practice, taking the Eurostar is, in my book, the least stressful and most pleasant way to travel between the cities mentioned above.
This is partly owing to the fact that when you take the high-speed train, you’ll arrive at stations located in the city center, rather than at airports that are located well outside of it.
So when you arrive at London St Pancras, Paris Gare du Nord, or the Amsterdam Centraal train station, you’ll generally save over an hour of travel time between the airport and the center. You save the hassle and stress of finding a train, bus, or taxi, as well as the added expense.
Also keep in mind that if you book fares with low-cost airlines like Easyjet or Ryanair, you’re more likely to fly into airports that are even further away from the city center.
For example, many low-cost flights between Paris and London serve London’s Stansted Airport and Paris’ Beauvais Airport, both well over an hour away from the places most tourists will want to concentrate their time.
Especially in London, it can cost a bucketload to pay for a bus or train to the city center– possibly canceling out any savings in airfare.
When you factor in the extra cost and stress of airport transfers and often complex security procedures, taking the train may well turn out to be the smoothest and more economical choice. This is especially true if you book tickets well in advance (see more below).
Just how fast Are Eurostar trains?
What’s more? The Eurostar is fast. Traveling at speeds of up to 300 km per hour (186 miles), the train rushes you between Paris and London in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. You can get from Paris to Brussels in only 2 hours and 2 minutes.
Experience the semi-miracle of the “Chunnel”
Passing through an underwater tunnel that’s a genuine feat of engineering is mysterious, and initially mildly anxiety-inducing for some. After all, the concept is relatively new.
But once you get used to it, you barely notice it, save perhaps your wifi signal getting weaker or petering out.
Still, even after passing under the depths of the English Channel countless times, I still marvel at the semi-miracle of the “chunnel”.
Kids (and adults) can even enjoy a free immersive 3-D experience onboard called Eurostar Odyssey, that offers a look at the sort of marine life and sea wreckage that might be right outside the chunnel.
Alas, those glass-sided trains you’re dreaming about are still at least a few decades away, though…
Arrive at historic stations, right in the city center
On a more personal note, there’s something that’s at once invigorating and relaxed about arriving right in the heart of the city.
I almost always feel a rush of inspiration and excitement when I step off the train at Gare du Nord or St-Pancras, and find myself immersed in the bustling urban landscape just a few minutes later.
And the stations themselves are both historic and interesting from an architectural standpoint. Both have been depicted in works of art, from Eugène Galien Leloue’s painting of Gare du Nord to John O’Connor’s late nineteenth-century renderings of St Pancras.
In short, these places are brimming with a sort of old-world charm that you just won’t get from an airport.
2. The Coaches Are Comfortable, Clean & Safe
With the rare exception of a couple of cramped and frustratingly delayed Eurostar trips, I’ve always been impressed by how clean, comfortable, and pleasant the experience has been.
*Even* in standard class, the seats are larger and offer more leg and armrest-room than your typical economy-class counterparts in planes.
Many Eurostar cars now have outlets and phone charging stations, and all have free wi-fi (though the connection can be spotty at different points in the journey) and a large program of free entertainment.
The dining cars offer a variety of food and drinks, for prices that are generally more reasonable than in airports and on flights. These days, vegetarians and vegans can even find decent choices.
And if you decide to budget extra funds for a seat in Standard Premier or Business Premier class, you’ll have larger, more comfortable seats, a full-service, meal at your seat, and other amenities (see more below on why it’s not as out of reach as you may think).
What is Eurostar Doing to Improve Safety & Hygiene Right Now?
It’s normal to feel anxious about traveling of any kind at the moment, amid the global health crisis that has made it a much more complex and risky affair. In response, Eurostar has implemented several rules to keep passengers safe.
As of late spring 2020, passengers over the age of 11 or 12 (depending on the destination) are required to wear masks onboard all Eurostar trains, as well as in boarding and security areas.
They may be removed temporarily to eat or drink at your seat, but it’s required to leave your mask on as much as possible.
In addition, Eurostar has taken other measures to improve safety, including leaving every other seat empty to allow more space between passengers, regularly cleaning and sterilizing train cars and surfaces, and incirporating an air filtration system that injects fresh air into cars every 15 minutes.
You can see more about Eurostar’s safety measures and current passenger guidelines here.
3. It’s More Environmentally Sustainable Than Flying or Driving
One of the main reasons I choose the train whenever I can is its relatively low environmental impact. Compared to flying or driving, trains are far less carbon-hungry and are responsible for fewer emissions.
According to Eurostar’s own figures, taking their high-speed lines between Paris, London, Amsterdam and other destinations can cut carbon emissions by up to 90% per passenger journey.
This is important, especially in a world where climate change and planetary warming are realities– ones that the vast majority of scientists agree are major threats.
Eurostar also regularly updates its environmental impact goals. In recent years, it’s established a 10-point plan to further cut emissions, incorporate more electric vehicles into the fleet, and reduce plastic waste, among other objectives.
4. You Can Get Discounts & Excellent Fares if You Book Ahead
It’s true that taking the Eurostar can be more expensive than flying, especially if you book at the last minute. But if you plan several weeks to months in advance, you can get some very good deals.
Eurostar runs regular sales on tickets, and if you track their offers you can often lock in excellent fares– even for Standard Premier and Business Premier seats.
I once traveled from Paris to London on Business Premier after seeing a sale that seemed far too good to be true. And if you think it’s probably out of range because business class and first-class airfares are so high, think again.
The price differences between the travel classes on Eurostar are much more moderate, even outside of sales.
What Are the Eurostar Travel Classes, & What Do They Include?
Eurostar offers three travel classes and pricing tiers: Standard, Standard Premier, and Business Premier.
Standard is the most basic and barebones way to travel, but as mentioned above it’s also quite comfortable. Choose if you don’t particularly care about perks such as in-seat meal service or business-class lounge access.
Standard Premier seats offer more space than standard counterparts, and simple in-seat meal service. But the boarding and cancellation conditions and baggage allowance are the same as for Standard fares. Tickets are generally nonrefundable.
Business Premier offers significant perks, including access to station lounges with food, alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, large seats and workstations, the ability to exchange or refund tickets, and spacious onboard seats with three-course meal service.
You can also board up to 10 minutes prior to the departure of the train, and have access to priority gates with much shorter lines, on average.
You can find more detailed info on each of the Eurostar travel classes and what amenities & perks they include at this page.
And if you’re ready to browse fares and book a seat for an upcoming trip, you can compare prices and buy tickets here (via RailEurope).
5. Amenities at Gare du Nord Have Been Improving
Passengers have complained for years about cramped, crowded, and sometimes dismal conditions at Paris’ Gare du Nord station.
There’s long been a noticeable discrepancy between the shopping, dining, and general amenities at London St. Pancras and Gare du Nord.
While the former station is well-known for its airy, spacious, brightly lit station brimming with high-quality shops and restaurants, its Parisian counterpart has long been considered less pleasant.
Luckily, there have been some big improvements in recent years. The addition of new restaurants and shops has yielded a much more appealing retail and dining offering at Gare du Nord.
And future renovations valued at some 600 million Euros will see the station triple in size to accommodate more passengers.
While the renovation plans aren’t making everyone happy (some locals are strongly opposed to them), passengers will likely find Gare du Nord to be a more pleasant place to depart from or arrive at.
In addition to much larger arrivals and departures halls, new shops, a concert hall, gym, and an enormous roof terrace and bar are all in the works.
One new place I’ve tried, and recommend for lunch or dinner, is L’Etoile du Nord, an enormous restaurant on two levels that’s unmistakeable for its glass facade and midcentury modernist style.
Conceived by French chef Thierry Marx, the restaurant has formal and informal dining options, and a bar upstairs that’s a stylish place for a drink when you’re catching an evening train.
Travel tip: Skip the overzealous, two-hour wait in the Eurostar lounge and spend some time there instead. After all, you only really need to check in 45 minutes to an hour before your train, and the waiting area upstairs often lacks seating.
More Info on Shopping, Eating Out & Getting Around in Paris & London
For more suggestions on where to eat and shop at St Pancras and Gare du Nord, see my full guide and tips (at TripSavvy).
Finally, both stations can easily be reached by the Paris Metro and the London Underground (subway). You can find more information on transport to and from Gare du Nord here, and details on getting around in London here.
Find Deals on Eurostar Tickets
Interested in taking the train to or from Paris via Eurostar? Find deals on train tickets and travel passes here (via Rail Europe.)
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