Need to know: Eurostar

exterior-train
(Credit: Eurostar)

Eurostar’s fast, frequent and comfortable trains are a fantastic way to travel between London, Brussels and Paris. There’s also limited service to a few other destinations in France, and a new route to Amsterdam starting in 2018. Advance-purchase fares can be cheap, and the many possible connections make travel between Britain and Western Europe quick and affordable.

What Eurostar routes can I choose from?

London – Paris: The most popular Eurostar route accounts for 70% of journeys between the two cities, leaving the airlines all but shut out. Trains run roughly hourly during the day and take an average of 2h 20 to reach Paris’ Gare du Nord station.

London – Brussels: The second most popular route has trains every 90 minutes to 2 hours. It takes just over 2 hours to reach Brussels Midi/Zuid station.

London – Lille: The trains leave roughly hourly to Lille in northern France, where there’s an easy connection to the French TGV network. The journey takes around 1.5 hours.

London – Disneyland Paris: Trains run several times a week year-round (daily during school holidays) from London to Marne la Vallée, which is right outside the Disneyland entrance. The journey takes under 3 hours.

London – Lyon/Avignon/Marseilles: For most of the year, there is a train from 1 to 5 days per week to the south of France, stopping at Lyon Part-Dieu station (4¾ hours), Avignon TGV station (6km southwest of the city centre; 6 hours) and Marseilles St Charles station (6½ hours).

London – Rotterdam/Amsterdam: This long-anticipated service is expected to get started in 2018. There will be several trains daily to Amsterdam, taking about 4 hours, which will include a stop in Rotterdam.

Where does the Eurostar train leave from?

From Britain, all Eurostar trains start at London St Pancras station. A few also stop in Ebbsfleet International station and Ashford International station in Kent before they reach the Channel Tunnel. Level 5 of the Ashford International multi-storey car park has a covered walkway that leads directly to the Eurostar Departure Gate.

How long should I leave for check in?

You’ll need to check in at least 30 minutes before departure (45 minutes at busy times like weekends and holidays). This adds to the scheduled travel times. All Eurostar passengers are subject to a pre-boarding security screening that is somewhat less invasive than that used in airports, but which is unheard of elsewhere on the European rail network.

Please Note

Eurostar trains to London – except those from Paris and Brussels – stop in Lille for a 1¼-hour UK customs and immigration inspection (but there’s no 30-minute check-in at your boarding point).

What’s the Eurostar journey like?

The main Eurostar routes are not especially scenic. The trains run on special high-speed tracks that are the scenic equivalent of large divided highways. From London, the trains plunge into a long series of tunnels, eventually emerging in the sylvan Kent countryside, where you may get a fleeting glimpse of hops growing in elaborate frames. The time in the Channel Tunnel is a mere 20 minutes of darkness. The French and Belgian countryside is mostly a series of bland farms right until you get to Paris or Brussels, when you’ll get glimpses of the two cities.

What if my final destination is not serviced by Eurostar?

For destinations in Europe beyond Eurostar’s cities you can connect to other trains. Check Rome2rio for schedules and connections for train travel across Europe. Also see ‘How can I buy tickets?‘ below.

The main transfer cities are:

  • London: For trains across Britain. You may have to switch stations, requiring a minimum connection time of 60–90 minutes using the Tube.
  • Lille: Offers same-station transfer to TGV trains serving points across France. Although these trains are not plentiful, the transfer is very easy.
  • Brussels: Same-station transfer to trains to other points in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and cities in central and northern Germany, including Cologne and Frankfurt.
  • Paris: A wide range of connections to cities across France, central and southern Germany, Switzerland, northern Italy and Barcelona. You’ll likely have to change stations, requiring a minimum connection time of 60–90 minutes using the Paris Metro.

What are the Eurostar trains like?

Eurostar trains are similar to other European high-speed trains, such as the French TGV, the German ICE and the Spanish AVE. All trains have small cafe areas where you can purchase drinks and snacks. The individual carriages (cars) are open and have seats mapped out in a variety of configurations:

  • Rows of seats all facing in the same direction (which may not be the direction the train is travelling). These offer the most legroom as you can put your feet under the seat in front of you. Each seat has a folding tray table.
  • Groupings of facing seats across a table. These are more convivial and good for a picnic or working.

Eurostar operates two types of trains:

  • E320: The newest Eurostar trains seat up to 900 people in 16 cars. The trains have WiFi and power outlets at every seat. These are mostly used for the London–Paris route.
  • E300: These 18-car trains date back to Eurostar’s launch in 1994. They are being refurbished through 2018 and will then match the E320s for comfort and amenities.

Which Eurostar train class should I book?

Eurostar trains have three classes of service:

Standard
  • The most common and cheapest seats
  • Seats are in rows of 2+2
  • Space is modestly larger than a typical airline economy seat
  • No refreshments are included
Standard Premier
  • The cheapest first class-style seats
  • Seats are larger and are in rows of 1+2
  • There’s more legroom than in Standard class
  • A cold light meal and refreshments are served at your seat
Business Premier
  • The most expensive class
  • Seats are the same as Standard Premier
  • A gourmet hot meal is served along with beverages including champagne
  • Passengers can use business lounges before departure in Brussels, London and Paris
  • Minimum check-in time is only 10 minutes

All seats are assigned when you buy your Eurostar ticket. On the Eurostar website you can choose your exact seats; this may not be possible using other vendors.

Seating Tip

Eurostar’s own seat maps are not always accurate – you can end up with a ‘window seat’ that lacks a window. The encyclopaedic train travel website seat61.com has accurate seating diagrams for Eurostar trains.

How much is a Eurostar ticket?

Eurostar tickets are sold like airline tickets, so there’s a huge and dynamic range of fares. You can buy tickets up to 180 days in advance. The earlier you buy, the better your odds are of getting a cheap seat. During popular travel times like weekends and holidays, you may find no cheap fares at all.

  • Most Eurostar fares are non-refundable but can be changed for a fee.
  • Business Premier fares are fixed, and are changeable and refundable without a fee.
  • Child fares for ages 4–12 are about 25–35% less than adult fares.
  • Children under 4 travelling on a lap are free.
  • Return (round-trip) fares can be substantially cheaper than two one-way fares.
  • Railpass users (such as Eurail and InterRail) have access to special fares that can be very good value (eg Paris to London for €30); however buying these tickets can be complicated. Seat61.com has all the details.
  • Eurostar is experimenting with selling very cheap ‘Snap’ tickets (as low as £19) via a special website. The choice of trains and dates is very limited and tickets are non-changeable or refundable. Seats are made available 7–30 days before departure.

How can I buy Eurostar tickets?

There are many ways to buy Eurostar tickets in a variety of currencies online. Best sources include:

Rome2rio
  • Creates and sells Eurostar itineraries from London with ongoing connections through to most cities in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
  • Seat preferences are available
Eurostar.com
  • Is never undersold for Eurostar-only tickets
  • You can select the exact seat you want
  • Has ticket offers for connections to select cities in Britain and Western Europe
  • Offers connections to all stations in Belgium for a fare surcharge of £5
Deutsche Bahn
  • German Railways sell a huge range of itineraries across Europe that include Eurostar
  • Often has cheap ‘Sparpreis London’ for tickets between London and Germany with seats as low as €60
Trainline.eu
  • Creates and sells itineraries that include Eurostar for towns and cities across Western Europe (including Britain)
  • Allows specific seat selection on high-speed connecting trains in France and Germany
Booking Tip

For any travel with Eurostar that requires a connecting train, search all the websites above as fare offers vary greatly.

How much luggage can I take?

One of the highlights of a Eurostar journey is that there is no weight limit for your luggage. If you can carry your own bags and put them in the luggage rack on board, that’s all you need. There is also no restriction on liquids. The Eurostar website has all the details.

Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at rome2rio.com