Since the Eurostar Train service, which travels through the channel tunnel, or the “Chunnel” as we like to call it, opened in 1994, it has been the most popular way for travelers to get from London to Paris. It takes just over 2 hours to get from London to Paris using the tunnel. It’s more environmentally friendly than flying, and most people seem to prefer it.
Trains to Paris depart from St. Pancras International Station in London and arrive at Gare du Nord in central Paris. It’s a straightforward route, but if you’re doing this for the first time, it might all seem confusing and even a bit intimidating. To help you have a smooth experience, here are six tips for taking the train from London to Paris.
1. Book Your Tickets Ahead Of Time
As with most types of travel, the longer you wait to buy your tickets, the more you’re likely to pay. Those last-minute deals on travel tickets are a thing of the past. It’s much better to have your tickets sorted in advance. This is especially true for train travel. Last-minute tickets on train fares can cost you a lot more than advance tickets. They may cost as much as double the price, so it makes more sense all around to have your tickets booked well before you travel. You’ll be more organized, you can choose your seats, and you’ll have the best price.
I’d recommend booking directly with Eurostar rather than a third-party company. It’s more secure, you know it’s the real deal, and you will be getting the best price there is on your tickets. There are sometimes very good deals on first class tickets. Standard class sells quickly, so first class is often discounted. This is a great way to upgrade your travel experience, treat yourself to some extra legroom, and a touch of luxury.
2. Arrive Early
Ticket gates in St. Pancras International close 30 minutes before the train departs, so you should leave yourself enough time and arrive at the station early. It’s recommended you arrive around 45 minutes before your train is due to depart, but I think that’s cutting it a bit fine. I’d give it an hour at least to be on the safe side. It won’t be a hardship to take your time in St. Pancras. St. Pancras is a beautiful Victorian station with boutique shops, restaurants, and cafes.
There’s a lovely cosmopolitan feeling to this stunning station. You’ll usually find someone playing the piano that stands in the center of the lower deck and quite often they are very good at it, so you can enjoy an impromptu free concert. There’s even a champagne bar upstairs, so there’s plenty to do to kill some time. I’d go as far as to say, if you don’t take some time to experience everything this station has to offer, you’d be missing out. For more on champagne bars in London, check out 9 Fabulous Champagne Bars In London To Enjoy A Sip.
3. Print Or Download Your Tickets Beforehand
Checking in at St. Pancras is easy and straightforward. The procedures and checks fall somewhere between domestic train travel and air travel. Note that there is no online check-in service available yet for the Eurostar train so you have to check in in person. As with regular train travel, you can either print your tickets at home before arrival, use one of the ticket machines at the station to print your tickets, or download your tickets to your phone.
Scan your tickets at the automatic gates just like you would at any train station, and you’re through to security. Security isn’t as strict as it is at airports. You won’t be asked to remove your shoes or belt. You simply walk through the metal detector and then present your passport at the booth. It’s usually a fairly fast-flowing line of people and you shouldn’t face any delays, but it’s important to be there early just in case it’s busy or there are any unexpected hold-ups.
4. Eat At The Onboard Café
The kind of services available to you on the Eurostar train depends on the type of ticket you bought. The tickets are standard class, first class, and business class. You’ll find UK and EU power sockets next to every seat on the train, no matter which class of ticket you bought. There are also USB ports by the seats so you won’t have to worry about charging phones or laptops. This is a step up from plane seats and most domestic trains. In standard class carriages, drinks and snacks are available from the onboard café. A lot of people prefer to take on their own food and drink, which is totally acceptable, but it has to be said that the onboard café has a good selection of food and drink, including vegetarian and vegan options. You can view the menu here.
In first class, a seat service operates for light meals and drinks. In business class, this extends to a three-course meal. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the Eurostar, though bear in mind while you’re traveling through the tunnel under the sea, you will lose connection here and there. No matter where you sit on the Eurostar, it’s a comfortable ride. The seats are much more generous in space and comfort than any seats you’ll find on a plane. Even in standard class on the Eurostar, it’s a far superior traveling experience than you’ll find when traveling by air.
5. Pack Light
Each person is allowed to take two pieces of luggage on the Eurostar. That’s one suitcase and one piece of hand luggage each, at no charge. That’s pretty generous when you consider how strict most airlines are with luggage now. If you have a standard ticket, there is extra luggage space in coaches three and 16. Otherwise, you should find there’s plenty of room for the luggage you’ve taken on board. There is no weight limit on your luggage. That’s right, unlike on planes, you don’t have to worry about how much you’ve crammed into your case. No one is weighing your luggage before you get on the train. Though, of course, you are going to need to be able to carry it on and off the train, so don’t make it too heavy.
There is, however, a restriction on size. Your case can’t be more than 34 inches, or 85 centimeters, at its widest point. There are no restrictions on liquids you can carry in your case, unlike on planes, so you can take all the toiletries you need and you can take as much Parisian perfume home with you as you like. There are restrictions on the amount of alcohol you can carry, so make sure you’ve checked the limit before you buy.
6. Explore Gare Du Nord
One of the great things about taking the Eurostar to Paris is that when you get to the Gare du Nord, you exit the train and straight into the main station. There’s no need to show your passport again and no further security checks. It’s just like getting off any regular train in your own country’s stations. The great thing about taking the train to Paris instead of flying is that you arrive right in the city center, rather than at an airport miles away. You don’t need to worry about airport transfers. You can step out of the station and begin enjoying Paris immediately.
Gare du Nord is another beautiful old station, though not as grand or with as many amenities as St. Pancras. Gare du Nord was built in 1864, so there’s plenty of history there, but it is perhaps a little small for the level of today’s travelers who pass through it. There’s long been talk of refurbishing the station to address this. Though some locals oppose the changes, the station is set to get a revamp by as early as 2024.