The Eurostar

High Speed Rail Link from London to Paris

In Depth Guide to the London Paris Eurostar Rail Link


Eurostar is a high speed rail service which takes you from the center of London to the Paris at record speeds. While we recommend spending longer it’s now quite possible to breakfast in London, lunch in Paris and be back in your hotel in London that night.This is your in-depth guide to the Eurostar Paris service.

A Bit of History


The development of the high speed Eurostar rail service followed the construction of the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France which opened in 1994. It was always designed to be a rail link. Eurotunnel operate the tunnel and a rail service which transports trucks, cars and passengers between the two countries known as Le Shuttle. Eurostar is a separate company which operates Eurostar trains across the United Kingdom, France and Belgium and which uses the Channel Tunnel to get between the UK and France.

The Eurostar service began operating in 1994 from Waterloo station in London taking passengers from London to Paris Gare du Nord and Brussels Midi stations. Following an upgrade to the rail network Eurostar moved all services to a re-developed St Pancras International station in London in 2007.

Where Does it Go ?


The Eurostar service operates over specific parts of the rail network in the UK and mainland Europe designated for high speed travel. Eurostar offer a range of direct high speed services.

The main routes include

  • From London to Paris, France
  • From London to Brussels, Belgium

The Eurostar also serves the following destinations from London

  • Lille, France
  • Disneyland Paris – choice of direct service or indirect via Lille
  • Avignon (Provence) via Eurostar/TGV
  • Seasonal direct service to the Alps for skiers

The route to Paris includes two additional pickup stops in UK (Ebbsfleet International in Essex and Ashford International in Kent) which are served by some but not all Eurostar trains. Make sure you check the timetable carefully if you want to get on / get off the Eurostar east of London.

Eurostar Connecting Services

Eurostar in co-operation with other rail operators can now offer onward connections with other high speed services fanning out across France, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Although you can connect to regular SNCF rail services for the domestic routes the other high speed rail connections include the following.

  • TGV – the French TGV network offers a high speed connecting service to a range of destinations across France
  • TGV LYRIA offer high speed rails links from the Eurostar Lille station to the Swiss Alps
  • THALYS offer a high speed rail service to Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and onto Cologne

The Paris skyline awaits

This Eurostar train was there at the launch of the service

The Eurostar connects with the high speed TGV rail network across France

The Eurostar platform at St Pancras International railway station in London.

Railway Enthusiast – The Trains


I’m the first to admit it and Alison would be quick to confirm it. I’m a bit of a railway enthusiast. I was a train spotter (as they’re called in the UK) when I was a youngster. Getting the Eurostar is always a bit of a thrill. So what is so special about the rolling stock?

Eurostar currently operate two classes of trains on the main routes to Paris. They’re similar but they do look a bit different. Which one is the best and can I pick a time for a specific type of train ?

The Class 373 (e300) is the original Eurostar train consisting of two locomotives and 18 passenger coaches. Top speed is 186mph (300kph) although they can go faster when various safety permissions have been given. The current record is 208mph – a British train speed record.

The Class 374 (e320) was supposed to be a replacement for the original e300 but as they’ve been refurbished and updated with an expected life until 2020 you can travel on either train on your journey. The newer e320 is a bit faster (200mph top speed), has two fewer coaches (16) but like it’s older workhorse sibling – still a beautiful way to travel. It also seats more people (894 v 750). It can also continue further into Europe as Eurostar expand their range of direct services.

Eurostar have stated that London-Paris will be all e320 class by the end of 2016 and 70% of London-Brussels by the end of 2017. On our most recent trip (summer 2017) there were a lot of e320 trains at St Pancras. They also say that they won’t say which train is on which service as they need to be able to swap at will. That said with the extra capacity they’ll put the newer trains on the busy London-Paris route so no surprise there.

All seats have power sockets (UK and EU) and if you’re in Business or Standard Premier you’ll have a USB socket too.

There is also a free wifi service but it appears to be cellular and service was very patchy when we used it. Might be better in business or as bugs get ironed out but I’m glad I didn’t need it for business use when I was last on the Eurostar (e320).

Class 373 (e300) Eurostar Train – first one we ever went on (2004)

Class 374 (e320) Eurostar Train

TIMETABLES


The services run seven days a week with regular trains spread throughout the day. Services will vary on public holidays and are subject to engineering work (usually but not always at the weekend). Always check with Eurostar near to the date of travel.

Frequency of departure varies but are at least hourly. Check the links below for the current timetable. Please note that trains to the Alps and Disneyland Paris have a seasonal element so they’re not as a regular as the main routes so check first to make sure you can get a timing that works for you.

The ski trains are not surprisingly linked to the ski season and provide a great way to quickly get to the Alps

Direct trains to Disneyland Paris from London run during the UK school holidays but you can also buy a direct ticket and change at Lille at other times of the year.

Please note if you intend traveling from the east of London stations (Ebbsfleet and Ashford International) only a small number of trains stop at these stations in either direction.

 

Useful Eurostar Travel Links

Travel Documents


To travel on the Eurostar you will need a valid passport or a national identity card (EEA and Swiss citizens only) and of course your ticket.

Unaccompanied minors (12-15yrs)

Eurostar ticket
Identity card or passport
Eurostar unaccompanied minors form signed by parent

Youths 16-18 years old

Eurostar ticket
Identity card or passport

Eurostar operate a regular service to the main destinations in Paris and Brussels

There are direct services to Disneyland Paris or you can change to a local train at Lille

“London is riddle,

Paris is an explanation”

G.K.Chesterton

Travel Classes


There are three travel classes available on the main Eurostar service between London and Paris and London and Brussels.

Standard

The most cost effective way to travel but you don’t want to change your booking as it currently costs £30 per person per leg of the journey to change your ticket. There is even a £16 service fee if you do that over the phone. You must make the changes before the date/time of the planned departure. Oh and you’ll pay the difference if the time or date you want to switch to costs more than your current ticket. If it’s cheaper you won’t get a refund either ! Ticket is non-refundable so you’re going to your destination at some point whatever happens.

Apart from that – latest check in is 30 minutes before departure, you can pre-book your seat and there’s a buffet car to buy snacks and drinks. Luggage allowance is good too. You’ll find more information about luggage below.

Seating is comfortable with the newer trains having reclining seats and power sockets on all seats. Seat arrangement is two seats on either side of the aisle. If you are traveling as a group try to reserve the table seats for four passengers. Free wifi is available on the newer trains too. Unless you are used to the more expensive forms of travel you should be quite happy with standard service on the Eurostar, especially with the newer train. It’s not like traveling at the back of the plane on a long haul flight !

The upside is you can get some real bargains. We recently (summer 2017) paid $72 each for a return ticket to Paris from London which considering the speed and comfort of the Eurostar we thought was a bit of a bargain. You can pay more than that for taxis too and from airports. Book in advance to get prices like that of course !

Standard Premier

Standard Premier can be typically be twice the price of the Standard service. For some reason they charge more (£40) to change your tickets too. Check in time is the same as Standard – latest 30 minutes before departure. On-board the seating is a bit more comfortable as the seat arrangement is two seats one side of the aisle and one on the opposite.

Business Premier

We would all like to travel like this. Benefits include completely flexible tickets changes, a lounge while you are waiting to board and a check in just 10 minutes before the train is due to leave. During the journey you can even sit down to the complimentary three course meal designed by Michelin starred Chef Raymond Blanc. Seat configuration is the same as Standard Premier – so a bit more width to the seats and more legroom. Can’t be bad. Comes with a premium price of course.

St Pancras International, London – the starting point of all Eurostar journeys to Paris and Brussels and all point beyond

If your business takes you further afield  you can transfer to TGV and Thalys services as soon as you arrive in Paris

Travelling with Kids


Eurostar is a great fun for travellers of all ages. Baby changing facilities are available on all trains. Check the seating plan when you book your seat to get seated close by if required.

  • Under 4 – they can travel free but won’t have a seat allocated and are expected to sit on an adults lap
  • Under 12 yrs – they need a ticket and must travel with a responsible person of 16 years or older
  • Youths 12-15yrs –  they can travel as an un-accompanied minor but will require both a ticket and a fully completed Eurostar unaccompanied minor form available from the website. Make sure you check with Eurostar which services will allow unaccompanied minors. Not all routes allow it.
  • 16-18yrs – they can travel on their own independently but they must have a ticket and the usual travel documents

Passengers Needing Assistance


Reduced Mobility

Eurostar recommend calling them in advance of travel on +44 (0) 3432 186 186 . They suggest you check in 60 mins in advance and head for the Eurostar Assist Desk where staff will be on hand to assist. From personal experience the train boarding can be a bit of hectic as everyone boards at once when the gates open to allow access to the platform. Not unlike a budget airline with no seat reservations which is ironic as on the Eurostar you do have a seat reservation so there’s no need to rush.

Wheelchair Users

Eurostar has a special booking process for wheelchair users which includes the provision of a reduced fare rate for one traveling companion. More information is available on the Eurostar website

Luggage


After the hassle of sorting out your luggage for a flight traveling on the Eurostar is rather easier. For a start there is no weight restriction. If you can carry your cases on board – then that’s just fine. As an adult you can take two pieces of luggage up to 85cm (33”) long such as cases,holdalls, rucksacks and suitcases. You can also take a smaller bag such as laptop bag, briefcase etc. Pushchairs and prams are free to take – you’ll just need to store it somewhere. Either in the luggage racks at the end of the carriage or in the overhead rack.

Children with a child’s ticket can take one piece of luggage and one piece of hand luggage. Children under four travel free with Eurostar, they don’t need a ticket but they have NO luggage allowance.

If you need to take more items or bigger luggage Eurostar can deliver your luggage using EuroDespatch. You can send your luggage up to a week before your train and it will be waiting for you when you arrive at your destination. This is available on trains between London and Paris, Lille and Brussels only.

Booking Your Tickets


Tickets can be purchased between 138 and 190 days before departure. Eurostar (like airlines) dynamically changes prices according to demand and how far ahead the booking is made. It’s fair to say that travel in the peak hours and peak months is going to cost you more especially if you book late.

You can book your tickets by phone or on-line.

Phone Booking

You can book over the phone calling +44 (0)3432 186 186

The phone booking system is open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 6pm at weekends (GMT). There is a €14 booking fee for all telephone bookings.

Online Booking

The main Eurostar website provides a full booking service and a wide range of information related to the their services.

The Booking Process

Use the website to book your tickets. First you book the tickets. Then you can return to the site and the Manage Your Booking section where you can reserve specific seats and amend the allocated seating if needed. We recommend you do this as soon as you have a confirmed booking. Then you can reserve seats around a table if you’re a group travelling or perhaps somewhere near the baby changing locations. Please see the note below about why it is important to get your seat reservation done.

Once you’ve booked your ticket and confirmed your seating the tickets can either be sent to you for printing out at home or sent to your mobile phone.

Overbooking

Just like the airlines Eurostar overbook the trains due to no-show passengers. This will mean you can buy a ticket but you won’t be able to pre-book a seat. Eurostar will then attempt to seat you on the day of travel presuming of course some ticket/seat holders have not turned up. So book early and get your seats reserved.

Eurostar tickets can be booked online using their website for all direct services well ahead of the date of departure

The Journey


St Pancras International

You’ve bought your ticket, got to the station with plenty of time to spare (always a good idea in a capital city). St Pancras International Station in London is not your usual railway station so take some time to enjoy this fantastic example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Check out the statues on the upper concourse and the famous Dent Clock. You will not forget visiting this railway station so allow some time to look around.There is so much to do at St Pancras since it’s restoration that it’s become a destination for many tourists. It has it’s own website! Certainly not somewhere I’d recommend you rush. I can’t think of many transport hubs you can say that about !

Finding Your Train

St Pancras International has two levels. You might see the Eurostar train platforms on the upper concourse but that is not where you check in. Head for the Eurostar check in on the lower concourse where all the shops are.

Checking In

You will need your ticket for the bar code readers where you check in (paper or mobile phone e-ticket). You can check in up to to 2hrs before departure. The minimum is 30 mins before departure for Standard and Standard Premier ticket holders or 10 minutes for Business ticket holders.

Security Screening and Immigration

Next up is the usual airport style security checks of baggage. X-Ray for your bags and metal detector check for you. Very similar to standard airport security but without the checks on liquids. Probably best not to try and balance that cup of coffee though…

After that you will go through British and then French passport checks which seems a little odd if you’re in London but it means there are no more checks and you walk straight off the train in Paris.

Departure Area

Once you’ve cleared the check in process you are guided to the waiting area (or lounge if you have a business class ticket) to wait for your train to be called. The waiting area has further shops so you can buy refreshments, magazines etc for the journey. Departure boards will tell you when your train is going to be ready to board. You can’t board the train as doors prevent access to the departure platforms until the train is ready to leave. Just like flying.

Boarding

At this point you need to look at your ticket and see which carriage you are boarding. If you’re like me you’ll keep forgetting and have to keep checking. Once there is an announcement for your train doors will open allowing passenger to take one of two moving walkways up to the departure platform above the waiting area. It will be a bit of a crush but look out for signs guiding you to your carriage number as you should choose the walkway that goes to your carriage. Don’t worry if you get on the wrong one – you’ll just have a longer walk down the platform.  People tend to rush and crowd onto the platform the second the gates open so it can get a bit hectic but there’s plenty of time. Once you’re on the train – get your luggage stowed and find your seats.

Plenty to see at St Pancras -these lovers are a lot taller than they look in this photo

The departure lounge where you wait to board your train. It’s usually a bit busier than this !

When your train is ready to board these doors will open and the moving walkway takes you to the platform above and waiting train

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Inspired by France is a small family run business/blog . We have lived and worked in France at various times in our life and hope to spend a lot more time there in the future.

We love all things French ranging from film, music and literature to the simple pleasures of French cooking and the odd glass of wine. We want to share our love of France with other France fanatics !

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