Eurostar is the easiest – and often the cheapest – way to get France, Belgium and the Netherlands directly from London. The train has run beneath the English Channel since 1994, has come a long way since those early days when it only traveled to Brussels, Paris, and Disneyland Paris. These days it's faster and offers direct services to many more destinations. Plus, through connection with European rail networks, you can you book travel to almost anywhere in Europe and if you have a Eurail Global Pass, Eurostar is included.
Where Does Eurostar Travel From?
Eurostar now has a wide variety of direct destinations from the UK through the Channel Tunnel. There's a choice of departure points too. You can leave from St Pancras International Station in London, Ebbsfleet International Station in Dartford, or the Ashford International Station in Kent, which is useful for passengers touring in the Southeast of England.
And Where Does It Go?
Most visitors know that Eurostar travels between the UK and Paris, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the specific destinations by country you can get to using Eurostar.
- In France, you can travel directly to Paris, Lille, Calais, Disneyland Paris, Lyon, Avignon, Marseille, and the French Alps (stops in Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-Saint-Maurice).
- In the Netherlands, you can take the train to Amsterdam, which will make a stop in Rotterdam.
- In Belgium, you can take the train directly to Brussels, Antwerp, or Ghent.
Three Classes of Travel
Eurostar tickets care available as Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. The best fares are always available for Standard tickets which give you a fixed, bookable time of travel, reasonably comfortable seats, 2-for-1 entry to galleries and museums at your destination and a selection of snacks, drinks and meals you can buy from the buffet car.
For the Standard Premier ticket, which can cost two or three times the price of a Standard ticket you get a bit more space, a light meal and drinks, a free magazine, and airline-style service.
For the Business Premier Ticket you get a lot more leg room, an open ticket to travel whenever you please – as long as you arrive within 10 minutes of boarding time – and a guaranteed seat on all services expect those from the Netherlands. You also get a meal.
How to Buy Eurostar Tickets
The best way to buy Eurostar tickets is directly from the company website. You can buy the tickets up to four months in advance. Pick your language and desired currency from the drop down menu on the website and then order tickets before you leave home. Plan to buy your tickets as far in advance as possible because the best, promotional fares sell out very quickly. By visiting the official website, you can also check out the special sales and other offers Eurostar occasionally runs.
Checking in and Traveling on Eurostar
Checking in on Eurostar is a lot like checking in for a flight, but the security element is a bit less onerous. You need to arrive half an hour before your scheduled departure time. You don't have to worry about carrying gels and liquids on board, but there are some surprising things you cannot take into the train carriages like toy guns, kitchen knives, defensive aerosols, anything that security thinks could be used as a weapon. If you are concerned about that wonderful set of Parisian chef's knives you'd like to buy to take home, it's probably a good idea to read about Prohibited and Restricted Items first. It will tell you what can be taken as carry-on and what will require advance permission to be packed away in a hold.
The Eurostar luggage allowance is pretty generous. You can carry two pieces of luggage, plus a small piece of hand luggage. There are overhead luggage racks and larger luggage areas between some of the seats and at the end of the cars. Your luggage will remain relatively safe throughout the trip because people tend to stay in their assigned seats for most of the journey and there are not a lot of stops in between.
In addition to your ticket, you should also bring your passport and on your return from the EU to the UK, you will need to fill out an arrival card.
What's the Eurostar Like Onboard?
The trains are clean, modern, and run on time. The seats are comfortable, and you'll have access to both power sockets and Wi-Fi. There is no smoking allowed on the Eurostar.
How Does Eurostar Compare to Other Ways to Cross the English Channel?
If you are unencumbered with pets and small children, there is no better way to get to Paris and the other cities Eurostar serves. Air fares are comparable, both the higher fares and the budget airline fares, depending upon which class of ticket you buy. However, the advantage of traveling by train is that you will be dropped off in the city center.
On the other hand, if you are traveling with a large group, Eurostar costs can start to add up. Additionally, with the exception of assistance dogs (but excluding emotional support animals), pets are not allowed on Eurostar. When traveling with a guide dog, make sure to bring the proper documentation.
Other Ways to Cross the Channel
If Eurostar isn't an option, you can also take a ferry and rent a car on the other side of the channel. This is a good alternative if you are traveling with a large group or a pet. It's also possible to take your car on the ferry.
Another approach is to take the Le Shuttle, which is a car transporter train. You drive your own car aboard a train in the UK or France and are transported through the tunnel on a train to the other country. Before you go, you'll pass through passport control and have all your paperwork handled, so once you arrive to your destination you can be on your way.