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How To Make Eurostar Work For You
In recent years, I've become more interested in travel. To celebrate a significant birthday, I took my parents (shown in the photo) on a short visit to Paris. We travelled by Eurostar. I had travelled by Eurostar a few times by then, but it was their first trip.
We had decided to book a train and hotel package, because the Eurostar website promises some savings if you do it this way. Booking late is never a good idea from the financial point of view, but in this case it led me to discover some new aspects of Eurostar services. As part of our package, we found that we had been allocated 'leisure select' tickets for the outward journey - standard class was full. So,this was my first opportunity to try the mid-range service, which includes meals and drinks.
Eurostar is the high-speed passenger train service which uses the channel tunnel connecting South England and France. and, yes, that means that it travels under the sea!
Eurostar services run between London and the European cities of Lille, Paris and Brussels. They use high-speed lines in Europe and England, with journey times now being 2 hours 15 minutes for non-stop London to Paris and 1 hour 51 minutes for non-stop London to Brussels.
The London terminus is the redeveloped St Pancras International station, serviced by London Underground services, and across the road from London Kings Cross (just a 5 minute walk). Gare du Nord is the Paris terminus, with connection to the Paris Metro and RER services. Brussels Midi/Zuid is the main terminus for Belgium. Other stations with Eurostar service include Lille Europe, Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International.
The photo, by Ultra7, shows the Folkestone White Horse which is visible from the Eurostar just before entering the tunnel. The photo is in the public domain. Look out of the left hand windows to see the horse.
Eurostar trains are long! They are made up of eighteen carriages, carrying up to 750 passengers, in three travel classes: standard, standard premier and business premier. Standard class does not include a food or drink service, but passengers can purchase a range of snacks, meals and drinks at one of the buffet cars, usually carriages 6 and 13. Standard premier class includes a cold meal, served at your seat, along with hot and cold drinks - see below for an example. Business class includes a hot meal.
Each train is in two parts, or half-sets, of a power car, eight passenger carriages, and buffet car. This feature relates to safety in the Channel tunnel : if there were a serious problem, such as a fire, all the passengers could be transferred into the undamaged half of the train and evacuated from the tunnel. The train halves would be detached, leaving the damaged part in the tunnel. A second authorised driver, the Chef du Train, travels through the tunnel, in the rear driving cab, in case this should be required.
This photo by Herbert Ortner shows a Eurostar train at Waterloo. This was the original terminus in England. With the opening of the High Speed line in Southern England, the terminus has transferred to St Pancras International. The photo is licensed under Creative Commons (CC-by-3.0)
What Are My Other Choices?
Or, why I prefer Eurostar to the other options
I can choose between train travel, coach travel and flights. I usually opt for the train because it is so much quicker than my other choices. I can travel from Cambridge to Paris in about 4 hours. The coach, changing in London, would take between 11 and 14 hours! Flights have the added complication of long check-in times, as well as the travel to the airport - my best guestimate for Cambridge to Central Paris by flight (and transfers) would be 6 to 7 hours.
Plus, on a train, you can take a little walk, visit the bar buffet, and enjoy the scenery. No contest!
The photo by Hynek Moravec, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 3.0, shows a Eurolines coach.
What's Your Preference?
Given the appropriate amount of cash, would you prefer to travel by Eurostar or to fly?
Taking The Eurostar
The perfect accessory page : your kindle, packed with entertainment for your trip, and Taking the Eurostar, which is a comprehensive guide including information about timetables, ticket classes, booking, checking in, onboard facilities and more.
How Much Does It Cost?
Let's compare the different ways of travelling
To get the cheapest tickets, it's always a good idea to book several weeks in advance, and to travel mid-week.. But, for now, I'm going to imagine that you want to travel to Paris during for an Easter break. It might be that you are a Londoner, trying to get away from the hustle and bustle. Or, it might be that you are a visitor from another continent, who would like to combine a trip to London with a few days of springtime in Paris!
We will imagine traveling on Wednesdays, as prices can be lower mid-week, and booking around one month before. I have made a check on the current prices, please note they will change!
* Coach from London Victoria to Paris Gallieni : £40 for the return journey (£50, for overnight travel)
* Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord : £109 (leaving mid-morning). Cheapest £69 (leaving very early morning)
* Flight from London Luton to Paris Charles de Gaulle, with Easyjet : £68 (but you will usually have a few extra costs, such as hold baggage, admin charges, etc with the 'low-cost' airlines)
* Flight from London Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle, with AirFrance : £87 (but hold baggage included in this price, and a drink and snack)
* Flight from London Heathrow to Paris Orly, with British Airways : £106 (but hold baggage included in this price, and a drink and snack)
It's also possible to fly from London City to Paris Orly, though usually more expensive than flying from Heathrow.
That's all fine, of course, but you also have to factor in convenience of reaching the station/airport, and the additional cost this will add.
The photo by Philip Capper, licensed under Creative Commons CC BT 2.0, shows planes queuing to depart from Heathrow.
This image of Northern France, the Channel and Southern England is part of the NASA Visible Earth collection. You must credit NASA if you wish to re-use it. Click on the photo to go to the NASA collection.
My Favourite City
You can travel by Eurostar between London and the European cities of Brussels, Lille and Paris.
Which city do you prefer? And why?
How to get a good deal
The easiest way to get a good deal is to book your own tickets via the Eurostar website.
During the booking process, you can decide which day and time to travel, which travel class to select and which seat(s) you want. Make sure to check the prices for all travel classes for the train you have selected, sometimes you can get a good deal here.
If you are travelling by train to London before catching the Eurostar, you can also save money by booking your train ticket through the Eurostar website.
A normal return ticket from Cambridge to London is just over Â£30, but booked as part of the Cambridge to Paris trip, the rail ticket is Â£6 each way.
Be aware, though, that sometimes the website will throw you a "false negative" saying that there are no tickets available on a certain day. This usually happens for weekend travel. I have discovered that it happens when there is planned engineering works on the national rail network. When this happens, you will need to book the national rail and Eurostar separately.
My photo shows the iconic statute at St Pancras station. Please do not use without my permission.
Buying Travel Tickets Online
- Eurostar Website
Visit the website to book Eurostar tickets, check timetables and book hotels, or to arrange car hire
- RailEurope website
You can buy Eurostar and TGV tickets here
- National Express Coaches website
Scheduled coach services in the UK and Europe. The National Express carries over 18 million passengers each year, to 1000 UK destinations. You can also book Eurolines coaches to over 500 destinations within Europe and Ireland.
Skyscanner searches over 600 airlines and 670,000 routes to find cheap flights and airline ticket deals.
- National Rail Enquiries - Official source for UK train times and timetables
The gateway to Britain's National Rail network. A portal into UK rail travel including train company information and promotions; train times; fares enquiries; ticket purchase and train running information.
- Voyages-sncf.com : Voyage en train, en avion, reservation d'hotels e
Achat et reservation de billets de train (TGV, Eurostar, Thalys, Lyria, Intercities), hotels, billets d'avion, week-end en France et en Europe, seours, location de voiture, loisirs, bus et ferries
- ratp.fr - Accueil
Paris Metro and RER website
There are three travel classes on Eurostar:
Most people travel in this class. Seats are four across, two each side of the aisle, and all have access to the buffet/bar carriages where you can buy a selection of hot and cold foods and drinks, as well as alcoholic drinks such as beer or wine. There are a few seat arrangements for four people, two each side of a table.
As shown in the photo, seats are three across, with two on one side of the aisle and one on the other. So this class feels more spacious. A cold meal, a choice of drinks, including wine, followed by tea or coffee will be served at your table.
Similar carriages to standard premier, but you will be served with a choice of drinks, including champagne, before a hot meal meal. Business premier passengers also have access to the business lounges at Brussels, Paris and London.
The photo is by Gary Bembridge, licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0
Lunch in "Standard Premier"
I took this photo on a recent trip. It shows a fairly typical lunch in Standard Premier - always a cold meal, three small dishes, with water, tea/coffee, and a choice of fruit juice, wine or beer. On my most recent trip, I was offered a "two course" cold meal - a variation on this theme.
If you want a hot meal served at your seat, you'll need to book "Business Premier" - a lot more expensive, but you'll be offered a glass of champagne too. You can also wait in the smarter surroundings of the Business Lounge before your trip.
The perfect luggage for your trip
Eurostar is great because you can take good-sized suitcases, and some smaller luggage. Weight is not an issue, unlike flying. If you can manage your luggage, it's fine! There are racks at the ends of the carriages to store large items. Smaller bags will usually fit into the overhead racks.
This 19-inch Rockland Tote is a stylish carry-on. It is a duffel, with heavy duty 600 denier polyester, u-shaped top opening, two end pockets, two side pockets and adjustable ergonomic shoulder strap.
Benefits of frequent travel
In the same way that airlines offer loyalty programmes, so does Eurostar. Seeing the service as a rival to air travel, Eurostar offers the following loyalty programmes:
You can exchange your points for vouchers and tickets. It is possible to transfer points between the Eurostar loyalty program and other points programs, but be aware that points transferred into the Eurostar program do NOT count towards status.
My photo shows passengers boarding a Eurostar train at St Pancras.
The Channel Tunnel
The Channel Tunnel was opened in May 1994, and is 31.4 miles (50.5km) in length. It took about six years to create the tunnel, which was identified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, in 1996, by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The tunnel is owned, and operated, by Eurotunnel. Eurostar has to pay a toll to use it.
Joining the high speed rail lines of northern France and Great Britain, the tunnel authorities allow a maximum speed of 100mph (160 km per hour). Fire safety is a major concern, so the tunnel has actually been designed and built as a triple tunnel. there are two tunnels of train services, and an additional service tunnel, for maintainence services and emergency evacuation. There have been a number of fires since the opening, notably in 1996, 2006 (relatively minor) and 2008. These incidents cause major disruption, as the affected tunnel has to be closed for repairs, and trains are restricted to one tunnel.
The diagram by Mortadelo2005 shows the route of the Channel Tunnel, it is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0