Sometimes, flying isn’t the most practical option when travelling. You can get to France easily enough by train and for a family holiday, we decided to travel by Eurostar from London to Paris.
Booking Eurostar tickets
Booking Eurostar tickets is incredibly simple and stress-free. You can use either the Eurostar website or the app, to choose your departure station and destination.
You’ll be given different options for departure times and then a return journey if that’s what you’ve chosen. Prices vary depending on the time of day you wish to travel, as well as how far in advance you make the booking. We didn’t choose the cheapest option for either journey, but more so based on the times. You can get cheap Eurostar tickets if you’re less fussy about when you travel. Standard adult tickets start from £39 each way while Business Premier tickets start from £275.
Once you have booked and paid for your tickets you will receive a confirmation email with your tickets. Seats are allocated in advance so you’ll know exactly which coach you’re in and what seats you have.
St. Pancras station
Checking-in and passport control
To board your train you’ll need to head to London St Pancras International train station where the Eurostar terminal is. There are clear signs here to let you know which journeys are allowing boarding and staff are on hand too if you have any questions. You can generally start to go through security and ticket checks around 90 minutes before your train is due to depart.
The first queue takes you to a machine where you need to scan your tickets. This takes you through to the security area where you’ll need to have your bags scanned. You don’t need to take anything out of your bags here unlike when you fly. We took things like mobile phones out of bags and belts off to make the process easier. After this, you go through the first set of passport checks. There’s a second passport check too, which is where you’ll get your passport stamped if necessary. All of the passport control is done in the UK. You don’t need to go through border controls once you arrive in France.
Once you’re through security you’re free to relax until it’s time to board the train. The waiting area is for all journeys to other European countries so it could be quite busy depending on what trains are scheduled. There is quite a lot of seating available but larger groups might struggle to sit together if there are trains close to their departure time.
There isn’t much to do at St Pancras International station once you’ve gone through security to make sure you take something to do. In terms of shops and restaurants, there aren’t many options. You’ll find a small duty-free shop selling a limited range of perfumes, alcohol, and treats such as Toblerone and shortbread, as well as magazines, drinks and travel accessories. If you want something to eat you’re stuck with either Pret a Manger or The Station Pantry. You’ll also find a currency exchange booth and toilets.
Boarding the train
Boarding only opens around 20 minutes before the train is due to depart. However, as you will have already been allocated a seat number and coach, you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to sit. The waiting area is really well sign posted and you can easily see where you need to go once boarding has been announced. It only takes a few minutes to get from the waiting area to the train.
Travelling by Eurostar from London to Paris
By travelling by Eurostar you can get into central Paris in around the same time as we can get from Norwich to London. The average journey time is 2 hours and 16 minutes. Some trains may take slightly longer. Eurostar used to offer direct trains to Disneyland Paris however, that has stopped recently. If you’re looking to travel onwards, you’ll need to change at Gare du Nord.
What is there on the train?
From our experience, Eurostar trains are much more comfortable than others we have taken in the UK. In standard class, seats are wider than average making them better suited for more people. You’ll find power sockets near the seats (both UK and European power outlets), free Wi-Fi, and bins not too far away from any seat. Single seats have pull-down trays at the back of the seat in front while table seats have tables which can be made bigger if needed.
Food and drink
You are welcome to take your and own food on board the Eurostar. This is the cheapest way if you want to eat on the way. However, there is a cafe bar on board where you can buy soft drinks, other non-alcoholic drinks, snacks and alcoholic drinks. Here are some examples of prices:
- Croissant £2.50 / €3,20
- Ham and emmental baguette £5.40 / €7,00
- Seasonal quiche £5.50 / €7,10
- Pringles £2.20 / €2,80
- KitKat £2.00 / €2,50
- American £2.90 / €3,70
- Cappuccino £3.20 / €4,10
- Coca-Cola – 33cl £2.60 / €3,30
You can also buy a metro ticket while you’re on the train. This can save you some time once you get into the centre of Paris. There are often queues at the machines so this is a nice option if you don’t have time to wait around.
What luggage can you take?
Luggage allowances for the Eurostar are somewhat different compared to if you fly. Adult passengers are allowed two pieces of luggage and one piece of hand luggage. Children are allowed one piece of luggage and one piece of hand luggage. Luggage can be up to 85cm and there is no weight limits however, you must be able to lift the luggage yourself.
Eurostar trains are well-equipped with plenty of luggage storage. Each coach has decent space for large items of luggage as well as overhead space for hand luggage. We have travelled via Eurostar a few times and there has never been an issue with space for luggage.
Gare du Nord to St. Pancras
Sadly, the smooth experience did not happen at Gare du Nord on our return journey. We arrived at around 3:15, which was a fair bit earlier than the recommended 60-75 minutes. Check-in was already open for our 5 p.m. train.
At this point, queues were all over the place, with people complaining and getting annoyed. There was another train due to leave shortly after 4 p.m. so check-in was open for 2 departures at the same time. Although getting through each security check and passport control was okay once we got there, it was a bit chaotic and stressful.
Once through security, the waiting area at Gare du Nord is really quite nice and spacious. There is plenty of seating, all spaced out quite a lot and it didn’t take us long to find a bench. After security there are a few different duty-free type shops as well as coffee shops and other places to eat. Here, you can get hot and cold drinks, salads, baguettes and a few warm choices for food.
Boarding opens between 20 and 30 minutes before the departure time. At this point you’ll be shown down a moving walkway to the platform, where you can then find the coach that you have been allocated. This is plenty of time to find your seat and store your luggage ready for the journey.
Would we use Eurostar again?
This journey was our second on a Eurostar train service and we had no complaints. The ticket prices were cheaper than what it would have cost compared with airplane tickets. The high-speed Eurostar trains are comfortable, and spacious and get you into Paris in only a couple of hours. Although we had an early start based on the train time we chose, it means we had nearly a full day to explore the city. Paris Gare du Nord station is easy to navigate and we found moving on to our hotel via the metro really easy. I have no doubt that next time we travel to Paris, we’ll choose the Eurostar again.