Travelling by Eurostar: A TMR Guide
Eurostar is the only international train linking London with continental Europe. Trains depart from St Pancras station every day for Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, with some services also calling at Lille Europe and Calais-Frethun.
Travelling by Eurostar is an efficient way to start and end your rail holiday with us and this guide will hopefully give you a good all-round introduction.
CLASSES OF TRAVEL
Standard – as the name suggests. Standard Class seating with two seats on either side of the aisle. Refreshments are available from the bar-bistro, of which there are two.
Standard-Premier – First Class for leisure passengers. Spacious seats, two on one side of the aisle and one on the other, with the option of tables for two opposite each other. A complimentary light cold meal is served, with a choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Business Premier – Eurostar’s First Class product aimed at business passengers, including an enhanced hot meal with premium wines, and 10-minute express check-in access to a lounge before boarding. The seat pitch is identical to Standard-Premier, but there are a few extra add-ons which are nice to have if your budget is limitless!
PRIOR TO BOARDING
Eurostar require a minimum 30-minute check-in so always factor this into your plans. In larger stations such as London, Paris and Brussels we would suggest erring on the side of caution and arriving up to an hour ahead of departure. If you breeze through security there are facilities to pass the time – we’ll come onto those later.
There are no restrictions taking food and drink onto the train, so feel free to take a picnic if you are in Standard Class (TIP: the M&S Simply Food at St Pancras is an ideal location for this!).
Have your ticket or reservation ready, you’ll need to scan the barcode on the automatic gates.
If you arrive at your Eurostar station with time to spare, you’ll doubtless want to while away the time somewhere civilised until the time comes to check in.
London St Pancras – for a pub, the Betjeman Arms is a solid option with a good selection of real ales and an old-fashioned pub menu. Café-wise, there are plenty of options along the main concourse inside the station such as Paul and Le Pain Quotidien.
Paris Gare du Nord – Brasserie Terminus Nord opposite the station is great for just a drink or a superb meal from their set menu.
Amsterdam Centraal – Grand Café Restaurant 1e klas is within the station building itself, in a beautiful former waiting room dating back to 1881.
Brussels Midi – Pret a Manger opposite the “Channel Terminal”, formerly the legendary Sam’s Café, the horse called Sam wearing the zebra costume remains in place (see picture). For something quieter, try the bar of the Pullman hotel, which has its own door directly off the station concourse.
Lille Europe – there are a couple of options in this main part of the station, but for longer layovers, the bar of the copper-coloured Crowne Plaza Hotel across the street from the main entrance is a quiet and civilised place to pass the time.
SECURITY AND PASSPORT CHECK
After passing through the barriers, you will then need to clear security and passport control, the order of which varies depending on the station you are boarding at. You’ll clear passport control for both the country you are leaving and the country you are about to enter. For instance, at St Pancras you will pass through UK passport control (although in practise they rarely seem to be there!) and then French passport control – the French are the representatives of the Schengen group of countries in this instance, because each Eurostar first crosses French soil regardless of whether you are continuing in fact to Belgium or Holland.
Once you are through security, a small selection of shops and eateries are available (unless you are lucky enough to have lounge access). In Lille this is somewhat more limited, and at the time of writing (October 2020) the Amsterdam-London direct service is yet to be inaugurated so the “behind security” facilities here are as yet unknown!
ON BOARD THE TRAIN
Once you are called to board the train, you’ll go down to the platform (or “up” to the platform in the case of London St Pancras), find your carriage and step on board. If you are travelling in Standard-Premier or Business-Premier there will be a staff member to check you off as you board. Luggage can be stored in the large racks at the end of each carriage and in the rack above your head for smaller items. The toilet facilities are efficient and clean, and there are a minimum of two per carriage.
The beauty of Eurostar is that when you reach your destination, you simply step off the train, walk down the platform and you are out and away! Customs formalities will have been cleared prior to boarding so you are free to head straight out and explore, or change onto your next rail service to continue your journey.
OTHER EUROSTAR SERVICES
South of France – Eurostar have, since 2015, run a direct service to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille, but they have taken the decision not to run the service in 2021. You can still travel down to the south of France by changing in Paris or Lille.
Ski Train – As with the South of France service, Eurostar ordinarily runs one daytime and one overnight service per week from London to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, serving an array of resorts in the French Alps. However for the ski season 2020/2021 it has been announced that this service will not operate. You can still travel to the Alps by changing in Paris for a range of TGV options from the Gare de Lyon.
The Eurostar also stops at two stations in Kent – Ebbsfleet and Ashford – not every train calls here but they can be convenient depending on whereabouts in the UK you are based.
UPDATE: Eurostar have announced that trains will not stop at either of the Kent stations until 2022, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. However, this decision could be revisited in 2021 should there be a change in approach in this regard.
Ebbsfleet: Just off the A2, close to the junction with the M25, Ebbsfleet opened in 2007 to tie in with Eurostar’s switch from Waterloo to St Pancras. Large car parks surrounding the station. The Hilton Dartford Bridge is a good option for a pre-train overnight stop.
Ashford: This is the original Kent Eurostar station that has been served since 1994. Handy if you are based in southern Kent or East Sussex, but it has a more limited service with only 3 trains to Paris and 1 to Brussels per day.