Is Eurostar a great way to travel the continent?

Written by IanRClose

Opened in November 1994, the Eurostar will soon be celebrating its 20 year anniversary of carrying passengers between London, Paris and Brussels.

Opened in November 1994, the Eurostar will soon be celebrating its 20 year anniversary of carrying passengers between London, Paris and Brussels. Currently featuring Britain’s only high speed rail line, it can get you from London to Paris in two and a half hours and to Brussels in just over two hours.

There are three different classes, Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier and I was lucky enough to be offered tickets on both Standard and Standard Premier. They also connect, via Thalys and ICE, to a number of other locations in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Before you board

The ticket I was offered was their earliest ticket on a Tuesday so having travelled down from Scotland I found it necessary to stay over the night before. Thankfully there are plenty of hotels (and hostels for the budget traveller) close to St Pancras International and this is easy enough.

I would personally recommend getting the earliest train as it means you have more time to spend in your destination and reduces how much you might need to spend on accommodation. St Pancras International features 24 hour cafes so there is plenty to keep you going for that 6am check-in.

After you have checked in you are required to go through baggage scans – similar to airports. You are allowed liquids but try and make sure you do not pack any sharp items.

There are also passport controls at the Eurostar terminal as the UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement and therefore passports (or identity cards for French nationals) are necessary to travel on the service.

The terminal itself has a few cafes and bars and a bookshop. It is very spacious and modern so if you tend to arrive early for journeys there is enough space to relax before boarding.

From the exterior the trains do appear slightly aged but they have comfortable seats inside and plug sockets for charging your phone. If you reckon you will need to charge your phone and have pre-booked seats I would suggest sitting on the right hand side as the sockets on the left use European sockets. Boarding is very quick and the staff are helpful if you need a hand getting to your seat or storing your luggage.

In case of delay

During the journey you are only in the channel tunnel for twenty minutes so if you are nervous about this kind of thing it shouldn’t be a massive issue. You also, amazingly, still get a phone signal in the tunnel.

The train arrived slightly early at Brussels Zuid/Midi. The Eurostar terminal at Brussels is right next to the main platforms making connections very smooth and easy. I was initially worried as my connection to Cologne was only twenty minutes after arrival however it only took five minutes from one train to the other and the Eurostar has a good record for arriving on time.

Nevertheless I would suggest you give yourself about an hour as there can be the odd delay.

On the return journey I was given a Standard Premier ticket and this is something I would definitely recommend for those who are willing to spend a little extra.

You get a free meal on board that consists of either a cheeseboard or prawn salad, some bread, a choice between soft drinks and alcohol, water, a dessert, tea and coffee, and a small hazelnut sweet for after (this was absolutely delicious and a few other passengers requested more).

A worthwhile investment

There is also a wider seat pitch, luxuriously comfortable seats and the choice between a solo or double seat. There are free magazines for passenger use including Time, the Economist and the Spectator and there’s even a posher toilet.

As far as Premier travel goes, the service on Eurostar is top-notch and I am still amazed they have a class higher than this. It is the on-board staff that truly make Standard Premier what it is.

The ‘in-train’ magazine provided is also worth a mention. It contains a mixture of British and French popular culture and has a fascinating feature where they send one person from Paris and one person from London on a date with each other. If you ever have to travel on the Eurostar regularly this will become your guilty pleasure.

If you live in London or within good commuting distance I would definitely recommend the Eurostar service. It is not much longer than a flight and in many ways is far more comfortable and you get great views almost the entire way to your destination.

Book in advance and a return journey will only cost you £69. I did feel, however, that travelling down from Scotland made it far more expensive so if you live quite a bit away from London it would probably be cheaper – and certainly much quicker – to fly.

Standard Premier will set you back an extra £60 for a return journey but it is worth it.

Service: 4/5
Speed: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

What do you think of the Eurostar? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Herbert Ortner / Wikimedia Commons