Eurostar – London to Paris or Brussels or Amsterdam trains: Money-saving tips
The Eurostar is the train that famously uses the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) to connect London with Paris and Brussels. In many ways the experience is similar to riding any other train in Europe or anywhere else in the world, but there are a few key differences that are important to consider.
There's also a totally independent ticketing system, so getting the cheapest fare requires more planning. Generally speaking, the trick is to book your Eurostar ticket as soon as possible, but we'll discuss that more in the money-saving section below.
Note: This article was last updated in July, 2018.
Which cities does Eurostar serve?
The Eurostar trains still go from London to Paris and London to Brussels, but in recent years they have added direct service to the Disneyland Resort and Amsterdam, and a connection that gets you all the way to Avignon in France.
- Between London and Paris (about 2 hours 20 minutes each way)
- Between London and Disneyland Resort near Paris (about 2 hours 49 minutes each way)
- Between London and Avignon (about 6 hours each way, with a change in Paris)
- Between London and Brussels (about 2 hours each way)
- Between London and Amsterdam (about 3 hours 40 minutes each way direct, or 4 hours 4 minutes changing in Brussels)
Needless to say, you can book connecting trains to get anywhere from Britain to anywhere in Europe, but the routes above are the only ones officially on Eurostar trains.
Getting the cheapest Eurostar fares
Eurostar tickets are priced similarly to airfares (and unlike most other European trains) in that prices start low and then get higher and higher as more seats are filled and the travel date nears. You can book up to 4 months in advance, and if you do you'll see all fares at their lowest rates.
There is good news for those who can't or don't want to book 4 months in advance in that the cheapest fares are still usually available on some trains a month or so in advance (or even less in the off season). There are nearly 20 trains per day from London to Paris, and the morning departures preferred by business people tend to fill up first, so you'll usually have to travel closer to mid day or into the evening to get the best prices.
Round-trip fares are a bit lower than two one-way fares, but only by €5 or so, which means that it's not worth it unless you are sure of travel days in both directions. However, there are sometimes (in off season) promotional fares on round-trip journeys, so it's worth checking the round-trip option if you are in fact going both ways. If there are any promotional fares they will be showing long in advance, so there's nothing to be gained by waiting if you don't see them for your dates.
Eurail Pass holders can ride the Eurostar for a €30 reservation fee
If you are considering buying any Europe rail pass (only available for non-European citizens) then you qualify for a discount on Eurostar tickets. Until recently you could only get a 25% discount on Eurostar tickets with a Eurail Pass, but as of 2018 you can now get tickets for a €30 reservation fee in second class or a €38 reservation fee in first class. Your Eurail Pass has to be valid for France or Belgium to use it for routes involving those countries. This makes Eurail Passes more valuable because Eurostar tickets are expensive, especially if you didn't buy well in advance.
How else is Eurostar service different from other trains?
Aside from the fare structure, the other main difference is the timing and security procedures. You must check in at least 30 minutes before departure or you could potentially be left behind. The entrance into the Eurostar part of the train station is not near the front entrance, so leave an extra 10 minutes or so to find it and get in the queue.
Unfortunately, the check-in procedure is also somewhat similar to flying in that you have to go through security check points as well as immigration control. Since the UK isn't part of the Schengen Zone like France and Belgium, all passengers have to show a passport for a (usually quick) immigration check.
After you've gone through the checkpoints you'll be waiting in a special Eurostar passenger lounge, which is secured from the rest of the train station. Business Premier Class passengers have their own lounge with Wi-Fi and power outlets among other amenities.
Classes of service on the Eurostar
There are 3 distinct classes of service on the Eurostar, and budget travelers will always want Standard Class as it's by far the cheapest.
The cheapest fares are in the Standard Class, which has 2 seats on each side of the aisle, and less legroom than on most European 2nd Class trains. Many seats are facing backwards so groups of 4 can be facing each other. You can choose your position when you book.
There is a food and beverages car in this part of the train where passengers can purchase snacks and drinks for the ride.
Standard Premier Class
With much higher prices, the Standard Premier Class is more like 1st Class on European trains, with only 3 seats across, which are wider and have more legroom.
Passengers in Standard Premier Class get a choice of two different meals along with a glass of wine, beer, or soft drink included in the fare.
Business Premier Class
The highest fares are in Business Premier Class, which also has 3 seats across that are nicer and have even more legroom. There is a separate lounge for these passengers, and a 3-course meal is included in the fare.
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