Planning a trip to Europe?
After we booked flights to Paris last summer, we decided to divide our time between Paris and London. Eurostar made it easy and affordable for our family.
Eurostar is a high speed train that connects London, Paris and Brussels. You can also use it to reach, Amsterdam, Marseilles, Bruges, and other cities in France, England, Belgium and Netherlands.
We landed in Paris, and then traveled straight to London under the English Channel on Eurostar. After a week in London, we traveled back to Paris on Eurostar and spent another week before flying home. I cherish so many memories of this trip with my family.
Here's what to expect on Eurostar, with tips for making the most of your time and money.
Eurostar tickets go up in price as you get closer to your departure date, and you can buy up to 180 days in advance. Tickets are exchangeable for a fee, but not refundable.
We purchased our Eurostar tickets four months in advance, right after we booked our flights. We paid $364 for four round trip tickets. If you wait too long, you could pay that much for one ticket.
There are three classes of ticket on Eurostar: Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. Youth (ages 12-25) and Children (ages 0-11) get discounted fare. Infants under age 4 can ride on your lap for free.
We chose Standard, and were happy with our choice. The seats were comfortable and we had adequate space. We were fine without the services offered in the more expensive seats – like food, late arrival, extra luggage and extra space.
You may find that tickets for weekdays or Saturday afternoons are less expensive than trains timed for weekend getaways. Eurostar occasionally offers deals and sales. Check www.eurostar.com or subscribe to Eurostar's email newsletter to stay in the know.
Related: How We Found Cheap Flights to Paris
Give Yourself Lots of Time
Our flight to Paris was scheduled to land at 9 AM. I scheduled our Eurostar tickets to London for 1 PM. Theoretically, that gave us plenty of time to get off the plane, find fast food, make the one-hour trip from the airport to the train station and get through security by 12:30 PM.
Four hours from airport to Eurostar was enough time, but just barely. Our plane landed 30 minutes late, and then it took extra time every step of the way because it was all new to us. We waited in a 30-minute line at Eurostar security.
Aim to arrive 45-60 minutes before your departure time. You may not be allowed through the gate if you arrive less than 30 minutes before departure.
We took public transportation from Paris' Orly airport to the Eurostar station at Gare du Nord, and it worked well. Gare du Nord is a huge transportation hub in Paris. From the subway platforms, go up to street level to find the Eurostar platform.
In London, Eurostar is at St. Pancras International. Connect with Underground trains across the street at Kings Cross Station.
Taxis or Uber may save you money when you are traveling as a family. It cost my family of four $57 to ride public transportation from Orly to Gare du Nord. It only cost $27 to Uber from our Paris apartment to Orly. The distance was different, but it's not necessarily less expensive for a family to use public transit.
Each Adult and Youth (ages 12+) can take two suitcases and one personal bag onto Eurostar. Children (ages 0-11) can take one suitcase and one personal bag. A Business Premier ticket allows three suitcases.
We carried our suitcases onto the train and stored them on luggage racks near the entrance or over our seats. We packed one rolling carry-on bag and one small backpack per person. It carried all our essentials, and was easy to carry from car to plane to train to taxi on this trip.
Related: Tips for Choosing Luggage for Europe
What to Expect at the Station
Expect to pass through airport-style security and customs. We didn't have to take off our shoes or throw away liquids.
Have your passports and customs forms ready. Keep handy the address of your lodging at your destination, and other itinerary info. You may find separate lines for EU citizens and non-EU citizens. The line for non-EU was much longer in Paris.
Gare du Nord and St. Pancras are large stations with lots of services, including dining and shopping. This can be a fun way to pass the time if you arrive at the station with time to spare. You may have to wait to clear security if you arrive too early. This happened to us in London.
You can take food and drinks onto the train, and you'll have more options for purchasing them outside of security than inside. You can purchase food on the train.
Public restrooms can be tricky in Paris and London. You may want to wait until you're through security or on the train. I used a public restroom inside the security checkpoint at St. Pancras and it was OK. There are also restrooms on the train.
Related: One Day at Disneyland Paris
What to Expect on the Train
You can select seats or be automatically assigned seats after you purchase your tickets. Log in to your Eurostar account to select seats.
Some seats face forward in sets of two, like on a bus or airplane. Our group of four Standard seats faced each other with a narrow table in between. We loved this arrangement, and were assigned seats like this both ways.
The trip from London to Paris and vice versa takes about 2 1/2 hours.
Eurostar trains have free WiFi, but we found it to be unreliable – especially in the Chunnel. There is an onboard entertainment app with children's programming you can try. Our seats did not have charging ports.
Changing tables for infants are available on the train.
Our Eurostar train had big windows that allowed us to watch the scenery go by when we were above ground. Overall, we had a comfortable and relaxing ride.
What to Do When You Arrive
Presumably, you'll want to go to your hotel to check in and drop off your luggage. Three good ways to get there are taxi, Uber and public transportation.
Normally, public transportation and Uber are my first two choices because they are generally convenient and less expensive. However, we chose to take a taxi after arriving in both Paris and London for these reasons.
- Convenience – There was a line of taxis at the curb, ready to take us straight to our hotel/apartment. London and Paris taxis take credit cards.
- Cost – Taxis are not necessarily less expensive than public transportation for a family of four.
By the time we arrived in London, we had been in transit for three straight days. Our hotel was a few blocks from an Underground station. I didn't want to wander around with all our luggage trying to connect with an Uber or figuring out tickets and routes on the Underground. Taking a taxi was a no-brainer.
Bring Your Own Food
You can bring your own food on board Eurostar. We picked up Tesco Meal Deals for £3 each before we left London.
You can purchase sandwiches and drinks on board, and you can purchase food beyond the security checkpoint in major cities before you leave, but options are limited.
Children's meals are sold on board. Baby food is not sold, but cafe staff on the train will warm up baby food or bottles for you.
Related: Why We Loved the Tesco Meal Deal
Your Eurostar ticket will get you 2-for-1 admission at museums in Paris, London, Brussels and Lille. We used this when we saw Monet's Water Lilies at Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris. Kids under age 18 get in free, so we just paid for one adult admission with our Eurostar ticket.
Visit https://www.eurostar.com/us-en/deals to learn more about 2-for-1 admission and other offers.
Eurostar made it easy for my family to visit both Paris and London on our first European trip. Be sure to buy your tickets early and arrive well in advance of your departure time. I hope these tips have helped you plan a great trip.