The Eurostar train from Paris & Brussels to London
Here is our comprehensive guide to the EUROSTAR train link that connects London with Paris, Brussels and beyond. Since it started in 1994, the Eurostar has become THE way to travel between London and mainland Europe. It now carries more passengers between London and Paris / Brussels than all airlines combined, and the London-Paris route - formerly the world's busiest air route - is now almost completely dominated by Eurostar.
Whether you fancy a day trip to Paris as part of your London vacation, will visit London from mainland Europe, or are planning a multi-destination trip around Western Europe, your travels won't be complete without experiencing a journey on the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel. Read on for everything you could possibly need to know about booking and taking the Eurostar to - and from - London.
Information correct as of Summer 2012
The Eurostar always to hand!
Buy our comprehensive guide and have everything you need to know about the Eurostar always to hand on your e-book reader!
Available for Kindle and other e-book readers (including iPhone, iPad, iBooks, Android devices, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo and others).
Purchase Kindle version from Amazon UK:
Purchase Kindle version from Amazon US:
For other formats (Nook, iphone and others) click here:
Table of contents
A lineup of Eurostar trains at St Pancras International station, London
The Eurostar is a high-speed passenger train service that links Great Britain and mainland Europe via the Channel Tunnel under the English Channel, the passage of water that separates England and France. The Channel Tunnel, also known as the Euro Tunnel or 'Chunnel', is one of the greatest engineering projects ever undertaken, and has been declared a civil engineering wonder of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
The Eurostar's main stations are London (UK), Paris (France) and Brussels (Belgium). Many trains make a stop in Lille (France), and some trains also stop in Ebbsfleet or Ashford in the UK, and in Calais in France.
From London there is a direct Eurostar service to Disneyland Paris (5 days a week, daily during UK school holidays), plus trains to Avignon in the south of France (every Saturday, summer only) and Eurostar 'ski trains' twice per week to the French Alps (winter only).
It is possible to book 'through tickets' between many locations in the UK and locations in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland - see Through tickets for more information.
Taking the Eurostar has many advantages over flying between London and Paris, and London and Brussels. Not only does it offer - in most cases - shorter travel times, but Eurostar trains are also more likely than planes to arrive at their destination on schedule.
Eurostar route map
Eurostar's convenient city centre stations and less time-consuming check-in processes combine to make it an altogether easier and more pleasant journey. Eurostar trains offer more comfort than economy class air travel, with more spacious seats and no restrictions on access to toilets and other facilities. Moreover, travelling by Eurostar is better for the environment than flying (the Eurostar CO2 emissions per passenger are a fraction of those of a plane on the same route), and the Eurostar company is actively involved in reducing its energy consumption and emissions, and developing responsible sourcing and recycling, with ambitious targets to be achieved by 2015.
Note: Taking the Eurostar is so easy and convenient it may slip your mind that you will absolutely require your passport (or EU national identity card) in order to travel. A New Zealander friend of ours is just one of many unfortunate people annually who find themselves unable to travel because of this. See Travel Documents.
Eurostar trains travel at speeds of up to 186mph / 300kph, however the ride is so smooth that you will hardly notice. Many first-time passengers have concerns about how they will feel during the short time - around 20 minutes - that the train is in the Channel Tunnel. Having taken the Eurostar several dozen times, our advice is that unless you generally suffer from severe claustrophobia and anxiety in such situations, you really don't need to worry about the tunnel at all. Sensitive people may feel the change in pressure as the train enters and leaves the tunnel, but we haven't noticed or come across reports of anyone being badly affected by this. The time in the tunnel feels just like travelling at night, i.e. there is nothing other than the occasional light (in this case service lights on the concrete walls of the tunnel) to be seen from the windows. Sit back and relax, or head to the buffet car... The train will emerge at the other side before you know it.
Some people delight in jokes about fish swimming past the windows of the Eurostar while it is in the Channel Tunnel. For their sake we'd like to point out that the tunnel is bored through the solid rock deep beneath the seabed. In fact there is an average of 45 metres of rock between the roof of the tunnel and the seabed above. The only sea life you are likely to see while on the Eurostar are the prawns in the bar-buffet's sandwiches and - should you be fortunate enough to be travelling Business Premier class - the filet de merlu in your complimentary meal. Of course, it would be so much more interesting if the tunnel was in fact transparent and lying on the seabed... But that belongs in the realms of science fiction.
Eurostar is a passenger-only service and should not be confused with the Eurotunnel Shuttle, which runs car trains through the tunnel under the Channel - see www.eurotunnel.com for more information.
Also, do not confuse Eurostar and Eurostar Italia. Eurostar Italia is the name of Italy's high-speed intercity train service, and has no connection with the Channel Tunnel Eurostar services.
The Eurostar train link is jointly owned by the UK government, French National Railways (SNCF, who are the majority shareholders, with 55% ownership) and Belgian National Railways (SNCB).
Eurostar routes and schedules
The two main Eurostar routes are:
Paris to London / London to Paris
There are 15-18 Eurostar trains a day running between Paris and London: roughly one per hour, with extra services during the peak morning and evening periods. The typical journey time is 2 hours 25 minutes, with the fastest (non-stop) trains taking only 2 hours 15 minutes - not bad for a journey of about 300 miles (500km)!
The first Eurostar trains of the day on this route leave London at around 5:30am, and Paris at around 6:00am. The last services of the day leave London at around 8:30pm and Paris at around 9:00pm.
Brussels & Lille to London / London to Lille & Brussels
There are 7-9 Eurostar trains a day running between Brussels and London: roughly one per hour during the peak morning and evening periods, and one every 2-3 hours during the rest of the day. The fastest journey time (on a non-stopping train) is 1 hour 50 minutes, however most London - Brussels services make one or more stops along the way (nearly all trains stop in Lille, France, and some also stop in Calais, Ashford or Ebbsfleet.
The first Eurostar trains of the day on this route leave London at around 6:00am, and Brussels at around 7:00am. The last services of the day leave London at around 7:30pm and Brussels at around 8:30pm.
Days of operation and time differences
Eurostar services run every day of the year except Christmas Day (this is in common with almost all UK public transport which closes completely on December 25th - a fact well worth noting if you will be in the UK over the Christmas period).
While the travel time for a typical Eurostar journey is about 2 hours, as London is one hour behind Paris and Brussels, you will arrive in London only about one hour (local time) after you left the continent, whereas on trips from London to the continent you will arrive approximately three hours (local time) after you left - keep this in mind when planning your trip.
For information on connecting European train services to/from Paris and Brussels, we strongly recommend the timetable information on the website of German Railways: www.bahn.de. We consistently find this to be by far the best and most reliable online source of train timetable information for the whole of Europe.
Eurostar travel classes and ticket types
Eurostar trains have three travel classes: Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. Standard and Standard Premier tickets are available with fixed or semi-flexible conditions. Business Premier tickets are fully flexible. All Eurostar trains have the same configuration: carriages 1-5 and 14-18 are Standard class, carriages 7-12 are Standard Premier and Business Premier class, and carriages 6 and 13 are buffet cars. All Eurostar trains (and stations) are completely non-smoking areas.
Here is an overview of the differences between the three classes:
Eurostar Standard class
This is the cheapest Eurostar option and the choice of the majority of tourists and leisure travellers. It is comparable to second class on other train services, and economy class on planes. Standard class carriages are reasonably comfortable, with the seats offering somewhat more room than economy class airplane seats. Food and drinks are available from the buffet car, or bring your own (see below for notes on eating and drinking on board). The Eurostar on-board magazine Metropolitan, which has travel information and articles in English, French and Flemish, is freely available. Standard class passengers are required to check in a minimum of 30 minutes before the train's scheduled departure time.
Standard class tickets are available in two versions:
Non flexible: non-exchangeable & non-refundable
Semi-flexible: can be exchanged by paying a fee/penalty of £22 plus the price difference between the old and the new ticket, if the new ticket is more expensive.
Eurostar Standard Premier class
This is a 'mid-class' blend of second and first class comfort and facilities aimed at upmarket leisure travellers and business travellers whose companies don't permit 'business class' travel. Standard Premier carriages have the same seats and seating layout as first class Business Premier carriages (see Choosing your Eurostar seats), however the service has fewer features and 'frills' than Business Premier class.
Standard Premier service includes a complimentary cold meal served at your seat (a light breakfast before 11am, and a meal comprising 'three taster dishes' during the rest of the day), plus one complimentary drink (wine or beer, tea or coffee, or a soft drink). Children's meals are available, as are vegetarian meals, however these must be requested at the time of booking, and/or at least 24 hours in advance. A range of special dietary requirements can be catered for, but require 36 hours advanced notice. These include kosher, halal, vegan, diabetic, low fat, low salt, dairy/lactose free and gluten free.
Standard Premier passengers may choose from a selection of complimentary magazines and will find a power socket at every seat (suitable for both UK and European-style plugs). The check-in process is the same as for Standard class ticket holders (i.e. check-in closes 30 mins before departure), and there is no access to a special lounge.
Standard Premier fares are more expensive than Standard class, but cheaper than Business Premier. As with Standard class tickets, Standard Premier tickets are available in two versions:
Non flexible: non-exchangeable & non-refundable
Semi-flexible: can be exchanged by paying a fee/penalty of £22 plus the price difference between the old and the new ticket, if the new ticket is more expensive.
Eurostar Business Premier class
This is Eurostar's highest class of service, comparable to first class carriages on intercity trains and business class cabins on planes. Business Premier is aimed at upper level business travellers and the luxury end of the market. Ticket prices are high, however Business Premier tickets are fully flexible and refundable, i.e. they can be exchanged without penalty, and a full refund is available on unused tickets from the date of purchase up to two months after the date of departure. In addition, the normal Eurostar rule that check-in must occur a minimum of 30 mins before departure is reduced to a fast-track 10 mins for Business Premier ticket holders, and there is full access to exclusive Business Premier lounges with free Wi-Fi access, drinks and snacks.
Business Premier seats are spacious and reclinable, with extra legroom. A complimentary full meal, created with the help of Eurostar 'Gastronomic Ambassador' Alain Roux, and including tea, coffee, wine and champagne, is served at your seat. The meal varies according to the time of day it is served, however there is normally a choice of main course, for example a meat dish and a fish dish. Dinner comprises a starter, main course, dessert and cheese course. Vegetarian meals are available, but should be requested at the time of booking and/or least 24 hours in advance of travelling. Special dietary requirements can be catered for with 36 hours advance notice. These include kosher, halal, vegan, diabetic, low fat, low salt, dairy/lactose free and gluten free.
Additional Business Premier features include:
Power sockets (UK and European style) at every seat
Complimentary newspapers and magazines
Optional chauffeur service in London, Paris and Brussels (at additional cost)
Eurostar ticket prices vary according to the class in which you travel, the conditions attached to the ticket (i.e. whether or not it can be exchanged/refunded), and how far in advance you make the booking.
Here are Eurostar's current ticket prices in British Pounds (£). You can also pay in Euros and US$, depending on where you purchase the ticket.
Eurostar ticket prices
Standard (second class)
Standard Premier ('mid' class)
Business Premier (first class)
Children under 4 are free when sharing a seat with an adult (they are not entitled to their own seat unless a ticket is bought for them).
'Passholder' tickets are available to holders of Eurail, Interrail or Britrail passes only. Not bookable online. For telephone bookings please call 08432 186 186.
Wheelchair and companion tickets are fully flexible and refundable.
There are also 'Youth' (12-25) and 'Senior' (60 and over) fares which offer a small discount over the cheapest adult fare, but they are only available until the cheapest adult fare tickets sell out, after which point a normal adult ticket needs to be purchased.
How to find and buy cheap Eurostar tickets
Unfortunately for budget travellers and those of us who appreciate a good deal, the popularity and success of the Eurostar service means that it has little trouble filling seats and so Eurostar deals, discount tickets and 'specials' are few and far between. Without doubt, the best option for buying cheap Eurostar tickets is to book as early as you can, as the Eurostar ticketing system for Standard and Standard Premier class works like that of an airline - ticket prices start low and increase as the cheaper tickets sell out. Thus if you want to get hold of the cheapest possible Eurostar tickets it is crucial to book as far in advance as possible.
Booking for Eurostar tickets opens 120 days (i.e. about 4 months) before the date of travel. If you book early for a non-peak day / season, Standard class 'non-flexible' tickets can be a very good deal: as low as £69 return between London and Paris or Brussels. Less desirable trains, for example those leaving very early in the morning or late in the evening, mid-week or on Saturday afternoons, are generally cheaper than those leaving mid-morning or early evening.
Prices tend to rise rapidly as the date of travel gets nearer and can become very expensive indeed. It can be especially difficult to purchase reasonably priced Eurostar tickets for peak travel times (Fridays, Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings) and busy seasons (in particular Easter, July and August, and Christmas). If your travel plans are flexible then try to avoid these times. It is often possible to buy Eurostar tickets on the day of travel, however depending on the time/season these 'walk up fares' may be extremely expensive, and only worth it if you have no option but to travel that day.
Special Youth, Senior & Passholder fares
For those aged 25 and under, or 60 and over, Eurostar offers 'youth' and 'senior' rates which give a (very) small saving on the cheapest Standard class fares (i.e. the £69 return fare is discounted to £66), but disappointingly only while the cheapest Standard class adult fare is still available for your chosen connection. As soon as adult tickets at this basic fare sell out, the youth and senior tickets disappear from the ticket system.
Holders of Eurail, Interrail or Britrail passes can buy flat rate 'Passholder' tickets (bookable by phone only - see notes in Eurostar ticket prices). These fares may or may not be a good deal, depending on the price of adult tickets at the time when you book.
Some of the destinations that can be reached with Eurostar Through Tickets.
Will you be travelling simply to central Paris, Brussels or London? Or continuing your journey to a destination further afield? If the latter, then the best deal is usually a 'through ticket' - in other words a Eurostar ticket and connecting ticket combined. Through tickets almost always work out cheaper than buying Eurostar and connecting tickets separately, and offer the added benefit that if your first train is delayed, causing you to miss your connecting train, then you will be permitted to take the next available connection regardless of whether your ticket is exchangeable or not.
Through tickets are available between most larger UK stations and any station in Belgium and the Netherlands, many regional stations in France and Switzerland, plus Aachen and Cologne in Germany.
Note that, depending on your departure point/destination, Lille (rather than Paris) may be the best place to change to/from the Eurostar service. Not only may you save time by avoiding Paris, but in Lille the Eurostar services and most connecting trains - specifically the French TGV services - leave from the same station (Lille Europe), while in Paris you may well have to traverse the city to get to one of the other five main stations from which connecting services depart.
Eurostar Package Deals
Eurostar offers a number of city breaks and package deals, which usually comprise train ticket and hotel, plus optional extras such as car hire and tickets for shows. These packages offer convenience and some interesting options and hotel/travel combinations, but do not necessarily work out cheaper than booking your Eurostar tickets and hotel separately.
Booking your Eurostar tickets
Useful things to consider when booking Eurostar tickets
Eurostar tickets may be booked online from 120 days prior to the departure date onwards.
Eurostar tickets for Standard and Standard Premier classes are available at a wide range of prices. The cheapest tickets sell out first, so book early to get the best deals.
Both single (one-way) and return tickets are available. A return ticket is a little cheaper than two single tickets.
Open-jaw tickets (eg. Paris-London-Brussels) are not available. Such journeys must be booked as two single journeys (e.g. Paris-London and London-Brussels).
Choosing your Eurostar seats
Eurostar seating plan
The Eurostar has a combination of airline-style seating (i.e. you sit facing the back of the seat in front) and groups of four seats with a central table. Standard Premier and Business Premier class carriages also have single airline-style seats and pairs of seats facing each other with a small table. You can see a detailed Eurostar seating plan here.
When booking your Eurostar tickets you will be asked to specify whether you want a window or aisle seat. You are also given the option to choose your exact seat (carriage and seat number) from the seating plan.
Note that if you are travelling alone, you will not be able to do an online booking for a seat in a group of four, or in facing pairs of seats in Standard Premier and Business Premier classes. If you are travelling as a pair you will not be able to do an online booking for seats in a group of four in any class. But don't worry - if you would like to book seats that are unavailable online (e.g. if you would like the table space or extra legroom a group of four seats provides) you can do so by booking by phone on 08432 186 186 (from outside the UK call +44 1233 617 575).
Useful things to consider when choosing a Eurostar seat
If you are travelling with a baby or small child(ren) you may wish to choose seats in the designated family carriages, numbers 1 and 18. See Travelling with children/babies below.
There are power sockets at every seat in Standard Premier and Business Premier carriages. For an at-seat power socket in Standard class you will need to book a seat in carriage 5 or 14.
Eurostar trains have an equal number of front and back-facing seats. If you would prefer a seat facing in the direction of travel check the seating plans which clearly indicate which way the train will be travelling. Eurostar trains always leave London with carriage 18 at the front of the train, and they always leave Paris and Brussels with carriage 1 at the front of the train. If you suffer from motion sickness on trains read this helpful guide on preventing motion sickness.
If you will have a tight connection to make, book a seat towards the front of the train (carriages 1 & 2 or 17 & 18, depending on the journey) to avoid a long walk along the platform on disembarkation - the train is about 1200 feet / 400 metres long.
If you would like a seat with a clear view from a window (rather than a seat next to one of the pillars between the windows) look carefully at the seating plan before making your choice.
Eurostar e-ticket machines at St. Pancras International Station in London
Printing out / collecting your Eurostar tickets
Once you have completed the booking process you can choose, in most cases, to either print your ticket on your own printer, or to collect your ticket at the station you will depart from.
To collect tickets at a Eurostar station you will need to either go to the ticket counter, or use one of the e-ticket machines. If you choose to collect tickets at the station, do allow plenty of extra time in case of queues or problems. Note that you will need your booking reference number, and you must present the credit or debit card that you used to make the payment.
Buying via a Eurostar agent
Eurostar's online booking system is available to customers worldwide, not just those resident in the UK, France or Belgium. However, if you prefer to buy your tickets locally, you can do so via one of Eurostar's agents. Be aware that tickets bought via an agent are likely to be more expensive than those bought directly from Eurostar, as most agents charge a fee (which may be hidden in the total price).
Although Eurostar's check-in process is simple and generally hassle-free, it can take time as it involves not only a ticket check but also security and passport control processes. Unlike other train services, you cannot turn up five minutes before departure and board the train moments before it leaves.
Check-in for each train generally opens 60 minutes prior to a train's departure (extended to 90 minutes at some Eurostar terminals). Even though Eurostar recommends that passengers travelling Standard or Standard Premier class arrive at the station 35 minutes prior to their train's scheduled departure time, we strongly recommend giving yourself at least 45 or even 60 minutes for the check-in process, especially if you still need to pick up your tickets at the station, have any mobility issues or require special assistance, or are travelling with young children. Note that queues for the e-ticket machines and to pass through the ticket barriers can be slow moving and substantial. Business Premier passengers have different check-in rules - see Business Premier check-in. Should you find yourself with time to kill once you have completed the check-in process, all the Eurostar stations have cafés and adequate seating areas where you can wait in comfort.
Important - the 30-min check-in rule
If you have a Standard or Standard Premier ticket, check-in officially closes 30 minutes prior to your train's departure time (this is reduced to a slim 10 minutes for Business Premier ticket holders, who can also benefit from a boarding guarantee - see Business Premier check-in). If you arrive at the check-in desk less than 30 minutes prior to your train's departure time you may be allowed through (however, you may have to push your way to the front of multiple queues - at check-in, at the security check and at passport control...). However, it's possible that you will be refused check-in. It's not worth the risk - allow plenty of time.
Business Premier check-in
Business Premier passengers may check in up to 10 minutes prior to their train's departure (although we would strongly recommend giving yourself more time if possible). Business Premier passengers also benefit from a boarding guarantee, meaning that if they are running early or late Eurostar will find them a seat on another train of the passenger's choice (although this may not be in Business Premier class).
Automatic ticket barrier at the Eurostar check-in at St. Pancras International Station in London
How to check in
If you do not already have your tickets, go to the e-ticket machines or Eurostar ticket counter to collect them. You must present the credit or debit card that you used when making payment, and you will need your booking reference number. Your card must be chip & pin enabled for you to be able to use the e-ticket machines. While most European cards have smart-chip and pin code protection, most North American cards don't have this function, so will not work at the e-ticket machines and tickets will need to be picked up at the Eurostar ticket office.
If you already have your tickets then proceed straight to the ticket barriers. Insert or scan your ticket at the automatic barrier, or ask a staff member to do a manual check-in. There are always plenty of staff on hand if you have any problems.
Next comes an airport-style security check. Unlike flying, there is no separate check-in for luggage and you must keep your luggage with you throughout your journey on the Eurostar (see Baggage allowance). All suitcases, bags and purses, overcoats and the contents of your pockets must be placed on the conveyor belt and pass through the scanner machines. Passengers then proceed through an airport-style body metal detector gate. Note that there are no restrictions on carrying liquids on the Eurostar, and no need to present liquid items separately at security.
All passport procedures are completed at the time of departure. EU citizens may present a passport or national identity card. All other passengers must present a valid passport and visa (if necessary). Non-EU citizens travelling to the UK must complete a declaration card (similar to an airline landing card). See Travel documents.
The Eurostar departure lounges
Eurostar departure lounges are similar to airport lounges, with extensive seating, plus snack bars and/or cafés. London St. Pancras has free Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the whole station. At Paris Gare du Nord and Brussels Midi/Zuid it is possible to purchase Wi-Fi Internet access in the main lounge (and Wi-Fi access is free in the Business Premier lounges). All lounges have power points for recharging computers and phones. Some departure lounges - for example Brussels - have several shops and designer concessions selling everything from chocolate to watches. There are of course toilet facilities in all Eurostar departure lounges.
Business Premier ticket holders can retreat into their exclusive lounge which has complimentary drinks and snacks on offer.
The information desks in Eurostar departure lounges are a useful source of free city maps, and helpfully sell tickets and travel passes for public transport at your destination (RATP tickets for Paris, STIB tickets for Brussels and Oyster cards for London).
Boarding the Eurostar
Approximately 15 minutes prior to the departure of your Eurostar train, a boarding announcement is made and the doors to the platform open. You may then proceed to the train, via the moving walkways or the lifts. Announcements are made in English, French and, at most stations, Flemish.
N.B. In London two trains to different destinations are often boarding at the same time. Double check that you are getting on the right one.
Eurostar trains seat up to 750 people in 18 carriages. Carriages 1-5 and 14-18 are Standard class, carriages 7-12 are Standard Premier and Business Premier class, carriages 6 and 13 are buffet cars. All Eurostar seats are assigned and your carriage and seat number will be printed clearly on your ticket.
Carriage numbers are marked both on the platform and with an electronic display on the carriages themselves (by the doors). It is a good idea to walk along the platform to your carriage as Eurostar trains are extremely long, and it can be extremely hard work to make your way through the busy train, especially with luggage.
Once on board in the correct carriage, find your reserved seat - seat numbers are marked above the seats. It is relatively common for people to confuse carriage and seat numbers, so don't be alarmed if you find someone already sitting in your seat. Just ask them to compare tickets with you, or ask the Eurostar staff for assistance. If the carriage and seat numbers on the ticket of the person sitting in your seat are the same as yours, also check their destination - they may have boarded the wrong train! (London only).
Eurostar carriages of all classes are comfortable, modern and relatively spacious, however luggage space can be an issue. There are luggage racks for suitcases and large bags at the end of each carriage, but they tend to fill up quickly. The luggage racks that run the length of the carriages above the seats are useful for smaller bags and coats, but not deep enough for most suitcases or large bags (which may anyway be difficult to lift up and down). Another option is to slide suitcases and bags behind the rows of seats at the end of each carriage (i.e. between the seat backs and the wall), or between the two seat backs in places where seats are back to back. This can be a lifesaver if the carriage-end racks are full.
Eurostar on-board facilities
Eating and drinking
Once your luggage is safely stowed and you have settled comfortably in your seat, your next thought may well be for a drink or something to eat. If you are travelling in Standard Premier or Business Premier class, then you will be well catered for with the at-seat service (see Eurostar travel classes and ticket types for details). In our experience, Eurostar's at-seat meals are good and sometimes excellent, and the service is generally helpful and efficient.
If you are travelling in Standard class food and drink can be purchased from the on-board 'bar-buffets' (located in carriages 6 and 13 and available to passengers travelling in all classes), which sound attractive, but are actually rather utilitarian counters with a small number of standing tables. You'll find the usual selection of hot and cold, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, plus sandwiches, toasties, snacks such as crisps and chocolate bars, and some main meals. Payment can be made in British Pounds or Euros, and credit cards are accepted.
Despite Eurostar's assurances that they use "seasonal produce sourced in the country of departure and Fairtrade products wherever possible", we have always found everything from the coffee to the sandwiches and meals to be a little disappointing and rather overpriced. Much better to buy a sandwich at the station before you board the train, or - best of all - bring along a picnic. There are no restrictions on carrying food or liquids (including small quantities of alcohol) onto Eurostar trains.
Note: If you are departing from London then the Marks & Spencer food store in St. Pancras Station is an excellent option for drinks, sandwiches and snacks. In Brussels Midi/Zuid station there are a number of gourmet chocolate shops and a small supermarket. Paris Gare du Nord offers plenty of choice of baguettes and croissants.
Toilets are located at the end of each carriage. Baby changing facilities are located - somewhat inconveniently - in carriages 1 and 18 only. Note that the toilet flush and water tap are operated by foot pedals.
Wi-Fi, power sockets and mobile reception on board the train
Eurostar trains are not currently Wi-Fi enabled. There are plans to make Wi-Fi available in the refurbished carriages coming into operation in 2012, and in the new fleet of Eurostar trains coming into operation from 2014.
There are power sockets (suitable for both UK and European-style plugs) at all seats in Business Premier and Standard Premier class coaches, and also in standard class coaches 5 and 14.
Mobile phones can, of course, be used on board the Eurostar, and most networks offer good reception all along the route.
A Eurostar journey to London...
Impressions from a journey between Paris or Brussels and London, including notes about the Channel Tunnel and some landmarks to look out for.
Leaving Paris or Brussels...
Eurostar trains at Gare du Nord Station, Paris, France
The Eurostar leaves without fanfare, and so smoothly that you may be taken by surprise. Similar for departures from both Paris Gare du Nord and Brussels Midi/Zuid, the train slips rapidly through the city suburbs and then onto the high-speed lines where it reaches speeds of up to 186mph/300kph. The lines cut through the flat open countryside of Belgium and northern France, past occasional small towns and villages clustered around church steeples. There's nothing to especially hold your attention on the scenery, and you may appreciate having brought a book, magazine, or something to listen to.
Through the Channel Tunnel...
Nearly all Brussels departures make a brief stop in Lille, and some also stop around 30 minutes later in Calais-Fréthun on the French coast, where you may notice the Eurotunnel Shuttle terminal for cars and trucks on the right. Then - similar to the rather stealth departure - the Eurostar suddenly enters the Channel tunnel. If you're reading or otherwise occupied it may take you a while to notice. While the train is in the tunnel, fire safety doors automatically close at the ends of each carriage, however they are not locked or sealed and you are permitted to open them and pass through to the next carriage if you wish to. The maximum speed in the tunnel is approximately 100mph/160khp, so the 31 mile/50km tunnel is traversed in about 20 minutes, during which the concrete walls and occasional lights and doorways into the adjacent service tunnel are all that can be seen. It's really just like travelling at night, and nothing at all to worry about. If you're feeling nervous, remind yourself that around 100 million people have safely made the journey since the service started in 1994.
Although the Channel Tunnel is not quite the longest railway tunnel in the world (the record is currently held by Japan's Seikan Tunnel at 33½ miles/54km in length), the Channel Tunnel does have the world's longest underwater section at 23.5 miles/nearly 40km (the underwater section of the Seikan Tunnel is only 14½ miles/23.3 km).
Just as suddenly as the train entered the tunnel, it rushes out into the sunshine (or otherwise!) of southern England, past the cars and trucks waiting at the Folkestone Eurotunnel terminal, and onto the UK's only high-speed railway line. Just as the train exits the tunnel, see if you can catch a glimpse of the Folkestone White Horse which is cut into the chalk hillside above the line on the right. Here in the county of Kent, the countryside is dotted with villages and small towns. It's an ancient landscape full of moated castle sites, trackways and tumuli, sadly few of which are obvious from the train. Do look out, though, for the characteristic conical roofs of oast houses which are much easier to spot. Your train may make a brief stop at Ashford, an attractive agricultural market town and major rail junction with a handful of Eurostar departures and arrivals per day. After Ashford the train speeds over the Medway Viaduct near the historic town of Rochester, giving panoramic views of the River Medway with its boats and tidal sand flats. In clear weather you might spot Rochester's cathedral and castle in the distance.
London St. Pancras International Station, the terminus of the Eurostar
After crossing the River Medway the scenery becomes more urban as the countryside gives way to commuter towns. Many trains stop at the Eurostar's newest station at Ebbsfleet. There are plans to build a massive white horse sculpture (designed by British artist and Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger), close to Ebbsfleet International Station. Planning permission was granted in 2010, however the project remains extremely controversial and construction has yet to begin. Shortly after Ebbsfleet, the train goes through a tunnel under the River Thames, then passes under the northern approach to the huge Queen Elizabeth II suspension bridge, a major - and often congested - road crossing of the River Thames at Dartford. From here it's just 15 minutes or so to London and the train passes through the city's non-descript Eastern suburbs before finally heading into the tunnel that takes it - via a few seconds of daylight as it passes through the new Stratford Station, built for the 2012 Olympics - under east London to emerge just before the architecturally impressive St. Pancras International station. You have arrived in London.
Travel from Brussels to London in 2 minutes 30 seconds!
Disembarking from the Eurostar
Unless you are in a hurry, you may wish to let others leave the train before you as up to 750 people leaving the train at once can cause brief but severe congestion on the platform. All passport controls have been completed on departure, so you are free to simply head to the exit, via a low-key customs post (although you are no doubt being observed from behind one-way mirrors...) and out into the city.
Other useful Eurostar information
Travelling with children/babies
The good news is that children under four travel free on the Eurostar (on the condition that they share a seat with an adult). The bad news is that children 12 and over must pay adult fare, unless you are able to book the slightly discounted 'youth fares' (see Eurostar ticket prices).
Carriages 1 and 18 (in Standard class) have designated family seating in groups of four and partitions to stop little ones wandering too far. Although you may have to put up with the noise of other people's children, it can be a great relief to be seated here as no one will mind if you have a crying baby or restless toddler! If you have tickets for another carriage then it may be possible to move to carriage 1 or 18 by asking at the information desk in the departure lounge before you board the train (if there are still seats available).
Baby changing facilities are located at the ends of carriages 1 and 18. The bar-buffets sell plenty of child-friendly options, including soft drinks, snacks and sandwiches, and staff will warm baby bottles on request. If you are travelling Standard Premier class then special children's meals can be requested at the time of booking.
Travellers with disabilities/special needs
Each Eurostar train has two wheelchair places in Standard Premier class. Tickets for these places, and a seat for a companion, are available at a very reasonable flat price (see Eurostar ticket prices) and are fully flexible (exchangeable and refundable). There is a wheelchair accessible toilet adjacent to each of the wheelchair places. Staff are available to assist passengers with special requirements and/or mobility issues. Eurostar recommends that travellers with special needs arrive for check-in a minimum of 45 minutes prior to the train's departure time.
With the exception of registered assistance dogs, no pets or animals of any kind are allowed on Eurostar. Assistance dogs are carried free of charge.
Each passenger is permitted a maximum of two medium suitcases (max. length 85cm) and one smaller bag. There is no weight restriction. All luggage must be tagged with your name and address.
Note that the rules are not applied as strictly as on planes, and in practice passengers are generally allowed to carry several smaller bags, particularly if they have just one - or no - suitcase.
A registered baggage service operates between the main Eurostar stations for additional suitcases (up to 30kg in weight) and bulky items such as bicycles and large musical instruments. Fees apply for this service and the baggage will be available for you to collect at the destination within 24 hours.
There is a porter service at the London, Paris and Brussels Eurostar stations. Fees apply. Self-service luggage trolleys are available at all stations.
Unlike most cross border European train links, Eurostar services between Great Britain and mainland Europe retain passport control and customs procedures. It is essential that you have the correct travel documents with you - you will not be permitted to check in without them. EU citizens may present either a passport or a national identity card. All other passengers must present a passport and - if required - a visa (note that entry to France or Belgium on a Schengen visa does not automatically guarantee entry to the UK). Non-EU citizens travelling to the UK are required to complete a declaration card (similar to an airline landing card), including the address where they will be staying.