- Eurostar connects London with mainland Europe with a fleet of high-speed trains that utilize the Channel Tunnel.
- Trains reach a top speed of 186 miles (299km) per hour and offer three classes of service.
- The journey time between London and Paris is a mere two hours and 16 minutes.
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As a train enthusiast, Eurostar has always been near the top of my list of rail services to take.
From its London terminus, travelers can be in European capitals such as Paris, Brussels, or Amsterdam in just a matter of hours.
Making these journeys possible is the Channel Tunnel, affectionately known as the “Chunnel,” that connects the UK with mainland Europe.
Without it, travelers looking to cross the English Channel would have to fly or take a boat.
During a recent trip to the UK, I finally took Eurostar between London to Paris. Here’s what it was like.
I arrived at London’s St. Pancras International Station at around 7 a.m. for the 8:01 a.m. train to Paris. France had just opened to the UK a few days prior and the excitement was palpable.
St. Pancras International is one of the many rail stations that serve London and is known primarily for Eurostar trains to mainland Europe.
On the upper level, a thick and clear glass wall separates the platforms from the rest of the station. For all intents and purposes, those platforms might as well have been in France considering the only way for passengers to access them would be by going through French passport control.
On the main level, it wasn’t hard to find the Eurostar check-in area and I was surprised to see so few people lining up.
My tickets were emailed to me – with Apple Wallet functionality – but I still got paper copies from one of the many self-serve kiosks available.
With my ticket, passport, and vaccination card in hand, I made my way to departures. But there was one more thing I needed to do, fill out a sworn statement attesting to my ability to travel to France as a vaccinated traveler.
Once done, I could move on to the next phase: the security checkpoint. I was only halfway through the process and this was the first time I had to go through security to take a train.
Next came UK Border Police who would be checking my documents as I left the country.
Finally, the French Border Police inspected my documents at passport control. The question “are you vaccinated?” replaced “what is the purpose of your visit?” and with the stamp of a passport, I was on my way.
For all intents and purposes, I was in France. This part of France, however, was a packed waiting room in the middle of London.
Business class passengers receive access to a private lounge. But standard and standard premier passengers only have chairs, a duty-free store, and a few shops to entertain during the wait.
Boarding began around 20 minutes before departure. There was no reason to rush onto the train as all seats were pre-assigned; though, some still felt the need to be first.
My train to France was operated by a Siemens British Rail Class 374 high-speed train. It spans more than 1,000 feet (304.80m) in length.
A total of 16 cars comprised the train with business premier class, standard premier class, and standard class.
I walked what felt like a half-mile to get to my coach but that was strategic as the closer to the front of the train I was, the closer I’d be to the exit in Paris. For this leg, I was riding in standard premier class, the Eurostar version of premium economy.
A porter was waiting to check tickets at the door to my coach. I climbed onboard and was immediately impressed with the train.
A literal red carpet covered the floor into the coach complete with sliding glass automatic doors. I had never seen anything like this in the US.
Seats in the cabin were arranged in a 1-2 configuration compared to the 2-2 configuration in standard class and 1-1 configuration of business class.
I arrived at my seat, 65, and settled in for the quick journey to France.
I chose the table seat because I love the aesthetic of paired seats surrounding a table on a train.
Seats in this cabin came with power outlets, storage slots, and personal reading lights. They also recline for additional comfort.
The coach was moderately full with a surprising number of small children traveling with families.
We pulled out of the station at exactly 8:01 a.m. for the two-hour and 16-minute journey to Paris. Amtrak’s Acela can’t even go from New York to Washington, DC that quickly.
I knew this wasn’t going to be the average train ride when I heard one of the conductors say “good morning, dear passengers” over the public announcement system.
Most of the first 15 minutes were spent in tunnels underneath London but I could feel the train’s acceleration. The top speed on this run is 186 miles (299km) per hour.
Soon enough, we were blazing across the English countryside bound for Dover, where we’d enter the Chunnel.
Train managers were introduced by name over the PA. “It is our pleasure to assist you in any way we can,” one said.
Free WiFi was available on the train and worked perfectly all the way to Paris, even in the tunnel.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t much in terms of a view from where I was sitting. Amtrak might actually have the advantage here.
A meal was included in the price of my standard premier ticket, and attendants came around to serve breakfast just before we entered the Chunnel.
Breakfast consisted of a croissant, bread roll, yogurt, water, and a selection of coffee and tea.
Everything was tasty and there were no complaints from me on that front. It wasn’t much of an offering but this train ride is only scheduled for two hours and 16 minutes.
The biggest disappointment, however, was the crud on the cutlery and cups. They clearly hadn’t been washed properly and it turned me off from using them.
I couldn’t believe the speed at which we were traveling. It wasn’t even 25 minutes into the ride that we were halfway to Dover.
We approached the Chunnel and the views of the countryside quickly changed. Large fencing surrounded the tracks as we slowed down on our approach to the tunnel.
Then, with no warning, the view went black and we were heading to a depth of 75 meters. I don’t know why but I expected the tunnel to be illuminated throughout.
The WiFi was still working wonderfully as I finished my movie as attendants offered refills of tea and coffee. There’s not much in terms of entertainment options besides the WiFi but that’s par for the course on trains.
I walked around the train and discovered the cafe car, known as the Cafe Metropole.
The selection was quite extensive and I thought the prices were reasonable.
We emerged from the Chunnel in Calais, France in under 30 minutes. And to be honest, I didn’t feel the least bit nervous about the crossing.
The side of the Chunnel was similarly well-fortified.
Around an hour and 15 minutes remained until arriving in Paris. The views of the French countryside were markedly better than those of the English.
I knew we were getting close to Paris when I started seeing Air France planes taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
We pulled into Paris’ Gare du Nord exactly on time with a journey time of two hours and 16 minutes.
After alighting in Paris, we were free to walk right into the station as if we were getting off of a commuter train. Some passengers had their bags checked by customs but the majority walked right into Paris.
I personally couldn’t believe how quick the journey was and that I was in Paris after only two hours of traveling. It felt like a different world from London.
The ride back was similarly smooth and enjoyable. The same customs and security checks were performed at Gare du Nord, except in reverse.
This time, however, I was seated in standard class. Seats in the cabin are arranged in a 2-2 configuration and I once again chose the table seat.
Eurostar’s seat map does say where the windows are to avoid getting a windowless seat but I clearly misread the map. It was no issue, however, as I could still see out of the expansive window above the table.
Seats are also assigned for this cabin and non-table seats have their own tray tables. There’s no meal service whatsoever so the only option is Cafe Metropole.
Back once more through the Chunnel, we arrived back in London at St. Pancras International on time. I was admittedly jealous we don’t have these types of trains anywhere in the US.
America might very well be unstoppable if we had these trains connecting our largest cities as fast as they do in Europe.
There were no passport checks but passengers did have to walk through a customs channel. And just like that, I was back in London.