The conception of the creation of a tunnel under the Channel was initially proposed in 1802. Yet, it was not until almost 200 years later that the Chunnel opened to the general public in November 1994. Despite the original reluctance of the British government over the compromise of national security during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Chunnel as we know it today is the world’s longest undersea tunnel and comprises of 2 parallel train and 1 service tunnel that stretch over 50,45km to connect the island of Great Britain to mainland Europe.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to experience the Standard Premier Class on the Eurostar service between London St Pancras and Paris Gard du Nord. In this post I shall attempt to describe my first impressions and provide you with a few practical tips that can hopefully be of assistance in case you are preparing to travel on this route.
London St Pancras
Having arrived at London St Pancras a solid hour and a half prior to the scheduled departure time gave me enough time to do some exploring in and around the station. Considered by many a London landmark, this station is a spectacular piece of history dating from 1868 and perfectly restored in 2007 with all kinds of shops, cafes and restaurants for you to enjoy. Located on Euston road in the London Borough of Camden, it is the terminus for Eurostar continental services from London to Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Several cross-London, East Midlands, Thameslink and Southeastern train services are provided from here as well. Of course, the station shares a London Underground station with King’s Cross railway station which is located nearby, the King’s Cross St. Pancras station.
From the outside, St Pancras’ beautiful Gothic façade is just stunning. The big archway is the entrance to the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. The other one on the right near the clock tower is the entrance from the forecourt onto the station’s upper level. You can access the latter from the forecourt by walking past the St Pancras Renaissance hotel arch and through the large archway shown on the photo below. Located on this level you can find restaurants and a champagne bar, the statue of John Betjeman, an English poet, writer and broadcaster who fought to save the Euston Arch and another one of an embracing couple (“The Meeting Place”) intended to evoke the romance of travel. You can reach the lower level by stairs, escalators or lifts.
The lower level features the Eurostar departures area and lounge, the main arcade with the domestic ticket office, shops and left luggage office as well as toilets.The station has free Wi-Fi so you can catch up on e-mails and work in general.
Boarding the Eurostar
Unlike any other train operator in Europe, Eurostar operates a check-in system that requires you to check-in at least 30 minutes before departure. This system opens 1-2 hours before each train departs and varies depending on how busy that day is. To check in, place your ticket barcode against the small scanner screen on the automatic ticket gates at the entrance to the departure lounge. Alternatively, you can use a staffed check-in desk, especially in case you want to change your allocated seat.
After the check-in you need to go through an airport-like security check with X-ray and a passport check. If you are travelling from London or Paris you can now use the new automated e-passport gates apart from the traditional staffed passport kiosks. Then, you find yourself inside the departure lounge and the facilities and shops that come with it, having at least 15-20 minutes before departure for you to enjoy.
I did this trip during Christmas so I guess it was a bit busier than usual as you can probably tell from the photos.
On board the Eurostar
Eurostar offers 3 different travel classes: standard, standard premier and business premier. Standard is comfortable, and all seats are equipped with individual reading lights and drop-down tables. Only on the new e320 and refurbished e300 trains is there free Wi-Fi and reclined seats.
The Standard premier provides passengers with first class seating along with a complimentary cold light meal and a round of beverages (including alcoholic ones, too) at their seats. Compared to standard class, standard premier gives you more legroom and wider seats and is well worth the extra money in my opinion.
Business premier, the most expensive of all, uses exactly the same seating as Standard premier but in designated coaches. The primary difference here is that you can enjoy a complimentary hot meal, champagne, wine, beer and soft drinks served at your seat. Free WIFI and individual power sockets are available at every seat.
Arrival in Paris
Having arrived at Paris Gare du Nord on time, I spend a few minutes exploring the station. Built between 1861-1864, the Gare du Nord has been named the busiest station in Europe and the world outside Japan. Platforms are numbered 1-36 and handles all the trains heading north from Paris (to London, Brussels etc). The Eurostar departures terminal to London is on the first floor as is the First-Class lounge. However, only Business Premier passengers are eligible to use the latter.
How to buy tickets from London to Paris?
Adult fares start from £44 one-way in Standard Class, £112 in Standard Premier and £276 in Business Premier.
Railpass holders just need to pay a reservation fee which ranges from 30 EUR for Standard Class to 38 EUR for Standard Premier. Railpass holders cannot travel in Business Premier. Reservations are available on beurope and ACPRail.
Eurostar snap tickets
In 2016 Eurostar decided to launch a budget friendly option for travellers travelling on short notice starting from £25 each way. However, there is a catch; these snap tickets are sold to travellers who don’t mind not knowing which train they will be on within 48 hours of departure. This could mean that you might have to take the first train in the morning (05:40) or even the last train at night depending on which time slot you’ll be allocated. These tickets are primarily focused on filling empty-seats on their trains in order to always ensure full-capacity. Plus, they are only available between main stations (London, Paris, Brussels etc) and not intermediate ones. You can buy these tickets by using this link. Each week new offers are released so make sure that you check on time.
Considered by many one of the biggest projects reflecting and promoting European integration and unity, Eurostar services are for every type of traveller. One thing that remains to be seen whether it will affect those services is Brexit. Under a planned legislation which was published on 12 February 2019, it will give the UK and France time to renegotiate the terms under which the railway service operates. Trains will be permitted to use the Channel Tunnel for three months if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, under a proposed European Commission law.
Yet, recent reports indicate severe delays and cancellations between Paris and London as French customs officials strike over Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding it. It is currently unclear how the situation will develop after Brexit, but we certainly do hope that it won’t cause any damage to the services we all love.
If you have any further questions, check our friendly forum where one of us will be gladly to assist you. Thanks so much for reading this report! 🙂