Eurostar Between St Pancras London and Gare du Nord Paris Review
Eurostar is the highspeed train service connecting London to Paris and Brussels via the Channel Tunnel under the English Channel. First opened in 1994 and now carrying over 9 million passengers a year, Eurostar is the most popular method for moving between England and France.
Services and Travel Time
Eurostar operates between 17 to 20 services a day between the two capitals and with additional services to Paris Disneyland and Brussels, there is bound to be a train service to suit your travel schedule. The train can reach speeds of 300km/hr (186m/hr) and the average speed for the trip is usually in excess of 170km/hr (105m/hr). Eurostar runs a set of non-stop services between London and Paris that take 2hr 15 minutes, with services with additional stops in England and France taking 2hr 40 minutes. All services to and from London are from the St Pancras International Train Station, which is also part of the London Tube network allowing passengers to connect to and from local London services. Gare du Nord Station serves as the Eurostar station in Paris and like its London counterpart, is also connected to the local train system (RER).
Security, Border Control and Luggage Control.
All passengers are required to have a valid passport for journeys between London and Paris on Eurostar. When leaving London from St Pancras, there is no UK border control to pass through. There is a metal detector, but it doesn't seem to be set to the same level as at airports, I was allowed through the scanner with shoes and belt on. Suitcases and other baggage are passed through a separate X-Ray machine. French border control officials are situated in the London terminal, you do your passport check there and pass through to the waiting area. Once at Gare du Nord, having already passed border control back in London, there are no formal security checks and you are free to leave the station and enter Paris.
Unlike their counterparts in the UK, the French authorities check that you leave the country. While in line to pass through French Border Control, non-European Union citizens will need to fill out a white UK landing card. They are available in the queuing area but pens are limited so it's a good idea to bring you own. Once through French Border Control, the UK Border Control is about 10 metres away, which causes a significant backup as it takes longer for the UK officials to process people entering their country then it takes for the French to process people leaving. In truth it's a very poor setup. Once past the UK officials, it's a similar setup as in London with a metal detector and X-ray machine for baggage. Once back in London, there are no formal check points to proceed through, though customs inspectors are watching departing passengers and may ask to see items being bought into the country.
Although there is passport control and security in both terminals to pass through, they are far quicker and less invasive then passport and security checks at airports. I was completely done in less than 5 minutes from start to finish at St Pancras and 20 minutes at Gare du Nord, and that was on a Friday afternoon at 5pm with 3 trains departing for London in a 35 minute window.
Facilities at St Pancreas Station, London
St Pancreas International has undergoing significant renovations to become the London host of the Eurostar service since 2008, taking over from the much older Waterloo Station. It's a beautiful, modern train station, with a lot of glass and natural light. In the departure waiting area, free Wi-Fi is provided as well as a selection of small stores and cafes, selling coffees, snacks, magazines and other sundry items. Teller machines are available dispensing notes in both Pounds and Euros. The bathroom and toilet facilities are clean, modern and free. Seating is as you would expect in a modern train station, plastic but clean and serviceable.
Facilities at Gare du Nord Station, Paris
Gare du Nord is a much older station and is certainly grittier then St Pancras, but it has history and charm on its side. A similar selection of cafes and sundry stores are available to purchase small items, though the cafes across the road are recommended for anything beyond a light snack. There is no free Wi-Fi and the seating is plastic but serviceable. Toilet and bathroom facilities are not free, you will be charged 70 Euro cents to use these facilities in the main station and the station is patrolled by French Military officers brandishing machine guns. The station seems to have a high population of beggars, though they are left behind the security points by the time you reach the departure area.
On The Train
The trains are modern and clean but in economy class they have not gone out of their way to make the inside appear stylish. There are racks above the seats to hold parcels and backpacks, with additional space at the end of each cabin for large suitcases, with each passenger allowed 2 suitcases plus smaller carry on style luggage. Leg room is not the greatest in economy class, it is about airline standard in cabins with seating configurations where all the seats face the same way. In cabins where 2 sets of seats face each other, I hope you are on good terms with the person across from you as there is next to no leg room without being able to invade their personal space. It is fine if you are friends with the person across from you and you can both stretch your legs under the other person's seat. Otherwise your legs will be aching by the time you reach your destination and therefore I highly recommend that if you are travelling by yourself, get a seat in a cabin where the seats are all forward facing. Toilet facilities are available for free in each cabin.
For a train that will travel at speeds of up to 300km/hr during your trip, the ride is amazing smooth, much smoother then the subway system in New York or the Tube in London. I can get a little nausea on trains and had no problem with the Eurostar. There is no complimentary food or drinks service on board, though there are two dining carts where food and drinks can be purchased. The large windows offer a full view of the passing country side, though truth be told, there isn't that much to look at. It usually takes 19 minutes to clear the Channel Tunnel, where it is pitch black outside of the train but all cabin lights stay on.
The Eurostar is undoubtedly the easiest, quickest and generally the cheapest method to travel between London and Paris. Although the commute time flying is shorter, by the time you factor in getting to the airports which are on the outskirts of their respective cities, getting there at least 90 minutes early to clear security, waiting around for your flight, collecting your baggage and then getting into the city at the other end, it is far, far quicker and less stressful to catch the Eurostar. Although the amount of leg room could be improved, it's no worse than on a plane and the additional baggage allowance and being near the heart of these two wonderful cities make catching the Eurostar an easy choice.
If you are looking for recommendations for fun activities to do in Pairs, read my review of Dinner at the Eiffel Tower at Tower 58 Restaurant