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Eurostar is a high-speed train service connecting London with Paris and Brussels. All Eurostar trains traverse the Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France, owned and operated by Eurotunnel.
The main London terminal is St Pancras International, with the other British calling points being at Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International in Kent. Calling points in France are Calais-Fréthun and Lille-Europe, with the main Paris terminal being Gare du Nord. Eurostar has become the dominant operator in cross-channel intercity passenger travel on the routes that it operates, carrying more passengers than all airlines combined.
Eurostar offers seventeen weekday London - Paris services (with twenty on Fridays) including six non-stop (eight on Fridays), and eleven London - Brussels services including three running non-stop. In addition, there is one daily round-trip London – Disneyland Paris and two seasonal services: from July to September a weekly London – Ashford - Avignon service, and in the winter twice-weekly "snow trains", aimed at skiers, to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Aime-la-Plagne and Moûtiers in the Alps; one runs overnight and the other is a daytime round-trip. See the current timetables.
Intermediate stations are Ebbsfleet International in northwest Kent, Ashford International in southeast Kent, and Calais-Fréthun and Lille-Europe in northern France.
Eurostar fares from London to Paris or Brussels start at from just £39 one-way or £69 return in 2nd class, that is assuming you book in advance. In 1st class (Standard Premier) fares start at £107 one-way and £189 return. It’s highly advised to book well in advance (you can book up to a maximum of 120 days before departure) as just like airline fares, the Eurostar tickets will increase as the cheaper seats are sold.
It’s also a good idea to avoid travelling on Friday or Sunday afternoon trains when there are fewer cheap seats, and try not to purchase a ticket on the day of travel unless you have to. A ticket bought in advance might be £39, whereas a ticket bought on the day could cost anywhere between £140 and £179.
If you’re feeling a bit fancy, you can always travel in first class (Business Premier), and enjoy benefits such as guaranteed faster check-ins, meals served at your seat, as well as the improved furnishings and interior of Business Premier carriages.
It’s important to note that cheaper fares are non-changeable, non-refundable. Make sure you check the fares & train times at prior to paying.
Without the operation of Regional Eurostar services using the North of London trainsets across the rest of Britain, Eurostar has developed its connections with other transport services instead, such as integrating effectively with traditional UK rail operators' schedules and routes, making it possible for passengers to easily use Eurostar as a quick connection to further destinations on the continent. All three main terminals used by the Eurostar service – St Pancras International, Paris Gare du Nord, and Brussels Midi/Zuid – are heavily served by domestic trains and by local urban transport networks such as the London Underground and the Paris Metro.
Standard Eurostar tickets no longer include free onward connections to or from any other station in Belgium: this is now available for a flat-rate supplement, currently £5.50.
Controls and security
Because the UK is not part of the Schengen Area, and because Belgium and France are not part of the Common Travel Area, all Eurostar passengers must go through border controls. Both the British Government and the Schengen governments concerned (Belgium and France) have legal obligations to check the travel documents of those entering their respective countries (as well as those leaving, in the case of Belgium and France).
There is also a full security check similar to those at airports, scanning both bags and people's pockets. Security checks at Eurostar are comparable to those at a small airport and generally very much quicker than at London Heathrow. The recommended check-in time is 30 minutes except for business class where it is 10 minutes. The reason for having full security check is special UK legislation for the tunnel.
Eurostar passengers travelling inside the Schengen Area (mainly from Brussels to Lille, but also from Brussels to Calais) are also checked by UK Border Agency within Belgian territory, since there is no way of separating them out from Brussels–London passengers.
On board the Eurostar
There are three classes on Eurostar trains:
■ Standard class (2nd class). Standard class passengers have access to the two cafe-bar carriages, or may bring their own food & drink on board.
■ Standard Premier (1st class for personal travel). Standard Premier offers first class seating with more affordable but inflexible fares for upmarket leisure travellers, or budget-conscious business travellers. These tickets are non-changeable & non-refundable, there's a 30-minute minimum check-in and no access to executive lounges. A complimentary cold tray meal and one round of alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks are served at your seat
■ Business Premier (1st class for business travel). This class offers fully-flexible & refundable tickets, access to executive lounges at stations and only a 10 minute minimum check-in. The fare includes a complimentary hot airline-style meal, champagne, wine, beer & soft drinks served right at your seat. Ooh la la!
Food & drink on Eurostar
Everyone has access to two bar cars which are located in cars 6 & 13. They serve tea, coffee, hot chocolate, beer, wine, spirits, sandwiches, crisps and a hot snacks and accept credit cards as well as cash. You’re allowed to eat and drink in the bar area (there are no seats, so it’s standing only) so most people prefer to return to their seats. You’re more than welcome to bring your own food and drink on board the Eurostar and perhaps even a bottle of wine.
The Business Premier includes a complimentary hot 3-course meal served with champagne and wine. Standard Premier includes a simple cold tray meal and one round of free alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. See the Eurostar food available.
Tips for choosing your seat
All Eurostar tickets include a specific reserved seat; however you might want to pick your own seat once you have purchased your ticket. Here’s some handy tips for choosing the best seats on Eurostar:
■ If you want a power outlets choose cars 5 or 14 in standard class. In first class, all cars have these.
■ If you're travelling with small children, book seats in cars 1 or 18 (standard class) as these are near the baby-changing room, and are at each end of the train so have less people walking through them to the bar. These cars have lots of bays of 4 seats which are much better suited for families.
■ If you're travelling as a group of 3 or 4 people, choose seats around a table as opposed to airline-style pairs which all face the same direction – it’s much more sociable that way!
■ If you're a couple in first class, choose a pair of seats facing across an intimate table-for-two.
■ If you've a tight connection in Paris or Brussels book a seat at the front of the Eurostar (somewhere in coach 17 or 18), as you'll get off the platform ahead of everyone else and with less of a walk.
There are UK and European power sockets (240/110 volts AC) in all Eurostar 1st class cars and in 2nd class cars 5 & 14. Other 2nd class cars do not have power outlets, so make sure you book seats in car 5 or 14 if you need one.
There is currently no WiFi internet access on board Eurostar trains; however it is expected to be availbe after the refurbished between 2013 and 2014. In the meantime, there's WiFi access at St Pancras International station for everyone, free of charge. WiFi access at Paris & Brussels is also available, but must be paid for.
Unlike flying, you are not required to check in your bags on the Eurostar – nor is there a weight limit. Instead, all luggage is either kept with you or leave larger items on the suitcase racks at the end of the coach just inside the entrance doors. It is; however, compulsory that you label your bags with your full name. Check out the complete Eurostar luggage information.
Children & babies
Unlike airlines, children under 4 go free on Eurostar, and a special child fare applies to children from 4 to 11 inclusive. Children 12 & over travel at the youth fare. All children under 12 must travel accompanied by an adult, and unaccompanied children from 12 to 16 require a consent form signed by their parent or guardian.