The Eurostar is the train running from London to Paris and Brussels and back under the English channel. It is an extremely cool and quick train ride. Travel on the Eurostar from London to Paris requires a separate ticket from any Eurail pass you may have, but some Eurail passes will give you discount Eurostar tickets. Learn more:
Where does it go?
The Eurostar runs from London to Paris or Brussels in under 2.5 hours and back, and may stop at Lille, Calais and Ashford. (Take it to Brussels and get a single train ticket
from there to Amsterdam for an easy London-Amsterdam trip, too.) Your Eurostar ticket nets a free ride from anywhere in Belgium to the main Midi Brussels train station (a station we're not crazy about -- be careful here) within 24 hours of the Eurostar's departure or arrival. In London, it used to arrive at Waterloo station
but now goes to St. Pancras
(both are easy tube rides
to central London or a good London hostel
). Check out a Eurostar map
Where can I get Eurostar tickets?
You can buy Eurostar tickets online
before you leave the US (up to four months before travel), and it's not a bad idea -- the train does fill up fast. Your ticket includes a seat reservation, just like an airplane -- and has many of the same restrictions (crummy refund policy, etc.). You may get a Eurostar voucher with your Eurail pass
if you're getting one for your European trip -- after you've chosen a Eurail pass, check the details.
How much do Eurostar tickets cost?
A one-way youth flexi voucher (below) bought in advance from the US is about $100 or less. A round trip youth ticket bought under restrictions at the station is a bit over $100, and full fare, full boat tickets are about $200 each way. Your Eurail pass
cover a trip on this train; check the details after you buy a Eurail pass, though -- you may be getting a cool deal on a youth flexi voucher, though, depending on pass and season.
What's a Eurostar youth flexi voucher?
Youth flexi vouchers are discount Eurostar tickets good for 60 days; you must be under 26 to get one (learn more about how to get student travel discounts
!). It may come with your Eurail pass (see just above). The voucher can be exchanged for a ticket at a London Waterloo train station
window, in the Paris Gare du Nord train station or at the Brussels Midi station near the Eurostar terminal.
What's check in like?
You check in to a Eurostar train similarly to the way you check in for an airplane flight
in the US, except you can carry whatever gels and liquids
your heart desires. Arrive about 45 minutes before departure. You'll go through security and your stuff will go through an x-ray. You're supposed to limit your baggage to two big carry ons (your backpack is ok) and one small carry on. You will need to show a landing card on the way into the UK from the EU (more on that below). You'll get your passport stamped.
What documents will I need?
This train does travel within the EU (European Union), with stops at Lille and Calais, France; if you stay within the EU, you need just a passport and ticket. If traveling from the EU to the UK (United Kingdom), like London to Paris, complete a landing card before you get to Eurostar check-in. Landing cards are just a piece of paper which you'll find at desks in front of the Eurostar check-in area at the Paris or Brussels train station. Fill one out and have it ready when you get in line to check in. UK immigration staffs check-in -- show 'em your ticket, passport and landing card.
What's it like onboard?
Man, this is a comfy ride. Trains are well appointed, and seats are very comfy -- plug in laptops or phones with an international adaptor
(get a multi country adaptor before you go to Europe!). T-Mobile offers expensive and sketchy internet access. You can get meals all day in the dining area, and you can smoke in the bar/coffee area.
Is there another way to cross the English Channel?
Sure -- if you don't want to (or don't want to pay the fare) take the Eurostar, you can take ferries across the English channel and, of course, you can fly. Europe has some awesomely cheap budget airlines, like easyJet and Ryanair, which land at off-the-beaten-path airports that may suit backpackers just fine. Learn more: