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Traveling by train through Europe.

 

Lunch in London... Breakfast in Berlin
There's no need to fly from the UK to anywhere in Europe. It's surprisingly easy, quick and comfortable to travel overland by train from London to just about anywhere: Spain, Italy, Greece, Prague, Helsinki, Moscow.

Your carriage awaits. Eurostar links the UK not just with Paris, but with destinations all over Europe.

Travelling by Eurostar


A Eurostar at St Pancras International

Eurostar 1st class

Eurostar 2nd class

Eurostar is the excellent high-speed passenger train from London's St Pancras station to Paris & Brussels through the Channel Tunnel. Most journeys to Europe now start with a trip on Eurostar to Paris or Brussels. All 1st class fares include complimentary drinks and a meal, and all passengers have access to a bar car serving drinks and snacks. Remember that you need to check-in for Eurostar trains at least 30 minutes before departure (10 minutes for passengers with certain types of premium 1st class ticket, 60 minutes for Eurostars to Avignon or the French Alps) to allow for an airline-style security check. Eurostar does not run on Christmas Day.

Changing trains & stations in Paris or Brussels

Changing trains in Paris
Train journeys from the UK into Europe often involve a change of train and station in Paris. Eurostar arrives at the Gare du Nord, which is a short walk from the Gare de l'Est but a metro or taxi ride from the other Paris stations.
If you want to spend some time in Paris, by all means take an earlier Eurostar on the outward journey or a later one on your return. There are left luggage lockers at several Paris rail stations if you need to leave your luggage somewhere.

You can avoid the hassle of crossing Paris when travelling to many French destinations, by changing at Lille.

Changing trains in Brussels.


Brussels Midi station
If you've time to spare between trains,
it's a 25 minute stroll from the station
to the famous Grand Place (Grote Markt) in the city centre.


The main concourse at Brussels Midi station, a subway underneath the tracks.


When arriving by Eurostar at Brussels
to catch an onward train
to Cologne or Amsterdam,
look for the escalators marked 'Sud'.

Brussels Midi station: Eurostar arrives at the main Brussels station, Bruxelles Midi in French, Brussel Zuid in Flemish, Brussels South Stn in English, it's all the same place. After stepping off the Eurostar, you walk past the front of the train off the end of the platforms and down the escalators, exiting the Eurostar terminal onto the main station concourse, which is a rather dark giant subway spanning the width of the station, underneath all the tracks. All long-distance trains use Brussels Midi station, including trains to Amsterdam, Cologne, Paris and all other destinations in Belgium, so changing trains is easy and only takes a few minutes.

Top tip if you're changing onto a Thalys or ICE high-speed train to Cologne or Amsterdam: Instead of following the great mass of passengers slowly off the end of the Eurostar platform, look for the down escalators marked 'Sud' & 'Correspondances' half way along the Eurostar platforms, roughly level with Eurostar coaches 11-14. Nip down these to the South Corridor ('Couloir Sud') which runs underneath the tracks linking all the platforms, quickly check the indicator boards then nip up an escalator again to the right platform for your onward train to Cologne or Amsterdam. Eurostar arrives at platform 1 or 2, Thalys & ICE trains to Cologne & Amsterdam leave from platforms 3, 4, 5 or 6. Using the 'Couloir Sud' saves a useful few minutes compared to walking round via the main concourse if you've a tight connection! Note that this tip doesn't work in the other (towards-London) direction, as you need to check in at the Eurostar terminal off the main concourse, you can't use the South Corridor.

Which platform for your onward train? Eurostar arrives at platforms 1 & 2 on the northwest side of the station, which make up the Eurostar terminal. Look for the indicator boards or TV screens showing train departures, then go up the escalators to the platform indicated for your onward train. Thalys high-speed trains to Cologne & Amsterdam normally leave from platform 5 or 6. The hourly InterCity trains to Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam normally leave from platforms 17, 18 or 19. But always check the indicator boards.

How long to allow for connections: Allow at least 20 minutes to change trains in Brussels on the outward journey. On the return journey, allow at least 40 minutes to change trains, which allows for the 30 minute Eurostar check-in as well as time to change trains. Under international conditions of carriage, if you miss a connection because of a late running train, staff should allow you to take the next departure (assuming there are seats available) even if your ticket is theoretically non-changeable. On inwards journeys back to London, Eurostar staff are reported as pretty good about this.

Station facilities: Brussels Midi has an increasing range of cafes and shops, including a mini-supermarket opposite the exit from the Eurostar terminal to buy food, wine or beer for your onward journey if you want to.

Left luggage: There are left luggage lockers and a staffed left luggage office at Brussels Midi if you want to stash your bags while exploring Brussels. It's open 24 hours, just off the main concourse near the Eurostar terminal.

Restaurants & bars near the station or Grande Place: There are many cafes & bars in or near Brussels Midi. For a taste of Belgian beer whilst in Brussels, try the celebrated Delirium cafe near the Grande Place.

Walking to the city centre: If you want to see a bit of Brussels, it's a 20-25 minute stroll from Brussels Midi station to the famous Grande Place (Grote Markt) in the city centre for some 'moules frites' and perhaps a 'Leffe Brune' beer or two. You can get a free tourist map from the tourist information kiosk in the middle of the station concourse near the exit from the Eurostar terminal. To walk to the city centre, leave the station from the main doors on the Eurostar terminal (platform 1) side of the station, turn right, walk along the side of the station/tracks for a few minutes and then turn left along the Rue Stalingrad to central Brussels. Click here for a map of Brussels. Bus, tram & metro information for Brussels.

Boarding Eurostar in Brussels: When heading back to London by Eurostar, you must check-in 30 minutes before the Eurostar leaves (10 min for certain types of business ticket) by passing through the automatic ticket gates at the entrance to the Eurostar terminal. This is just off the main station concourse underneath platforms 1 & 2. After the check-in gates comes the usual fairly painless X-ray security check then Belgian passport control followed by UK passport control, then you wait in the Eurostar departure lounge (where there's a cafe & bar) until your Eurostar is ready for boarding. Then it's up the escalators or lift to platform 1 or 2 an onto the train for London.

1st or 2nd class?

2nd class is perfectly adequate for most travellers throughout Europe. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe, you don't need to pay for a 1st class ticket to travel in comfort, especially on the fast modern air-conditioned expresses.

Having said that, 1st class travel can be an affordable treat. In the UK, 1st class is priced for business travellers on expense accounts, but in Europe it is normally just 50% more than second class. 1st class rail travel in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe is particularly good value, because their rail fares are so cheap to start with. First class gets you wider seats, more legroom, and fewer passengers per coach. On Eurostar, Spanish fast trains and a few other trains such as Thalys, 1st class fares include at-seat service of food and drink, but these still tend to be the exceptions and unless you're told otherwise, you should assume that a 1st class ticket simply gets you a wider seat with more leg room.

On overnight trains, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class ticket is almost irrelevant, as your comfort depends on the type of sleeping accommodation you pay for: ordinary seat, couchette, or sleeping-car. A 2nd class couchette is more comfortable (and more secure) than a 1st class seat. A 2nd class sleeper is more comfortable than a 1st class couchette.

Travelling overnight

Many long-distance expresses run overnight, a very time-effective and romantic way to travel. Huge distances can be covered while you sleep, using up less daytime time than flying and often saving a hotel bill too. Forget 'first class' & 'second class', on overnight trains your comfort depends on whether you choose an ordinary seat, an economical couchette, or a comfortable berth in the sleeping-car. A 2nd class sleeper is more comfortable than a 1st class couchette!

In a sleeping-car


A typical 2-berth sleeper, berths made up

 The same sleeper,
a sitting room by day

A sleeping-car is the equivalent of a hotel: A cosy bedroom, with comfortable beds, washbasin, and room service. For the daytime parts of a journey, the beds fold away to reveal a sofa. Sleepers come in 1, 2, 3 and (in a few cases) 4-berth varieties, depending on the route, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class ticket, and the price you want to pay. If you are travelling alone and don't want to pay for a 1st class single room, you can normally book just one berth in a 2 or 3-berth room and share with other passengers of the same sex (though this is not possible in Spanish 'gran classe' sleepers). In addition to the normal lock, sleeper compartments have a security lock which cannot be opened from outside, even with a staff key, so you'll be both safe and snug. The most modern sleepers now have CCTV in the corridor, too.

A sleeper typically costs about 35-45 in western Europe or 18-30 in eastern Europe per person per night for a bed in a 3-berth compartment in addition to a 2nd class ticket or railpass. A berth in a 2-berth costs about 40-55 per night in western Europe, 25-35 in eastern Europe, plus either a 1st or 2nd class ticket or railpass depending on the route & type of sleeper. A single room costs around 70-90 per night (50-60 in eastern Europe) and you must normally have a 1st class ticket or railpass. On an increasing number of routes (e.g. Paris to Madrid, Barcelona, Italy, and Brussels to Berlin), good-value inclusive fares are now charged, covering travel, sleeper & breakfast.

In a couchette


Typical 6-berth couchette compartment, with bunks folded out.

A couchette is rail's answer to a youth hostel or 'pensione': Economical and comfortable, it's an ordinary seating compartment for six people by day, with fold-out padded bunks for six people by night, each with sheet, rug & pillow which you arrange yourself. Male and female passengers normally share the same compartment (although there are 'ladies only' compartments on most routes), and apart from removing shoes & jackets, passengers do not normally undress. A berth in a 6-berth couchette compartment costs around 20 euros (18) per berth per night, in addition to a 2nd class ticket or railpass. In addition to the normal lock, couchette compartments have a security lock which cannot be opened from outside, even with a staff key, so you'll be quite safe. On most routes you can pay a higher supplement (about 30 euros or 27) to travel in a less crowded 4-berth couchette compartment, which is well worth the extra cost. 1st class couchettes, with four berths per compartment, are rare - they are basically only operated in France.

More information about travelling in a couchette. For more specific information, if your journey involves a City Night Line sleeper train see the City Night Line page. If your journey involves the 'trainhotels' from Paris to Madrid or Barcelona, see the Spain page. If it involves the 'Artesia' Paris to Italy sleeper trains, see the Italy page. If it involves the Austrian EuroNight sleeper from Cologne to Vienna see the BB EuroNight page.

In a seat
Although it's the cheapest option, travelling overnight in an ordinary seat is a false economy and not recommended however tight your budget, either for comfort or security. Always budget for at least the couchette supplement for a comfortable night's journey. Some trains (French overnight trains, some German overnight trains, some Spanish overnight trains) have reclining seats, but although better than a normal seat they still don't offer the flat berth and safely locked compartment of a couchette or sleeper.

Types of train:

EuroCity.
This is a generic brand name used for Europe's best international daytime expresses. EuroCity trains come in many different forms, but all are fast, modern and air-conditioned, and have refreshments available. In some countries (including Italy but not Switzerland, Germany or Austria), a small supplement is payable in addition to the normal fare to travel, which includes the seat reservation fee.

EuroNight.
This is a generic brand name used for Europe's best international overnight expresses. EuroNight trains come in many different forms, but all are modern and air-conditioned, and have comfortable sleeping accommodation. Morning coffee or tea is normally included in the sleeper or couchette supplement.

TGVs, ICEs, Thalys, InterCity & Talgos.
As well as EuroCity and EuroNight, you will find a whole range of train types in the timetable. Some are particular types of high-speed train, for example TGV, AVE, ICE. Some are just brand names for a particularly fast or high-quality train service for which a small supplement may be payable in addition to the normal fare. Others indicate a train service run by a special consortium of national rail operators, for example 'Thalys' is a company set up by the French, Belgian, German and Dutch national rail companies to run the Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam/Cologne high speed trains, and 'TGV-Lyria' is the consortium of the French and Swiss set up to run the Paris-Switzerland high-speed trains. Many of these branded trains have their own fare structure, and require railpass holders to pay a supplement or special passholder fare.

Eurostar seating plan with seat numbers
All Eurostar tickets include a specific reserved seat.

Power points for laptops & mobiles, WiFi access...
There are UK and European power outlets (240/110 volts AC) for laptops and mobiles in all Eurostar 1st class cars and in 2nd class cars 5 & 14. Other 2nd class cars do not have power outlets. WiFi internet access on board the trains is still in development and not yet available, but there's WiFi internet access at St Pancras International station for everyone, free of charge. WiFi access at Paris & Brussels is also available, but needs to be paid for. Top tip: Take a Power Monkey universal backup battery with you when you travel. This gives up to 96 hours phone stand-by when your phone's battery dies and similarly recharges iPods, PDAs and some cameras. Highly recommended!

Luggage on Eurostar...
Unlike travelling by air, you don't check in your bags when travelling by Eurostar. You keep them with you, placing small or medium size bags on the luggage racks above your head and larger items on the big suitcase racks at the end of the coach just inside the entrance doors. Also unlike air travel, there's no weight limit, so you can pretty much take what you like. Just remember that you will have to carry it! However, in theory there's a limit of two large items per passenger, plus a smaller bag. Also remember that as of March 2007, all bags taken onto Eurostar must have a label showing your name and surname. Eurostar offer a checked baggage service for extra large items, which costs extra.

Luggage lockers in London, Paris & Brussels
London St Pancras has a left luggage office run by the Excess Baggage Company, where you can deposit items here for 8 per item for the first 24 hours, then 4 for each of the next 24 hour periods. Open 06:00-22:00 Monday-Saturday, 07:00-22:00 Sunday. Bags are X-rayed before deposit.

Paris Gare du Nord has left luggage lockers ('consigne' in French) downstairs under the main concourse just off the end of the Eurostar platforms. Open 06:15 to 23:15 daily. At the Gare du Nord and other stations in Paris, expect to have your bags X-rayed before entering the locker area. In Paris, a small locker costs 4.50 euros, a back-pack or suitcase-sized locker around 7.50 euros for 24 hours, and a larger locker for two backpacks around 9.50 euros. There's a change machine which can convert 10, 20 or 50 euro banknotes into the coins needed for the lockers.

Brussels Midi has both luggage lockers and a staffed left luggage facility near the Eurostar check-in and Thalys reception. Both are open 24 hours a day, the staffed facility costs 3.80 euros per item per calendar day, the three sizes of lockers cost 3 euros, 3.50 euros, 4 euros per 24 hours.

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. If you're travelling with young children in 2nd class, ask for a family area seat - this is at the end of the train in cars 1 and 18, with seats around tables where children can play . Eurostar has baby-changing facilities in cars 1 & 18, at each end of the long 18-car Eurostar train. These are 2nd class cars, a long walk from the 1st class in the centre of the train, especially when carrying a gently dripping baby! The baby changing rooms have sink, soap, changing table and disposable changing table covers. Bar car staff will heat baby bottles if asked.

Travellers with disabilities on Eurostar
Eurostar can provide assistance to passengers with special needs travelling from London to Paris, Lille or Brussels. If you are confined to a wheelchair, there are wheelchair spaces and wheelchair-friendly toilets on each Eurostar train. There are also special fares for people travelling in wheelchairs and a travelling companion. Electric-powered scooters can also be carried, subject to some maximum dimensions, in the baggage area.

 

Get travel insurance
Never travel without travel insurance from a reliable insurance company it should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings. An annual policy is usually cheaper than several single trip policies even for travel only 2 or 3 times a year.

You can purchase a travel insurance policy through us

I obtained most of the information for this page on http://www.seat61.com/Europe.htm