2/4/19

You want to go to mainland Europe but you don’t want to sit in a horrible plane, polluting the environment, paying full fare for your 3 year old, paying extra for checking in, having luggage, going to the toilet etc. And the idea of taking the ferry and adding to your exhaustion (and pollution) by driving doesn’t grab you either.  It’s got to be Eurostar. Eurostar trains run to Paris, Brussels and Lille (and occasionally a few other places). From these three places you can get ongoing trains to or near any destination in mainland Europe.

Eurostar trains run very frequently from London St Pancras.  You can get there fairly easily from Lewes either by going to Victoria and taking the tube or by changing to First Capital Connect services at Haywards Heath or East Croydon.  For some time to come there will be engineering works on First Capital Connnect Services in London, so Victoria may be best at weekends.  You have to check in at your Eurostar station half an hour before the train leaves, so you need to leave Lewes about two and a quarter to two and a half hours before the Eurostar goes.

But some trains pick up and set down at Ashford (although hardly any to or from Brussels) and there is a train service  from Lewes to Ashford.

You must check in half an hour before departure on Eurostar services.

There is no extra charge for any reasonable amount of luggage.

GETTING THE BEST TICKETS

If you are not sure about the whole business you can get an agent to book the whole thing for you. One agent is Ffestiniog Travel This will not get you the very cheapest prices, but cuts out the work.

If you are just going to Lille, Paris, or any station in Belgium, book with Eurostarwww.eurostar.com

Like airlines, Eurostar prices tend to be cheaper the earlier you book in advance.  Booking opens four months before the date of travel.www.eurostar.com Not surprisingly weekend tickets sell out first.  Tickets to Paris sell out before those to Lille or Belgium and tickets from London are easier to get because there are more trains. If you can’t get the fare you want and you are booking accommodation you may find it cheaper to book the accommodation and the train together through one of the many agencies that offers short break holidays.

Eurostar pricing policy varies from time to time, but in 2018 their cheapest tickets required that you booked a return ticket, starting and finishing in the same English terminal (i.e. St Pancras, Ashford or Ebbsfleet. These tickets only seem to be available direct from Eurostar.  If you are thinking of booking with another company, check if their

Further Afield

No one should plan a train journey abroad without consulting www.seat61.com which tells you all you need to know about train travel and was the inspiration for Travel Log Lewes.  They have recommendations for the best ways to book tickets for journeys in Europe  

Most European tickets can only be booked up to 3 months in advance.

Fares to St Pancras or Ashford

You can book tickets on the British Eurostar web site which start at certain selected stations (The nearest one to us is Brighton) but only to destinations directly served by Eurostar.  For example you can book Brighton to Paris.  All these tickets are routed via St Pancras.  It may be cheaper than buying two separate tickets.  You can travel via Victoria or via First Capitlal Connect.

A further advantage is that when you book international rail tickets that involve a change of trains en-route, if you miss your connection the train companies have to put you on the next train which has vacant seats, even if your reservation is for a specific train.  So if you have a through ticket from Brightonto Paris and you miss your Eurostar because the Southern train was late, you will be put on the next available train.

You can buy tickets from Lewes to St Pancras CIV.  (You cannot buy them to Ashford) The significance of a CIV ticket is that if your Southern train is delayed and you miss your Eurostar connection you can get on the next available Eurostar.  Make sure that your ticket is for St Pancras CIV, not just St Pancras.  If you book your tickets to St Pancras with the same company that you book your Eurostar ticket (for example Eurostar or Loco2) then you can get a CIV ticket at the same time.

But otherwise, you must buy them from a staffed station.  In theory you must take your Eurostar ticket along, but they do not always check.  I am not sure that I have been offered the cheapest price when buying these tickets at Lewes station.

Sleepers

There are still sleepers from Paris to a number of destinations, including the Pyrennees and the coast south west of Perpignion.  They are more like youth hostels on wheels, but cost from £30 for a single trip, including the bed and the transport.

There are also sleepers acros Spain to Portugal and to Austria from a variety of European distinations.

Ashford issues

These days there are not many Eurostar trains that stop at Ashford, so there is less choice and the trains may be more expensive than from St Pancras.  Worse, to get there along the coast you must change at either Eastbourne or Hastings.  There are no CIV tickets so you may worry that you will miss your connection.   Since early 2018 there have been problems with the latest Eurostar trains calling at Ashford.  So the stop there is often cancelled at short notice, with travellers being told to go via Ebbsfleet and get a local train back. Travelling via St Pancras may be better.

Alternatives to Eurostar

Travelling by train to Europe you are likely to go through one of two hubs, Brussels or Paris.  The only real alternative to Eurostar to Brussels is a long distance coach.  To Paris you could take the boat from Newhaven (see the ferries section)