What’s the Best Way to Travel from London to Paris? An Investigation

street facade of hotel emile in paris

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It’s a truly pressing question: What’s the best way to travel from London to Paris?

I’ll tell you what is not the best way to travel from London to Paris: driving (unless you need to), cycling (unless you want to) or taking a nine-hour bus. Which pretty much leaves you with Eurostar, or flying.

Paris and London are just over 300 miles/several worlds/one time zone apart. It’s an incredibly quick flight — if you don’t add in all the travel to and from the airport(s) and the rigamarole getting through security. It’s also an incredibly efficient train trip — but often unbelievably expensive (closing in on $500 if you don’t buy in advance).

Each method has big-time pros and cons. This summer, I had the opportunity to fly to London from Paris, and then return by train — which made it easier than ever to compare the two services, which are by far the most popular ways to make the trip. Let’s discuss.

London to Paris by Air: EasyJet

cdg

I always check Eurostar first when I need to go to London from Paris, and generally, I’ll plan my trip around good train fares. This summer, though, I didn’t have a choice — I needed to be in London for two very specific events. The cheapest Eurostar ticket on the day I needed to travel was $400, so…I was not going to do that. Instead, I booked a ticket on EasyJet, a low-cost UK carrier I’ve flown all over Europe. I paid €48 (about $50) on June 12 to travel on July 12, traveling from CDG to London’s Luton airport (a first for me). I traveled by RER B to Charles de Gaulle — an Uber would have likely cost more than my ticket to London. (At Charles de Gaulle, I saw a JetBlue plane for the first time, above, on one of its round-trips a couple weeks after the start of the new service between Paris and JFK.)

best way to travel from london to paris: luton train to london

Getting to London was a piece of cake — but getting from Luton into central London  by train did not go well, as my train was traveling with half as many carriages as it required — it was more crowded than a New York City subway at rush hour and just not convivial. I actually asked for a refund for my $8 train fare out of sheer aggravation. I know that picture looks like a totally normal train ride, but please believe me when I say it was not.

I left my apartment at 6:08 a.m. and arrived at St. Pancras at 11:03 a.m. (12:03 p.m. Paris time), for a total travel time of six hours(!) and a total travel cost of about $73.

Pros: The actual travel experience on the plane was fine — I recommend EasyJet! I’d worried that immigration on the UK side would be overlong, but they’re using those automated gates at Luton and there was literally no one else there, so I flew through. It was relatively cheap — less than half Eurostar — and would have been even cheaper if I’d managed to book farther in advance — EasyJet fares between London and Paris start at £27 (about $32).

Cons: The flight was about 40 minutes, but the total travel time was six hours!! The problems with the train made that longer than it should be, but that’s just a natural effect of so many travel segments: the trip to the Gare du Nord (I walked but otherwise the métro), the RER B, the flight, the train to London — something can go wrong on any of those segments. This, sadly, is not the best way to travel from London to Paris or vice versa. It is just a possibly cheaper one.

Paris to London by Train: Eurostar

gare du nord

I find it hard to remember a time before Eurostar, which debuted in November 1994, with a trip from Waterloo station in London to the Gare du Nord in Paris. (The London station has since changed to St. Pancras). Eurostar also runs to Lille, and from there, to Belgium. In addition, the old Thalys service (from Paris to Amsterdam and Germany) rebranded this summer under the Eurostar umbrella.

It feels impossible to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that the best way to travel from London to Paris was to take a train to Dover, then change to a ferry, and then get on another train to Paris. Of course, you can still do the trip that way today, but it’ll take the better part of a day. The Eurostar service is about 2 hours and 20 minutes — a miracle, basically.

Traveling by Eurostar entails much of the same security measures as you’ll find at the airports: At both the Gare du Nord (seen above) and St. Pancras, you’ll enter a dedicated space for Eurostar service, first checking in through automated gates (where you’ll scan your boarding pass) and then going through security. You’ll go through immigration on both sides on departure — meaning that if you’re leaving from the Gare du Nord, you’ll go through UK immigration before getting on the train. This means that when you arrive at St. Pancras, there’s no wait — you’ll just walk out of the station and get on your way.

I paid $168 for a one-way ticket for travel on July 14, which I purchased on June 24 (about three weeks in advance).

I arrived at St. Pancras at 7 p.m. (an hour before departure) and arrived home at 11:32 p.m., for total travel time of 3 hours and 30 minutes — and that total is again inflated because I walked home from the station; if I’d taken the métro or grabbed a cab, the total travel time would have been just about three hours — half the plane trip.

Pros: Eurostar is easy, even when the trains are sold out, which mine was. I love St. Pancras — there’s a bunch of great shops there, including a Joe & the Juice, a Hatchards books, a Jo Malone, a Neal’s Yard Remedies, a Reiss, a WH Smith, and a Marks and Spencer for last-minute snacks. (The Gare du Nord is not a bad train station, but St. Pancras, désolée, is better.)

One major, major pro — so major it deserves its own paragraph — is that there are no weight limits on luggage on Eurostar, and even standard tickets include two pieces of luggage and a single piece of hand luggage(!). And to repeat: There are not weight limits! Or limits with liquids. Given the astronomical fees for stowed luggage on low-cost air carriers, this might be enough on its own to make a train ticket more economical than a (seemingly) cheap flight. (Here’s the official Eurostar rules.)

Cons: Last-minute fares are bananas. The post-security areas in both St. Pancras and the Gare du Nord are terrible — I don’t understand why both stations have such terrible waiting areas, when they have several hundred people captive there for hours every day. Did I mention that fares get extremely high?

Fast Facts About the Best Way to Travel From London to Paris!

How long is the train from London to Paris?
About two hours and twenty minutes, either way. Note that obviously with the time zone change, it’s “quicker” from Paris to London, since you get an hour back when you move into British time. (Officially, it’s 2:16 at best, and 2:37 at worst.)

How much is the train from London to Paris?
Officially the base Standard fare is €44. I’ve seen last-minute summer tickets for nearly ten times that — it really does pay to book in advance if you can.

Which train station in London goes to Paris? 
St. Pancras.

Which train station in Paris goes to London?
The Gare du Nord.

How much should I pay for a Paris to London train ticket?
Personally, I hope to pay around $100 — under that, and I’ve gotten a steal. Much more (say, over $150) and I start looking at flights, or changing my travel dates.

When taking the Eurostar train from Paris to London, can you see any countryside?
This is my favorite question. The answer is — sort of. You’re in France much longer than you’re in the UK, and the countryside between Paris and the Channel is — I actually love it, but it’s a little low-key. Rolling hills and fields and that sort of thing. Relative to train trips to the south of France (or, for that matter, in the more rural parts of the UK), it’s a little unimpressive — relative to train trips through, say, the Northeast Corridor, it’s extremely competitive.

One random thing is that the train moves so fast that it’s hard to take pretty pictures of the countryside, at least for me.

Can you do a day trip to Paris from London by Eurostar?
Absolutely — I’ve done it. It’s just expensive, depending on how lucky you are with the tickets. (For this, I do think you need to take the train, since at least following my experience you’ll save about six hours of travel time.) The first train from Paris leaves about 6 a.m. and arrives about 7:30; the last train to Paris leaves about 8 or 8:30 p.m., arriving around 11 p.m. That gives you about 12 hours to see the best of London — plenty of time to see a small part of an amazing city. (In fact, it’s number one on my list of the best international day trips from Paris.)

Final Thoughts!

On this trip, it just worked out that I flew to London and came home on Eurostar — and this combo actually ended up great. I was happy that my trip was relatively inexpensive on the flight out, even if it took twice as long as the train would have. I feel like it’s much easier to absorb a little aggravation on your outbound trip, because you’re still excited about your vacation and going a little out of your way to save money doesn’t feel that bad.

And I am so glad that I took the train on the way home. By then, I had collected a ton of stuff (mostly English-language books), and I was relieved not to have to jump through any luggage-related hoops going home on EasyJet. Also I love St. Pancras — I actually got there an hour early to get a relaxed sandwich at Joe & the Juice and a couple final books at Hatchard’s. Also, because I’d just spent three exhausting days in London, I was ready to sleep in my own bed and just wanted to get home as quickly and easily as possible. Eurostar is great for that.

A couple things are clear: Eurostar is faster and easier — but it is often expensive. Flying is probably cheaper — but it’s twice as long and subject to plenty of fees if you’re traveling heavy. (Flying is also considerably worse for the environment than traveling by train.)

So, to wrap up: The best way to travel from London to Paris is by Eurostar. Unless it’s too expensive, in which case, a flight will do.

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Hi, I'm Diana. I've written about travel for The Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, The Cut, Travel + Leisure, Outside, and lots of other places. This is my blog.