Hello Everyone and Happy Sunday. Today I wanted to share my experience in taking the Eurostar train from London to Amsterdam. Train travel is extremely popular in Europe and can be a faster and sometimes less expensive means to travel from one city to another. There are a lot of competing “cheap” airlines, but train travel can be very comparable.
Booking A Ticket
If you are traveling from London to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam, consider taking the train. The Eurostar provides fast and efficient service to all of these cities. The cost, if you book your ticket far enough in advance, can be quite cheap. I would highly recommend going through the official Eurostar website. If you look far enough in advance, ticket can be as low as 30 Euros.
There are 3 “classes” of service: Standard, Standard Premier, and Business. The largest difference between either of the standard classes is that one has a little more leg room and you will receive snacks during your journey. For Business, you have a large seat, meals and are in the “first class” train cabin. If you need the flexibility to make changes to your ticket, it may be less of a headache to book Business. There are no change fees. Standard and Standard Premier allow for 2 pieces of large luggage and 1 hand bag. Business allows for 3 large pieces. You can choose your seat and cabin upon booking the ticket for all 3 classes.
The journey planner will advice you what trains are available and what times you will be able to arrive and depart. If you don’t happen to see a direct train, keep checking back on the website, you never know when a service may be added. In my case, this was exactly what happened to me. Please be aware that if you find a service that needs to change trains, you typically don’t need more than 15 minutes of buffer time. Trains are typically located fairly close together and are timed for transfers.
I bought my ticket through the Eurostar website about a month before my trip. I had the option to print the ticket or have it as an E-ticket. I really did not want to worry about having loose papers around and opted to keep a copy of it on my phone in Apple Wallet and in an e-mail to scan if needed.
Getting to the Train Station
All Eurostar trains in the UK arrive and depart from King’s Cross/St Pancras International. These are two train stations in one; King’s Cross may sound familiar as it is where Harry Potter takes the train to and from Hogwarts each year in the novels, If you have time, you can wander over to Platform 9 and 10 and see the shop and photo opp. King’s Cross is one of the largest train stations in London and can be very busy, allow enough time if you are looking to explore.
On the other side of King’s Cross is where all of the trains heading for continental Europe will depart from, St Pancras station. There are a good amount of London Underground lines that connect here as well as ground transportation so it is quite easy to reach. I took the Picadilly Line to St Pancras; if you have a lot of luggage, the station has lifts and escalators to assist you. If you plan it right, you won’t even have to climb any stairs.
All Eurostar departures will have you clearing Immigration and security before you are allowed into the waiting area. You should allow at least 60 minutes for the process. If you are earlier than that, I would highly recommend picking up some snacks for your train journey before departing, the prices on the train were quite high. I opted for a bag lunch from Pret a Manger when I got to the station.
Security and Immigration
Walking through the station, you will see signs clearly indicating where all Eurostar trains are. You should know the departure time and final destination for your train. Approaching the security area, there will be queues of people waiting in the queue that corresponds to your train. For example: 10:24 Paris and 10:40 Amsterdam will be two different lines.
From there, your ticket will be checked and you will wait until the Eurostar agent allows your group to scan your tickets at the gates to the train. If you have a smartphone, load the ticket and ensure the brightness if up to allow the gate to read it. If you have a paper ticket, scan the QR code on the sensor. Once in the gate area, you will be directed to wait until the Eurostar agent directs you to an open security line.
For security, it is a little more relaxed than airport security in that you do not need to remove your liquids or computer. You will be asked to remove your jacket, shoes (if they are above your ankle) and anything from your pockets. All items go into a bin and are scanned in an X-ray scanner as you clear a metal detector.
One a busy Sunday afternoon, the check in through the security check point took 20 minutes. You should try to have your passport easily accessible as any staff member may be asked to see it. Before you are able to enter the waiting area, your passport will be checked over by a member of the French border police. European passport holder can use Smart Gates, but everyone else (including British passport holders) have to wait. You will not be allowed to enter the EU if you do not have the required documents.
The Waiting Area
I liken the waiting area to an airport. There are screens with all the departure times for all the trains showing if it is on time or not. Platforms for trains are not announced until about 20 minutes before departure time. Everyone stares up at the board hoping it will change, but it won’t be announced early….trust me. There were
If you see a seat that is available, grab it. There are not enough seats for the amount of people the area holds. Now if you have a Business ticket, you have the option to enjoy the Business lunge area. There are drinks and refreshments for you there and it will be relatively less crowded. Use the restroom before you go through security and immigration and enter the waiting area; I do not remember seeing any restrooms there, only before.
When the platform for your train departure pops up, you will see everyone get up with their bags and scramble to the gates and escalator that take you to the departure area. The line doesn’t get much shorter if you wait, just make your way into the area and eventually you will merge in with the people. It can feel slightly claustrophobic.
If you are seated in cabins 1-5 there is a special uncrowded entrance you can take up to the platform. Cars 6-18 will be spread out; looking at your ticket, you should know what car you are in and your seat number. I made my way to what I thought was the right car and to my seat only to be told I was in the wrong one! I had to rush to move before the train began moving.
There were a few luggage racks on my train stuffed full of skiing equipment; I would try to take your bag with you and fit it over your seat if you can. The space if about the size of an airplane overhead bin. Each car has a restroom as well and there will be a dining car for your needs.
Once in your seat, you will be the seats are pretty comfortable. The leg room is also pretty generous. If you are on a newer train, you will find that all seats have a power socket that is UK and European adaptable. USB charges are only available in Standard Premier and Business. There are seatback pockets available to store a few items.
When the train is ready to depart, there will be a soft chime and the doors will close. Not much after that, the train will began moving quickly and quietly. Almost all European trains are electrically powered and are very quiet. You will not notice much noise compared to say Amtrak in the United States. The trains almost always leave on time and you can pretty much count on an on time arrival (unless the weather is bad). The motion was smooth and unless you looked out the window at times it didn’t even feel like we were moving.
The day I left London, the UK experienced extremely strong winds and one of the worst storms in the last 20 years (you may have heard about Storm Ciara). Travel was smooth in and out of France and Belgium, however, on the way to Rotterdam things got a little tricky. My train was delayed as a result the high winds in the Netherlands. The fast rail tracks were not able to be used; the train would have to use the “classic line.” for regular trains. The delay was estimated at about 60 minutes; to add to our troubles, one of the trains ahead of us was also disabled and caused an additional 30 minute delay.
We were originally supposed to reach Amsterdam Centraal Station at about 4:20 in the afternoon, but it was after 6 when the train unloaded. The onboard experience I had was rated 3.5 out of 5 stars. It would have been higher, but the restrooms were unacceptable. During the delay, I needed to use the facilities and I was extremely annoyed to find no toilet paper in the restroom and no water to wash my hands with (I had already placed soap on them). The sink was broken in my car. I had to go back to my seat, retrieve the drinking water from my backpack and return to the bathroom use it to wash off the soap.
I do want to say that all of the staff members I encountered were very friendly and helpful. The conductor of the train made frequent announcements as needed to update us of the delay. I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere in the car and the free wifi. The wifi was my saving grace to allow me to get some work done on the way. I visited the dining car once to look over their menu and was impressed with the variety of options they had. It was a little pricey, but that can be expected.
If I had to do it again, I would have taken the train over flying. With the weather being as unpredictable as it was, almost every single flight into and out of London was delayed or cancelled due to the weather. When we reached Amsterdam, my hotel was close to the Centraal Station and I was almost blown away by the winds trying to walk to it. I honestly don’t know how the trains were running as smoothly as they were.
If you have a stop along the way to your destination, make sure you are ready to disembark from the train as soon as it pulls into the station. The stops are brief and it will not wait around for you if you miss your stop. The reverse trip, from Amsterdam to London service begins soon as a direct service. I am hearing that you will still need to leave the train and reboard in Brussels to clear passport control for leaving the EU, but it should be a lot smoother than the process that is in place now of changing trains completely. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
I highly recommend trying travel by train at least once to see if it is something you may enjoy. I hope this post helped you out and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment or reach out to me. Until next time, happy travels.