Travel

How to Travel with Eurostar, the Most Convenient Train in Europe

Here's how to travel Europe like a pro.

Flickr/rhemkes
Flickr/rhemkes
Flickr/rhemkes

We get it: Planning a multi-city trip anywhere outside of America can be a little bit daunting. Many of us are used to jumping in a car and hitting the wide-open road when it comes to towns within a one-state radius. It’s a fabulous excuse to load up on road trip snacks. But when it comes to overseas travel there are a bunch of add-ons to consider, even for an area of land smaller than Texas: passports, languages, and gulp, public transit. In Europe, public transit is totally the norm, and many go without cars in their daily lives. So how do the masses travel short distances, between Paris and London, or Brussels and Amsterdam, without flying or taking a ferry? They take the trainEurostar, to be specific.

Eurostar is the most frequented high-speed train service in the region and the only one that directly links the UK to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands via the Channel Tunnel. It’s wildly popular, but if you haven’t heard of it before, fear not. Here, we present everything you need to know about the Eurostar, so that you can hop countries like a pro.

www.hollandfoto.net/Shutterstock
www.hollandfoto.net/Shutterstock
www.hollandfoto.net/Shutterstock

What is Eurostar?

Eurostar is a high-speed train service and both the fastest and most convenient way to get between the UK and France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It zooms right into the heart of each destination city and has been doing so since it was launched in 1994 by Queen Elizabeth II and then French President François Mitterrand. Think Amtrak-only faster, smoother, nicer, and it can travel under the sea.

The undersea aspect might have you expecting some kind of submarine vessel, but Eurostar is an ordinary train. It travels underwater via the Channel Tunnel, aka the longest undersea tunnel in the world, which runs from Folkestone, UK to Calais, France. It doesn’t take long to traverse by train; you travel between 100 and 186 miles per hour, so you have time for just a small cup of coffee before you’re back on land.

William Barton/Shutterstock
William Barton/Shutterstock
William Barton/Shutterstock

Where does the Eurostar go?

The most popular route is London to Paris, traveling between St Pancras International and Gare du Nord in just over two hours. The service also operates direct routes to Brussels (less than two hours from London), Lille in France (around an hour and a half), and both Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands (less than four hours). Disneyland Paris visitors will need to take a connecting train from Lille or Paris to the House of Mouse.

If you wish to take the Eurostar to other areas of Europe, you can make connections to go further afield. For example, those heading from London to Geneva will need to change in Paris and purchase a new ticket from another provider. Those traveling to Cologne, Germany can connect to a Thalys train in Brussels to complete their journey. You’re spoiled for choice!

Photo courtesy of Eurostar
Photo courtesy of Eurostar
Photo courtesy of Eurostar

How do you buy Eurostar tickets?

There are a number of ways to purchase a Eurostar ticket, but the best way is direct, via the Eurostar website. Tickets are available to purchase at stations, but you might find prices get steep if you wait till you’re in Europe and buy them in person at the last minute.

To that point, we can’t stress enough that it’s key to book early if you want a good deal on tickets. Like, three months early. Prices almost always increase as you get closer to the departure date. Tickets are also cheaper if you book less popular dates (by which we mean you should skip holidays and weekends). If you’re smart, you’ll be able to snag seats to Paris for $52 each way.

One final hint: Be sure to download the Eurostar app for updates, deals, and your tickets.

Photo courtesy of Eurostar
Photo courtesy of Eurostar
Photo courtesy of Eurostar

What’s it like on board?

Price isn’t your only consideration when booking tickets. Eurostar provides three different classes to select from: Standard, Standard Premier, and Business Premier. All of these classes permit you to bring ample luggage at no extra cost, plus allow for unlimited ticket exchanges. Standard Premier seats are roomier and guests are offered a light meal and drinks, like croissants, fruit, and coffee, while Business Premier customers get to nosh on a three-course meal designed by Michelin-awarded French chef Raymond Blanc. Naturally, bubbles are included to wash down the cheese, duck, and cake. There’s also a nice wine selection on the trolley.

The seats are surprisingly good for all classes, even if you’re traveling in Standard. You’ll find outlets to charge your devices, as well as free Wi-Fi, which can be a little patchy at times (this is a moving vehicle, after all). The desk in front of you fits a standard laptop, so download your docs and work away. Decently clean restrooms are located in every coach, and there’s at least one cafe-bar available for when you want to stretch your legs and grab some grub.

Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock
Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock
Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock

What’s it like at the train station?

Traveling with Eurostar isn’t plane travel, but you’ll still want to allow around an hour and a half to get through security and ensure there aren’t any issues. For security, you’ll need to put your bags and yourself through scanners, removing laptops and liquids. Thankfully, there’s no restriction on liquids, so you can pack a full-sized bottle of perfume or even wine. The immigration process happens before departure, so get your travel documents ready. At the end of your trip you’ll walk through customs, and so long as you aren’t smuggling entire suitcases of tobacco, it’s a breeze.

The waiting areas for Eurostar trains are usually very adequate, with plenty of seating, free restrooms (note, in Europe many public areas charge), and cafes. In most city center stations, you’ll find tons of amenities, so arrive early to make the most of them-no need to pack a sandwich. If you’re traveling in the Business Premier class, you’ll have access to exclusive Eurostar lounges in London, Paris, and Brussels, plus access to NS International lounges in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Lounges offer snacks, beverages, and free glossy magazines.

Ready to travel with Eurostar? Book your tickets, hit the train station, and prepare to climb aboard-whatever your destination, it’s sure to be an adventure.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

James Wong is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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