Monday, May 23, 2011

How to get from London to Paris - 5 tips to help you along

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If you are spending more than a week in London, it would be a good opportunity to drop by Paris as well. And nope, I'm not saying that you could cover London in a week (more on that later) but it perfectly possible to do a day trip to Paris especially if you haven't been there before. All it takes is a bit of preparation and here are 5 tips on planning your trip from London to Paris without much fuss.

1. Avoid flying, take Eurostar instead

Without a shadow of a doubt, you should be taking Eurostar, the high speed rail between London and Paris instead of flying. Though budget airlines might fly you from London to Paris at a lower price, the hassle of getting to the airport in London and then from the airport to Paris central would turn off any first time visitor especially those on a tight timeline.

Eurostar, which travels at around 300 km per hour from London's King's Cross St Pancras (nearest Tube station is King's Cross), takes around 2hr 15min to reach Paris' Gare Du Nord International. Unlike travelling by air, the guidelines on luggage brought onboard is less stringent. If you are travelling light (see tips on how to travel light), this wouldn't be an issue. Also, my impression is that the clearing of customs is less uptight as well.

2. Book well in advance
A Eurostar standard full fare averages £169 for one way, which is more than what most would be willing to pay for considering that flying would cost just a fraction of that. However, if you book in advance (up to 3 months in advance), the fare can go as low as £69 for a return trip. Check out Eurostar for the latest deal.

Be prepared to arrive at St Pancras before 7am to catch the cheaper deals allowing 30 minutes for check in.  To minimise delays, get a printout of the boarding pass before the actual day so that there's no need to queue up for the pass printing machine.

3. Choose your seats well

Eurostar's online booking system allows you to choose your precise seat just before you confirm your payment. Be sure to choose well depending on your needs.

If you are replying on your laptop of iPad for entertainment throughout the trip, you might need a power plug. Go for coach 5 or 14 if you are holding onto a Standard ticket.

If you are travelling with babies, go for coach 1 or 18 (tail ends of the train) where the baby changing facilities are. There are also couple seats that face each other in each coach, go for these if you are travelling in a group. To facilitate families, there are more of these seats in coach 1 and 18.

For those who get sick easily in extended train rides, go for forward facing seats. Depending on which way the train is travelling, the forward facing seats differ. Thankfully, the direction of travel is indicated on the screen when you select your seats online. Just take note of that when choosing your Eurostar seats.

To rest well, avoid seating close to the end of each coach. As passengers move along the train to get to the cafeteria coaches (coach 6 and 13), the constant opening and closing of doors at the end of the coaches makes catching a wink an impossible task. On the same note, you might want to go for a coach away from the cafeteria coach as well.

4. Pay in pounds at onboard cafeterias

The cafeterias on board are the only places where you get to spend some cash on the Eurostar train. The cafeterias accepts both sterling pounds and euros. On my Eurostar trips, I couldn't help but noticed that the exchange rate tilts towards the pound. Whenever possible, use pounds instead of euros for your purchases onboard.

5. Buy metro carnet at onboard cafeterias

The main mode of public transport in Paris would be its Metro (Underground) system, which covers the capital extensively. I hate to say this but Paris' Metro system trumps London Underground in all accounts (cheaper, more efficient, cleaner, more spacious, better planned). While there are day passes available (see Transilien SNCF for more information on this), you might be better off getting a carnet de billets or book of (ten) tickets instead especially if you could split the tickets with a travelling companion.

I'm surprised that this isn't better publicised but you could buy your carnet at the cafeterias onboard Eurostar trains. The face value of each carnet is 12 euro but Eurostar will charge you 14 euro, which is still a better deal compared to if you were to buy the metro tickets individually at 1.70 euro. Not to mention that you'll skip the queue at the metro ticketing station at Gare Du Nord once you have arrived.

Here are the five tips for getting from London to Paris in a fuss free way. Did I miss out anything? Anyway, why not check out One Day Itinerary in London as well? Check out what to do in Paris if you are a repeat visitor.

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