London to Paris and Beyond: Eurostar Guide for Families
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As TPG's resident London mum, I am fond of traveling to mainland Europe on the Eurostar with my kids. London is a great place to visit with young children with endless attractions for little ones and plenty of points redemptions. But there's obviously more to Europe than just London, so since traveling by train in Europe can often beat flying, read on for suggestions for your family's next Eurostar adventure.
Kids Under 4 Travel Free (With a Catch)
Children under 4 do not need a ticket for the Eurostar but technically need to sit on an adult's lap the entire journey if they don't have a ticket. However, if you book a less busy train or an upgraded carriage there are often extra seats. You can also bring your young children to the dining car or walk the train. One TPG reader suggested finding a space on board and unfolding your stroller for your baby's nap.
You are also restricted to only one lap child per adult, so if you're traveling with two children under 4, as I often do, you have to buy at least one of them a seat. According to the Eurostar website, if you're traveling alone with children and alert the staff, they will provide extra assistance from check-in to the train. I have not seen this assistance but have not explicitly mentioned that I was on my own. Don't forget that even though children under 4 don't need tickets, they do need their passports (it's international travel, after all).
Child and Youth Tickets
Children between 4 and 12 travel on a reduced fare called a "child" ticket and children 13-25 travel on a "youth" ticket. If the adult price is already deeply discounted, like the fares below ($46.80 each way), then the youth ticket is the same price, and the child ticket is only mildly discounted.
There are three classes of service: Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. Whichever you choose, be sure and pay with a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. Bonus points (literally) if you choose one that also awards a category bonus on travel, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Periodically Eurostar puts on unannounced flash sales for a few days for tickets over the coming months. If you have a upcoming trip, we suggest following them on social media or signing up to their mailing list. I just snagged tickets from London to Amsterdam for $45 each way in June for the adults with my young kids riding free.
Book Ahead and Look For Early/Late Trains
The Eurostar website highlights the least expensive tickets. Often these tickets start early in the morning or come back late. Another option, if you have found a great hotel or Airbnb in either London, Belgium or Paris, is to book a day trip to the other country. I have made several single-day trips from London to Paris and back again to avoid overnighting in Paris with this train taking a bit over two hours each way.
As soon as your Eurostar booking is confirmed, you will automatically be assigned seats. You can then log in to your booking and change your seat assignments so that your family can sit around a table for four (if available) or closer to the changing rooms or cafe, depending on your preferences. The seat map will show you where your seats are currently located. Also, if you are prone to motion sickness, sit facing in the forward direction (these seats often book up first).
We have had good luck in getting a table of four to ourselves on offseason dates, but remember that it can be more difficult to fit a child on your lap in this configuration if others are sitting across or next to you. In high season it could be worth purchasing all four seats, even if you have children under 4.
There is a bit more space to spread out at the tables for four in Standard Premier.
One of my favorite things about the Eurostar used to be that you could arrive 30 minutes before your train and still make it comfortably to embarkation. That, sadly, has changed. Long lines at immigration mean that arriving 90 minutes early is standard practice. However, I love that you can still carry a hot beverage through security and then nurse your coffee (for that cheap early-morning train!) throughout your immigration experience. Immigration is immediately after security so hold on to those passports. Other families reported a tight policy on removing babies from slings.
Hang on to your children on the travelator. The moving sidewalk to board the train means that your stroller will become heavy as it goes up. (Technically, strollers are not allowed on the travelators, but I have always used them and see other families that do the same.) Young children start to naturally fall back on the incline so hold on tight to them.
It helps to board the train as early as possible if you have a lot of large luggage or a stroller. On the Eurostar you wait in a holding area until your boarding announcement, but you may be able to go up early if you explain that you need the space for your stroller. Space in the storage compartments at the end of each carriage is limited.
On my last trip, I traveled Standard on the way out and Standard Premier on the way back and noticed more luggage space with Standard Premier. You can also fit a small item like a jacket or handbag above your seat.
Meanwhile, the Standard Premier fits this folded UPPAbaby Vista easily.
Food On Board
There are lots of food options at the onboard Eurostar cafe, which are reasonably priced, considering how captive you are to their selection. As there is no liquids restriction on the train like there is at an airport, you can bring Champagne on board and have yourself a celebration, if you want. Otherwise, I tend to pick up sandwiches at a local place in London or Paris before getting on board.
On my last trip I saw this Eurostar virtual-reality headset for sale, so I purchased one for £3 (about $4). The Wi-Fi on board was terrible (make sure you have enough programs downloaded) and I could not get it to work.
Traveling from London to Paris, Lille or Brussels on the Eurostar (plus changing trains to go farther afield) can actually be a highlight of a family vacation in Europe, especially if train travel is relatively novel for your family. TPG readers use points to get to London and then use the Eurostar to avoid flying back out from the UK, thus way avoiding the UK's notorious air taxes and fees.
Have you used the Eurostar as a family? Tell us about the trip.
All photos by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy