The Romance of Rail Travel: Taking the Eurostar to Paris

Having lived within a five mile radius of St Pancras Station for many years, it seems crazy I’ve never hopped on the Eurostar and taken the two and a half hour trip to Paris. I’d been dreaming of taking a Paris city break for ages. I have friends who’ve done it multiple times and it sounded fun and romantic. And with St Pancras station literally on our doorstep, it’s a must-do for anyone living in the capital.

St Pancras Station

St Pancras International Station: The adventure begins

As we struggled to get an affordable ticket that allowed us to leave on the Friday night after working hours, we took the brave decision to take the 7.22 train on the Saturday morning and return late on the Sunday night. That way, we’d have all day Saturday and all day Sunday in Paris to explore. And we’d only need to book into a hotel for one night.

That was the logic behind it anyway. But when the alarm pierced my ear drum at 5am on the Saturday morning, I wasn’t so sure whether our thinking had been logical or sheer crazy. That said, after a cup of tea, quick shower and a short tube ride to Kings Cross, the lack of sleep was made up for by that feeling of adventure.

If you’re ever in the Kings Cross area, it’s worth having a walk around St Pancras Station, even if you’re not travelling anywhere.

Well known cafes and restaurants like Le Pain Quotidien, Carluccios, Patisserie Valerie and Peyton and Byrne all have an unexplainable touch of elegance you don’t find on the high street because of the chic design of the station. Then you have the likes of luxury food hall Fortnum and Mason, the decadent Searcy’s champagne bar up on the station’s mezzanine level (a must) and the Booking Office Bar – a delightful place adjoining the luxurious St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. With a bespoke cocktail menu served amid leather booths, art-deco lights and vast bare brick ceilings harking back to the Victorian era, it’s a great place to drop into whether you’re Paris bound or not.

I won’t go on too much about the nostalgia I think that rail travel gives off, but if you’re lucky enough to stay in the uber luxe St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, this iconic building originally designed by George Gilbert Scott as the luxurious Midland Hotel has incredible original features dating back to the 1860s.

Soak them up within the five star surrounds of the Marriot hotel it is today. Or take one of their one-hour tours which run weekdays and most weekends, and you’ll learn about the fascinating rise, fall and then rise again of this iconic structure.

St Pancras Renaissance International Hotel Flickr KJ Garbutt

St Pancras Renaissance International Hotel via Flickr. Credit: KJ Garbutt http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As our train was leaving at the crack of dawn, we didn’t really get to browse St Pancras’ selection of shops and cafes. But after going through a very easy check in (much more civilised than at the airports), we had a short wait of around 30 minutes before we were called to embark the train.

I’d always wondered how long you’re actually in the Channel tunnel for when you take the Eurostar. But I can honestly say that weirdly, you don’t really notice it. Whether it was our ‘bleary eye-ness’ or the fact you go under several tunnels en route to Paris anyway, it kind of passed us by.

Around two and a half hours later we were in Paris’ Gard du Nord and very ready for some breakfast. With our small rucksacks on our backs (I took the bold decision to travel light), we dropped into a cafe near the station to get an essential caffeine kick and small bite to eat.

The first thing that hit me is Paris’ cafes all have a similar endearing design about them. Many have this temporary add-on glass exterior for the al fresco diners and smokers, and the interiors take on a very classic art deco, bistro feel.

Paris cafe culture

We went for a pretty reasonable ‘petit dejeuner’ deal which got us a cafe creme (coffee with steamed milk), orange juice, croissant and bread with preserves for around 7 Euros each.

After our much needed caffeine-refuel, our first of many French croissants and a peak of our Lonely Planet map, we jumped on the subway and headed for Saint Germain.

Petit dejeuner Paris

We took line number 4 from Gard du Nord to Montparnasse Bienvenue – a huge subway station with at least eight exits. I thought the likes of Bank station or Oxford Circus were confusing at times, but this was on another level. We went round.

And round.

And round.

And we followed numerous signs which said ‘sortie’ (exit). It honestly felt like we were in some crazy trap.

Sortie Montparnasse Bienvenue Paris

After multiple ‘Sortie’ signs, we finally found daylight

Eventually, we managed to find daylight and we looked up to see a tower on Rue de Rennes. I’m not entirely sure what the tower is but I believe it’s adjacent to Galeries Lafayette – a very plush French department store.

The sun was shining, we were just ten minutes away from The Legend hotel (our room for the night) and we were just happy to be in Paris.

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Nothing beats getting on a plane and jetting off to exotic climes, but arriving in Paris by train carries an air of excitement, and I like to think, romance.

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As we stepped into the Legend Hotel on the bustling shopping street of Rue de Rennes, I was excited to check in and then explore this wonderful city.

Until next time x