When it works, Eurostar can be lovely experience, but of late it’s been awful. With the French train strikes earlier this year and the heat wave shutting down trains this summer, even the Eurostar itself has advised against using their own service at several points.
Here then is a quick guide to the alternatives for getting between London and Paris, as well as the other major cities in the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands that are covered by the Eurostar network. The land alternatives for crossing the English Channel are not quite as fast, but they do have the advantage of generally being cheaper.
Note that we have a separate guide for cheap train tickets between French cities as well as an overall recommendation for European train booking to help you get around the continent low-carbon and in comfort.
Cheap Alternatives to Eurostar: The Quick Guide
- Buses between Paris and London take 7-11 hours depending on the time of day. You can search for bus-only trips on Busbud, which is a good platform for bus-only trips as it compares across companies and doesn’t add a commission.
- You can do bus-train combination trips by crossing from London to Paris by bus and then continue on by a faster and more comfortable train from Paris to other cities, for example. The best way to book train tickets for France is Trainline as it has the most complete coverage of routes (including budget route Ouigo). (Booking is also possible directly on SNCF Connect but there are website errors and credit card rejections, especially for non-French users, and it doesn’t save any money.)
- You can also do a combo train-ferry-train trip passing through Dover and Calais, where there are frequent ferries crossing the channel. In this case the easiest way to book is to get your train tickets via Trainline and the ferry tickets on Direct Ferries, which compares schedules and prices across a range of operators. There are quite a range of ferries crossing the channel at other points too, and at all times day and night. Ferries, like European trains, generally allow small pets, making this a better option than bus travel if your travel companion has four legs. Note that you’ll have to take a taxi from the Dover Priory train station to the Dover Eastern Docks to catch your ferry, as well as between Calais ferry terminal and the Calais train station.
- It’s of course also possible to take the high-carbon option and fly. A useful, complete flight search option across companies for Europe including budget airlines is Skyscanner.
Problems with Eurostar: Brexit, Strikes, and More
You know things are bad when Eurostar itself discourages travellers from using the service.
Even in normal times there have been at times such severe customs hold ups that passengers arriving quite ahead of time miss their trains and are forced to take a subsequent train. There have been issues of this type for years
But in the spring of 2019 the strike from French customs workers caused much more severe delays and cancellations. And in the summer, the heat wave has been causing breakdowns and cancellations of trains, with some passengers even being evacuated from a boiling Eurostar train in Belgium.
Those whose trains are delayed by more than an hour can claim compensation from Eurostar.