If you’re traveling between London and Paris or Brussels, there are two reasonably priced transportation options available: a low-cost, intra-European airline such as Ryanair or EasyJet, or the high-speed Eurostar train. Deciding which service to use for your trip depends on how much money and time you’re willing to part with. While opting for the cheapest ticket seems like a no-brainer for most student travelers, you might rethink that idea when you learn how much time and hassle you’ll have to go through to save. Here’s what the options look like:
Low-cost air carriers
Heated competition between various budget European airlines has made intra-European flights astonishingly cheap. However, most of these no-frills airlines fly from minor airports located outside city centers, which require a time-consuming bus or train ride to reach. (For instance, EasyJet flies to Paris from London’s Luton Airport, located 32 miles from central London.) You’ll have to factor the cost of this additional transportation into the total price.
Here’s a break-down of the cost and time expenditure involved in an air journey between London and Paris, and London and Brussels:
- For travel between London and Paris, we found midweek flights on EasyJet from London’s Luton airport to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for around $33 round-trip, including taxes and fees. Before you fly, you’ll have to get from London’s center to Luton Airport, a trip that entails an hour-and-45-minute bus ride ($14 round-trip). The flight itself is only about an hour and 15 minutes, but you should plan on spending around two hours checking in, going through security, and picking up your bags. From the Charles de Gaulle airport, it’s a 35-minute train ride to the center of Paris ($19 round-trip). All told, your journey will cost $66 round-trip and take about five hours and 35 minutes each way. Purchase fares on the EasyJet website.
- For Ryanair’s route between London’s Stansted airport and Brussels’ Charleroi airport, we found midweek fares for $40 round-trip, including taxes and fees. To get to the airport, it’s a 45-minute ride on the Stansted Express train ($42 round-trip). The flight takes an hour, plus two hours for security, check-in, and baggage claim. From Charleroi airport, it’s a quick bus transfer to the Charleroi train station and then a 45-minute train ride to central Brussels ($25 round-trip). Your travel total comes to $107, and the journey will take about four hours and 40 minutes each way. Purchase fares on the Ryanair website.
Fares were researched on January 5, for flights departing January 22 and returning January 29. Fares for other routes and dates may be different.
Facing stiff competition from the budget airlines, Eurostar recently reduced its youth fares to as little as $90 round-trip ($112 with taxes and fees) for travel between London’s Waterloo station and either Paris’ Gare du Nord or Brussels’ Midi. This fare is good for customers under age 26 traveling Monday through Thursday. A limited number of adult fares are also available at this price. For travel on the weekend, round-trip youth fares including taxes and fees are $172. Though these fares are higher than the airline prices, you will not need to purchase additional bus or train service, as the Eurostar stations are centrally located and connect to each city’s metro system.
As for time and convenience, Eurostar beats the airlines hands down: You’ll speed from the center of London to central Paris in two hours and 35 minutes, or to central Brussels in two hours and 20 minutes. You should arrive at the train station about 40 minutes before departure to check in, but security is minimal and there is no baggage claim since your bags ride with you. Total cost is still only $112 round-trip, with a journey of three hours and 15 minutes to Paris or three hours to Brussels each way.
Purchase fares on the RailEurope website.
How you can save
Overall, flying between London and either Paris or Brussels is the cheapest mode of transportation, but a Eurostar journey requires a much smaller time commitment.
For the journey between London and Paris, the EasyJet flight and connections, costing only $66 round-trip, is half the cost of the Eurostar trip, and worth the longer journey if you have the time to spare. If you only have a few days in the city you’re visiting, or hate the hassle of flying, the pricier, but much faster Eurostar ride may be a better choice.
For travel between London and Brussels, the cost of the air trip ($107 round-trip) and the Eurostar trip ($112 round-trip) is about the same. Since you’ll save an hour and 40 minutes by taking the train rather than flying, Eurostar appears to be the most logical choice for your journey.
Keep in mind that this pricing applies to midweek, round-trip travel. If you’re traveling one-way, or on the weekend, the price may be different. What’s important is that you plan ahead and price out the different options as we did, so that you find the mode of transportation that best fits your budget and time frame.