Travelling Europe by train is easier than flying but is it worth it?

It's chilly in Zürich's main train station at 7am, but it has all the atmosphere I desire at the beginning of a European train trip. The main concourse sits beneath a grand hall of arched windows, and there's an air of purpose as the people around me head to their trains.

After an assignment in Switzerland I need to get to London, and it occurred to me that rail travel might be a viable alternative to flying. A high-speed TGV Lyria train co-owned by Swiss Federal Railways and the French rail company SNCF leaves Zürich at 7.34am, reaching Paris at 11.37am.

From Paris I can catch the Eurostar train to London. Rather than aiming for a tight connection, however, I'm booked on the 4.13pm departure, which will arrive in the British capital at 5.39pm local time.

It's a long day on the rails, so why do it?

Because in my opinion, the train is a far superior way to travel – with plentiful views, room to move, and fewer security hassles. 


Sadly there's no lounge for first class passengers at Zürich, so I hang around on the concourse, eating a bread pretzel, until the TGV Lyria train pulls into its platform 20 minutes before departure.

Because I'm already inside the Schengen Zone of border-free travel, there's no need for formalities even on an international train. 

My first-class carriage is laid out with a 2-1 seating arrangement, in fairly bland shades of grey and beige. It's a spacious seat, with a large tray table. There's Wi-Fi available, and some of my fellow passengers are already tapping away at their laptops, plugged into the provided power outlets.

About 9.30am I head to the bar car in search of a late breakfast. There isn't a long menu but I end up with a croque monsieur, a black coffee, and a bag of paprika-flavoured chips for later. You can't get much more European than that.


Paris in transit

I'll arrive at the Gare de Lyon, then need to switch to the Gare du Nord for my London train. 

However, just as we pull in, the city's suburban trains are hit by an electrical fault and I have to catch the Metro between stations instead. When I reach the Gare du Nord, I discover the left luggage office in the basement is a shambles – with broken change machines and no attendants. 

Also, it's raining outside. So I ditch my ideas about walking, and instead catch an Uber with my luggage to the restaurant where I'm due to interview a chef for a newspaper article. 

The restaurant turns out to be right next to the famous Sacré Couer church in the Montmartre district, so after lunch I walk around to the front to see its façade and the view over Paris. The rain has cleared away, so there's a crush of tourists and human statues, with a festive spirit in the air.


There's plenty of security on this leg of the journey, as I'm leaving the Schengen Zone and entering the UK. 

Once through, I'm able to enjoy the Gare du Nord lounge available to passengers travelling in Business Premier class. It's a beautiful light-filled space with tall arched windows, marble fittings, elegant sofas, and a sunken bar.

Aboard the Eurostar e320 train I find more grey seats, but this time atop a rich burgundy-coloured carpet. Shortly an attendant with a trolley starts serving drinks as we pull out and head toward the coast.

My seat seems slanted too far back for my liking, and the tray table is narrower than the one on the TGV train. On the positive side, there's Wi-Fi access and the carriage is very quiet. 

Last stop

The Business Premier fare comes with a three-course meal devised by celebrity chef Raymond Blanc, which is served to our seats. For the main I select the roast salmon with a lentil and artichoke salad, and it's good food – though it does seem odd to be eating dinner at 5pm.

About 80 minutes we enter the Channel Tunnel, there's 20 minutes of darkness – and then we're in Britain. Soon I'm stepping off the train at the lavish St Pancras Station.

Would I travel this way again, rather than flying?

I think so, though maybe booking a later train to London so as to enjoy more of Paris and the Eurostar lounge. Either way, it's been an interesting change of pace and more relaxing than catching yet another flight.

Tim Richards paid for his fare to Paris, and was hosted by Eurostar to London.