Bonjour Marseille! The inaugural direct Eurostar from London has arrived spot on time at Marseille, 1 May 2015.
Buy tickets online at
From the Thames to the Mediterranean...
Eurostar runs a direct train from London to Lyon, Avignon & Marseille for much of the year, up to 5 times a week in high summer. Building on their long-established once-a-week summer-only train to Avignon, from May 2015 this new expanded service will serve three destinations up to five times a week. In fact, it's the first scheduled train in history ever to link the Thames directly with the Mediterranean. This page explains the days of running, times, fares & how to buy tickets.
On what days does it run?
* = Departs 07:15 on Sundays & UK bank holidays.
** = On the northbound journey you get off at Lille, go through the usual Eurostar passport & security checks and re-board the train.
| = The southbound train does in fact briefly stop at Lille, but only to change driver & train managers.
Avignon TGV station is 3 miles from Avignon city centre & Avignon Centre station. There's a rail link from Avignon TGV station to Avignon Centre station with shuttle trains (navettes) every 30-45 minutes, journey time 5 minutes, fare around €1.80 but free for Eurostar ticket holders. You can also use a taxi, of course. You can check navette times using www.loco2.com. Map of Avignon showing stations.
Alternatives if this direct Eurostar doesn't suit you: If it leaves London too early or doesn't run on the day you want, there are a whole range of daily train services from London to Lyon, Avignon, Marseille, Nimes, Montpelier, Perpignan, Cannes or Nice with an easy change of train onto a TGV at Lille or Paris, see the London to France page for details.
London to Lyon starts at £51 one-way or £89 return in standard class, or £95 one-way in standard premier (1st class) with meals & drinks included.
London to Avignon or Marseille starts at £56 one-way or £99 return in standard class, or £99 one-way in standard premier with meals & drinks included.
Fares work like air fares, rising as departure date approaches and the cheaper tickets sell out, higher on popular dates, lower on less popular dates, book as early as you can...
Full details of fares...
How to buy tickets...
Buy tickets online at www.eurostar.com and print your own ticket. Booking for this particular train is opens around 6 months ahead.
You can book through tickets from 130 UK towns & cities using www.eurostar.com (UK version only), though booking for journeys with a UK element only opens 3 months ahead.
You can also buy tickets at www.loco2.com.
After booking, you can use the Manage a booking feature on www.eurostar.com to change your seats. See Eurostar seat numbering plans & tips on choosing a seat - this route is operated by either a classic Eurostar or an e300.
For more information about this train, see www.eurostar.com/uk-en/train/france/provence
How to check in...
You must check-in at London St Pancras (or Ashford) at least 30 minutes before departure, simply by placing the barcode on your print-at-home or collect-at-station ticket over the barcode reader window on the automatic ticket gates (pictured below left) or you can use the staffed kiosks (kiosk 5 is visible in the photo below left). Check in opens an hour or two before departure.
Immediately after the ticket gates there's a simple baggage X-ray and metal detector check, much simpler than at airports with no need to remove shoes or belts and no nonsense with liquids - although they won't let you carry an open cup of coffee through!
Then you're in the departure lounge directly under the tracks, with seating, a cafe, bar, phone or camera recharging points, shop and Eurostar information desk. When departure is announced, you go up the travelators to the platform and board your train...
In the return direction there is no check-in at Marseille, Avignon or Lyon as check-in takes place at Lille, all is explained here.
What's it like on board the Eurostar?
The London-Marseille Eurostar has Standard (2nd) class & Standard Premier (1st) class and two cafe-bar cars, in cars 6 & 13. There's no Business Premier on this route.
You take your luggage with you onto the train and place it on the racks just inside the entrance to each car or above your seat. More about luggage on Eurostar.
All Standard Premier seats have power sockets, either UK 3-pin or European 2-pin type. However, in Standard class, only cars 5 & 14 have sockets.
There's free WiFi at St Pancras, but WiFi is only being fitted on Eurostar as their trains are refurbished starting in late 2015. There are racks for your luggage above your seat and at the ends of each car.
Meals & drinks are included in Standard Premier...
In Standard Premier, meals are included in the fare, served at your seat. Southbound, a light breakfast is served soon after departure (pictured below left) and south of Paris an early lunch is served in good time for arrival at Lyon (below right). On the London-Marseille Eurostar lunch or dinner includes a hot dish, so is better than the cold food served in Standard Premier on the regular London-Paris & London-Brussels Eurostars. Northbound, drinks and snacks are served on departure from Marseille and Avignon with a hot dinner served once the train is north of Lyon.
What's the journey like?
The Eurostar crosses the River Medway... On this side (the right hand side of the train), small boats on the river. On the left hand side, Rochester castle and cathedral are just visible in the distance over the top of the adjacent M2 motorway road bridge.
The train enters the Channel Tunnel... Unless you're very sharp-eyed, you won't spot the sea at all. The train slows slightly and passes by the Eurotunnel car, coach & lorry terminal then plunges into the Channel Tunnel. It's a complete anti-climax, just like any other rail tunnel only a bit longer. In 20 minutes later you burst into the sunlight in France...
Northern France... The train speeds across northern France at 186mph, past undulating farmlands, small villages. The London to Marseille Eurostar stops briefly at Lille Europe to change driver and train managers, although this is not a public stop. The other on-board crew remain on board all the way from London to Marseille.
By-passing Paris & onto the Sud-Est high-speed line... The Eurostar by-passes Paris to the east on the high-speed interconnexion line, speeding non-stop through Charles de Gaulle Airport TGV station, the closest you'll come to an airport on this trip to the south of France. Just south of Paris the train joins the Sud-Est high-speed line linking Paris with Lyon & Marseille . Between Paris & Lyon the train rushes past sheep, cows, and ramshackle stone-walled farms nestling in small green valleys.
Arrival in Lyon Part Dieu: Finally, the train slows down and leaves the high-speed line, rumbling slowly across the Rhone, passing right by the historic station of Lyon Brotteaux (built 1904, closed 1983, on the right hand side) and arriving at Lyon Part Dieu. Click for map of Lyon showing station.
The Rhone Valley... After leaving Lyon the train rejoins the high-speed line and powers down the Rhone Valley, past pretty French villages with picturesque churches and the occasional chateau. On a clear day you can see the snow-capped French Alps in the far distance to the left, and the ridge of the Massif Central mountains on the far side of the valley to the right.
Arrival in Avignon TGV... On its approach to Avignon TGV station the train crosses a massive viaduct high above the River Rhone. If you look to your left you can see Avignon's famous Palais des Papes standing out on the skyline in the distance, see the picture above. Though if you can see anyone dancing sur le pont d'Avignon you have better eyesight than me...
Avignon TGV station is 3 miles from the city centre. You can take a taxi, or wait for the next shuttle train (navette) to Avignon Centre station which is right in the centre. The navette is free for Eurostar ticket holders. Click for map of Avignon showing stations.
As the train approaches Marseille you can see the Mediterranean on your right, with ferries & cruise liners in port and in the distance a glimpse of the infamous Chateau d'If (France's Alcatraz, think Count of Monte Cristo) on its island in the bay. To the right and ahead you may glimpse the lovely church of Notre Dame de la Garde on its hill overlooking Marseille.
The scenery is obviously the same, but there are two important differences when you return northbound.
There is no check-in when boarding the northbound Eurostar at Marseille, Avignon or Lyon. The train is treated just like any other train, you can walk up to it and hop on with your bags any time until they close the doors a minute or two before departure. I repeat: There is NO 30-minute check-in, in fact no check-in at all. Just be on board when the doors close and off it goes!
In the northbound direction the train calls at Lille for an hour where check-in, passports & security checks are carried out as explained in the photos below. While passengers do this upstairs, the train itself has to be thoroughly security checked in line with the Channel Tunnel security regulations before security-screened passengers are allowed back on. Eurostar deliberately don't fully-book the northbound Eurostar it can be a busy train with a lot of people to check in, a bit of a pain perhaps, but just be patient as you'll soon be back on board.
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In Marseille, for something special try the excellent Intercontinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu. It's an impressive renovated 18th century building, 5 min walk from both the Vieux Port and Panier (old town).