Traveling by Eurostar: in the footsteps of l’Etoile du Nord

During my five-year stay in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to travel on Thalys over a hundred times. The brand transitioned to Eurostar on October 1, 2023. I became a big fan of Thalys despite my over 30 years of experience working for an airline!

So I thought I’d introduce you to this fine rail company.


From Paris Gare du nord to Amsterdam Centraal

To do this, I thought it would be best to pretend I was taking you on a trip from Paris to Amsterdam. Imagine it’s a Monday morning and we’re meeting at Gare du Nord.

All along the way, we’ll pretend we’re discovering the Eurostar ex-Thalys service together. I’ll also take this opportunity to tell you more about its history and the stations we pass through: Brussels, then Antwerp, Rotterdam, Schiphol and finally Amsterdam. They are all worthy of note.

You can view our route and schedule on the map below:

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Thalys Paris to Amsterdam route map

Departure from Gare du Nord, Paris, at 8:25 a.m.

See you at the Thalys lounge

Our journey begins at the Gare du Nord station in Paris. Being a little early, we make our way to the lounge reserved for “Premium” or loyalty passengers. Surprisingly, the latter is located just a few hundred meters outside the station. We have a cup of coffee or tea, and take the opportunity to download the press offered by Eurostar onto our tablets. The lounge is small and simple, but it’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the Gare du Nord.

Lounge Thalys in Paris

A station unfairly criticized.

But it’s almost time to leave. Before we enter the station, I’d like to draw your attention to its beautiful monumental façade and its thirteen statues representing the major cities it serves, such as Brussels and Amsterdam.

I think you’re going to tell me that the Gare du Nord is notoriously dirty and disorganized. I would reply that it handles almost 300 million passengers a year, making it one of the busiest stations in the world. Knowing this, and having crossed it very often, I’m less harsh in my judgement. I find it quite functional, with a good interconnection with the metro and RER (Express Regional trains).

Exterior facade of Gare du Nord station in Paris

A little history before we begin our journey

Once inside, I’ll show you the huge glass roof, which is the same as it was in 1927. It was at this time that the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits inaugurated a direct service from Paris to Amsterdam with the prestigious Pullman luxury coaches. The train, nicknamed the “l’Étoile du Nord “, took around 8 hours to cover the distance in great comfort.

L'Etoile du Nord in 1927
L'Etoile du Nord advertising poster

In the past, you could travel overnight between Paris and Amsterdam in the cozy comfort of a sleeper. These days, if you want to be in Amsterdam at 10 a.m., you have to take the 6:13 a.m. Thalys or leave the day before. Not cool!

In 1956, you would have consulted the Chaix to choose your schedule.

Paris Amsterdam timetable in 1956

Then, in 1957, the TEE (Trans Europe Express), a more modern version of the luxury trains, appeared. There were two of them: “Étoile du Nord” and “Île-de-France”, which ran in mirror image, with one departure in the morning and one in the evening in both directions. Journey times were gradually reduced to just 5.5 hours in the 1980s.

On board, the great pleasure was to go to the dining car for a gourmet dinner served on white tablecloths in china crockery. The journey was long but very comfortable. Border control formalities, still present in Europe, were carried out on the train. Thanks to the creation of the Schengen Area, we’ve forgotten all about this inconvenience!

Thinking of those days gives us a touch of nostalgia. But let’s get back to the present and our journey!

Glass roof at Gare du Nord, Paris

Time to embark!

We thread our way through the crowd to platform 8, where our Eurostar ex-Thalys is located. Departure is scheduled on time, but the train usually arrives only a few minutes before.

After the failed terrorist attack in 2015, the authorities set up a security checkpoint. Passengers had overpowered a heavily armed man before he committed a massacre. Clint Eastwood told the story in The 15:17 to Paris. But getting several hundred passengers to pass through weapons-detection portals on a station platform, and scanning their luggage, soon proved to be complicated. Since then, I assume that other, more discreet security measures must have been put in place, as the controls have disappeared.

Paris to Brussels – 264 km in 1 hour 22

On board the “Premium class

This time, I chose to travel us in “Premium” class. This is the best that Eurostar has to offer.

The cabin is in shades of burgundy and red. The velvet fabric and thick carpet provide a cozy, upscale feel. Admittedly, the velvet is a little worn, but that gives it a vintage feel that I like. But in a few years’ time, all the trains will be getting a facelift, with a thorough overhaul that I discuss in another article: “Thalys becomes Eurostar: my analysis from a brand and customer point of view“.

The Premium cabin is extremely comfortable. Spacious, plush seats are available in saloon, duo, or solo configurations.

Thalys Premium Class interior

On this Monday morning, the vast majority of travelers around us are French businessmen and women on their way to Brussels. Economic ties between the two French-speaking capitals are important, with our neighbor across the border in Belgium our fifth-largest trading partner.

Unlike flying, “useful” time starts as soon as you’re on board. When I worked in Amsterdam, I often went to Paris with my team for meetings with our advertising agency. We appreciated the Thalys for its peacefulness, ideal for work, rest, and socializing. What’s more, wifi is now fully functional.

Breakfast in the class Premium

Just after our departure, the steward comes to greet us with a refreshing towel and then brings us the breakfast. This one is simple, but quite complete. Later in the day, we would have had a light cold meal with a glass of wine or beer. Eurostar is one of the few European rail companies to offer such a service.

Breakfast on board Thalys
Meals on board Thalys

Part of the Paris-Brussels journey takes place along the A1 freeway. This serves as good publicity to emphasize that the car is a slow mode of transport! After catching a glimpse of the terminals of Roissy CDG Airport in the distance, we travel through the Picardy countryside at 300 km/h.

Arrival in Brussels South at 9:47 a.m.

In just 1 hour 22 of high-speed travel, we reach Brussels south. The station was refurbished in the 90s. It looks like a plain but functional airport terminal. It’s located in a neighborhood that’s a mix of tertiary and rather abandoned buildings.

View of Brussels South station

In Brussels, we see a huge ballet of passengers getting on and off. The French are becoming a minority, and the clientele is now predominantly Belgian or Dutch. You can hear it in the conversations, where Dutch dominates more and more as we make our way north.

Brussels is a beautiful tourist city. The Eurostar ex-Thalys makes us regret being in such a hurry and not stopping to enjoy each of its stops! One idea would be to take a two-week vacation, staying a few days at each of the Eurostar stops for more in-depth visits to the cities we pass through.

Grand-place in brussels

From Brussels to Antwerp – 41 km in 35minutes

An unhurried pace

Merging with local traffic, the Eurostar continues at an unhurried pace, at the impressive speed of… 70 km/h, all the way to Antwerp. Our Belgian friends should take a serious look at this issue to see how we can improve the situation.

The train first travels underground, passing through Brussels Central and Brussels North stations without stopping, and then through rather sad industrial and suburban areas.

Brussels North in winter

Visit the Eurostar bar

Brussels to Antwerp is my least favorite part of the trip. So, this is sometimes the moment when I decide to go to the bar car, in the center of the train. The layout is the same as on French TGVs.

The atmosphere, especially in the afternoons and evenings, has often seemed friendlier. Perhaps this is due to the presence of the Belgians and Dutch, who are more accustomed to socializing standing up with a glass of beer?

Bar car on board Thalys
Thalys bar car

Arrival at Antwerpen Centraal at 10.27 am:

We’re entering the Dutch-speaking world

Anvers becomes Antwerpen. The language border is just after leaving Brussels. Belgium is like a link between France and the Netherlands.

Antwerp’s railway station is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. In an eclectic style, a predecessor of Art Nouveau, it is magnificent. I’ve had the opportunity to discover it on other trips.

In the underbelly of the splendid station

But this time we won’t see a thing! Indeed, the Eurostar plunges into a tunnel in the 4th basement! In a pragmatic but unromantic way, it provides a south-north link. In its absence, as the old part of Antwerp Central Station is a terminus, the train would have had to leave in the opposite direction after its stop. We would have lost precious minutes.

Facade of Antwerpen Centraal station

From Antwerp to Rotterdam – 78 km in 32 minutes

En route to the Netherlands and its polders

The Eurostar is about to cross its second border without us noticing. We think it’s normal, but let’s not forget that without the construction of the European Union, it wouldn’t have been so easy.

After Antwerp, the Eurostar is finally back in action, heading for Rotterdam. Shortly before arriving, I try to pay attention to the landscape, as we’re crossing the beginning of the Meuse-Rhine delta, which is quite spectacular and which I’d like to show you, even if it’s too quick to take a photo.

A quick trip to the toilet

But the call of nature becomes insistent! Unfortunately, the toilets are the weak point of our travel experience. They’re often not very clean and sometimes out of order. Let’s hope that the renovation of the Eurostar trains, currently underway, will provide a permanent solution.

Arrival at Rotterdam-Centraal station at 11:02 a.m.

We arrive in Rotterdam. It’s another exciting city to visit. I’ll have the opportunity to tell you more about it in an article sometime in the future. But this time we’ll have to make do with the brief Eurostar stop!

The new Rotterdam Centraal station, built in 2008 following the demolition of the old one, is a fine architectural achievement. The lobby is particularly impressive and bright. The exterior view of the façade is superb, with its triangular geometry.

What’s more, it’s very functional. Its underground bicycle parking is a model of what we’d like to see elsewhere. Well done!

Rotterdam Centraal station forecourt
Interior of Rotterdam Centraal station

Rotterdam to Schiphol Airport – 48 km in 19 minutes

The last high-speed section takes us to Schiphol airport in around twenty minutes.

Other ways to travel with Eurostar: the classes”Comfort“and “Standard

Our journey will soon come to an end, but to give you a complete picture of the Eurostar offer, which remains the same as for the former Thalys, I’ll take you for a stroll around the train to discover the other class types.

The first class we visit is “Comfort”. The seats are the same as in “Premium” class, but with fewer amenities. Traveling in “Confort” does not give you access to the station lounge, and no meals are served on board. Travelers should therefore plan to bring their picnic or grab a bite to eat in the bar car. It is naturally less expensive.

After passing through the bar car, we find ourselves in the “Standard” cars. They are the equivalent of second-class TGV carriages. If I’m sure I won’t have to cancel my trip due to unforeseen circumstances, I won’t hesitate to choose this class. Only “Premium” fares are 100% cancelable. Standard” comfort is just right, and if I plan well in advance, I know I can get competitive rates.

Thalys Standard Class

Arrival at Schiphol Airport at 11:25 a.m.

Schiphol station also deserves a mention, not for its architecture, but because of its excellent integration with the airport, which is the 4th largest in Europe and one of the most popular with air passengers.

Frequent rail connections with the vast majority of the country’s cities make this airport one of the most efficient in the world for air/rail connections. The Eurostars stops here systematically, and the train empties for the most part at this rail and air hub.

Schiphol was often my destination since I worked at the airport. In less than 5 minutes after leaving the Eurostar ex-Thalys, I was back at my desk! Exceptional comfort, which I really appreciated at the time.

But today we’re staying on board to continue to Amsterdam Centraal.

KLM hub at Schiphol airport

From Schiphol to Amsterdam – 12 km in 16 minutes

Between two regional trains, we thread our way at a leisurely pace through the suburbs of Amsterdam. The last remaining passengers are already crowding the doors, impatient to arrive.

Arrival at Amsterdam Centraal at 11:44 a.m.

Finally, we arrive at our terminus: Amsterdam Centraal. Its distinctive feature is that it was built on the site of Amsterdam’s former port.

As you get off the train, I’ll let you smell the sea spray and watch the many seagulls. I’m willing to bet it’ll make you want to go further out on the ocean!

Then we step out onto the huge forecourt in front of the station. It was recently renovated to integrate it better into the city and make more room for pedestrians. The result is a great success!

Architect Cuypers built the station at the end of the 19th century in the same style as the famous Rijksmuseum. Please turn around to admire the façade.

Aerial view of Amsterdam Centraal station
Platform at Amsterdam Centraal station
Amsterdam Central Station

Our journey ends here. For me, however, this time is different. I won’t be taking the tram to my home on Singel as I no longer live in Amsterdam. It’s a strange feeling to return to a city that was my home for five years but is no longer.

For you, if you want to discover this city, I wrote an article “Advice for a friend going to Amsterdam for a long weekend”. to help you organize your stay.

As I’m sure you’ve sensed from reading this article, I warmly recommend Eurostar. It’s certainly one of the best rail customer experiences you can have in Europe today. So get out there and test it! Then let me know what you think in the comments.

If you’d like to find out more about this company, I recommend reading my article “Thalys becomes Eurostar: my analysis from a brand and customer point of view”, where I give you my professional view of the brand and the customer experience.

Eurostar ex Thalys



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