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If booked in far enough in advance (where "enough" varies depending on the popularity of the train), it's possible to get a return between London and Lille on the Eurostar for £69 or €88 (depending on which site you book from). For a popular train at the last minute, a one-way non-flexible standard class ticket can cost you £140!

For those looking for the cheapest alternative, we've got the existing question Is there some other train than Eurostar to go from Lille to London? However, most of those suggestions take rather a lot longer than the Eurostar, and probably too long for me.

Are there any other options which deliver a sub-4-hour journey that could be considered for times when the Eurostar is very expensive or sold out, for those without a car? Perhaps some combination involving a plane from a nearby airport, and train or bus to/from there? Or maybe some sort of train+bus combination, or perhaps some sort of train+Eurostar combination to dip from a different fares pool?

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Well, you could fly LHR-CDG and then take the train to Lille, but that might be rather more expensive than you're looking for. –  Greg Hewgill Apr 1 at 22:16
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There's a few airports not too far away (Paris CDG, Lille, Brussels, Rotterdam), just not sure if it's possible to get to the airport, through the airport, fly, and back out the other side in under 4 hours, hence the question! –  Gagravarr Apr 1 at 23:11
    
You can fly with Iberia via Barcelona in 5 hours, which is technically over your requirement so I didn't add it as an answer, but can do if required with flight details etc. –  Mark Mayo Apr 8 at 5:13
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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted
+100

Edit: on closer inspection (thanks Krist van Besien for the seat61 link) it seems that sadly, the only practical options really are coach with ID or Eurolines (cheap, £20-£50ish depending on advance booking, but 5hr+), or Eurostar.


Train > Ferry > Train

Many possible routes, here's the fastest:

So that's 4 hours plus interchange time, costing around £85, Central London > Lille, prices seemingly not dependent on advance booking.

Edit: The interchange times are horrible: the ferry operators have some savage policies that really slow this down. 45 minutes for foot passengers to check-in (compared to just 30 minutes for vehicles), plus infrequent shuttle buses between ports and stations at both sides that don't seem to match up with either the train or ferry timetables. seat61 recommend allowing an hour at both Dover and Calais for UK to France train-ferry-train journeys, pushing the total to potentially 6 hours. Unless these policies change, sadly this option is more expensive, complicated and slow than a coach.

There might be combined "train and ferry" deals out there that lower the overall price and help you find fast connections, but I couldn't find any clear info. There are "rail and sail" tickets to Ireland and the Netherlands, but not to France. South Eastern Trains once offered a combined "day trip" ticket to Calais, but these seems to have been dropped - apparently for a while it was telephone-booking only, then even call centre staff stopped selling it.


Train > Coach > Train

Two fatal problems here:

  • Looking at the (Eurolines) timetables it doesn't seem to be faster than ferry. They mostly take the coach by ferry anyway (total 2 hours ish), and in the rare cases when they don't (which don't stop anywhere in the UK except London except on the return journey), it takes about an hour and a half to get from Calais to Folkestone (near Dover), so is barely faster.
  • Despite driving through Dover and Folkestone/Canterbury, neither Eurolines nor ID's online booking tools allow you to book from these towns. Seems they don't stop there. They want you to get a coach from Dover to London, then another coach back to Dover on to Calais...
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I doubt "4 hours plus transfer time" will be much faster than 5h40min on a through coach. For example P&O wants you to be at the ferry terminal 45 minutes before departure. So better be there an hour before hand. According to seat61.com/London-Paris-ferry.htm you should plan at least 65 minutes between your train arrival in Dover, and your ferry departure, and 60 minutes in Calais. So that's a bit over 2 hours added... –  Krist van Besien Apr 9 at 5:44
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It would be a tight squeeze, but depending on where you're starting in London, there's one theoretical alternative: flying via Paris. For example:

  1. Catch flight AF1981 from Heathrow at 12:15 PM, arriving Paris-CDG terminal 2E at 2:35 PM (1:35 PM London time).
  2. Catch the TGV Est 5425 at 3:07 PM from Aeroport-CDG (directly under T2), arriving in Lille at 4:01 PM (3:01 London time).

Total time 2 hours 46 minutes! However, this starts from the gate at Heathrow, which isn't exactly realistic; but the remaining 1:14 should be... well, not exactly plenty, but sufficient to get you from central London to your gate. You might even want to allocate a bit more transit time at CDG, which is currently the rather tight but doable 32 minutes.

Brussels would be the other option, but even though it's slightly closer geographically, it's handicapped by the lack of a direct airport-to-TGV connection, making it slower in practice. Rotterdam is even worse, >2 hours away with 3 transfers. Lille has no flights at all from anywhere in the UK.

Edit: Note time difference between UK and France.

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Does the time estimate take time zone differences into account? I think France is an hour ahead of the UK so this might be faster than estimated if both times are local times (but still needs adjusting for travel to airport, check in etc - what would you estimate for that?). –  user568458 Apr 8 at 11:14
    
Also any rough estimate of price? (including Central London > Heathrow) I'd guess £15 + £65 + £40 = £120ish? –  user568458 Apr 8 at 11:29
    
Excellent point re: time difference, totally overlooked that -- this means this is doable in under 3h in theory! I'd wager the price for a normal one-way flight on Air France would be more than that though, probably £100-ish? –  jpatokal Apr 8 at 12:21
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Nice - but maybe this does then run the risk of being both more expensive and slower than full-price full-fat Eurostar? (around 1hr 30mins London > Lille and up to £140 standard non-flex) –  user568458 Apr 8 at 12:33
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Yup, this option makes absolutely no sense in practice, unless the Eurostar really is sold out to the very last seat. –  jpatokal Apr 9 at 12:17
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IDBus runs coaches from London to Lille. They take some time though, travel time is 5h40. But they are cheap. http://uk.idbus.com/ But this does look like the fastest alternative that does not involve flying or the Eurostar.

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