Updated: May 20, 2022
Change over stations along the journey - photo CRiney
I chose my first journey away from the British Isles to travel by train. Why? A very good question. I think the answer has many facets, I wanted slow, greener, travel journey. I wanted a reminder of my back packing days (Eurorailing) and was looking for an adventure!
So, usually, it is just about finding the best price for the travel ticket and making sure your passport is up to date, unless of course you are going to a more exotic location where you need inoculations, visas etc.
To do this journey with pandemic restrictions in place around the world it took an almost forensic approach. I had to investigate many different websites, talk to my good friend and travel aficionado, you know who you are Mr Rose, to understand what I needed and where to go to get it.
I have organised the first part of this story by the travel documents I needed to leave these fair shores and arrive in Hamburg. The second part is about the epic train journey that took 8 hours to complete.
NOTE: some of the requirements/train schedules/etc have now changed and you will need to check how things are when you plan your own journey. Please only use this as a general guide to travelling from London to Hamburg.
Part 1 -Travel Documents
What you need BEFORE (or at least check if you need these) you step foot on a platform:
Passenger Locator Forms - different requirements for all countries.
Mask - trains, planes & boats require masks (usually FFP2)
1. Train Tickets
I travelled by Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn (DB). My top tip - book in advance on DB and for a small price difference upgrade to 1st class especially if travelling by yourself. Also, DB has a buffet car with excellent German beer, food isn't bad either. Can be between 8-16 euros to upgrade depending on how long in advance you book.
1. Eurostar: London St Pancras to Brussels, Belgium (2.5 hours) – I decided to go via Brussels to avoid the Paris North to South train station switch and France’s restrictions seemed stricter at the time. When I went in Feb 3, 2022 there was only one Eurostar train at 11:04am, now there are four starting at 9am, 11am, 2pm & 6pm.
I love traveling on the Eurostar going under the English Channel via the Channel Tunnel - approx 20 minutes under water. The Channel Tunnel is 31.4 miles long, making it the 13th longest tunnel in use. It has the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world (23.5 miles). Actually, our last family holiday abroad was on the Eurostar between Christmas and New Year 2019 to Bruges, Belgium.
Another fun fact - The Channel Tunnel was recognised as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, alongside the Empire State Building, the Itaipu Dam in South America, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Panama Canal, the North Sea protection works in the Netherlands, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
2. Deutsche Bahn – To get to Hamburg it involves probably two too many changes if I am being honest. After the second change I was wondering who does this! I definitely did not when I was backpacking nor any other time. Slow travel but NOT stopping along the way and the darker it got the less interesting.
Brussels – Koln – Hanover – Hamburg
My connections - Eurostar arrived at 14:05 so it was a very quick change but only to the platform next to the one I arrived on. The website lets you choose the amount of time between changes but gives you the optimum you need. I did make all the connections.
A few things to consider when traveling in Europe for British citizens:
1. Brexit changes - for British citizens - traveling to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. You need:
a. 6 Months - your British passport will need to have at least six months left on it before it expires.
b. Age of passport - it must have been issued less than nine years and six months ago.
3. Passenger Locator Forms (PFL)
I needed to have 3 for each country I stopped in for however long I was there.
1. Belgium PLF – Passenger Locator Form Belgium, still required
2. Germany PLF – Passenger Locator Form Germany (this is no longer needed arriving from the UK as it is no longer designated a "high risk" country but keep checking.)
3. British PLF – Passenger Locator Form United Kingdom for the return journey to be done while away. Fill in 3 days before you leave to come back.
3. COVID Requirments - Fully Vaccinated status
There are a whole set of restrictions in place for anyone who isn't vaccinated including quarantines. I am not going to go through those here but there is plenty of information online.
So, if you are vaccinated you will need the following either printed and/or downloaded to a device and ready to show anyone and everyone who asks. If traveling via Eurostar follow the link to see all the current requirements. I was travelling by myself but the same link provides information if travelling with children over & under 12 and vaccinated and vaccinated.
1. COVID vaccination certificate – I have all three vaccinations and I was vaccinated in the UK so all my information is now easily accessible on the NHS app. It is easy to download the certificate to your phone and print from the app. I did both in case I had a phone malfunction. Really important to carry your charger.
2. Pre-departure COVID test – either 72-hour PCR test or 24-hour Antigen test. I opted for the Antigen test which I took at St Pancras before I boarded. It was quick and easy on the upper level at the station. I used Collinson group's testing centre. But there are other choices follow the link.
Top Tip - be very careful when deciding to book a test. Make sure it is the the type you need. Some countries require you to have a supervised antigen test and some you can do yourself at home.
3. 270 day rule - to qualify as fully vaccinated, if you don’t have a booster, some countries require, that your second dose of the vaccine was less then 270 days before entry into the country.
4. Children - the requirements differ between countries so check each one you are going to and through.
4. What Did I Actually Show
1. London St Pancras International – I had to show my:
antigen test certificate - I booked to take the test at St Pancreas International located on the top floor of the station
train ticket and
COVID vaccination certificate - downloaded from the NHS App as a PDF saved to my phone (I also printed it)
Only thing I didn't have to show were my Belgium and Germany PLF (Personal Locator Forms).
Some of these I had to show more than once before getting into the waiting area for boarding. By then you definitely feel a mixture of relief and somewhat paranoid: who should or shouldn’t I sit next two; how close; is everyone going to suddenly turn into zombies (0k maybe not the last one but, really, the opposite of relaxing).
2. Belgium – Only my train ticket on the train.
this was interesting… Despite being told over the train announcement system, as we were arriving in Brussels, that there would be another check-in for people changing trains for other destinations, I got off the Eurostar went over one platform and got on the next train which was already on the platform. No checks between the platforms. No checks until the train was moving and only to ask for my ticket.
It was easy and from that moment on I was only asked for my train ticket all the way to Hamburg. Masks again required at all times.
3. Hamburg – Only my ticket on each new train.
No checks of any kind arriving - not getting off the train or out of the station.
However, the rules in the city of Hamburg and other parts of Germany require – two vaccinations or one vaccination and one recovery certificate, mask AND photo id for entry into retail shops. If you wanted to eat at a café, restaurant, etc – 3 vaccinations or 2 vac/1 recovery certificate, Photo ID and a mask.
No cloth masks in sight.
Part 2 -Travel by Train - The Journey
Ah, the journey, sit back and let it unfold.
1. First leg – Eurostar: London - Brussels - 2.5 hours
I do like traveling by Eurostar and trains in general. The Eurostar is a very comfortable train with a buffet car and you can bring your own food as well. Masks are required unless you are eating. I did get a few glares if I didn't put my mask on fast enough. Everyone was wearing a mask. Beginning of Feb people were still a bit "jumpy".
2. Second leg - DB: Brussels - Koln - 1 hr 50 mins
Inside the Deuches Bahn - very comfortable this is the first class carriage but either type of carriage are comfortable.
l'd have liked to stop here and explore Koln and it's wonderful cathedral I could see from the platform. Next time.
Meanwhile, I boarded the train, settled in and ordered a weissbier in a very tall glass, a sandwich and received a free DB chocolate square. Very relaxing!
3. Third leg - DB: Koln - Hannover - 2 hrs 50 mins
Hannover, another interesting German city I, sadly, only changed trains here.
My longest leg so I read and watched something on my iPad. It was getting dark by now so I was beginning to find I was ready to get off the train. A bit like Snowpiercer, the train journey that never stops, if you have see the series on Netflix?!
Towards the end of this leg things for me were getting a bit tense, nothing to look at outside and I started getting messages on my DB app saying the train was running late and I was going to miss my connection! I appreciated the updates and they also told me what train I could catch instead. I have to say it was very easy to navigate the DB train system and my ticket was valid on any connecting train.
4. Fourth leg - DB Hannover - Hamburg - 1 hr 20mins
Well, thankfully I did make the connection with not a moment to spare! The ICE trains in Europe really are comfortable, reliable and very good at giving you all the information you need, especially important when making multiple connections!
My sister and her husband met me at the station for a week of exploring Hamburg, by boat, bus, foot and train! A very handsome harbor city full of interesting architecture, historic sites and even a tunnel under the Elbe.
A few photos of Hamburg - a very handsome city. Photos: CRiney.
Thank you for reading, happy train travels.