Gare du Nord – setting you straight on shopping ….
Is there duty free at Gare du Nord (or Paris Nord, “North Station”) Eurostar terminal?
It’s a commonly asked question on the internet, so let’s set the record straight. No, there isn’t. Well – no more than there is at any airport serving travellers flying intra-EU. Intra-EU duty free was banned back in 1999 and nothing has changed since to alter that fact. But – like said airports – there are ‘tax-free’ prices offered on certain goods, along with special offers ad infinitum. How those prices compare to those on the domestic high street depends on where you’ve come from…and where you’re going to.
The Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord is upstairs. It’s busy….Gare du Nord generally is always busy; after all with some 190 million passengers a year travelling both internationally and within France, it’s said to be the busiest railway station in Europe and the second busiest in the world after New York City Grand Central.
Eurostar has been here since 1994 and it operates pretty slickly these days – though at peak times it is very busy. It’s not worth arriving here much more than 1.5 hours before departure because you simply can’t check in before then. Wandering around Gare du Nord has its limitations – there are a few snack bars and shops, but it’s hardly the Champs Elysees.
O’Connway’s is the ‘Irish’ restaurant not found within the Eurostar terminal which is not outrageously priced, although the only resemblance to anything Irish is the fact that it serves Guinness. Beware of visiting pigeons as well, if you are not into feathered friends.
Back to the shopping. Once you have been through French and UK passport control and security you won’t have a huge amount of time for shopping – but then you don’t need much. We’re not talking your average airport retail experience here – Heathrow T5 it isn’t. The choice is limited, but reasonable – though don’t expect to stock up on cheap tobacco, this is not the place. Tobacco does not do ‘tax free’ only duty free.
Arranged on the left of the central aisle leading to the seating areas, there are three modular shop units, each divided into two walk-through halves. First stop is Beauty Unlimited – fragrances in one half, cosmetics and skincare in the other, all offered at tax free prices. (Ignore the logo on the large Clarins advert that proclaims ‘Buy Paris Duty Free’ – it’s just there to confuse the issue.)
For a fairly small outlet, Beauty Unlimited offers most of the brand names you’d expect – Armani, Chanel, Clarins, Clinique, Dior, Estee Lauder, Gucci, Hilfiger, Lancome etc etc. On the day we visited, there were a number of highlighted 20% off offers on certain brands, such as Lacoste Touch of Pink at €44 compared to the usual €56 and Hugo Boss Femme at €49 compared to €62.40. However, it wasn’t clear if this was on top of the already tax free price or not. Best to first check prices at home. Traveller exclusive sets (eg not available on the domestic market) were also on offer from brands like Clarins – and these do usually represent good value for money.
Next stop is Aelia Gourmet. The first half is packed with typical French delicacies – cheese, foie gras, tea, biscuits, wine and Champagne. A good place to stock up if you haven’t purchased exactly the same thing or similar for (probably) a better price in Mono Prix or Carrefour! Again, look out for special offers. We saw two bottles of 75cl Laurent Perrier at €56.50 compared to the normal €62.80.
Godiva takes most of the second half of the shop – despite being a Belgian chocolatier rather than French. A variety of ballotin assortments are on offer – ideal as gifts – with three boxes for €47 not exactly a give-away price, but possibly attractive to some. Chupa Chups (the various fruit and other wondrously flavoured lollipos) can also be picked up here in giant travel exclusive formats. This area also has a small spirits offer. Again, because it’s not duty free, prices are not going to be particularly attractive) so it depends how desperate you are. Special offers on the day included one litre of Gordon’s gin at €19.90; any two bottles of Johnnie Walker at €71 and Glenfiddich 12 yo at €35.10. Hmmm, probably best to give this a miss and wait till you get to the UK and can head for a superstore (though of course sizes are litres rather than the usual 70/75cl).
If you do need a last minute gift, L’Occitane en Provence offers a wide range of lotions and potions for him and her, all presented with a very ‘French’ feel. Prices start at around €9 for a set of small hand soaps, and various gift sets are available.
From L’Occitane you can walk through into a small Relay store – found all over France, this is your typical newsagent, but with an emphasis here on pocket money souvenirs and confectionery – as well as snacks, magazines and papers. A second store selling similar items – Paris Tabac – is located opposite the lounge seating area. These are the places to get rid of any unwanted Euros on stuff that nobody really needs. But if you missed out on buying an Eiffel Tower souvenir at the time, here you can find this most famous of Paris landmarks disguised as key-rings, chocolate, brandy filled towers, sugar confectionery filled towers, clocks, on t-shirts, on bags, on mugs, on ashtrays. It’s enough to make you feel quite dizzy!
Shopping aside, the catering facilities here extend to a Café Roma and Paul, both serving a typical selection of baguettes, pastries, tarts, and drinks; and a Haagen Daz ice-cream stall. You won’t have time for much else in any event. If you do have the privilege of being a Business/Premier class passenger with access to the lounge, or have managed to secure an invitation, then make the most of it. The seating is not the most comfortable in the world, but the drinks cabinet offer rivals many airline business lounges – and the wifi is free. Enjoy it while you have time!
Facts: Gare du Nord
- Gare du Nord: Built between 1861 and 1864.
- Around 190m passengers in total a year serving trains to Northern France as well as international destinations in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
- Eurostar has operated here since 1994 with trains to London St Pancras and stops at Ashford and Ebbsfleet.
- Eurostar is the high speed train serving linking St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International, Ashford International, Paris, Brussels, Lille, Calais, Disneyland Resort Paris, Avignon and the French Alps.
- In 2011 Eurostar in total carried 9.7m passengers.