The longest undersea rail tunnel in the world, the Channel Tunnel – also known as the ‘Chunnel’ – provides the only permanent link between the island of Great Britain and continental Europe.

In our guide to the Channel Tunnel, we explain its history, how it was built, which trains it serves and more. So, what are you waiting for? Keep reading for more details.

What is the Chunnel?

The Channel Tunnel, also referred to as the ‘Chunnel’, is the longest underwater rail tunnel in the world and connects southern England (Folkestone Terminal) to northern France (Calais Terminal) beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover.

Owned and operated by Getlink, the Chunnel is actually made of three tunnels – two rail tunnels, which are used for freight and passenger trains, and a service tunnel – and carries high-speed Eurostar trains, international freight trains and the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle service for road vehicles.

Where is the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel runs between Calais in northern France and Folkestone in south Kent. Road vehicles for Eurotunnel Le Shuttle get on in Calais and get off in Folkestone, while Eurostar trains depart from London St Pancras International station in London and go directly to the centre of Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and other European destinations.

How long is the Channel Tunnel?

The Chunnel is 31.5 miles (50.45 km) long, of which 23.5 miles (37.9 km) are under the English Channel, making it the longest undersea tunnel in the world.

When did the Channel Tunnel open?

The idea of building a tunnel under the English Channel was first proposed in 1802 but construction only began in 1988. The Channel Tunnel was completed in 1993 and was officially opened on 6th May 1994 by Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand. The first Eurostar services started in November 1994.

How was the Channel Tunnel built?

Working from both the English side and the French side of the Channel, eleven boring machines cut through chalk marl to construct three separate tunnels running parallel to each other: one train tunnel running south from the UK to France, one running north from France to the UK and one a service tunnel.

All three tunnels were drilled below the seabed and link Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles in Pas-de-Calais.

How deep is the Channel Tunnel?

At its deepest, the Chunnel is 246 feet (75 metres) below the sea level.

Which trains go through the Chunnel?

The Chunnel connects end-to-end with the high-speed railway lines of the LGV Nord in France and High Speed 1 in England. GetLink operate the tunnel and provide vehicle transport services with the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle between Folkestone and Calais, while Eurostar run high-speed passenger trains between London and many destinations in Europe, including Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Whether you’re travelling with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle or Eurostar, you’ll need to go through security checks, border controls and ticket checks before going through the Chunnel.

Read on for more information on Eurostar, including popular routes and how to get the cheapest fares.

Popular Eurostar routes

Have a look at some of the most popular Eurostar routes via the Channel Tunnel below – simply tap the route you’re interested in to check train times, compare ticket prices, and learn more about the train journey.


Fastest journey time

London to Paris

2h 16m

London to Amsterdam

3h 55m

London to Brussels

2h 1m

London to Rotterdam

3h 35m

London to Lille

1h 24m

London to Bruges

3h 26m

So, what are you waiting for? Start a search for Eurostar train tickets in our Journey Planner at the top of the page – you won’t regret it!

Find & book tickets

How to buy cheap Eurostar tickets

Want to save money on your train journey through the Channel Tunnel? Read our top tips to snap up the cheapest Eurostar fares.

Book in advance

Eurostar train tickets usually go on sale 6 months before the date of travel. Make sure you book in advance if you want to snap up the cheapest fares as these tend to sell out, leaving only the more expensive tickets.

Make it midweek

When travelling on the Eurostar, you can benefit from reduced fares by travelling in the middle of the week (Tuesday or Wednesday) and at times of the day that are less busy. When searching for tickets, we'll show you all available tickets, highlighting the cheapest ones for you.

Keep an eye on offers

Eurostar have been known to hold flash sales for tickets, with the cheapest one-way tickets from £29. Keep an eye on our Deals & Discounts page for the latest Eurostar offers to save on your train journey.

Channel Tunnel facts

There are so many interesting facts about the Channel Tunnel. Have a look at our top picks below and learn more about one of the biggest engineering projects ever undertaken in the United Kingdom. 

First designs and plans

  • Early Channel Tunnel proposals stirred up concerns in Britain of an invasion from France, so very early concepts included designs that could be blown up or flooded, should the French ever try to invade.
  • In designing the original trains, there were some difficult Anglo-French negotiations. French regulation said you couldn’t have liquids over 85°C, so there were debates about whether you could make a decent cup of English tea within the permitted temperatures.
  • The trains were designed to be split in two in an emergency if necessary to get out of the Channel Tunnel. All passengers could stand in one half, the other half could be manually uncoupled and the train could leave.
  • Early British Rail suggestions for train design were all rejected. In the end, train design, track design, signalling system – it was all French.
  • In the 1990s, a sleeper train service was planned through the Channel Tunnel alongside Eurostar trains: the Nightstar! The trains were even built. But alas, they were never launched, and many carriages were sold to Canada.

Early years of the Chunnel

  • The early years of the Channel Tunnel were tough, competing with cheap airlines, many people thought it might fold entirely. But then slowly, things changed!
  • There were concerns that passing through the Channel Tunnel at 160 km/h would have a hypnotic effect on the driver so the cab window was made very small compared with other trains.
  • In 1889 the Channel Tunnel was going to be a BRIDGE. The "Schneider-Hersent" to be exact, 24 miles and 120 piers of engineering excellence. The chief consulting engineer was Sir John Fowler, who was responsible for Scotland's Forth Bridge and London's Metropolitan Railway.
  • On 30th October 1990, the Channel Tunnel’s advancing French tunnel boring machine met the British probe for the first time undersea. Incredibly, their difference in alignment was just 358mm horizontally and 58mm vertically!
  • The Queen was the very first official passenger to travel through the tunnel… but due to signalling issues on the UK side, her train arrived seven minutes late.

Facts about the Eurostar

  • The original Eurostar train designs were essentially based on a French design – the TGV – but had elements designed across Britain, France and Belgium – all the places the trains served. The front of the power car was designed in Leicester.
  • Eurostar trains are more complex than they look: they were built to work with 8 different signalling systems across Europe and a different loading gauge (i.e. space around the train to platforms and bridge edges) in France and the UK.
  • The original Eurostar London terminus was at Waterloo: the long, curved extension at the side of the main station was used before the station at St Pancras International was completed.
  • Eurostar actually had to stop for manual level crossing!
  • There are regular changes to timetables in both Britain and France. Because at first the Eurostar trains shared tracks with UK domestic trains to get to Waterloo, there were periods when the timetable worked fine for France but was terrible to try and fit in over in Britain. Now all UK Eurostar tracks are segregated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Thinking of taking the Eurostar for your next train trip in Europe and having a couple of questions before you travel? Have a look at our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Chunnel from our customers.

Is the Channel Tunnel underwater?

Yes. The Channel Tunnel is the longest undersea tunnel in the world: its section under the sea is 23.5 miles (37.9 km) long.

How long did it take to build the Channel Tunnel?

It took five years – from 1988 to 1993 – to build the Channel Tunnel.

Do Eurostar trains go through the Channel Tunnel?

Yes. Eurostar runs high-speed passenger services through the Channel Tunnel between London and a number of other European cities, including Paris, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Avignon and Marseille.

How long are you underwater on the Eurostar?

It takes around 35 minutes for the Eurostar to cross the 23-mile underwater stretch of the Channel Tunnel.

What's the difference between Eurostar and Eurotunnel?

Eurostar and Eurotunnel are completely different companies but they share use of the Channel Tunnel. Eurotunnel is operated by Getlink, the company that owns and operates the Channel Tunnel, connecting the UK with France, while Eurostar is a customer of Getlink and runs its passenger trains through the Chunnel.

Is there WiFi in the Channel Tunnel?

Yes. 4G mobile services are available in the Channel Tunnel – WiFi will work on both sides of the English Channel and in the tunnel itself.

How fast does a Eurostar train go?

The Eurostar travels through the Chunnel at speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h) but it can reach up to 186 mph (300 km/h) outside the tunnel.

Want to know more about train travel in Europe?

We’ve told you everything you need to know about the Channel Tunnel but if you want to learn more about Eurostar or train travel in Europe, check out our travel guides.

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