Killing Time at Paris Gare du Nord (and other European stations)

If you're in the mood for apres-ski but the next best snuggle up at the Atrio Alpine ski bar. Don't worry, the furs are fake.
If you’re in the mood for apres-ski but can’t get to the mountains, snuggle up at the Atrio Alpine ski bar at Zurich Hauptbahnhof. Don’t worry, the furs are fake.

As a blogger for Eurail, I’ve spent a lot of time killing time–eating, drinking, reading, waiting, people watching––in Europe’s biggest (and sometimes, tiniest) train stations. I’ve devoured lackluster sandwiches, run hungry to make train connections only to discover that no dining car existed on the route, and slowly learned where to eat–and more importantly, where not to eat–around these transport hubs glutted with teeming masses of commuters, students, and confused tourists. For tips on where to find decent food and drinks in and around some of the continent’s most sprawling, beautiful, and disorienting stations––Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Zurich Hauptbahnhof, Amsterdam Centraal, Antwerp Centraal, and Prague hlavní nádraží––here’s the story.

If you’re heading on the Eurostar, the Thalys, or the TGV through Paris’ Gare du Nord––whose particular chaos is equal parts maddening and fascinating––then read on.

Where to eat and drink in Gare du Nord:

With few exceptions, don’t eat in the station. It’s loud. It’s freezing––unless it’s summer, in which case it’s sweltering. The exception is to grab breakfast from Paul, a bakery that’s ubiquitous to French train stations. While it’s not the best croissant you’ll find in Paris, it’s still a better croissant than you’ll find in most of the world. There’s fresh squeezed orange juice and coffees, too.

Where to eat and drink near Gare du Nord:

Walking out into Paris Nord after alighting from the relatively serenity of the Thalys train can be slightly nerve-wracking. It’s full of pushy taxi drivers, bewildered tourists, pickpockets,and annoyed Parisians, as well as plenty of waiters desperate to get you inside their restaurants. Ignore the hawkers: cross Rue de Dunkerque, which runs parallel to the front of the station, and head straight to Terminus Nord at 23 Rue de Dunkerque. This art deco treasure serves French bistro classics (oysters! Chateaubriand! Boullabaisse!) until midnight. The danger here isn’t mediocre food: it’s that you’ll splurge on the warm chocolate profiteroles and miss your train to Nice.

Devotees of Indian food should head east of the station, where the streets are lined with sari shops and relatively inexpensive, authentic Indian restaurants. At 170 Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis, I like the South Indian vegetarian at Saravanaa Bhavan.