28

I believe there's the Euro Tunnel as well as a number of ferry options, but which can I use to travel with a car between the UK and France, Belgium or the Netherlands?

If there aren't too many options an exhaustive list would be great. If not, what would be the

  • cheapest option?
  • fastest option?
  • most popular options?

Related question: What is the cheapest way to cross the English Channel from France to the UK on foot, single ticket?

  • 5
    I'm pretty sure there are lots of options, and the best one will largely depend on where you're going. – Michael Hampton Aug 11 '16 at 21:29
  • 5
    Depends where in the UK you're starting from too. – A E Aug 11 '16 at 21:49
  • 2
    @hippietrail Fair comment, I'll edit it out. I called it dated because of its answers. The top voted answer referred to a defunct website/company, the second answer was dated at the time it was posted and the third referred to a 3 year-old ticket price. While answers can indeed by updated, in my experience they rarely are unless they're from regular users and on a popular/reference question. – Lilienthal Aug 12 '16 at 8:24
  • 2
    You already have some good answers here. I just wanted to add that for the ferry there are a few search engines that can help you find the cheapest fare. Just google "ferry uk". – algiogia Aug 12 '16 at 10:01
  • 3
    All the ferries crossing the channel are car ferries. Some of them also do a minor sideline in foot passengers, others won't even let you on unless you are in a motor vehicle(because there are so few of them it's not worth the expense of maintaining & running the extra facilities needed for them). You can also take Eurotunnel. The only thing you can't do is fly. – Jonathan Aug 12 '16 at 12:14
47

The shortest crossings are the quickest and cheapest. So Dover/Calais is very popular. And the EuroTunnel train from Folkstone/Calais is effectively the same, but quicker (35 minutes compared with 90 minutes) and more expensive.

However you then have to factor in the drive to and from the crossing points, which costs both time and money. Hence a longer more expensive crossing may suit you better. For example the 10 hour crossing from Rotterdam to Hull is probably more time-effective than driving from Rotterdam to Calais and Dover to Hull.

Other factors:

  1. Frequency of crossing. If there are only 3 ferries a day, then missing the ferry is a big deal. There are often 3 trains an hour, so no big deal to miss one, and indeed one often can get on an earlier train.
  2. Seasickness: some of these crossings (North Sea, Bay of Biscay) can be rough. 10 hours on a heaving ship may not suit you. Hence we do usually take the train.
  3. Some folks treat the sea voyage as part of the holiday; it can be fun.
  4. Some longer crossings are over-night, and the ferry will have the possibility to book a cabin for a few 10s of pounds so with any luck you can get a good night's sleep. For folks with limited holiday time this saving of a night can be a boon.
  • 1
    Frequency: the longer crossings are often 1/day or 5-6/week (peak season can be higher, off season can go down to 3-4/week). I'm most familiar with the western channel crossings, where points 3&4 apply (also you can sometimes book a berth in a shared cabin; you generally have to have an airline-style "sleeper seat" as a minimum) – Chris H Aug 12 '16 at 9:10
17

To cross the Channel with a vehicle, you have two choices: ferry or train. The ferry costs less and takes longer, the train faster and more expensive. Folkestone is the departure point for the Eurotunnel train to Calais; the most popular ferry crossing is Dover-Calais.

Here's an overview of some of the options:

To France, the choices are Dover–Dunkerque, Newhaven-Dieppe, Portsmouth to Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, or St Malo; Poole-Cherbourg, Plymouth-Roscoff.

The ferry route from England to Belgium is Hull-Zeebrugge. For the Netherlands, Hull-Rotterdam, Newcastle-IJmuiden, Harwich-Hoek van Holland.

As for convenience, that depends on where you start your journey and where you're heading.

  • 9
    Well, there is a third option, but it does take a fair bit of preparation ... as documented by the BBC. – KlaymenDK Aug 12 '16 at 7:53
  • Dover - Dunkerque is a great alternative to Calais if heading towards Belgium/Germany from the south east. Also worth mentioning that the longer routes (such as Ports - Caen) have overnight sailings that offer the ability to sleep on the ferry and start early the next morning at your destination. – Neil P Aug 12 '16 at 8:38
  • @pnuts not necessarily, but depending on the circumstances it may be well worth considering. It's certainly a popular option, allowing for a full nights sleep and a full day once arriving on the continent. – Neil P Aug 12 '16 at 10:27
  • @pnuts I don't understand the problem, I was just highlighting that there is that option. Never claimed it to be the fastest method :) – Neil P Aug 12 '16 at 10:51
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    @pnuts then vote to close the question. I'm just trying to give advice. – Neil P Aug 12 '16 at 10:55
14

I've just returned from France by car and I've done the trip many times. Each time I've looked at all the various options, EuroTunnel, Calais-Dover Ferry and then the longer routes. Each time the Dover-Calais ferry route has been the cheapest with Dunkerque-Dover slightly behind.

From my experience all the longer routes are MUCH more expensive (2-3 time more usually) but that will depend on what time and day you want to travel. Being closer to the ultimate destination by taking a longer sea route has never worked out quicker than driving from Calais.

Eurotunnel has always come out more expensive.

My recommendation is to check all the options (it doesn't take long) but I suspect that the Calais-Dover ferry will be cheapest. The time difference between that and the Eurotunnel is relatively small and not worth the higher price.

I usually go by price and least hassle.

Summary:

Cheapest - usually ferry from Dover

Quickest - Eurotunnel

Most Popular - Eurotunnel and ferry are both pretty close.

Enjoy your trip and the English roads.

  • 3
    It does depend where you want to go though. On a basis of 10p/mile just on fuel, going out of your way to Dover could easily add £50, more if you end up paying tolls in France. Also if it's a holiday you could spend a day driving that you could otherwise spend enjoying yourself – Chris H Aug 12 '16 at 9:15
  • Depending on when you book and when you travel, the Eurotunnel can be cheaper than any of the ferries. – Willeke Aug 12 '16 at 15:28
10

The only crossings from GB to the European continent that aren't mentioned in other answers are the direct ferries to Spain.

Portsmouth-Santander Portsmouth-Bilbao Plymouth-Santander

The ships are a sort of cross between a liner, a cruise ship and a ferry, in that they take cars, like a ferry, but have lots of cabins and facilities like a cruise ship, but are relatively fast and run to a schedule like a liner.

Note that cabins are compulsory on such long journeys that always include an overnight, you can't just sit in a lounge like you can on a ferry.

  • 1
    @pnuts Duh. I'm clearly being thick today. I'll leave it up because people are clearly finding it useful in spite of being unrelated to the question. – Richard Gadsden Aug 12 '16 at 10:07
  • @pnuts I really don't mind and I'd actually considered opening the question up to any way to travel with a car between the UK and mainland Europe but I already got comments on this being too broad. I think there also used to be ferries from Norway, though I'm not sure if any still operate regularly. – Lilienthal Aug 12 '16 at 12:35
  • There used to be ferries to both Denmark and Norway, but neither one operates any more. Also the Denmark-Faroes ferry used to stop in the Shetlands, and doesn't. – Richard Gadsden Aug 12 '16 at 14:08
  • Seem that this is still a valid answer to the question since, depending on where your final destination is in France, a Ferry to Spain may mean a shorter drive to your destination. Spending more time in a comfortable cabin on a ship may be preferable than spending extra hours driving. – Johnny Aug 13 '16 at 21:42
  • @Johnny That would be true for most of the south of France, though it's only a big difference for the SW (e.g. Bordeaux, Toulouse, Biarritz). Most of the Côte d'Azur (SE France, and a much bigger tourist destination) is 100-200km closer to Bilbao than to the Channel ports, but that's 800-900km vs 1000km, which isn't worth the extra sea time. – Richard Gadsden Aug 19 '16 at 10:17
6

As others have said, Dover-Calais is the shortest ferry crossing. It also has the most frequent sailings: P&O have 23 sailings/day, and if you buy the right type of ticket (flexible rather than the lowest-cost fixed sailing time) you can turn up whenever and be on your way in about an hour.

Note there are several (2-4 in recent years) ferry companies on this route. Last time I checked, P&O was the cheapest and most frequent, DFDS have fewer sailings.

When planning your journey, check the traffic situation in Dover/Calais beforehand, the ferry company website will usually mention any issues. There have been recent incidents where due to strikes or customs holdups there were very long queues (12h+) on the roads into the port.

From Calais to the middle of the Netherlands is about a 5-h drive, I found it's quicker, more convenient and cheaper to drive to Calais than use the Hook of Holland-Harwich route.

Prices vary massively with season and time of day. Buying a ticket in advance is always cheaper than just turning up (expect at least €75 extra).

  • My boyfriend find it even more convenient and even cheaper to use the Dover Dunkirk ferry, which has the added advantage that you can add passengers to the booking without extra cost, the extra travel time is taken out by the shorter drive and as only driver he appreciates a longer rest on the ferry. – Willeke Aug 13 '16 at 10:34
6

Assuming you have a relatively watertight car, you can do it the way top gear did:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVjo6YOT3Zg

just attach a boat motor to the back, a couple extra buoyancy devices (i.e. empty oil cans) and "drive" across the channel - no need for a silly ferry or train, but rather you end up actually crossing the channel with a car

  • 5
    with a car, in a car, and by car! – hippietrail Aug 13 '16 at 13:49
  • 1
    If you don't want to DIY, you can always buy a pre-made amphibious car, though I've always wanted James Bond's underwater capable Lotus Esprit S1 – Johnny Aug 13 '16 at 21:33
  • Something to remember is that while you don't see them much on screen a show like top gear will have a serious support team, both in the office making sure the paperwork is in order (how do immigration/customs formalities work if you arrive in an amphibious car?) and in the field (or sea in this case) making sure the presenters don't kill themselves. Copying them without such a support team may be highly dangerous. – Peter Green Aug 14 '16 at 5:54
6

One further point to consider is that, due to the popularity of the shorter crossings Dover-Calais and Folkestone-Calais, those are far more likely to cause traffic-related delays due to complications related to security, strikes, migrant problems etc. For example, several weeks ago at the start of the school holidays, cars were gridlocked overnight on the main motorways leading to Dover because the French authorities increased security checks at the border control, without allocating enough personnel to compensate.

Over the past few years, I've travelled from West London to Brittany during the peak season and always taken one of the other crossings, e.g. Poole - St Malo, Portsmouth - Le Havre / Cherbourg / Caen, Newhaven - Dieppe. On at least two of those occasions, I know that I would certainly have been delayed had I chosen the Dover - Calais route.

  • 1
    On the other hand, P&O run 4-5 ferries on the Dover-Calais run so they have a lot of capacity to compensate for problems that don't affect the entire harbor. Long crossings are run with fewer boats so a single breakdown will cause long delays. – Hobbes Aug 15 '16 at 20:30
6

The cheapest option for crossing the channel to France is nearly always going to be from Dover to Calais or Dover to Dunkirk. It's the shortest distance and therefore the ferry companies can maximise the number of crossings per day. Quickest is via the Eurotunnel with around 35 minute journey time. The most popular is Dover to Calais in my opinion some 13 million people used the route in 2015 closely followed by the Eurotunnel which had around 10.5 million. Source France Ferry Booker Other routes are popular with travelers for different reasons. Those living in the south or southwest of the UK may not want to travel all the way to Dover to then head back down to Brittany. A trip from Plymouth to Roscoff or Portsmouth to St Malo may therefore be more favourable.

Mostly popularity is down to need and choice of the individual traveler.

2

It might be slightly more expensive, if you book in advance, but Eurotunnel wins every time for me:

Quick to load and unload your car onto the train (you stay in your car for the journey) - just drive on and drive off again.

Just 35 minutes to cross.

Up to 4 crossings an hour at peak times (and at least one crossing every 2 hours in the middle of the night).

No weather disruption. No seasickness.

The price you pay is for the car; not per passenger.

And if you arrive late, it is easy to move your booking onto the next available - you will rarely have to wait longer than an hour or pay more.

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