By Jeremy Head
With the most competitive low cost airline network in Europe, England makes the best jumping off point for long-term visitors to base themselves and see the rest of what the continent has to offer. But you don’t have to take the plane to get to the continent – take a ferry to France
and you can take your bike or campervan too and you’ve got the rest of Europe at your feet. And you may even save money too!
Dover to Calais ferries
The shortest stretch of sea between England and France is just 22 miles wide. On a bright day it’s easy to see France from Dover. This is the main thoroughfare for ferries to France. You’ll find crossings taking place pretty much 24 hours a day. The crossing takes around 90 minutes, so if you wanted time to sit back and enjoy the ride you might want to head for a different port. But if you just want the cheapest and most convenient way to get over to France with your car or bike then Dover is absolutely the place to head for. The channel tunnel runs under the same stretch of sea and as a result this route is really competitive which helps keep the prices down. To get the cheapest ferry deals book well in advance, travel outside school holidays and during less popular timeslots like late at night or early morning. You could grab yourself a deal for as little as £30 return for a car and two passengers including taxes. That’s way cheaper than any low cost airline fare!
Other ferries to France
If you want a longer crossing, consider catching the ferry to France from Southampton or Plymouth. These crossings take five to eight hours and offer you the chance to jump ashore further down the French coastline, which is ideal if you’re headed for the west coast of France or Spain. Prices on these routes tend to be considerably higher than Dover-Calais. Some companies offer night crossings which means you can save on the cost of a hotel. Don’t expect a particularly comfortable night though if you don’t pay for a cabin. Ferries on these longer routes to France offer more to do on board – most have cinemas and a choice of dining options along with more space out on deck.
Ferries to Belgium and Holland
If you’re based in northern England, don’t think the only options for getting to the continent involve planes either. There are ferries from Hull that make night crossings to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge. So if you fancy catching the ferry to Amsterdam
for a mad weekend, this could be a good option (Amsterdam is about 45 minutes’ drive from Rotterdam where the ferry docks). These night crossings take around 10 hours and in most cases you have to book a cabin and the cost of tickets reflects that. You’ll feel more like you’re on a cruise though, as cabins all have en-suite facilities and towels and bed linen are provided. There’s live entertainment in the form of caberet shows and live music from the resident band as well as a cinema. All in all, it’s a great way to get a holiday off to a good start.
Ferries to Spain
The longest journey of all takes you to northern Spain. Ferries depart from Plymouth in the south west of England and Portsmouth in the south east. The journey typically takes 24 hours, but on some crossings you end up spending two nights on board. The cost is typically £200 or more return per person – so definitely not cheap. But before you right this option off completely, consider the cost of driving all the way through France (after paying for the ferry to France in the first place). There’s fuel and autoroute tolls to pay for, along with at least one if not two hotel nights. It clearly depends how long you plan to be away, whether you want to see some of France along the way and what your on-going plans are once you reach Spain (for example driving on into Africa by taking a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar) – but in some cases taking the ferry can work out the best option.