Travelling by Car from England to Europe

Crossing the Channel – England to/from Europe with a Car

I regularly travel (40+ returns a year) between England and Europe, mostly France, Belgium or the Netherlands depending on where I need to be. Most of the time I fly but I also take the car a few times annually.

This page is to document the various crossings there are, for the benefits of others looking to travel to (or from) the continent. I’ll try and keep it up to date but updates & corrections are always welcome.

It will naturally be skewed towards overnight/late night crossings as I like to make as much of the day as possible. Often, I will do a full day’s work before heading back to the UK which tends to lead to late-night crossings. Your preferences may vary.

A disclaimer: this is based on personal experience and reviews and is intended as a rough guide only. You should always check with the travel company directly for any details, features, times or anything else.

Sven Latham, 18 December 2011


[Big Interactive Map to come…]

Ferry from Harwich, Essex to Hoek Van Holland, NL

Stena Lines, last travelled December 2011

  • Overnight ferry is great for commuting
  • Cabins are well-equipped and comfortable – even the most basic
  • Expect to pay somewhere between £150 and £200 one way, unless you find a good deal.

Overnight ferry is great for getting to the office in Holland (Rotterdam; Den Haag) for 9am or thereabouts. I usually take this when travelling from the UK. For the overnight trip, you will need to get a cabin for another £30 or so.

It takes about seven hours to cross. The ferries are enormous (possibly the biggest car ferries?) and you shouldn’t have too many problems finding a cabin. Even the basic cabins are reasonable spec; not too shabby. Every cabin comes with a shower and TV.

They used to have breakfast for free, but sadly this has stopped so you’ll need to pay extra. The wifi is free but frankly a bit pathetic. Like most ships this is all satellite based and is painfully slow. Don’t expect to get much done if you’re looking to be productive online.

You will get a wake up call just over an hour before disembarkation, followed by a series of announcements every fifteen minutes announcing shops/cafés are opening/closing/about to close. It gets a bit irritating and people still manage to be late to their cars. At least they’ve stopped with the evening announcements about cinemas just as you’re trying to get to sleep now!

Getting to and from the UK port is fairly straightforward and well signposted. Bear in mind that if you’re taking the overnighter to the UK on a weekday you’ll end up in morning rush-hour traffic (A12 towards London gets very busy).

The port in Holland is a bit smaller, and if you’re not familiar with European driving can be a little daunting at first. As you get close to the port rely on the road signs not sat-nav as the latter has a habit of preferring tiny village roads with speed bumps and one-way streets.

Ferry from Hull to Rotterdam, NL

P&O Ferries, last travelled Nov 2010

  • Paid about £140 for a one-way ticket
  • Cabins were grubby. Unlucky to end up next to a lift so sleepless night.

I once had reason to take the Hull to Rotterdam ferry. In hindsight I should have probably driven back down to Harwich. The ship wasn’t that nice, the cabin was tatty and next to a lift which meant I had hordes of drunken people making their way from the bar past the door.

In fairness, I was certainly unlucky with the location and maybe just generally unlucky with the ship. I’m not likely to need this route again so if you’ve had an experience – good or bad – please let me know.

Train between Folkestone to Calais, FR

Eurotunnel, last travelled February 2011

  • Very fast – checkin time is reasonable and train is 35min
  • Nothing to do on the train, but it’s only 35 mins
  • Prices can range from bargain (£30) to absurd (£200)

Generally speaking, Eurotunnel is the most convenient way to get to & from the continent. It’s fast, easy to get to and runs frequently.

For the uninitiated, it basically involves driving your car onto a train whereby you park up and wait while the train whisks you under the channel at a good pace. It’s a thirty-five minute trip and there’s a reasonable amount of flexibility if you’re late/early for getting the next train.

Because it’s a fairly short trip, there’s nothing to do on-board. I usually try and get a quick nap or just stretch my legs. There’s a large-ish shop at either end for grabbing a bite to eat as well.

The terminal is very easy to find either end, signposted and directly accessible from the respective motorways. Beware speed limits on the French side as they do have a camera or two.

The only downside is the pricing. This can vary wildly, and I’ve paid from £29 to take a one-way ticket, and been quoted anything up to about two hundred pounds. If the price is too high, it usually makes more sense to take the Dover-Dunkirk ferry. Usually, booking enough in advance or searching around will yield some good prices but if it’s last minute and anything other than mid-day expect to be disappointed.

Ferry between Dover and Dunkirk (Dunkerque), FR

DFDS, last travelled November 2010

  • Two hour crossing, 45 minutes-1 hour checkin
  • VIP ticket not that much more for more comfortable seating

Prices tend to be fairly reasonable. I’ve paid between £30 and £60 for a first-class service one-way. The additional cost of a first-class (about £12) is I think worth it. Last time I travelled late night on this people were struggling to find comfortable seats to sleep/wait on, but the VIP lounge has plenty of nice, reclined chairs and decent selection of snacks and coffee. Sadly they seem to have stopped this on late crossings for all but the Dec-Jan crossings.

Ferry port at Dunkerque was a bit of a mission to find at first, thanks to the proliferation of roundabouts. For some reason I always find Dover a bit confusing as well – despite being through there a good few times now. Sat-navs are definitely helpful.

Others…

  • Portsmouth – St. Malo ..did this maybe six years ago, very nice but can barely remember it
  • Portsmouth – Le Havre ..not tried this one
  • Ramsgate – Oostende This would save driving, but the ferry times are not convenient for me so never tried it
  • Dover – Boulogne Sadly, this ended in 2008. It used to be a fantastic little route with a fast boat for good price. Hopefully somebody will bring it back.

Summary…

Personally, these are my preferred routes when I’m doing a full day in a European office:

  • If I am travelling from UK to Holland I’ll take the overnight ferry from Harwich. Pricey, but nice and gets in at the right time.
  • If I’m going to/from France I’ll take Eurotunnel and try and get a good price well in advance. Failing that, I’ll use the DFDS route.
  • If I’m coming from Holland to the UK arriving Saturday or Sunday I’ll take the overnight Harwich ferry.
  • If coming from Holland/Belgium/France to the UK I’ll take the DFDS Dunkerque-Dover late night ferry.

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