Before you buy a plane ticket to fly from France to the UK, consider some of the cross-channel options by tunnel or ferry. They might surprise you.
Visitors have a good choice of options for crossing the English Channel from Europe. Depending upon the departure point, taking a high speed train or a ferry can be a faster, cheaper, more comfortable and usually more eco-friendly choice than flying to the UK from France, Belgium or Spain.
Through the Channel Tunnel
There are two ways to use the Channel Tunnel, one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century.
- Eurostar the high speed rail link from Paris, Brussels, Lille and Disneyland Paris to London St Pancras Station or Ashford in Kent. Departures are frequent, the trip to Paris takes about two hours and 15 minutes and, if you book in advance, there are very good deals on the Eurostar website. Seats are spacious and comfortable and, depending upon the fare you choose, you can have meal served at your seat, The best part of Eurostar is that you travel city center to city center: Get on the train in the center of Paris and a few hours later you are in Central London. That means you don't have to worry about expensive taxi fares to your city destination or navigating confusing public transportation when you are tired from travel and lugging baggage.
- Eurotunnel Le Shuttle the car shuttle from Coquelles, near Calais, to Folkestone in Kent. Le Shuttle, often referred to as Le Chunnel, also carries bicyles and coaches. There are four departures per hour in peak times, bookable in two-hour windows. You drive your own car on to the train in France, spend 35 minutes relaxing while it races under the Channel and drive off in England. Save money by booking well in advance because there are great deals to be had. If you are traveling with a pet, Le Shuttle car transport makes the most sense because your pet can travel with you in your car and, as long as your pet as a pet passport, the formalities are minimal.
Cross Channel Ferry Companies
When the Channel Tunnel was completed, everyone thought it would be the end of ferry crossings. It's true that it shook up the industry and ferry services from the UK to Boulogne in France, once a popular destination, came to an end. But ferries are still the most economical crossing of choice for cyclists, pedestrians, people with oversized vehicles, people traveling with pets, and those who just like a short voyage as a kind of punctuation between countries. And there is nothing quite like sailing up to the romantic white chalk cliffs of the English coast at Dover. The Dover to Calais route is the shortest sea crossing between France and England and takes about 90 minutes. Next is Dover to Dunkirk, which is a two hour crossing. On most of the longer crossings you can usually book a cabin and their are overnight ferries to Normandy. Which route you take will depend on which is most useful for your departure point:
- Brittany Ferries - This company has the most crossings to France and Spain and has an interesting story of its own. It was launched by a group of Bretagne farmers in 1973, simultaneously with Britain's entry into the (then) Common Market. They wanted to take advantage of the new open trade with Britain to sell their cauliflowers and artichokes. Brittany felt isolated as it was far from the other channel ports. When the farmers were unable to tempt a ferry company to transport their produce to markets in Plymouth, they bought their own small freighter to do it themselves. Now, it is the biggest company operating the western Channel crossings and it's still owned by Brittany farmers. Ferry crossings are available:
- from Santander, Spain, and Roscoff, Brittany to Plymouth
- from Bilbao and Santander, Spain to Portsmouth
- from Cherbourg to Poole, Dorset
- from Caen, Cherbourg and St. Malo, Brittany to Portsmouth
- Condor Ferries from St. Malo to Poole and Cherbourg to Portsmouth cross with connections on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guersey.
DFDS Seaways, a Danish company, now operates Dover to Dunkirk, Dover to Calais, Newhaven to Dieppe or Newcastle to Amsterdam. Don't be put off by their confusing and slightly buggy website. Their ferries to France are recently reconditioned or rebuilt and they are very comfortable.
- P&O Ferries from Calais to Dover, Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, or Zeebrugge, in Belgium, to Hull. If you are traveling from a different direction, this company also offers ferries from Dublin to Liverpool and from Larne in Northern Ireland to Cairnryan in Scotland.