Ferries to France

A guide on travelling to France by ferry

Travelling by ferry to France

Ask most people about their experiences of travelling to France and they will assume that you mean by ferry. These days, of course, with the advent of budget airlines and Eurostar there are many ways of getting to French shores (French Connections), but the traditional ferry trip across the channel is still a very pleasant and practical answer for many. There's something about travelling on a ferry that relaxes you in a way that an aeroplane or a car never can. While on board you can treat yourself to a meal in the restaurant, a drink at the bar, do a little leisurely shopping in the Duty Free shops, frolic with the kids in a soft play area, watch a film, have a beauty treatment or simply put your feet up and snooze in comfort.

Advantages of going by ferry to France

Other advantages include, of course, being able to take your own vehicle, travel with your domestic pets (as long as they are certificated in accordance with regulations) and bring back lots of shopping on your return to the UK. (Oh the infamous booze cruise!) And if the weather is good you can go up on deck and travel in the fresh air, something clearly not possible on the trains or planes! But what companies operate these ferry services to France? Where do they travel from and to? What services are offered on board, what prices are charged, and are certain ferry companies better to deal with than others, or better suited to different types or travellers?

Ferry ports of the UK and Ireland that serve France

England has several ports from which ferries sail to France. These are:

Portsmouth (Brittany Ferries, LD Lines)
Weymouth (Condor Ferries)
Dover (P&O, Speed Ferries, Norfolk Line, Sea France)
Plymouth (Brittany Ferries)
Poole (Brittany Ferries)
Newhaven (LD Lines, Transmarche)

Ireland offers sailings from:

Rosslare (Irish Ferries)
Cork (Brittany Ferries)

Scotland and Wales have their own ferry ports, but at the time of writing there are no direct sailings from these ferry ports to France.

Ferry ports of France

Just as there is a good choice of departure ports from the UK, there is also a choice of arrival ports in France. Most are in the north of France, in the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais (Nord-Pas-de-Calais Property Guide), Normandy (Upper-Normandy Property Guide, Lower-Normandy Property Guide) and Brittany (Brittany Property Guide), as they only necessitate a short hop across the Channel. Working from east to west these are:

Dunkerque (Norfolk Line)
Calais (Sea France, P&O, Speed Ferries)
Boulogne (Speed Ferries)
Dieppe (Transmarche)
Le Havre (P&O)
Ouistreham/Caen (Brittany Ferries, P&O, Sea France amongst many others)
Cherbourg (Irish Ferries, P&O)
St Malo (Brittany ferries, Condor ferries)
Roscoff (Brittany ferries)

Ferry ports near the south of France

There is one other possibility, or rather two, if you happen to be heading for the more southerly regions of France (Aquitaine Property Guide, Midi-Pyrénées Property Guide, Languedoc-Roussillon Property Guide) and still wish to travel by ferry. Ideally placed for those wishing to access France's beautiful south-west, are the Spanish ports of Santander and Bilbao, which are served by Brittany Ferries and P&O respectively.

Booking ferry tickets to France

It is not always necessary to pre book a ferry crossing to France, especially if you are travelling as a foot passenger, but it is advisable if it is important that you catch a particular ferry or arrive within a tight time limit. School and bank holiday times are also busy and liable to be heavily booked. Unbooked places are allocated on a first come first served basis, so you can miss out if you turn up at the last minute. It is suggested that you arrive a minimum of an hour before you travel, especially if you are travelling with a vehicle.

Ferry fares to France

Fares for ferry crossings to France vary considerably, according to the company, the destination, the time of year and even the time of day. Vehicles are charged according to size, so once more, expect to pay more for a large van or a car with a caravan or trailer. There is rarely a fee for transporting bicycles. Many ferry companies run special offers periodically, so watch out for these as they can represent significant savings.

Best ferry fares to France

If money is tight and you are travelling on a bit of a budget, which is the best company? In recent years it seems that the cheapest deals are usually available from Speed Ferries, who operate the most direct route from the UK to France, Dover to Boulogne. It is also the fastest crossing, with a journey time of only 50 minutes. The more expensive companies seem to be Brittany Ferries and Sea France, although these do offer excellent comfort and facilities on board their sailings, and are placed, therefore, more at the luxury end of the market. Brittany ferries are also excellent for longer crossings, with sleeping cabins or reclining seats available for booking on overnight crossings.

Ferries to France and disabled access

Brittany Ferries cater for disabled passengers though they request that you inform them of the nature of your difficulties at the time of booking. They offer specially designed or modified cabins and other facilities, although these are limited in number, so it is a good idea to book early. Speed Ferries are also wheelchair friendly, and suggest that disabled passengers or those with special requirements book in advance through the call centre, for which the usual charges are waived. Sea France makes provision for disabled travellers, with a space on the booking form for details. The other ferry companies can also accommodate disabled passengers, and it is suggested that you contact them well in advance of travel to discuss requirements.

Travelling by ferry to France with pets

Pets are accepted on most ferry crossings, although they have to stay in the vehicle for the duration. In our experience, however, the staff on duty on the car deck (all companies) have been very helpful and checked on animals regularly for us. There can be a charge levied for pets, dependant on the company concerned. For current charges and changes in policy, please check the individual websites for the ferry companies. Most ferry operators now insist that all pets travelling are covered by the DEFRA approved PETS passport scheme, so make sure this up to date when you plan to travel. Details of this scheme can be accessed on DEFRA's website, http://www.defra.gov.uk/. (Travelling to France with Pets, Pets and Animals in France, Horses in France.)

Is travelling by ferry to France for you?

Given the choice, is ferry travel for you? It depends on a number of factors. Perhaps the first consideration is your destination. If you are travelling to northern France it is quite likely that the ferry is a more practical option on all counts. Those who dislike flying will also find it a relief to have such a useful alternative, although certain parts of France are situated a long way from any ferry ports! It is also worth bearing in mind that sea crossings can sometimes be rough, so those who suffer from motion sickness should always be prepared.

Ferries to France are here to stay

Meanwhile, drivers can relax for a while on board, and it has to be said that the experience of travelling on a ferry is more relaxing and pleasurable than the car train, where you stay in your vehicle and have no access to refreshments or entertainment. Is ferry travel here to stay? Even in these days of tunnels and TGVs, of budget airlines and flights to everywhere, it seems that there is a place for the ferry crossings that will never go away.

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Travel France
French Connections - Travel to North-West France
French Connections -Travel to Paris and North-East France
French Connections - Travel to Centre-West France
French Connections - Travel to South-West France
French Connections - Travel to Centre-South France
French connections - Travel to Provence and Côte d'Azur in South-East France
French Connections - Travel to East France
Removals and moving to France
Life in France

About the author

Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.

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