How to travel by ferry to France

06 July 2016

Our guide to crossing the Channel by ferry including routes, durations and survival tips.



We'd like to venture that a large proportion of travellers here in the UK experienced their first trip abroad, not by flying, but by taking to the seas aboard a ferry. Britain's island status means travelling by ferry has been the first choice for those keen to escape to the continent since way back when.


Why choose the ferry?

Often ferries were considered to be the more cost effective choice in comparison to flying, but with the rise of the low-cost airline, this isn't always necessarily the case anymore.

However, before you jump ship for the airlines, bear in mind that the passing years have transformed the ferry industry beyond recognition. Modern ferries offer all manner of excellent facilities, from on-board restaurants serving sophisticated gastronomical delights to cinemas and spas should you require a little pampering while you cross the Channel.

Perhaps this summer could be the time to rediscover the sense of adventure you can only get with the wind in your hair as you speed towards the horizon.

Of course, as the on-board facilities have improved, fares have risen in accordance. After all, ferries now offer a variety of experiences as you travel that far surpass that of sitting in your seat on a plane.

However, fares are flexible and change according to the season and how close you might be to the departure date. And the big advantage of taking the ferry to your destination? You can bring your car along for the ride.

More reasons to travel by ferry for your next holiday...


Plan your route

There are several routes to choose from when planning your trip to France. First up are the short crossings. Dover to Calais or Dunkirk are the quickest routes for British motorists, taking around 1.5-2 hours to cross. Saga customers enjoy a 5% discount on Dover to Calais routes when booking with P&O Ferries.

Next are the crossings to Normandy, the gateway region to the Loire and other popular holiday destinations to the south and west of France. Choose from: Newhaven to Dieppe; Portsmouth to Le Havre, Caen or Cherbourg; or Poole to Cherbourg. Crossing times range from a three-hour high speed service to 5.5-6 hours.

Finally, there's beautiful Brittany, land of fine wine and exquisite seafood. These routes include: Portsmouth to St. Malo; Plymouth to Roscoff; and Poole to St. Malo. Journey times to Brittany range from 5.5 hours to over 8 hours.


Top tips for ferry survival

Pack a bag with all the essentials you will need for your trip - you are unlikely to be allowed re-admittance to the car deck once the ship sails. This will save you lugging a heavy suitcase around with you on board.

Book a cabin for long journeys. You can choose from a basic, windowless private cabin with a bunk to those with beds, a bathroom, a window and even a TV. Having your own space can make your journey that much more comfortable.

Check your booking confirmation for essential information such as what time to check-in. Many operators require all passengers to arrive at the port an hour before the scheduled departure.

Call ahead for special requests such as mobility issues or medical equipment. Don't just assume arrangements can be made on the day.

And finally, don't forget your passport.

Bon voyage!


Saga customers receive exclusive discounts on a range of crossings and fares when booking with one of our partner ferry operators: P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena Line.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.