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8th July 2024

The ultimate guide to using cross channel ferries

Read our ultimate guide on how to use a cross channel ferry to get to your European destination.

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With Europe on Britain’s doorstep, it’s no wonder why so many of us opt for an adventure, whether it’s exploring warmer climates, beaches, city breaks or visiting snow-capped mountains, there’s something for everyone. 

And with so many of us Brits travelling abroad by car, we’ve decided to put together a guide on everything you need to know about using a cross channel ferry at the start of your journey.

What is a cross channel ferry?

A cross channel ferry is a port where you can ferry your vehicle from one country to another across the English Channel. The most popular routes are from southern England to northern France due to the short nature of the trip. 

Where can I get the cross channel ferry?

You can book ferries across the channel from the English ports of Dover, Portsmouth, Newhaven, Poole and Plymouth, to Le Havre, Dieppe, Dunkirk, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo, Roscoff and the main French port of Calais.

How long does it take to use a cross channel ferry?

This is dependent on where you are travelling to and from which port. The fastest ferry across the channel, and in fact the most popular due to its short nature, is Dover to Calais, which takes approximately 90 minutes.

If you are travelling from Portsmouth to Santander in Spain it can take around 30 hours.  

However, ferry times, just like trains and planes, can vary on the day due to a number of factors, such as weather conditions. 

Which vehicles can travel on a cross channel ferry?

Wherever you are travelling to in mainland Europe, whether it’s France, Spain or Portugal, you are able to take your car, bicycle, caravan, motorbike or motorhome with you – giving you the flexibility to create your perfect holiday.

What documents do I need to use a cross channel ferry?

When travelling on a cross channel ferry you will need a form of ID with you. On most international routes you will need your passport to check-in at the port. However, there are some exceptions to this. 

If you are an EU citizen and are travelling within the EU, you may wish to use an EU national identity card.  

If you’re sailing between Ireland and Britain, Irish and British citizens can use a valid form of photo ID such as a driver’s licence.

Read our blog on which items you will need before and after you arrive in mainland Europe

How much do cross channel ferries cost?

Travelling by cross-channel ferry is generally cheaper than using the channel tunnel for drivers from the UK. 

However, prices can vary depending on which route you take, how far in advance you book and which operator you use. Just like trains in the UK, ferries have peak and off-peak times.

Unlike UK trains though this is not done by which time you travel, but rather what time of the year you choose to go on your trip. Off-peak ferries are saved for outside of the high season for holidaymakers such as the school summer break. 

The price of your ferry also depends on which route you are travelling  – the longer the route the greater the cost as you may imagine – so always check with operators for up-to-the-minute prices. Sometimes sailing in the middle of the night can make your trip a lot cheaper.

How long before departure time should I arrive at the ferry port?

You should aim to arrive around an hour before your ferry leaves the port. This will give you enough time to check-in and avoid any potential queues. 

If you are travelling during peak season, you can expect your departure port to be a lot busier than normal, so you should allow extra time. 

Can I take my own food and drink on a ferry?

You are able to take your own food and drink on a ferry, so you can enjoy all your home comforts on board on the way to your destination. However, most operators do not allow you to consume your own alcoholic beverages and these must be  bought en route.

If you do inevitably forget your food, rest assured, you will be able to buy food and drink, including alcohol, as ferries have plenty of restaurants, shops and bars to purchase from. But note it is often more expensive to purchase items on the ferry than it is on land.  

What facilities are on board ferries?

Along with the restaurants, bars and shops, ferries on longer routes often have amenities such as cabins for guests to rest in after a long drive. Some provide entertainment services such as cinemas and swimming pools to keep you entertained for the duration of your trip. 

Will I need car insurance once I get to Europe?

Just like the UK, you will need car insurance to legally be allowed to drive whilst in Europe. This is sometimes covered by your current policy, but it’s best to check with your provider beforehand.  

For any issues that may arise whilst you drive around the continent, Sterling’s European Car Insurance will give you peace of mind so you can focus on enjoying your break.  

Call our expert team on 0344 381 9990, or book a free call back at a time that’s convenient for you.

Can I get European breakdown cover?

Sterling breakdown cover can come and rescue you throughout the European Union and in other countries such as Russia that are not part of the EU economic zone.

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