10 Cross-Channel Ferries (and alternatives)

Several ferry companies go to France from the UK, so the phrase "Cross-Channel Ferries" could cover more than you think...

Taking a cross-channel ferry - or train to France via the Channel Tunnel - can be a great start to a family holiday on the Continent. There are plenty of options to get you across the channel, as many different ferry companies go to France, and on Cheap 4 Ferries you can compare them all.

Depending on where you live, or where you are travelling on to, some ferry to France routes might be better suited to you than others. For pure speed, Eurotunnel is a great option, while for a fast ferry it's hard to beat everyone's favourite Dover to Calais route. But if your holiday is in Brittany for instance, perhaps a longer, more leisurely car ferry to France or Spain followed by a shorter drive would be a more relaxing start to your holiday. Here are a few cross-channel options to consider.

image of a ferry travelling from Dover to Calais

Dover to Calais Ferry

Dover-Calais is the best known of all the cross-channel routes and is also the most frequent ferry crossing. Dover-Calais ferries are operated by P&O Ferries and DFDS, and both offer top quality modern ferry travel with restaurants, amusements and duty-free shops. While the Eurotunnel may be faster, Dover-Calais is still the fastest cross-channel ferry option.

Folkestone to Calais Eurotunnel Train

Folkestone-Calais with Eurotunnel is simply the fastest way to cross the English Channel. If you want to get to France fast, Eurotunnel could be your best option. It is worth noting that because the train is so fast, there are no restaurants or lounges onboard, so it's worth planning ahead and bringing your own food and entertainment.

image of a car boarding the Folkestone to Calais Eurotunnel train service
image of a ferry travelling from Dover to Dunkirk

Dover to Dunkirk Ferry

For an alternative ferry to France from Dover, Dover-Dunkirk is often one of the cheaper options. The port of Dunkirk can often be less busy than Calais and if you intend to travel to or through Belgium, Dunkirk will be the more convenient arrival port. This route is operated by DFDS, with comfortable, modern cross channel ferries offering restaurants, shops and amusements.

Newhaven to Dieppe Ferry

Newhaven-Dieppe is a very popular route with people in the south-east of England travelling to western France. Operated by DFDS, the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry crossing takes about 4hrs and ferries run up to 4 times per day in peak season.

image of a ferry travelling from Newhaven to Dieppe
image of a ferry travelling from Plymouth to Roscoff

Plymouth to Roscoff Ferry

Whilst we often consider Dover-Calais to be the typical cross-channel ferry route, alternatives like Plymouth-Roscoff are still very popular ferry routes for many in Wales and south-western England, for whom it’s a convenient port. Brittany Ferries run up to 2 crossings a day, with a journey time of around 6 hours.

Portsmouth to Le Havre Ferry

Portsmouth-Le Havre is operated by Brittany Ferries, under their Brittany Ferries Économie banner and ferries run most weekdays with up to 2 crossing a day, taking five and a half hours.

image of a ferry travelling from Portsmouth to Le Havre
image of a ferry travelling from Portsmouth to Caen

Portsmouth to Caen Ferry

Portsmouth-Caen has been operated by Brittany Ferries for more than 30 years, and it remains their most popular route. The ferry journey from Portsmouth-Caen takes slightly longer than the one to Le Havre, at nearly 6 hours.

Portsmouth to Cherbourg Ferry

The Portsmouth-Cherbourg ferry is a great route to take if you are visiting Brittany, as you might expect from Brittany Ferries! They offer up to 2 crossings per day, which take approximately 3 hours.

image of a ferry travelling from Portsmouth to Cherbourg
image of a ferry travelling from Portsmouth to St Malo

Portsmouth to St Malo Ferry

The ferry from Portsmouth-St Malo is a long overnight channel crossing. While it might be slower, the ferry is spacious and the extra time allows you to get a full night’s sleep ahead of the rest of your journey. A great ferry crossing for visiting western France, the Portsmouth ferry to St Malo is operated by Brittany Ferries, with up to 7 crossings a week, taking around 12 hours.

Poole to Cherbourg Ferry

Poole-Cherbourg ferry crossings take four and a half hours. There are up to 7 crossings a week operated by Brittany Ferries.

image of a ferry travelling from Poole to Cherbourg

So far, so great - but what if you live further away from the south coast?

For those of us who don't live on the south coast, the traditional options for channel crossings, even with all the possibilities listed above, are not necessarily the easiest. One extreme example, driving from Newcastle in the North of England to Dover in the South, would take a minimum of 6 hours. On top of the cost of petrol and food you could add road tolls (depending on which route you take) and coupled with the extra time taken up by stops at the motorway services, you could have taken a serious chunk out of you money and precious holiday time before you have even left the country!

So although not strictly cross-channel, here are a few possibilities if the south coast is not an option for you.

image of a ferry travelling from Harwich-Hook of Holland

Harwich-Hook of Holland Ferry

Harwich-Hook of Holland is a good option for those living on the south-east coast of England. Stena Line offer up to 2 crossings per day on this route, with a journey time of around 7 hours. Note: while this route is a great option for Holland, parts of Belgium and Germany, it would be a longer onward car journey to most of France, and involve crossing two extra country borders.

image of a ferry travelling from Hull to Zeebrugge

Hull-Zeebrugge Ferry

Hull-Zeebrugge route is operated by P&O Ferries, who run up to 7 crossings per week, with a journey time of around 14hrs.

Newcastle-Amsterdam Ferry

The Newcastle-Amsterdam (Ijmuiden) route a very popular option for those in the North East of England wishing to travel to Holland. The route is operated by DFDS, who run up to 7 crossings per week, with a journey time of around 15hrs 30mins.

image of a modern DFDS ferry

Travelling By Ferry

Whether you want a day trip to the continent, a short city break or a longer holiday, Cheap 4 Ferries offer a great way to compare and book all your ferry and Eurotunnel options. For single travellers, couples and families, ferry travel is an increasingly popular way to take a holiday to Europe that offers more flexibility and, hopefully, less stress than flying. Of course you will need your passports and any other travel documents (even for pets) and you will need to check your car, cancel the newspaper and pack your bags, but as soon as those unavoidable holiday tasks are complete, you are on your way. Your holiday can begin as soon as you get on the ferry. A self-drive holiday gives you the flexibility to change your mind and take the scenic route, or simply stay a little longer at a town or beauty spot that takes your fancy, without the extra hassle of hiring, picking up and learning the quirks of a hire car.

On longer ferry crossings you can also sleep while cruising overnight and awake refreshed and ready to take the onwards journey at your own pace. There are no worries about airport parking or waiting in long airport queues with restless children - you will all be too busy enjoying the sea air and sense of adventure that ferry travel can offer. Modern ferries have a great deal of facilities on offer even if the weather is bad, from cafés, bars and restaurants to play areas, amusement arcades, cinemas, and even casinos and discos, depending on which route you take.

There are no luggage restrictions, you can take all that your car can carry, so you don't have to worry about stocking up when you get there, or how you will negotiate busy stores in a different language: you can just fill the car with what you need and set off. Children's car seats, prams, snacks, toys, books, bicycles and kitchen sinks: if your car boot can't take any more, you can always opt for a trailer or roof box - just be sure to add these when you book! On the way home there may even be a little space free for some souvenirs, buckets and spades, and perhaps a little cheese and wine as well.

And once you get over to Europe, there are plenty of great family holiday options to choose from. Camping in France is ever-popular with British families - find some suggestions here, or have a look around Yelloh Village for more inspiration. And finally, how can it be a family holiday unless you take the family pet? Thanks to the Pet Passport Scheme, it is now easier than ever to take your pet with you on the ferry or Eurotunnel. Find out more about travelling with your pet here.