The cross channel ferry route you choose will doubtless be influenced by multiple factors. For most people, cost – or lack of it – is the priority. But there are other things to consider that could save you money in the long term.
Although every geography student knows Dover-Calais is the shortest route across the channel, Calais isn’t actually that convenient for accessing much of France. So what you save in cheap ferry fares you might pay for in fuel and tolls because of the longer land journey. Throw in that Calais can become jammed up through grieving French workers or migrants and it might be worth looking at alternative ways of crossing the channel. Here’s your choice.
Dover-Calais car ferry
The best-known and shortest channel crossing also has a healthy competition going between P&O and DFDS. This means there are up to 38 crossings a day on the roll-on, roll-off ferries they use. Prices fluctuate during the year with July and August the most expensive times. There are plenty of restaurants and facilities to keep the kids occupied on board and there’s even a business lounge if you want to chill somewhere quiet.
For: Flexible; cheap; time to relax after a long drive
Against: Can be very crowded in summer; queues at Calais
There are 46 crossings daily with the Eurotunnel and the actual crossing time can be very speedy. And that’s one of its downsides: if you’ve had a long drive to get there, you don’t have enough time to relax and unwind in somewhere other than your car before the next part of your journey. There are no restaurants on the trains either so you have to bring your own food. And crossings are generally more expensive than the ferries.
For: Crossing time just 35 minutes; flexible
Against: More expensive than the ferry; nowhere to relax during the crossing; Calais can be crowded
Newhaven-Dieppe car ferry
If you’re going to Brittany, Paris, Le Mans, Dijon, in fact pretty much anywhere in France, Dieppe will land you closer than Calais. The downside is, getting to Newhaven can be a bit fiddly and during the summer months there are only three sailings a day. But if you’ve had a long drive, you can splash out and get a cabin for a relaxing crossing.
For: Dieppe’s convenience, cheaper than Portsmouth ferries
Against: Crossing takes four hours; Newhaven tricky to get to; no motorway from Dieppe
Portsmouth-Le Havre car ferry
The advantage of taking the route slightly less travelled is that smaller operators work harder to satisfy their customers than on the busier routes. You also have the choice of travelling overnight. This increases the journey time to nine hours, but if you’ve had a long drive beforehand, you may not mind. However, you do pay for all this convenience but this cross channel route is among the best.
For: Le Havre closer to many places in France; it and Portsmouth easy to get to and from; Brittany ferries tries hard
Against: Crossing takes five and a half hours; expensive
Portsmouth-Caen car ferry
The further west from Calais you go, the closer you get to central and southern France in driving terms, so Caen makes sense if you’re going to Brittany. The time on board is slightly longer than the Le Havre crossing – five and three quarter hours – but you might make up for it in a shorter driving time to your destination.
For: Caen a shorter drive to many destinations
Against: Lengthy crossing time; expensive; only three sailings per day
Portsmouth-St Malo car ferry
The journey to St Malo is 12 hours, the longest channel crossing there is. You travel overnight so if you want to make the crossing part of your holiday, this is the way to do it. The drive from the port to west and southern France is an easy one. Although expensive, you do get a reclining chair included in the price with the cost of a cabin extra.
For: Relaxing crossing; comfortable ferries
Against: Only one crossing per day; frequently the most expensive
Plymouth-Roscoff car ferry
If you live in Wales, within easy access to the M5, or in the South West and are heading for Brittany, this could be the ferry for you. It does take six hours to make the crossing. But it lands you right in the heart of north-west France.
For: Convenient for certain parts of the country and destination
Against: Long journey; among the most expensive
Poole-Cherbourg car ferry
Brittany Ferries claims its Poole-Cherbourg route is its quickest channel crossing at four and a half hours. However, there’s only one sailing per day and unless you already live in central southern England, getting to Poole can be time-consuming. It’s also more expensive than going from Portsmouth.
For: Comfortable ferries; relatively quick for a non-Calais crossing
Against: Pricey; Poole isn’t particularly convenient