The best ways to get to mainland Europe without flying
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While we love a Reward Flight Saver for travel to the rest of Europe, sometimes you need or want to get there by land. Whether it’s to get your family over for a driving holiday or due to superstorms causing flight cancellations, we looked into the different options available for you depending on your needs.
Best option for freedom and groups: driving
Many love driving from the U.K. to Europe because you can pack up and go with your car. You avoid baggage restrictions and can use your own car plus car seats if you have children in tow. Many families avoid renting cars abroad for longer holidays and prefer to make the journey by sea or tunnel. You can bring household pets and are usually charged per vehicle rather than per person. Here we focus on the crossing from Dover, Kent, to Calais in France but there are numerous other ports you can use — such as Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Best for a driving break and a meal: ferry
Ferries from England are operated by EuroTunnel, P&O Ferries, DFDS Seaways, Red Funnel and Wightlink — plus many more. The ferry to Calais leaves from Dover or Folkestone, both in Kent, and takes approximately 90 minutes.
Those who take the ferry over the train with their car cite liking the ability to walk around and have a meal while crossing the Channel. Friends of mine have said that while the ferry is longer than the Channel Tunnel, it saves them time from having to stop while on the road and gives them something to do during the crossing. Ferry prices start at approximately £49 one-way for a car. The DFDS ferry company allows you to come back from any port that it uses on your return to the U.K., whether it is Dunkirk, Calais or Dieppe.
Best for driving when pressed for time: Eurotunnel
You can get to France with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle 24 hours a day year-round. The journey from Folkestone to Calais takes approximately 35 minutes, but you need to book in advance and be given a window to arrive. Eurotunnel prices start as low as approximately £24 one-way for a car in March (day trip only).
Best option for efficiency: Eurostar
The Eurostar currently has direct trains from London St Pancras and Ashford to Paris, Lille, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Starting on 30 April, there will also be a new direct rail service from Amsterdam to London. Using connections, you can get anywhere in Europe.
Prices on the Eurostar can vary wildly with some astounding cash fares if you book in advance or as part of its “train + hotel” programme. Prices can start at £46 one-way to Paris, for example, if booked far enough in advance with times clocking in at two hours and 16 minutes (if on time).
Related reading: Top travel gear for families on the move
You can also use your American Express Membership Rewards to transfer to Eurostar with return value tickets starting at 15,000 Membership Rewards. You can read more details on how to transfer them (and when it’s good value) here.
Best option for ridesharing: BlaBlaCar
Using the site BlaBlaCar you can set a “ride alert” and see if anyone else is headed in the same direction to Europe and then discuss a price. It appears to be more helpful between cities within mainland Europe that lack public transportation.
Best option for your budget: coach
The least expensive way to get across the Channel is by coach. You can find low cash fares from a variety of carriers including Eurolines, National Express, and BlaBaBus. The site Omio compares coach prices. A coach ride from Victoria Bus Station to Paris costs 14.99 euro (around £12.50) in our search and takes eight hours and 30 minutes.
Best option from southern England to northern Europe: Superferry to the Netherlands
Not everyone heads to southern Europe. If your final stop is Amsterdam or Germany and you’re departing from southern England with a car, the Stena Line Superferries from Harwich, Essex, to the Hook of Holland may be your best bet. The crossing takes roughly seven hours and if you book a cabin, you can save on the cost of accommodation for that night as well. Fares vary depending on vehicle size, type of cabin and dates and start at about £60 one-way economy in March.
Best option to Ireland: ferry at Holyhead
If you’re headed to Ireland and do not want to fly, you can go by train or car to Holyhead in Wales and then take the ferry crossing to Dublin Ferryport. The crossing takes between two and three hours and 15 minutes. You can choose between Irish Ferries or Stena Line. Prices start at about £145 one-way in March. Both ferries have an option to upgrade to have lounge access once on board with a better view for under 20 euro (£16).
When you arrive at Dublin Ferryport there are double-decker Morton buses to take you into Dublin or you can catch a taxi for approximately 15 euro (£12).
Related reading: Trip-spiration: Explore, relax and drink beer in Ireland
Related reading: London to Paris and beyond: Eurostar guide for families
Whether it’s fog delays, excess baggage or a furry friend that makes you want to avoid airports, there are numerous options to leave the U.K. without stepping foot on an aeroplane. If you want to use points, make sure you also check out TPG’s guide to using your Tesco Clubcard as many crossing options are included.
Featured photo by Justin Paget/Getty Images
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