5 of the coolest ferry journeys from the UK

Jul 5, 2020

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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

When we think about travelling, our minds often turn to planes. Air travel has completely changed the way we think about getting to every corner of the globe, with journeys faster and more accessible than ever before. But, one mode of transport often overlooked is boat — and more specifically, ferry.

While cruising is one of the more popular ways to travel by sea, much of that industry remains on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, if you still want to get away this summer — government restrictions on travel permitting — ferries could be an option. With some of the longer journeys, you can look forward to sit-down meals in onboard restaurants, cabins with beds and, perhaps best of all, be able to take your car with you so once you get to your destination, you can explore to your heart’s content.

Here are five of our favourite ferry journeys from the U.K.

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1. Portsmouth to Bilbao, Spain

Brittany Ferries offers nonstop ferry service between the U.K. coastal city of Portsmouth, Hampshire, and the capital of Spain’s Basque Country, Bilbao. Brittany Ferries operates at least two sailings each way every week, with an extra sailing on Tuesdays during the summer, autumn and spring. With all of the ferry operator’s options, you can opt to take your car with you for an added cost.

As one of the farthest ferry journeys you can take from the U.K., the trip from Portsmouth to Bilbao will take 24 hours. The company offers several types of tickets, depending on how luxe or bare-bones you want your ferry journey to be. The luxury cruise ferry Cap Finistère departs on Sunday and Wednesday and features a pool, onboard restaurants, lounges and sundecks. Really, it’s more like a short cruise rather than a ferry. A return journey in August for one passenger and car costs £813. Brittany Ferries also offers the Cap Finistère service from Portsmouth to Santander.

(Photo courtesy of Brittany Ferries)
Cap Finistère. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Ferries)

Alternatively, for those looking to travel on a budget, there’s the économie service, which departs on Tuesdays. There’s a self-service restaurant onboard, a small bar and café and a play area for children. A return journey in August for one passenger and car costs £439.

2. Liverpool to Dublin, Ireland

If you’ve been thinking of a trip to Ireland but don’t necessarily want to hop on a plane, the ferry is a great option. Plus, you’ll be able to take your car with you to explore when you get there. The journey with P&O Ferries takes just over eight hours, so you’ll be in for more of a mini-cruise experience.

Related: From Connemara to the Giant’s Causeway: 9 of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland

Depending on the time of year, there are up to four crossings a day between the two cities. With P&O, all meals are included in the price of a ticket, so you don’t have to spend any extra on food. Keep in mind that the Irish Sea can get choppy, so if you suffer from motion sickness, you may want to travel at night when you can sleep more naturally.

(Photo courtesy of P&O Ferries)
(Photo courtesy of P&O Ferries)

A return journey in August for one passenger and car costs £367.

3. Newcastle to Amsterdam, Netherlands

The popular city break destination of Amsterdam is also easy to reach by boat. You can sail from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferries. The operator sails seven days a week on an overnight basis, allowing you to board in Newcastle, get some sleep and wake up in Amsterdam the next day.

As this is an overnight journey, you’ll be able to select what kind of cabin you’d like to travel in, which range from luxury to budget. On the budget end of the spectrum, you can expect an inside cabin with no window that sleeps up to four people with an en suite bathroom. Meanwhile, on the premium end, there are Commodore De Luxe Cabins, which look more like a cruise ship offering. They include up to four beds in the cabin, complimentary breakfast, a free minibar and access to the Commodore De Luxe Lounge.

DFDS operates this route with its King Seaways ferry, which can carry up to 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. There are several restaurant options onboard, such as a steakhouse, an à la carte dining room and two cafés. There’s also the aptly named Navigators Bar for a tipple, which also features live music entertainment in the evening.

The DFDS Seaways ferry King Seaways, berths at the Port of Tyne International Passenger Terminal at Newcastle Ferry Port, as two men were arrested after a fire on board the ferry sparked an emergency rescue and forced it to return to Newcastle. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images/Getty Images)

A return journey in August for one passenger and car costs £697 and includes an inside cabin with a bed. With no car, the return journey costs £501 for just one passenger with a cabin. For the Commodore Cabin option, the same return journey with a car costs about £1,366.

4. Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland

For those based in the north who have a visit to the Shetland Islands on their bucket list, a ferry ride is a perfect way to get there. NorthLink Ferries offers services from Aberdeen to both the Orkney and Shetland Islands. For Shetland itineraries, NorthLink Ferries operates a daily service, sailing every evening and arriving the following morning with a stop in Kirkwall along the way.

The Shetlands are made up of more than 100 islands, offering the perfect escape to a naturally beautiful destination. The capital town of the Shetlands, Lerwick, is a great jumping-off point for your Shetland adventure. Take in some of the local craft shops, visit the town’s many restaurants and take a walk around the dramatic scenery.

Related: Your guide to the UK’s many staycation-worthy islands

(Photo courtesy of NorthLink Ferries)
(Photo courtesy of NorthLink Ferries)

At the time of writing, ferry travel to Shetland is only available to key workers, those visiting family and those travelling for essential reasons — though that could soon change. So if you’re planning on a trip, keep a close eye on these restrictions.

During regular operations, an adult single ticket costs £23 in the low season (7 January to 23 March and 1 November to 17 December), £29 in midseason (1 to 6 January, 24 to 14 June, 1 September to 31 October and 18 to 31 December) and £35 in peak season (15  June to 31 August).

5. Poole to Cherbourg, France

Poole in Dorset is another option for starting your ferry journey from the south coast. Brittany Ferries offers daily — sometimes twice-daily — services between Poole and the French city of Cherbourg. The journey takes 4.5 hours and is one of the fastest ways to cross the Channel to France.

Because of the short distance between Poole and Cherbourg, Brittany Ferries uses a smaller ferry than you might find on longer routes. The vessel, which goes by the name Barfleur, features some cabins with en suite facilities, reserved seating in a lounge, a self-service restaurant and a bar.

"Part of the coast at Cherbourg,Normandy, France" (Photo by digitalimagination/Getty Images)
(Photo by digitalimagination/Getty Images)

Once you arrive in Cherbourg, take some time to explore the port city. Take a step back in time with a stop at the Cité de la Mer, a museum dedicated to French maritime history. There’s even an exhibition dedicated to the Titanic, which made a stop in Cherbourg on its fateful journey. If you take your car on the ferry, you can drive around the surrounding area and explore the coastline and more of the Normandy region of France.

A return journey in September for one passenger and car costs £200.

Bottom line

Ferries can be a great way to get from the U.K. to an international destination if you don’t yet feel comfortable hopping on a plane. Not only that, but ferries open up some possibilities to visit some gems closer to home, such as the Orkneys or Shetlands.

Keep in mind that some of the water around the U.K. can be quite choppy — so make sure you’re prepared if you get seasick. Before making plans, it’s worth checking with each of the ferry companies to see if they’re operating on reduced schedules because of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, it’s worth taking into account the cancellation policy of the ferry operator you book with. If your plans change or you no longer feel comfortable travelling — or no longer can because of changing government restrictions — you’ll want to be sure you have booked a flexible ticket.

Featured photo by Arterra/Getty Images

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