Driving Routes to France from the UK – Your Options

Driving routes to France from the UK - Your options on Falcondale Life Blog. Portsmouth historic harbour at dawn and the Eurotunnel train. Tips and ideas to think about the timing, cost and effort of each route to France.

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There are lots of possible routes to your French destination. Finding the best one is not as simple as looking it up on Google maps. When we go on a family holiday to France we need to take into account the cost of the channel crossing, the cost of fuel, the amount of time between stops, the amount of time off work it will take, and also the cost of tolls. As a family with school age children we travel at peak times.

All channel crossings cost less if you book them long in advance.

Driving routes to France from the UK - Your options on Falcondale Life Blog. Inside the Eurotunnel train.

Inside a Eurotunnel train carriage

Dover, Folkestone and Newhaven

The Eurotunnel and Dover ferries are the cheapest and quickest crossings. There are plenty of departures all day long. The next best value are usually the Newhaven to Dieppe crossings with DFDS. The arrival and departure times are not so family friendly and the route is longer. I would still brave it if I lived nearer Newhaven. At the Dieppe end there are plenty of good value B&Bs which daily receive late night arrivals from this ferry crossing.

Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a massive port with lots of route options. The most convenient routes are those run by Brittany Ferries. There are economy routes or more luxurious ships with plenty of shopping and entertainment. Some cross overnight and if you book early enough you can get a cabin and a good sleep. Condor Ferries are also in Portsmouth but you have to change ships or stop over in the Channel Islands. This is obviously slower but it seems it’s not any cheaper.

Driving routes to France from the UK - Your options on Falcondale Life Blog. Portsmouth historic harbour at dawn.

Portsmouth

Plymouth and Poole

Other south coast ports include Plymouth and Poole, with fewer and more seasonal routes. Brittany Ferries run a very popular route each summer to Roscoff in Brittany. If you want this crossing overnight with a cabin, I suggest you book about 8 to 10 months in advance to secure a place.

Normandy Ports

On the other side the ferries arrive in Normandy at Le Havre, Caen (Ouistreham) and Cherbourg which are very close together. Also there are arrivals in St Malo although not as many.

When leaving your ferry at Le Havre, be very careful indeed if you have a roof load or a caravan. There are some underpasses on the main route which are only 2.2m high. If you have your wits about you then you can go around them.

Driving routes to France from the UK - Your options on Falcondale Life Blog. The Humber Bridge viewed from the ferry.

The Humber Bridge seen from the ferry

Hull and Newcastle

From Newcastle with DFDS now you can only get to Amsterdam, which is still quite a drive from France. There are also P&O crossings from Hull to Holland and Belgium. Zeebrugge is really only a very short distance from Calais. It’s a convenient port for a French holiday. We’ve done the Hull to Zeebrugge crossing a few times and it’s very pleasant. It’s overnight and everyone has a cabin. It’s very family friendly as there is a children’s disco and soft play. You can opt for elaborate dining with vast carveries and a big breakfast if you have space for it.

We don’t usually bother dining but order hot drinks delivered to the cabin in the morning instead. The cost reflects the long journey but it’s in a different league when it comes to your own personal relaxation and energy levels. Your holiday starts as soon as you are on board.

Driving Routes – Examples

We have to keep my husband’s days off work to a minimum so the best route we ever did involved setting off after work one evening from Harrogate. We drove 3 hours and stopped in a budget hotel in Bishop’s Stortford around 9pm. At 7am the next morning we drove the 90 minutes to Eurotunnel for an 11:15 departure. We were in France for lunch and there was plenty of time for an onward journey. By teatime we arrived in the Nantes area and felt fine.

We are not the sort of family who can sleep in the car. Any routes which include an overnight ferry also work well for us. Hull to Zeebrugge is super but a bit of luxury. It also requires more hours off work to get to Hull because it departs at 6.30pm. Instead we might visit relatives down south before getting a cabin on a Portsmouth ferry and arrive refreshed next morning ready to drive a long way onwards.

Driving routes to France from the UK - Your options on Falcondale Life Blog. The Eurotunnel train on the platform at Folkestone

A Eurotunnel train at the platform in Folkestone

Here’s what some other bloggers have told me about their cross-channel routes.

Natasha from Mummy and Moose “We drove from Peterborough to Paris. We stopped overnight in Horsham then drove to Dover and took the crossing to Calais and drove down to Paris. It was actually MUCH easier than I had imagined.”

Sarah from Toby Goes Bananas We drove from Scotland (near Edinburgh) to Brittany with a 10 month old. We had an overnight stop at my parents’ house in Blackpool, then another in a Travelodge in Portsmouth before getting a morning ferry to Cherbourg. We went on the fast catamaran so arrived in south Brittany by late afternoon. If you have a good sleeper I would recommend a night crossing but Toby’s sleep was rubbish then and I couldn’t face trying to get him to sleep on a ferry.”

Kate from Counting to Ten I live in Essex and I’ve taken the Eurotunnel to France (and beyond) several times. It’s fast and it isn’t affected by the weather, plus no risk of sea sickness.

Helena from Babyfoote “We drove from Newcastle to Normandy the first few times and then Newcastle to Brittany most recently. We’ve stayed overnight in Kent and pushed it to stay in France immediately after the crossing the last couple of times and it’s SO much better.”

Catherine from Kids Versus Copy started her journey in Bath “Euro tunnel then 11 hour car journey with a 3 & 5 year old! We bought them tablets which were a godsend and I plonked a big box of arts and crafts/Lego in the space between them. We stopped (overnight) halfway to Toulouse somewhere in The Loire.”

Kate from Five Little Stars “We can do Midlands to Paris door to door in 6-7 hours. We almost always do Eurotunnel. I’ve even done the drive on my own with my two toddlers. Occasionally we Eurostar train or fly, but it’s much more convenient to have the car and all our stuff. Tips: unless you’re driving it at night (our fave way to do the journey) -time your Chunnel crossing with a mealtime and have a picnic in the car.”

Laura from Five Little Doves We drove from Lancashire to Dover to Calais and then down to Paris. It took us a full 24 hours of travelling and with a 4 year old son, a lot of whinging! Just did it all in one go. Had a power nap on the ferry!”

Suzy from Our Bucket List Lives We drove from Lincolnshire to the middle of France….with a caravan and a two year old. It was complete torture. We crossed using P&O ferries at Dover. We stayed at a caravan site halfway each time but it didn’t help the two year olds bad mood. Anything I’d have done differently? Yeah, flown.”

Carol from Family Makes “We travel from the North East so it’s always a 2-day journey for us. We often do an overnight ferry as you essentially travel while you sleep. It’s more expensive but saves on a hotel stay as well as some driving, they go from Portsmouth to Caen, St. Malo, Cherbourg or La Havre. We also like the Hull-Zebrugge route as the England drive is so much shorter, but the cost is quite high. Otherwise we’ve done Dover-Calais or Dunkerque, and also Euro Tunnel which is super fast and good for when we have our dog with us. Our house is in the Poitou-Charentes region of France.”

Comparing Three French Theme Parks – A Review

Read my last blog post about France by clicking here

Read the story of how I messed up a ferry booking by clicking here

 

Lou Messugo

21 Comments

  1. 19th April 2017 / 8:35 pm

    This is super useful for people contemplating driving to France. We do it the other way around at least once a year (ie France UK France). We drive from Nice to Kent and always take the shuttle. Once or twice we’ve also continued on up to your neck of the woods to Knaresborough which I think we’ll be doing this summer again. We love a good road trip. Thanks for linking to #AllaAboutFrance

  2. 10th April 2017 / 5:34 am

    This is super useful! I love France and travel there often. I would love to do it as a road trip one day and these are done really good tips and experiences.

    Thanks for sharing! x

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:00 pm

      Thanks – driving to France is always a great family holiday 🙂

  3. 9th April 2017 / 7:51 pm

    This was really handy as we were thinking of driving to France over the summer holidays but literally no nothing about it x

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:00 pm

      Oh that’s good to hear! Thanks – and have fun on your hols.

  4. 8th April 2017 / 11:57 pm

    Our favourites are Eurotunnel and Brittany Ferries out of Portsmouth. We like to take the fast catamaran one way and the overnight ferry the other. Overnight works really well with young children, just remember to pack a small breakfast to keep them going until you are off the boat! #allaboutfrance

  5. 8th April 2017 / 9:56 pm

    We’ve not braved a ferry crossing with the kids yet, but when they are a little bigger we will. It’s good to read about everyone’s experiences

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:01 pm

      It is nice to know other people’s points of view. The ferry is fun for kids!

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:02 pm

      That’s great – I hope you do it one day and have fun 🙂

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:03 pm

      Travel is such an adventure. But Sydney to Geneva is very far!

  6. 7th April 2017 / 9:23 pm

    This is brilliant. I could have done with a post like this the first time we went by ferry to France from Ireland.

    Ended up with a ten hour drive and missed the return sailing.

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:04 pm

      Oh that’s rough. I hope it hasn’t put you off.

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:06 pm

      It’s a super place for a family holiday. I hope it works out for you.

  7. 7th April 2017 / 5:43 pm

    A great set of tips and routes. We’re going to be going from South Wales to Southern Portugal soon via Portsmouth and Santander. It’s going to take us nearly 2 days, 24 hours of which will be on the ferry. All of this with a dog and 3 year old in tow!

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:07 pm

      I hope the journey is enjoyable and not a drag. Some friends of ours did that route a couple of times and got on fine.

  8. 7th April 2017 / 5:31 pm

    Thanks for adding my comment. Having lived in France for so many years we have tried many crossings. (we now live in the UK). My favourite crossing by far is the Euro tunnel or P&O Dover to Calais as you can have a nice sit down meal.

    • 9th April 2017 / 11:11 pm

      Yes it’s possible to use the channel crossing as a refreshing break. It doesn’t always turn out like you expect though!

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