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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Read my last blog post about France by clicking here
Read the story of how I messed up a ferry booking by clicking here