French News

Travel in France

Summer Ferries to France

Tuesday 03 June 2014

With the main holiday season around the corner, we check out the main ferry routes to France this year.

Ferry Operators

There remain five companies and nine destinations for you to choose from to cross the Channel, although the choice is very limited on some routes.

Those planning to travel across the Dover Straits are able to select from three different ferry companies – DFDS, P&O, and MyFerryLink – as well as the more expensive but quicker road/rail option of Eurotunnel.

There are also routes from Southern and South West England to ports in Brittany and Normandy operated by DFDS, Brittany Ferries, and Condor Ferries.

Just how long the MyFerryLink cross-channel service will remain in operation is in doubt, as the UK Competition and Markets Authority have recently issued a provisional appeal ruling that Eurotunnel (the owners) should not be permitted to run services from Dover.

This follows the decision of the Competition Commission in June 2013 to order Eurotunnel either to sell its two My Ferry Link passenger ships or be prohibited use of the port of Dover.

Sailings this summer will be unaffected as Eurotunnel will be given at least six months' notice to comply.

A summary of the destinations to France operated by these companies is shown below.

Ferries to France

DunkirkCalaisDieppeLe HavreCaenCherbourgSt MaloRoscoff
Brittany Ferries---X

Which Route?

Those looking to get across the Channel as cheaply as possible should clearly take one of the routes across the Dover Straits.

There are currently some very competitive offers around, but the quickest and most regular route is Dover-Calais. Travel time of the ferries is around 1 hour 30 minutes and there are more crossings that you can shake a stick at.

If you do not have easy access to Dover, or you want to make the journey part of the holiday, then a crossing from one of the ports on the South West coast of England to Brittany or Normandy would probably make better sense.

Brittany Ferries take you further south into France with a good range of routes, with prices that reflect the quality of the service and the longer destinations. They operate out of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Poole.

It you cannot make up your mind, or travel arrangements favour it, then most companies offer single tickets, so you can go with one company, and return with another.

Tickets in the summer for a family of four from Dover to Calais can be had for around £110 peak season, although prices will be several hundred pounds for a family of four on one of the longer Brittany and Normandy routes.

A summary of the routes is as follows:

i. Dover-Calais - DFDS and MyFerryLink appear to be slugging it out for the lowest price on this route, although you need to book well in advance and travel off-peak to get the best price.

ii. Dover-Dunkirk - This route only has one operator (DFDS with 12 crossings a day), and probably only makes sense for travelling to Belgium or Germany or if you are staying in Northern France.

iii. Newhaven-Dieppe - Similarly, there is now only one operator for Newhaven-Dieppe (DFDS), but it is a route well worth considering, if only to enjoy this lovely town.

iv. Portsmouth-Le Havre -This has become a more competitive route in the last couple of years, with Brittany Ferries offering sailings from Portsmouth against those of DFDS. The latter are cheaper, but Brittany Ferries do it in in a far shorter time (3 hours 45 mins against 5 hours 30 mins).

v. Portsmouth-Caen - As an alternative to Le Havre, Brittany Ferries also run a ferry out of Portsmouth to neighbour Caen, with a journey time of nearly 6 hours.

vi. Portsmouth/Poole - Cherbourg - Further south along the French coast to Cherbourg and Brittany Ferries have routes from Portsmouth and Poole. On the Portsmouth route they compete on a limited basis with Condor Ferries who only have one journey a week.

vi. Portsmouth/Plymouth/Poole - Saint-Malo - The attractive town of Saint-Malo is a popular destination. Brittany Ferries have seven sailings a week out of Portsmouth and one a week out of Plymouth. Condor Ferries have seven sailings a week out of Weymouth and one a week out of Poole.

vii. Portsmouth-Roscoff - The furthest destination south in France sailed by the ferries is to Roscoff on the tip of Brittany, to where Brittany Ferries have ten sailings a week, with a journey time of around 6 hours.

vii. Portsmouth-Bilbao/Santander - If you are heading for the Basque Country and the Pyrenees then Brittany Ferries sail to the Spanish port of Santander out of Plymouth or Portsmouth, and to Bilbao out of Portsmouth. On these routes you will spend 24+ hours on the ferry, with prices to match, but it is certainly the most relaxed way to reach these destinations.

Where to Book?

Whomever you decide to go with be careful about the websites you use to book your tickets. Some agents have websites with names very similar to the operator, so watch out for this trick.

That said, the booking agents can sometimes offer the best late deals, so they may be a better bet if you are travelling at the last minute.

Probably the best around is Direct Ferries who offer an excellent website with a direct comparison of all of the routes that are available. You can book a ticket on this site at no additional cost. The company also offer a very useful e-mail alert service with latest information on offers.

Bonnes vacances!

Related Reading

For the latest in-depth analysis, subscribe to our news service at France Insider.

France Insider is a subscription-based offer which has replaced our previous free Newsletter.

Popular Articles