These days there’s quite a choice for anyone wanting to quickly hop over from England to France by car. For example, there are 3 ferry operators – DFDS Seaways, MyFerryLink and P&O Ferries – offering crossings from Dover to Calais, with journey times at 1.5 hours. Then there is also the DFDS Seaways crossing from Dover to Dunkirk, which takes just 30 minutes longer at 2 hours per crossing. And then of course there is also the Channel Tunnel. Taking your car through the tunnel means using one of Eurotunnel’s “Le Shuttle” trains, which will transport you and your vehicle from Folkestone, through the tunnel, to Calais, in around 35 minutes.
Note: Don’t get confused between Eurostar and Eurotunnel. Eurostar trains are the passenger trains, mostly running from London St Pancras. So if you are taking the car, it’s the Eurotunnel service you are after.
So with that choice in mind, which is best for you? Ferry or tunnel to France?
We decided to write a short overview of what is involved in taking the ferry from Dover to Calais compared to taking “Le Shuttle” train through the tunnel. Below we give you a quick run down of the pros and cons of each in order to help you decide which route is best for your journey.
Obviously the ferries depart from Dover Port, which is in Kent. It’s fairly easy to get to from most places in England’s south east, including London, if you can get to the M20 or A2. Dover Port is about 1 hour’s drive from the M25.
The Eurotunnel trains depart from the terminal at Folkestone, also in Kent. It’s a slightly shorter drive from London and the M25 (by around 10 minutes or so), and is extremely easy to get to since it has its own junction off the M20.
Choice of Operators and Departures
Ferries from Dover are offered by DFDS Seaways, MyFerryLink and P&O Ferries. You might also include the Dover to Dunkirk route too which is run by DFDS. Eurotunnel is the only operator offering services where you can take you car through the tunnel.
Choice often means better prices and increased chances of finding the right types of tickets and travel times for your journey.
At peak times (ie. during the day) there is a Eurotunnel Le Shuttle train departing every 15 minutes.
There are more than 40 ferries departing Dover for Calais throughout the day. Although there are more departures during peak times, ferries do run around the clock. In fact there are around 8 or more sailings to choose from between 11pm and 5am.
Note: There are some useful comparison websites out there that let you see both ferry and tunnel prices. Once you’ve read our guide, you will know what each type of journey will involve, so will be well placed to be able to choose the right booking at the right price. See Direct Ferries, for example.
The check in for ferry or tunnel to France is pretty straightforward.
By ferry, the vehicle check-in is at least 30 minutes before departure for P&O and MyFerrylink. For DFDS, check-in time is 45 minutes before your ferry departs.
Likewise, for Eurotunnel, you need to check-in at least 30 minutes before departure, and no more than 2 hours. There is a terminal building with toilets, shop and cafe where you can spend some time should you be waiting around.
Please note that you should always check with your travel operator regarding check-in times, and circumstances may vary.
There’s a clear and obvious winner here: Eurotunnel “Le Shuttle” trains will get you from England to France in 35 minutes. Ferries from Dover to Calais take 1.5 hours.
However, there may be some advantages to a slightly longer crossing, particularly for drivers. A ferry crossing is a good opportunity to put your feet up, enjoy a meal or take a stroll on deck. In other words, it could be time well spent if you have a long onward journey. By the time you reach Calais your batteries could be fully re-charged, allowing you to drive on to your destination without the need to make any further stops.
Moving on from Calais
Talking of onward journeys, after your journey by ferry or tunnel to France, what about moving on from the ports? Well, both the ferry port at Calais and the Eurotunnel terminal (also in Calais) are well placed for you to get on to the major road network at France’s A16 motorway. This means you can have a quicker onwards journey and be in Disneyland Paris, for example, in about 3 hours, or at one of the many ski resorts in the French Alps in about 8 hours.
There may be specific luggage restriction if you have particular needs (check with your travel operator) but generally speaking, tickets and prices for either ferry or tunnel to France are per car. So if it can fit into the car, no problem. This is quite a refreshing change from the low budget airline experience, where we are often charged extra for all kinds of luggage. So in short, either tunnel or ferry (not flying or Eurostar) is definitely the option for anyone with large amounts of luggage, such as golf clubs, surfboards, skis, fishing gear, or even just a family.
Of course, using the tunnel will mean that your journey will be less susceptible to any severe weather conditions. If the sea is rough due to storms or strong winds, then it may mean your ferry crossing will be cancelled.
However, this is more likely to apply to the smaller ferries, such as the fastcat service by Condor from Poole to the Channel islands. The huge “super ferries” like P&O’s Spirit of Britain, used on the Dover to Calais route, are less likely to affected by bad weather, although it does happen and nobody wants to put safety at risk during the worst conditions.
And while we are talking about bad weather, taking the tunnel might also have an added attraction to anyone who might suffer from sea sickness. The Dover to Calais route is a short crossing (1.5 hours) across a fairly well sheltered part of the English Channel. As ferry crossings go, it certainly isn’t one that is likely to bring out sea sickness in everyone – this isn’t the North Atlantic we’re talking about. But it does happen occasionally, most likely during the winter months, and it certainly isn’t nice if it is you or someone in your travelling party who is suffering. So if you still have any doubts over sea sickness, then taking the tunnel to France is the more likely choice for you.
Ferry or Tunnel to France: Fares and Prices
And now to the crunch; money.
Apart from journey times, we would say it is a fairly even choice between ferry or tunnel. But the fact that there are 3 different ferry operators means there’s lots of competition and therefore finding cheaper fares was a lot easier for ferries than for Eurotunnel. Using the comparison tool at Direct Ferries, we checked the fares for ferries and tunnel for 50 different travel dates / times over the next few weeks. On average, ferry prices were around half the price of Eurotunnel. Typically, a ticket for a family car and passengers for a ferry from Dover to Calais was around £70, and the equivalent Eurotunnel ticket around £140 to £170.
- Eurotunnel wins out on travel times (35 minutes versus 1.5 hours by ferry)
- Ferries are much cheaper (we found on average ferries were half the price)
- Departure and arrival points are pretty equal
- Don’t be put off by the longer journey times by ferry. It could be time well spent for a weary driver.
- To find the bargains, always look to travel at off peak times, such as early or late in the day.
- Use a travel comparison tool such as Direct Ferries to compare prices for both ferry and tunnel tickets.