Crossing the Channel – should you take the ferry or Eurotunnel?

Crossing the Channel – should you take the ferry or Eurotunnel?
From the glitzy resorts that line its Riviera to the rustic delights of its quaint countryside towns, France really does have something for every taste.

But if you’re planning on exploring France by car, the first thing you’ll have to decide is how to cross the English Channel – ferry or Eurotunnel?

To help you decide, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about choosing between the two. 

Jump to:

 


 

What’s the quickest way to drive to France?

crossing-the-channel-ferry-or-eurotunnel-tunnel

 

The quickest way to cross the channel is using Eurotunnel, which takes around 35 minutes compared to the 90-minute crossing of the quickest cross-Channel ferry from Dover to Calais.

However, be aware that regardless of which crossing method you choose, you will need to arrive ahead of your departure time to check-in, so factor that in when planning your route to the terminal. 

What’s the cheapest way to drive to France?

Generally speaking the ferry is usually slightly cheaper, but whichever option you choose, make sure to shop around for deals and book well ahead of time to get the best-value fares. 

Just remember that on ferries and Eurotunnel, the cost of Channel crossings can vary significantly depending on the size of your car, the time and season of your crossing, the type of ticket you buy and when you buy it. 

European Cover from just £6 per day^

​The RAC provide you with up to £1,250 worth of roadside assistance in Europe, starting from just £6^ per day.

What’s the best way to drive to France with kids? 

If you think your little ones will be okay sitting in the back seat while the car sits stationary in a darkened train under the Channel then more power to you – you’ll be fine using Eurotunnel.

However, most parents will opt for the more adventurous ferry option as they’re seen as more child-friendly. Not only can your kids burn off any excess energy they might have and use the toilets, you can also fill up on food and drink.

On longer routes (including those that go to Spain), there are also often dedicated children’s activities, cinemas and even swimming pools so factor these features in when making your decision on Channel crossings.  

What’s the most fun way to drive to France?

crossing-the-channel-ferry-or-eurotunnel-sea

 

If adventure is what you’re looking for, then what better way to spice up your drive to France than by taking to the high seas? 

What could be better than relaxing on deck with a drink in your hand and sea air in your hair, watching other ships go by?

Taking the ferry can also be a better option if you’re travelling as a larger group since you can all meet up in the ferry’s bar or restaurant. However, if your idea of fun is getting to France as quickly as possible, you might favour the Tunnel.

What’s the most comfortable way to drive to France?

For some of us, there’s nothing more comfortable than sitting in our cars as we get whisked under the sea to France, staying away from the crowds of the ferry and not even having to step foot out of our vehicle.

For others, the thought of being cooped up in our vehicles in a darkened train carriage doesn’t sound much like fun, which means the more comfortable option might be taking the ferry instead and having a more relaxed crossing. 

What’s the best way to cross the Channel with a caravan?

If you’re travelling to the Continent with your caravan or motorhome, you should be able to use either Eurotunnel or a cross-channel ferry to get to France, although always check ahead with the operator to be sure.

Don’t forget that, even if you’re travelling with a motorhome on a cross-channel ferry, you won’t be able to stay with your vehicle and will have to access the passenger deck for the duration of the journey. 

What’s the best way to drive to Disneyland Paris?

crossing-the-channel-ferry-or-eurotunnel-dover

 

Disneyland Paris is one of Europe’s top attractions for thrill-seekers of all ages, and getting there from the UK is easy, with the park just 3hrs from Calais meaning you could be meeting Mickey and friends sooner than you think. 

If you’re taking young children, the ferry will give you chance to refresh before the next leg of your journey while letting the little ones experience the excitement of the open seas, although it’s not quite Pirates of the Caribbean.

Buy a European Driving Kit from £20.99

Don’t get stung with fines abroad for not having a European Driving Kit

What’s the best way to drive to the Netherlands and Germany?

Driving to the Netherlands and Germany is surprisingly quick from the UK, with both Amsterdam (5hrs) and Berlin (10hrs) within easy reach from Calais regardless of which crossing method you choose. 

Alternatively, if you’re traveling to this part of the world and beyond, you could consider taking a ferry directly to the Netherlands – they depart from Hull, Harwich and Newcastle – and drive on from there.

What’s the best way to drive to Spain?

Direct ferries to Santander and Bilbao on Spain's northern coast depart from Plymouth and Portsmouth and take around 24hrs. They’re usually the best option for travellers without time constraints. 

Ferries on these routes have cabins (including family cabins) as well as other entertainment options for kids – including cinema, swimming pools and play areas – so there’s plenty to keep them occupied on the high seas.

Alternatively, you can take the Channel Tunnel and drive down through France. The journey to Bilbao (for example) takes around 11h non-stop, but it could be a good option if you’re looking to tick some amazing French destinations off your list.

Channel Tunnel by car: a video guide

If you're looking for...You should choose...
The best way to cross the Channel with young kidsFerry
The most comfortable way to cross the ChannelFerry if you want to stretch your legs, Eurotunnel if you like the quiet comfort of your car
The best way to get to Spain with young kidsFerry (to Northern Spain)
The cheapest way to cross the ChannelFerry
The quickest way across the ChannelEurotunnel
The most fun way to cross the ChannelFerry
The easiest way to get to GermanyEurotunnel
The easiest way to get to the NetherlandsFerry

What's your favourite way to cross the Channel?

What do I need to remember before driving in Europe?

Driving on the other side of the Channel is different from in the UK, so before setting off make sure you prepare yourself (and your car) for the laws and requirements in every country you pass through. 

These range from carrying Crit’Air clean air stickers in France to warning triangles when driving through Spain so make sure you do your research and stay on the right side of the law. 

The RAC Driving in France kit will help you meet some of these laws in France, but you should always research the specific requirements for you and your car if driving in another country.

What do I need to remember before I start my road trip?

Before heading off on any long journey, it’s always important to carry out some essential maintenance checks at home to ensure your car is in tip-top condition and you’ll get to your destination and back safely. 

The RAC encourages drivers to remember the acronym ‘FORCES’ when carrying out car checks: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, and Screenwash. Check our tips for avoiding a breakdown for more information on FORCES.

You should also remember to take along a few road trip essentials for the journey; including a first aid kit, additional engine oil and water, mobile phone charger, snacks and games, especially if you’re travelling with children.

Do I need European breakdown cover to drive in Europe?

Wherever you’re heading across Europe, RAC has great value European breakdown cover options that give you comprehensive cover if you break down on your way, offering roadside assistance and a 24/7 English-speaking helpline.

What happens if I break down abroad?

Depending on the level of your European breakdown cover, the RAC will pay towards any garage labour costs, onward travel expenses and accommodation fees – something to consider if you’ve got a booking to make.

To find out everything you need to know about breaking down on the Continent, and to get the right quote that meets your needs, check out our complete guide to RAC European breakdown cover.

Is it illegal to drive without shoes?

Get the answer and more useful driving content sent straight to your inbox.

^Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year in zone 1.

*Comparison based on top standalone cover levels from other major providers. Visit www.rac.co.uk/eurocompare for full details.

RAC European Breakdown cover arranged and administered by RAC Financial Services Limited (Registered No 05171817) and provided by RAC Insurance Ltd (Registered No 2355834). Registered in England; Registered Offices: RAC House, Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall WS5 4AW. RAC Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in respect of insurance mediation activities. RAC Insurance Ltd is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.