If you’re looking for a scenic and affordable way to travel between France and the UK, then Calais-Dover ferry route is worth considering. With departures throughout the day, it’s easy to find a crossing that fits your schedule, and there are plenty of great attractions waiting for you on either side of the English Channel. So whether you’re planning a vacation in Europe or just want to explore some new destinations, the Calais-Dover ferry route is worth checking out!
Traveling between Calais in France and Dover in England is an exciting adventure enjoyed by many for centuries. The narrowest point between Calais in France and Dover in England is just 21 miles wide. Although there were several wars throughout history that temporarily prevented traffic from passing through here, the latest being the Second World War, there has always been a ferry link connecting these two points. Today, this route is one of the busiest in the world, with millions of people traveling back and forth every year.
Traveling by ferry is a unique way to experience the open water. Today, three companies are operating the route, all using similar ships, with one being younger and bigger than the others. Firstly, there is P&O Ferries, a company that has its origins in the famous P&O shipping company of 1822. Their ships have been operating the Calais-Dover route for a long time now. Today they operate a fleet of 5 ships, of which the Spirit of France and Spirit of Britain are the youngest and largest. Secondly, there is DFDS. This company also operates the Dunkirk to Dover route and has a fleet of 3 ships on the Calais-Dover route. And with the Cote d’Opale — the largest and newest ship in the fleet — launched in 2021, there’s even more reason to choose Irish Ferries for your next European adventure. In 2021, they bought over the former Calais Seaways from DFDS and renamed her Isle of Innisfree to join the Isle of Inishmore.
Before taking the Calais-Dover Ferry
- Always make sure you book your ferry tickets in advance. Don’t expect to just drive up there and get a ferry ticket. You may wait a long time and pay a high fare! All three current companies on the route have easy websites where you can book your ticket in advance (P&O Ferries, Irish Ferries, and DFDS). Remember that they may ask you to enter your passport details, car license plate, etc. for booking the trip. They all accept the most common online payment methods.
- Plan ahead! It is important to prepare for unexpected delays. For example, when traveling from home to the Calais ferry terminal, it is a good idea to allow extra time in case of traffic jams or other unexpected delays. By being prepared, you can ensure that your travel plans go smoothly and you can enjoy your trip without worry.
- Remember to bring all needed documents and keep them within reach as you may need to present them at the check-in boot. Make sure to bring your passport, booking number (P&O Ferries has an app to keep it simple), and possibly a health document, although most health checks are now canceled.
- In case you travel with pets, take an extra 30 minutes before departure time to check in and ensure you have a European Pet Passport with proof of all vaccinations against rabies and deworming treatments. Be sure to have their chip scanned before boarding.
- Prepare for your crossing as well, be sure you know what you are getting into! See my next points for more about what to expect.
What to do to check in?
- As a foot passenger, you need to get to the terminal in Calais or Dover and go check in at the counter in the departure building, clearly indicated in both ports and brand new even in Calais.
- When you travel by car, there is no need to park and go to the building. You can drive up to the correct lane for the company you booked, and they will check you in from your car – a reason why you should keep your passport close.
- When you travel with a pet as a foot passenger, your pet may need to stay in a kennel onboard, this has to be booked in advance as well. All websites explain what you need to do, so read them carefully before you book!
- When traveling with a pet by car, the best thing is to leave your pet in the car, but make sure the animal is SAFE! For a dog, I usually would tie the leash up to a fixed hook in the car and leave a window slightly open during the crossing, but the dog could escape if it breaks free. For a cat, my advice is to put the cat in a carrier. Again, leave a window slightly open but not too much during the crossing. The staff checks the cars with pets inside to ensure everything is safe.
- Customs! Since you will be crossing a border between Schengen-area and NonShengen-area, there will be customs check-in aside from the check-in process from both departure and arrival. There may also be a random vehicle check for any illegal items, so you must follow instructions and do not be a fool or try to be funny!
- You may need to wait in a holding area after going through all the checks. That’s why you get a lane number assigned to you at check-in. During this time, there may not always be anything to do close by. Usually, however, there is at least a toilet and a vending machine nearby. Just check for the signs.
- The port of Calais offers free WiFi in the holding area, this may be useful.
What to expect?
- Since the early 2000s, you are not allowed on the car deck anymore during the crossing, so prepare a small bag or backpack with everything you need on the 75 to 90 minutes crossing. Once the car is parked on the ship, put it in gear and make sure the handbrake is on (depending on your type of car) and turn off the alarm system if possible. The movement of the ship might set it off. Close the car, take your wallet, ID, and phone with you and go up to the public decks.
- The ships all offer various sitting areas free-of-charge, you don’t need much during the crossing as there is at least a bar, a restaurant, and a buffet. Some ships may offer a served restaurant and plenty of places to sit down, even some open outside deck space. There is a tax-free shop that usually only opens when at sea. There is a reception desk, cash machine, and change office convenient for changing Euro for British Pounds or vice versa. In addition, you can expect a kids’ playing area and possibly some entertainment like slot machines or arcade games. Some ships also have Charging Stations for all your mobile devices (which may not be free).
- Internet connection or phone signal? Well, this is the difficult one! All the ships offer paid internet vouchers, or sometimes a limited amount of free internet connection included in your ticket. However, don’t expect much of it, it’s just slow, and if not free, it’s not worth the money. I think you can live without a connection for 90 minutes, can’t you?
The Calais-Dover Ferry Experience
As an experienced traveler, I can assure you the ferry crossing is safe, reliable, and fun, and you can view the sea. I usually go up to the forward-facing seating areas and pick a front window seat to relax during my trip. I always carry a small backpack with essential things. I take a charger as there might be a power outlet close to the seat where I can charge a few things during the trip. My laptop is also close by as I like to write blog texts during these crossings, a relaxing way to pass the time.
A walk on the deck and some refreshments always go a long way in the mornings. I sometimes even take breakfast on the ship. As you walk around in the terminals or on the ships, you will notice a lot of truck drivers. These are the main reasons the ferries exist in the first place, the link is vital for lorry transport, and truck drivers have their lounge on the ship. There are lots of different nationalities who take these ferries and that makes the experience even more interesting!
All in all, the ferry is still the best way to travel between the UK and the European mainland. Don’t be scared to get seasick. Modern ferries hardly ever move while at sea, just a gentle bobbing around most of the time. During winter, however, the seas may get rough and if you don’t handle it too well, find a spot near a toilet, don’t order any food, and lie down. The crew is also there to help you in any way possible.
When you park your car on the ship, take your smartphone and take a photo of your car and the closest elevator or staircase, these are numbered and make you remember the location where you parked, this comes in handy upon arrival. When the ship arrives in port, there will be an announcement over the intercom when foot passengers have to present themselves to leave the ship and where. A little bit later they will say when car passengers can return to their vehicles as the crew first has to check that the car decks are safe for passengers to return. Once in the car, don’t start your engine and wait for the instructions of the staff, beware that onboarding and on arrival you may need to drive halfway up a ramp and then stop, only to go on a minute late so make sure you have full control of your vehicle and know how to handle the famous uphill starting position … a nightmare for any new driver! Again there might be an extra customs checkpoint and once you have cleared the port, you are free to go on your way, whatever your plans are.
For all, you road-trippers out there, place a powered cooling box in your car, make sure you have some snacks for those waiting times in the ports and don’t do anything stupid, keep it safe! Beware that depending on your trip you will arrive on the ship driving on the right side of the road and you leave the ship, driving on the left side of the road or vice versa! Remember to switch your brain the right way when leaving the ports … lol! And most important: HAVE FUN!!
So whether you’re planning a vacation in Europe or just want to explore some new destinations, the Calais-Dover ferry route is well worth checking out! Want to book your Euro trip? Visit Save Late for exciting travel deals!