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Calais To Dover (And Back)- Which Is The Best Way To Travel?

Are you travelling from Calais to Dover, or in the opposite direction? Which is the best way to cross the Channel? Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of making your journey by Eurotunnel or the ferry.

Calais to Dover - ferry or tunnel?

Calais to Dover

So, I generally focus on money-saving, but I always like to share my (limited) knowledge when I get a chance. And I know that many people often wonder whether they should take a ferry or use Eurotunnel (also known as the Channel Tunnel) when travelling to and from France.

I have lived within 15 minutes of Dover Western Docks all my life. My dad worked at the Hoverport and I remember taking a very bumpy ride on a hovercraft across to France in the mid-’80s A few years later, I made my first ferry crossing with school on an exchange trip. I was relieved to find that not every crossing involved you jumping 6 foot in the air every few seconds.

In the early 2000s, work required me to travel a lot to France and Belgium. At the time, that meant I was travelling by ferry several times a week. At the end of the decade, this changed to the tunnel and I was making up to 5 return journeys every week!

Obviously the Hovercraft is no longer an option, but I can give you some pros and cons with choosing either the ferry or the Channel Tunnel (known as tunnel sous la Manche to our crazy French friends).

Do I need a passport when travelling from Dover to Calais?

If you’re a British national, you will need a passport because you are travelling across an international border. If you’re an EU citizen, you will need either a passport or your National Identity card. A driving licence is not an acceptable form of ID as it does not prove your nationality.

If you’re from outside of the EU, you may require a visa when travelling to France. You can find more details here.

Do I have to prebook my tickets?

Not necessarily. It is possible to turn up to Dover or Cheriton and purchase your ticket there. However, this does depend on how busy it is on the day. During peak periods, the ferries and Eurotunnel will probably not have space for you to travel.

Is the ferry cheaper than Eurotunnel?

If you’re just travelling out for a day, prices are similar between the ferry and tunnel – although the ferry is usually slightly cheaper. But if there’s a week between travelling out and returning, then taking a ferry will often save you quite a few £’s more compared to the Tunnel.

Many years ago, P&O used to offer some very cheap deals for tickets – sometimes as low as £1. Unfortunately, cheap ferry tickets are quite rare now.

If you decide to book a ferry ticket, remember cashback sites. P&O and DFDS Seaways are both listed on TopCashback. That means you could save up to around 10% off the price of a ticket.

That’s not the only way to save money when crossing the Channel though.

If you have some Tesco Clubcard points, you can exchange these for 3 x their value when booking with P&O. And although Eurotunnel doesn’t appear on cashback sites, you can also book Channel Tunnel tickets through Tesco Clubcard.

Another way to check you are getting a good deal is to check prices on a comparison site first.

Which port has the best facilities?

The docks at Dover has a small Costa near the entrance to the port. You will need to park at the short-term car park (it’s free) and take a 3-minute walk. However, it’s not cheap and tends to close in the early afternoon.

There is more to choose from once you’re actually in the docks and through check-in. Facilities include:

  • cash and currency services
  • toilets,
  • cash machines (ATM)
  • vending machines
  • free Wi-Fi access
  • Costa Coffee
  • Burger King
  • WHSmith
  • massage chairs
  • games room

Because the port is so large, there are actually a couple of buildings which contain these shops. But, wherever you have to wait for your ferry, you shouldn’t be more than a couple of minutes walk away.

In Cheriton, once you have checked-in, you will need to wait at the terminal building until you are called to the lanes to wait for your train. If you’re cutting it fine, you won’t have any time to visit at all. In the building are the following facilities:

  • Burger King
  • WHSmith
  • Starbucks
  • The AA
  • Leon
  • La Gare
  • World Duty Free
  • cash machines (ATM)
  • currency services

A short time before your train is due to leave, you will receive an announcement to proceed to through border control and head to the departure lanes. At the lanes, you can wait anywhere between 1 and 90 minutes, depending on how busy it is. There is a small ‘wagon’ at the lanes that sells food like hotdogs, burgers and snacks, as well as teas, coffees and soft drinks. It can be a little touch-and go if you actually have time to order here though.

If you’re a fan of Center Parcs, take a look at how you can save a lot of money travelling to Belgium.

Speed and convenience

So, which is the fastest way to cross the channel?

If everything goes to plan, a ferry crossing from Calais to Dover will take around 90 minutes (Dover to Dunkirk takes around 2 hours). You will need to check-in 45 minutes before departure if travelling by car, or 60 minutes if on foot. When you arrive in Calais, you will be called down to your vehicle and will wait until called for unloading. Leaving the vessel will usually take 5-10 minutes and there are very few delays.

Once off the boat, you will need to follow the route around the port and then it’s a short journey to the motorway – around 5 – 10 minutes depending on traffic.

Estimated time from Dover to Calais – 2 hours 20 minutes

Again, you will need to check-in 45 before you are due to leave. But don’t arrive too early. If you’re there more than 2 hours before your departure time, you may be turned away because of limited space on-site. The Channel Tunnel crossing takes 35 minutes and once you arrive, it shouldn’t take much more than 5 minutes to offload. However, I have been stuck for much longer. If a car breaks down, or the doors fail, you can be sat waiting for quite some time.

Once out of the train, traffic moves quite freely and you are almost onto the motorway straight away.

Estimated time from Folkestone to Coqulles – 85 minutes

Comfort

This really depends on your preference. Travelling by the Channel Tunnel means you never have to leave your car. This is nice for some, but if you have a long journey either side of the tunnel, it might be nice to be able to take a longer break from driving. One major downside to the Tunnel is if you are parked next to a toilet. On busy days, expect a queue of people standing next to your car as they wait to use the facilities. And most of them don’t care about staring into your car to see what you’re doing. There aren’t too many toilets onboard, but it’s still something you need to be aware of.

During the summer, the Tunnel can be quite unpleasant. Some of the air conditioning units on the trains have seen better days and can feel like an oven. I have seen temperatures reach over 30 degrees.

You will need to keep windows partially wound down for safety reasons, in case there are any announcements.

The ferries have shops and bar areas for you to relax and unwind in. Plus, it’s always nice to go and watch your journey out on the deck. Well, as long as the weather is nice. If the wind is blowing, you can expect a bumpy crossing. For many, this isn’t a problem, but I am still waiting for my sea legs. If it does get choppy, head to the middle of the boat as this is often the smoothest part.

Another issue for the ferry is during busy periods. During peak times, it can get pretty crowded onboard. That means you can struggle to get a seat and it gets very noisy with lots of school groups roaming around. P&O does offer a Club Lounge, which entitles you to free drinks and snacks, plus access to some very comfy sofas. It is often quieter but can fill up quickly. Prices start from £12. It’s usually best to prebook, but you can always ask on the boat if room is still available.

travelling with eurotunnel

Does Eurotunnel have WiFi?

WiFi is provided at the both the Cheriton and Coquelles terminals but not available during the actual crossing. However, it is possible to get a mobile phone signal – but does depend on your provider. From Cheriton to Coquelles, I have managed to get a signal for Three, Vodafone and Sky and all have been good enough for an internet connection.

On the return journey, as you travel in a different tunnel, you will receive a French network signal.

P&O provide 30 minutes free WiFi or unlimited if you have a Premier ticket. On DFDS, WiFi is free. If you’re relying on a phone signal, UK networks usually drop out around 5-10 minutes outside of port. Your phone will often pick up French networks as they stretch further.

Reliability

I always assumed that because the ferries were susceptible to the weather, they wouldn’t be particularly reliable. However, it takes some fairly extreme weather before crossings are cancelled. On the other hand, I have seen far more delays when travelling by the Channel Tunnel. If one train should have issues once in the tunnel, it can bring the whole system to a grinding halt. Plus, the trains are all over 25 years old now, which means they have seen better days.

What if I miss my train or ferry?

There is no set answer to this I’m afraid and depends on so many factors. If there have been major delays for one reason or another, the transport companies tend to be quite accommodating and will book you on to the next train or ferry. However, I have seen passengers having to wait for over 4 hours for the next available crossing.

You won’t usually be charged for missing your booking, but this does depend on how close you were to actually being on time. And it can depend on how generous the company is feeling that day.

EuroTunnel or Ferry?

So who wins in my vote for the Calais to Dover crossing?

Personally, I will always opt for the Tunnel. Despite a few reliability issues, I prefer the fact that it’s quicker and I can keep to myself and watch a movie.

It probably doesn’t help that I have used the ferries countless times in the past and the novelty has worn off. Plus, I hate the idea that I might be seasick.

Why not take a look at my post about other ways to save money when travelling to Europe?

*Please note that this post contains affiliate links.

FAQs

What is the fastest way to cross the channel?

The Channel Tunnel is the quickest way to cross and will take 35 minutes.

What is the distance between Calais and Dover?

The total distance is 27 miles.

What is the cheapest way to travel between Dover and Calais?

If you’re not bothered how you travel, then a car sharing service such as BlaBlaCar can offer journeys for as little as £4. Or, there are bus services like EuroLines that also offer cheap tickets.

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