Dover to Calais by ferry

With the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk or Calais (or vice versa) is a wonderfully relaxed way to make the crossing. Of course, it takes a little longer on the road than if you would travel by plane, but you get a lot of peace of mind in return. There are no long lines to check in your luggage. You can take as much as you want in your car, on your bike or in your backpack. Moreover, you travel at your own pace. The crossing also gives respite from driving.

To get the most out of your trip, you’ll find below 7 tips to save time and money. For good measure, I have added some sightseeing en route.

Make your trip your destination

Onboard there is ample space to walk around, enjoy the sea breeze on the deck and admire the white cliffs of Dover on one side and the golden beaches of Northern France on the other side. Hitchhiking seagulls provide entertainment.

If you would like to spend your last pounds or euros visit the shop for drinks, cosmetics and cigarettes or have a meal.

Ferry Calais Dover

Take the car on the ferry, or not

Especially if travelling in a group the ferry is often the cheaper option than buying several plane tickets. Furthermore, you can take your own car, which not only saves money but it immediately available after crossing the channel.

  • Of course, this has the disadvantage that the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car. Or as my son would say: ‘It is not wrong, it is just the other side.’ 
  • Having the steering wheel on the wrong side can be annoying whilst driving. It is less safe. First, there are multiple blind spots. 
  • When the roads are empty visual clues (steering wheel, other cars) that one has to drive on the other side of the road will often be lacking. You won’t be the first one that starts off driving on the wrong side of the road.
  • Furthermore, the headlights are pointing at oncoming traffic instead of the roadside.
  • Note that after Brexit you will need a green card when driving in the E (and vice versa). Contact your vehicle insurance provider 1 month before you travel to get green cards for your vehicle, caravan or trailer.

The safer option is to rent a car upon arrival in Dover or Calais.

Click here to compare rental prices.


Travel time by ferry

When you arrive early at Dover it is often possible to change your tickets for either a different destination (Dunkirk or Calais) or a different time. As the departures are scheduled with two hours in between it can be worthwhile to change. This probably means that you have to drive a bit more on the other end, but it might shorten your total travel time.

Ferry Dover – Dunkirk 

In terms of travel time, the crossing to Dunkirk takes a little longer than to Calais. It takes two hours to Dunkirk from Dover by ferry.

Ferry Dover – Calais 

Depending on where you are heading next, if you go south this is the better option. But if you have to go north the driving will take about half an hour longer. I.e. quid pro quo.

Passengers need to be at the terminal about an hour in advance, because of passport and ticket control. On arrival expect to lose approximately an hour before disembarking. When in a hurry, book priority departure when buying your ticket. This service comes at an extra fee.

P&O Ferries sail from Dover to Calais. Check here for prices and availability.

7 Tips that save you time and money when taking the ferry to or from England

1. Compare prices on direct ferries

Depending on the time (of booking), the day, the weather, holiday periods, the prices of a crossing can vary substantially. Sometimes it is cheaper to go through Dunkirk, other times Calais is better.

Compares prices and availability on the Direct Ferries website.

2. Check the time of departure

Always check the conditions under which you have booked. Some tickets allow departure four hours earlier or later than the booked time. This is especially convenient if you do not know exactly what time you will arrive at the port.

3. Put your mobile on airplane mode before boarding

When in open water, no ‘normal’ telecommunication is possible and the connection for data and telephone calls are made via satellite. Even if you do not make a call yourself, but get texted or called, it might cost a small fortune, unfortunately, something I know from experience. Depending on the telephone company, customers only receive a warning when you already have incurred the charges.

On the ferry there is free Wi-Fi, use it while you set your phone on airplane mode.

4. Dartford Crossing

In England, chances are that you will have to take the Dartford Crossing. When travelling between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m this will cost £ 2.50 at a time. This amount must be paid online within 24 hours. Late payment results in a substantial fine of £70.

Payment is made via the website of the British government.

5. Avoid during the rush hour Dover – London

Traffic from Dover to London via the M20 – M25 can be quite busy. Certainly during rush hour. However, if you can plan it somewhat, avoid the motorway between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

If you are not in a hurry to arrive at your destination, combine the crossing with some sights on route.

6. Money Matters

  • Britain is not part of the EU, the currency used is pounds.
  • After Brexit (31/01/2020) Britain will continue with EHIC for a while at least. This means that if you are a European Citizen, you will be insured for medical emergencies via EHIC. But not for repatriation, lost luggage, etc.
  • If you need travel insurance click here to obtain a quote.

7. Avoid seasickness

The boat is pretty stable, so even if you get seasick easily it will probably not happen on this trip. When the weather is rough, make sure to keep your eye on the horizon. Don’t read or play with your phone.

Places of interest Dover

Dover Castle

From the boat, you can see the medieval Dover Castle from afar. This is the largest castle in England. The underground tunnels in the white cliffs played an important role in ‘Operation Dynamo’ during the Second World War.

Seven Sisters Country Park

Seven Sisters Country Park consists of 280 hectares of chalk cliffs, meandering rivers and grassland. It is a popular place for outdoor activities such as hiking, bird watching, cycling and canoeing. The Country Park is named after the famous chalk cliffs of Seven Sisters.

If you are short on time, take a tour with a minibus led by a guide. 

Places of interest Botany Bay – England

Botany Bay has just as spectacular white cliffs and endless sandy beaches as Dover and Brighton but is quieter. Take the time to take a closer look at the rocks because creative people have carved rock arts into the cliffs.

Hotel Botany Bay

If you are looking for a hotel with a view, then Hotel Botany Bay is probably your best option. The hotel is located on the Kingsgate cliff, in Botany Bay.

Check availability rooms and prices

Botany bay Engeland
Botany bay white cliffs

Places of interest Dunkirk and Calais

Upon arrival in France, you can, of course, continue straight on to your destination, or go sightseeing on this side of the channel.

World War II

Dunkirk (s) or (Dunkerque in French) is best known for the ‘Battle of Dunkirk‘ during the Second World War. The local cemetery contains more than 1000 British graves from both world wars. Here you will also find the Dunkirk Memorial and a British monument for more than 4500 fallen soldiers of the Second World War, who are buried anonymously.

Learn more about the events that took place between May and June 1940 in the war museum. The coast is still littered with bunkers.

Natural park and sandy beaches

Réserve Naturelle Nationale du Platier d’Oye is a nature reserve between Dunkirk and Calais. The nature park is a water-rich area with dunes, golden sandy beaches and is a paradise for bird watchers. It is ideal for walking. It is wise to stick to the beaten path. If not, you have the chance that you, like me, end up to your waist in the muck (because swampy and rising tide).

More information about the area can be found in this pdf (in French).



Hotels & restaurants between Dunkirk and Calais


Hotel L’Univers is a small family hotel between Dunkirk and Calais. The Platier d’Oye Natural Park and the sandy beaches of Grand-Fort-Philippe are a 500-meter walk away. The rooms are large, clean, comfortable and relatively inexpensive. In the morning the helpful owner serves a typical French breakfast with fresh baguettes and croissants.

Check here the price and availability of Hotel L’Univers.


To eat delicious mussels or other seafood, visit restaurant L’Abricotier Oye Plage. There is a terrace overlooking the dunes, or in case of adverse weather conditions sit inside the trendy restaurant. The staff speaks like most places in France … French.

Address: Route des Dunes 11, 62215 Oye Plage


But most of all, sit back and enjoy the ride.


Botany bay rock art

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