Inside travel: Ferries

Forget airport stress – this summer, ferry services offer a range of options for the foot passenger, says Simon Calder

Imagine not having to fret about undignified security searches, strict baggage limits or paying extra for everything from getting dropped off at the airport to the right to sit next to your companion. The travel tide is turning away from aviation. As the ferry firms improve standards and cut fares, sailing to Europe is now better value than ever. While some routes are strictly for motorists only, most offer foot passengers the prospect of slow and pleasurable travel.

The shutdown of northern European airspace a year ago because of volcanic ash reintroduced – not always willingly – tens of thousands of travellers to the joys of terrestrial transportation. At a time when airlines charge adult fares to anyone over the age of two, the ferry firms can offer families excellent value.

To coincide with the shipping companies' annual celebration, "National Ferry Fortnight", we have picked out some of the more appealing and unusual foot-passenger options as the antidote to air travel.

Pricing is mightily complicated, with a range of deals for day-trips on short crossings and minibreaks; ordinary fares can be high. The very best bargains are those with rail travel included.

Not all ferry links are equal in terms of how easy they make life for travellers. Top marks to one Anglo-Dutch link – from Harwich to Hook of Holland – but the Hull-to-Rotterdam ferry leaves you 25 miles short of the city. Therefore, along with a "ship rating" (out of five) for the quality of the vessel we have added a guide to the foot-friendliness of the connection.

FRANCE

While most cross-Channel links are feasible for foot passengers, over the years they have become increasingly awkward; the days when you could catch a train to Dover Western Dock and step aboard a ferry to the middle of Boulogne have long gone. With a bus link from Dover Priory station to Eastern Docks, and another from Calais port to Ville station, you tend to lose the will to travel.

Furthermore, since SeaFrance abandoned the Dover-Calais route, fares on P&O Ferries appear to have risen steeply: £29.50 for a 90-minute, one-way crossing. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Among the most appealing links is LD Lines' Seven Sisters from Newhaven to Dieppe. Rail access is reasonable at both ends, the crossing is a pleasant four hours (despite the age of the vessel), and two lovely cities – Brighton and Rouen – are close to the British and French ports respectively.

Vessel: 2 stars

Foot-friendliness: 3 stars

Contact: 0844 576 8836, ldlines.co.uk

For the wilder, western parts of Brittany, the best link is from Plymouth to Roscoff. While you face a 20-minute walk (or £5 cab) from Plymouth rail station, the French port (barely a village) of Roscoff has an easy half-hour link with the town of Morlaix. While Armorique is not the youngest ferry on the Channel, the timings (overnight southbound, evening inbound) are time-efficient.

Vessel: 3 stars

Foot-friendliness: 2 stars

Contact: 0871 244 0744, brittanyferries.com

HOLLAND

A generation ago, great European express trains lined up at the railway station at the port of Hook of Holland, ready to take arrivals from Harwich to Scandinavia, Berlin and Austria. These days, the only destination is Rotterdam – but to compensate the quality of the vessels taking you to Hook of Holland has been transformed. The term "Superferry" is appropriate: sophisticated bars and restaurants, and an on-board cinema. In addition, the provision of dedicated railway stations at either end – and Britain's last proper Boat Train, still running from London Liverpool Street to Harwich International – make this the most alluring way to reach the Netherlands.

Stena Line offers online fares for £29 if all you want is the sea crossing, or £39 with an extraordinarily generous rail deal: London or any station in East Anglia to Amsterdam or any station in the Netherlands for just £39. That's for the day service – the overnight voyages, on which everyone is obliged to have a cabin, typically doubles the fare.

Vessel: 5 stars

Foot-friendliness: 5 stars

Contact: 08447 70 70 70; stenaline.co.uk

For travellers in the northern part of Britain, P&O North Sea Ferries offers reliable, good-quality links from Hull to Rotterdam – approximately. To reach the King George Dock in Hull, you have to pay £3.50 for a bus link from the city centre. The crossing is a joy, on a well-run overnight trip. But at the Continental end, you arrive at a dock somewhere in the depths of the Europoort complex, with a 25-mile bus connection for Rotterdam's central station.

Vessel: 5 stars

Foot-friendliness: 1 stars

Contact: 08716 64 21 21; poferries.com



DENMARK

When we asked the European rail specialist Trainseurope for its most popular crossing, the answer was a surprise: the DFDS link from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark. The cruise ferry Dana Sirena is a sleek and comfortable vessel that leaves either end early evening three days a week, reaching the destination port at lunchtime next day. You dock close to the centre of Esbjerg, about 15 minutes' walk from the station. There is even a two-for-one deal on mini-cruises, offering a couple a two-night trip for £94.

Vessel: 4 stars

Foot-friendliness: 4 stars

Contact: 0871 522 9955; dfdsseaways.co.uk



SPAIN

Once upon a time, ferry travel to Iberia was the order of the day. Vasco Line ran a link from Poole to the Portuguese port of Viana do Castelo, while Southern Ferries connected Southampton with San Sebastian for a while.

Today, the only links are those from Portsmouth to Santander and Bilbao on Brittany Ferries; of the two, the latter city wins on the quality of crossing and onward travel and exploration possibilities.

Vessel: 4 stars

Foot-friendliness: 4 stars

Contact: 0871 244 0744, brittanyferries.com



IRELAND

The Sail Rail deals offered by ferry companies and train operators represent phenomenal value. Travelling by rail from Penzance, Dover or Aberdeen to Holyhead and on to Dublin Ferryport by Irish Ferries costs only £33 one way on the conventional ferry, a fiver more on the high-speed option. From Leeds, Birmingham and other cities, the fares are even lower. Holyhead is well connected for foot passengers, though Dublin's ferry port – a long way east of the city centre – is not ideally located.

Vessel: 3 stars

Foot-friendliness: 3 stars

Contact: 0871 730 0400, irishferries.com

Suggested Topics
News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game