It is possible to travel from Scotland to Europe without flying; by taking the ferry (either in a car or as a foot passenger), by coach or by train, or, more typically, a combination of these. The only passenger ferry operating between Scotland and continental Europe ceased the route between Rosyth and Zeebrugge in 2010. However, ferry services from Newcastle and Hull are accessible by rail from Scotland via Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed. There’s also a cheaper option to connect to the Hull and Newcastle ferries from Scotland by coach, although this takes longer than the train. The North Sea ferries then head east to Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Hook of Holland from where you can head deeper into Europe.
Images: DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam
Coach and and train services from Scotland need to use the Channel Tunnel to cross the North Sea, so you have to factor in the time it takes to get south. If you take the train, once on the other side of the tunnel, you’re then connected to the European high-speed rail network, which can whizz you to many European capitals and beyond within hours. Our team has tried and tested many of the routes and so we have tried to summarise all the available options in this post based on our experience.
From Scotland to Europe by Ferry
By ferry via Newcastle to Amsterdam
The ferry port closest to the Scottish border that connects with Europe is Newcastle, from which DFDS takes foot passengers on its 17.00 overnight sailings to Amsterdam.
Journey time: 15.5 hours (overnight)
Timings: Departs Newcastle 17:00, arrives Amsterdam 9.45am. The additional journey time for those travelling from Edinburgh would be around 2.5 hours - allowing around 1.5 hours for the Edinburgh-Newcastle train plus 30 minutes for the transfer bus to the International Ferry Terminal. DFDS buses operate from Berwick Street opposite Newcastle Central Station to the ferry terminal at times to coincide with its sailings. Bus tickets must be bought in advance online or over the phone.
Travelling from Glasgow to the International Ferry Terminal would take from around 3.5 hours by train and bus and from Aberdeen, 5 hours. Adding at least an hour for check-in this takes the total journey times to approximately:
Edinburgh to Amsterdam: 19 hours
Glasgow to Amsterdam: 20 hours
Aberdeen to Amsterdam: 21.5 hours
Facilities on board the ferry: bars, restaurants, casino, cinema and kids club
Sleeper Cabins: take from 2-5 people, and, unlike most ferry operators that insist dogs are kept in cars or kennels, there are cabins suitable for up to two dogs to travel alongside their owners.
Luggage: There’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a charge of £5 each way, and those without wheels can hop onto a coach on arrival at the port of Ijmuiden to travel the 25 miles into central Amsterdam. Other info: DFDS offers a ‘mini cruise’ option, which includes breaks in Amsterdam from five hours to two nights and include coach transfers at either end. From Amsterdam it’s easy to connect by rail to cities and regions across the Netherlands, as well as onto France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and beyond.
By ferry from Hull to Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and Zeebrugge (Belgium) Scottish travellers willing to travel further south still along the east coast can travel with P&O Ferries overnight between Hull and Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium. Journey time: 12 hours (overnight), with an additional journey time of between 8-11 hours for those travelling from Scotland by train, including the minimum 90-minute check-in for the ferry. On arrival at Hull station by train, there’s a bus that goes to the port from the adjoining interchange station. Number 70 operates from Paragon Interchange to the ferry terminal at 5pm and takes 15 minutes, but for more flexibility, a taxi is a good bet. These are the approximate total journey times by train and ferry from Scotland to the continent including bus transfers and 90-minute check-in:
Edinburgh to Rotterdam/Amsterdam: 20 hours
Glasgow to Rotterdam/Amsterdam: 20 hours Aberdeen to Rotterdam/Amsterdam: 23 hours Timings: Hull to Rotterdam departs 20:30 and arrives Rotterdam at 8:15 (9:00 at weekends); Hull to Zeebrugge departs 18.30 and arrive Zeebrugge at 8:45 (9:30 at the weekend). Facilities: Restaurants, bars, cinemas, a casino and kids play area. Sleeper Cabins: options range from a standard cabin, with a toilet and shower room, to a sea view cabin or a club cabin with extra space and a television - sleeping between two and five people per cabin. Luggage: There’s no limit on luggage, and you can travel with a pet and a bicycle. Pets are charged at £22 each way and must travel in a kennel. Bicycles are carried free of charge but only one is allowed per foot passenger booking, so a group travelling with multiple bikes need to make a separate booking per bike.
You can book the ferry solely as transport, but for some, it’s the holiday in itself - a mini cruise out of Hull with P&O offers two nights on a ferry to and from Rotterdam or Zeebrugge with a day trip (which can be extended to an extra night) to explore the city between sailings. Themed mini breaks take this up a notch with entertainment such as live music or darts competitions onboard. Many passengers use Zeebrugge as a gateway to Bruges and from Rotterdam many go on to Brussels, Antwerp or Paris but from either point, it is straight-forward to connect by rail to other destinations in the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Germany, Luxembourg and France.
By ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland (The Netherlands) The shortest ferry route across the North Sea from the UK is from Harwich in Essex with Stena Line to The Hook of Holland (known as ‘Hoek van Holland’). From Scotland it takes from at least 6.5 hours to reach Harwich by train via London, or 14 hours by bus, the cheapest option. You can then choose to go across the North Sea either during the day or overnight.
Journey time: it is a 7-8 hour crossing (day time or overnight)
Here are approximate journey times not including an overnight stay for the morning ferry:
Edinburgh to Hook of Holland: from 14.5 hours
Glasgow to Hook of Holland: from 16 hours Aberdeen to Hook of Holland: from 18 hours
The travel time from Scotland’s mainland cities to Harwich is between 6-10 hours plus the minimum 45-minute check-in. Trains stop at Harwich International Station, which is next to the ferry port. Unfortunately the Caledonian Sleeper train arrives in London too late to connect with a train to Harwich to catch the 9am ferry, as does the overnight bus from Glasgow to Harwich via Heathrow, so passengers from Scotland on the morning ferry need to consider overnight accommodation in London or close to Harwich. Although it’s a longer journey in the UK to travel down south, the total journey times via Harwich for the overnight ferry compare favourably to the ferries leaving from Hull to the Netherlands because of the shorter crossing. It ultimately depends on your final destination and preferred departure time, but it’s worth comparing both ferry options before committing. Timings: departs Harwich at 9am, arrives Hook of Holland at 17.15; overnight service departs Harwich at 23:00, arrives Hook of Holland at 08:00. Facilities: restaurants and bars, a cinema and shops. Sleeper Cabins: on the overnight ferry you can choose from a range of cabins, from a single inside cabin with television and ensuite bathroom to cabins for two, three, four of five people, including the Comfort Class cabins with sea view and complimentary minibar. Luggage: There’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers with bicycles pay an extra fee of £5 for adults and £2.50 for children and it costs £20 to bring your dog, which must travel in a kennel.
Ferry sailing times and journey times can change so check the website for the latest times.
From Scotland to Europe by Coach
Travelling by coach is usually the cheapest way to travel to Europe from Scotland, but also the most lengthy. National Express runs an intercity coach service from cities across Scotland including Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh and from Inverness with Scottish Citylink services. Buses go direct from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh to London Victoria where you can change to its international coach services which go to many European cities, including Calais, Paris, Lille, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges.
Here are a few sample journey times: Aberdeen to Paris: from 25 hours
Aberdeen to Amsterdam: from 26 hours Glasgow to Paris: from 21 hours
Glasgow to Amsterdam: from 22 hours Edinburgh to Paris: from 22.5 hours
Edinburgh to Amsterdam: from 22.5 hours
Luggage: You can take a hand luggage bag and medium-sized bag for the hold weighing no more than 20kg. Only folding bicycles are accepted. Facilities: coaches are air conditioned and have wi-fi and USB charging points as well as toilets and while no refreshments are sold onboard, you can pack your own food and drink for the journey and stops are made at service stations to stock up on supplies.
Another European coach operator is Flixbus, which now incorporates the Eurolines and Isilines bus companies, with services out of London Victoria. It offers more destinations than National Express and beyond - such as Vienna from London in 26 hours, Frankfurt in 13.5 hours and Prague in 24 hours. You can even travel as far as Bucharest - a 44-hour journey across six countries. The same luggage restrictions apply with one piece of hand luggage and one hold luggage up to 20kg, and bikes can be taken on the bike rack from E9 per journey. Buses have free wifi, charging sockets, toilets, and on some journeys food and drink is sold onboard in addition to the refreshment stops. The cost varies depending on the route, time of year and so on, so check the coach operator’s website for fares.
From Scotland to Europe by Train
To access Europe by rail, travellers from Scotland must first travel to London before connecting to Eurostar services from London St Pancras International Railway Station.
Here are a few journey times (times show the total duration of the trip, including allowing for sufficient time to walk to the Eurostar check-in from Euston or Kings Cross and for the 30/45-minute check-in time at Eurostar, based on appropriate times of connecting trains in to and out of London):
Train from Edinburgh to Paris: 8 hours; Edinburgh to Amsterdam: 9.5 hours
Train from Glasgow to Paris: 8.5 hours; Glasgow to Amsterdam: 10 hours
Train from Aberdeen to Paris: 10.5 hours; Aberdeen to Amsterdam: 13.5 hours
Trains from cities in Scotland are operated by a variety of rail companies into London - LNER runs trains from St Pancras up the east coast via Peterborough, York and Newcastle to Edinburgh, with some continuing on to Glasgow, Aberdeen or Inverness. Avanti West Coast operates trains on the other coast between Glasgow and Edinburgh via Birmingham and Manchester. These terminate at London Euston, which is a 10-minute walk from London St Pancras. Also terminating at Euston is the Caledonian Sleeper, an overnight rail service that connects London with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and beyond to some of the more remote Highland rail stations such as Aviemore. The sleeper arrives between 7-8am at Euston, and travellers should allow at least an hour and a half to get to St Pancras and adhere to the 30-minute Eurostar check-in (45 minutes at weekends).
Eurostar runs direct services to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Lyon, Lille and Disneyland Paris (during the summer there’s a direct train to Avignon and Marseille and in the winter there’s a direct ‘Eurostar ski train’ service to Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-St-Maurice). You can buy through-tickets that start in Scotland and go beyond Eurostar’s destinations travelling with local operators. If you are travelling with a bike, check which routes accept bikes. The fee is around £30. Dogs are not permitted on Eurostar except guide dogs.
Written and researched by Ginny Light.
Please note: the information on this page aims to give you a reasonable idea of ferry, train and coach routes, times, fares, and how to buy tickets in order that (hopefully) there’s enough detail to know what's available, how to plan a journey and where to book tickets. The information was up to date at time of publication, and although we will make every effort to update services provided, we cannot take responsibility for any errors or inaccuracies we provide. Always confirm details when you book.