How to travel from Wales to Europe without flying

Updated: Jun 18

There are lots of ways to travel from Wales to Europe without flying - by train, coach, ferry (in a car or as a foot passenger) or a combination of all three. By and large, for journeys to France by ferry, it’s quickest to travel overland from Wales to the south coast of England to catch ferries across the English Channel, unless you live close to Holyhead in North Wales - where it’s possible to take the Holyhead-Dublin ferry then connect onto a second service to Cherbourg but with a journey time of at least 22 hours, it’s still often easier to head to Poole, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Newhaven or even Dover.

From these south coast ports, Europe is your oyster. You can catch a ferry with Brittany Ferries from Poole to Cherbourg and Plymouth to Roscoff or Santander, but the greatest choice of destinations is from Portsmouth, with services to Le Harve, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo, Bilbao and Santander. Newhaven is connected to Dieppe with DFDS, but Dover has the greatest choice of sailings to France with 50 departures a day in peak season across the Channel. For Calais you can choose P&O Ferries or sail with DFDS, which also runs a route to Dunkirk.


Getting to the south coast ferry ports by public transport is cheapest by coach, with journeys from Cardiff, for example, taking between 5.5 and 7.5 hours to reach the south coast ports. The same journeys by train take 3.5 to 5.5 hours, and while Dover is the furthest away it can take under 4 hours to reach because of the high speed rail line from London. From mid and north Wales, you need to add at least two hours to these coach and rail times with many services travelling via Birmingham or London to reach the south coast ferry ports.


If you want to get to the Netherlands from Wales without flying, the Harwich-Amsterdam ferry is an option but it’s much quicker to take the Eurostar train via London or the Dover-Calais car ferry and drive.


If you’d rather go by road or rail, coaches and trains heading to the continent both use the Channel Tunnel, so you have to factor in the time it takes to travel east to London. 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 Wales to Europe by ferry

Examples of total journey times including allowance for check-in and transfers where relevant:

Ferry from Cardiff to Calais: 6.5/7 hours to go by car/train and ferry

Ferry from Cardiff to Cherbourg: 6.5/7.5 to go by car/train and ferry (from Portsmouth)

Ferry from Cardiff to Santander: 22/23 hours to go by car/train and ferry (from Plymouth)

Ferries from Swansea: add a further 30-60 minutes to the above journey times.

You can sail with Brittany Ferries during the day or overnight from Poole, Portsmouth and Plymouth with journeys taking between 3 and 11 hours depending on the route and departure time. The fastest crossings are to Cherbourg from Portsmouth and Poole. The Le Harve offers more budget ‘no-frills’ day and overnight ferries that have limited entertainment onboard and a more simple restaurant. The Caen route has the greatest choice of day or night sails. For access to northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, there is a vast choice of services from Dover to Calais and Dunkirk with P&O Ferries and DFDS, but only the former accepts foot passengers on these routes.


Portsmouth to Le Harve with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: day and overnight ferries that take between 5.5 and 10 hours

Timings: at least one daily departure, with up to two a day in the peak summer season. Departs Portsmouth 23:00 or 23:30, arrives Le Harve 8:00 or 08:30, with an extra seasonal departures - see website for details

Facilities on board: small bar, self service restaurant, cinema, small shop and kids play area

Sleeper Cabins: take from 2-4 people (6 berth on some ferries), including cabins suitable for a dog to travel alongside its owner

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: Le Harve is the closest port to Paris by car.

Book a ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre >>


Portsmouth to Caen with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 6-7 hours

Timings: daily departures in the peak summer season. Greatest choice of sailing times at 08:15, 14.45, 22:00 and 22:45 depending on the day and season

Facilities on board: bar, restaurants, cinema, entertainment for adults and children, shops and kids play area

Sleeper Cabins: take from 2-4 people and some ferries have cabins suitable for a dog to travel alongside its owner

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: from Caen you can connect to the high speed rail network in France via Le Mans or get to Paris by rail in two hours.

Book a ferry from Portsmouth to Caen >>


Portsmouth to Cherbourg with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 3 hours

Timings: daily departures in the peak summer season. Leaves Portsmouth at 09:00, arriving in Cherbourg at 13:00, with extra departures depending on the season

Facilities on board: lounge with reclining seats, shop, cafe and bar

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: from Cherbourg it is three hours to Paris by train but most people take a car as you can drive onto Normandy in just over an hour.

Book a ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg >>


Portsmouth to St Malo with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 7-11 hours

Timings: sailings every day during the peak summer season. Leaves Portsmouth at 20:15, arriving in Cherbourg at 08:15, with slight changes to timings depending on the season and some day crossings from St Malo

Facilities on board: cinemas, cabaret and live entertainment, restaurants, bar, cafe, shopping Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: one of the boats on the route (Pont Aven) has a pool and leisure area. From St Malo you can drive to Brittany in 1.5 hours and the Dordogne in 6 hours. Otherwise by train you can get to Rennes in under an hour and Paris in three hours.

Book a ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo >>


Portsmouth to Bilbao with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 24-32 hours

Timings: up to three return crossings each week. Leaves Portsmouth at 08:45, 12:00 or 22:30, depending on the day and season. Sundays sailings offer two nights onboard

Facilities on board: restaurants, bar, cafe, shopping, pool, spa, cinema, children’s play area Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins including a cabin that accommodates a pet alongside its owners

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: opt for a Tuesday daytime crossing aboard the ‘no-frills’ ships, Baie de Seine or Connemara, for a more affordable crossing. Some crossings offer whale and dolphin spotting with the ‘ORCA wildlife officers’. As with Santander, the Alsa coach service is best for onward journeys by public transport unless you are heading south by train towards Madrid.

Book a ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao >>


Portsmouth to Santander with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 24-32 hours

Timings: two return crossings each week. Leaves Portsmouth at around 08:45 or 17:00 depending on the day and season

Facilities on board: restaurants, bar, cafe, shopping, pool, spa, cinema, children’s play area Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins including a cabin that accommodates a pet alongside its owners

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: opt for a ‘no-frills’ ship for a more affordable crossing, which operates during peak season - check the Brittany Ferries website for details. Some crossings offer whale and dolphin spotting with the ‘ORCA wildlife officers’. For journeys on from Santander, the rail network works best if you want to head south, with Madrid a four-hour journey away and Leon 3.5 hours, but for east-west journeys, it’s best to travel by car or by bus with Alsa the leading coach company in the region.

Book a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander >>


Poole to Cherbourg with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 4.5 hours (9 hours for overnight return crossing)

Timings: up to two return crossings per day in peak summer season. Leaves Poole at around 08:30 and arrives at 14:00, depending on the day and season

Facilities on board: restaurant, bar, cafe, shop, children’s play area Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: from Cherbourg it is three hours to Paris by train but most people take a car as you can drive onto Normandy in just over an hour.

Book a ferry from Poole to Cherbourg >>


Plymouth to Santander with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 18.5 hours

Timings: one sailing per week departing on Sundays at 16:45, arriving in Santander at 12:15, returning Wednesdays

Facilities on board: restaurants, bars, cafe, shops, pool, live entertainment, cinemas, spa, children’s play area Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: Brittany Ferries’ mini cruise package offers two nights on board the ship, Pont Aven on the journey out and back, plus two nights in Santander. For journeys on from Santander, the rail network works best if you want to head south, with Madrid a four-hour journey away and Leon 3.5 hours, but for east-west journeys, it’s best to travel by car or by bus with Alsa the leading coach company in the region.

Book a ferry from Plymouth to Santander >>


Plymouth to Roscoff with Brittany Ferries

Journey time: 6-8 hours

Timings: up to two return crossings per day in peak summer season with day and overnight options. Leaves Plymouth at around 08:00 and/or 22:00, depending on the day and season

Facilities on board: restaurants, bars, cafe, shops, live entertainment, cinemas, children’s play area, pool and spa (on some crossings) Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Fo ot passengers can travel with a bicycle for a small charge each way. Other info: Roscoff is well placed for holidays in Brittany, Normandy and the Loire

Book a ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff >>


Newhaven to Dieppe with DFDS

Journey time: 4 hours

Timings: 3 daily sailings in both directions May-September (2 daily sailings at other times)

Facilities on board: restaurant, bar, shop, children’s play area

Sleeper cabins: 2-4 berth cabins

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle free of charge. Other info: you can travel by coach from Dieppe to Paris in 2.5 hours or connect to the intercity French rail network via Rouen

Book a ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe >>


Dover to Calais with P&O Ferries

Journey time: 1.5 hours

Timings: up to 23 daily sailings in both directions, depending on the time of year

Facilities on board: food court, restaurant, cafe, bar, shop, kid’s club

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage. Foot passengers can travel with a bicycle free of charge but must book the bicycle in advance with one bicycle per booking so groups with multiple bicycles need to make separate bookings. Other info: there are four ticket types from Saver to Premier, which give you varying flexibility, wifi access and lounge access. Only passengers travelling with a car can bring their pet


Dover to Calais with DFDS

Journey time: 1.5 hours

Timings: up to 30 daily sailings in both directions, depending on the time of year

Facilities on board: restaurant, cafe, bar, shop, kid’s play area, free wi-fi

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage and no extra cost to bring bicycles with a vehicle Other info: DFDS does not accept foot passengers on its Dover-Calais route - only those travelling with a vehicle. A ‘Flexi ticket’ allows you to travel up to 72 hours either side of your original booking, subject to availability. Passengers can bring their pet at a cost of £15 each way. For onwards travel, Calais is on the Intercity rail network with the option to connect to towns including Boulogne, Lille, Amiens and Arras on the TER network.

Book a ferry from Dover to Calais >>


Dover to Dunkirk with DFDS

Journey time: 2 hours

Timings: up to 24 daily sailings in both directions, depending on the time of year

Facilities on board: restaurant, cafe, bar, shop, kid’s play area, free wi-fi

Luggage: there’s no limit on luggage and no extra cost to bring bicycles with a vehicle Other info: DFDS does not accept foot passengers on its Dover-Dunkirk route - only those travelling with a vehicle. A ‘Flexi ticket’ allows you to travel up to 72 hours either side of your original booking, subject to availability. Passengers can bring their pet at a cost of £15 each way. Dunkirk is well served by public transport - buses around the town are free and the train station is on the Intercity network with trains to Paris taking 2.5 hours

Book a ferry from Dover to Dunkirk >>


From Wales to Europe by coach

Travelling by coach is usually the cheapest way to travel to Europe from Wales and is relatively straight forward thanks to the M4 motorway, which runs east-west from south Wales to London. For journeys starting in North Wales, coaches tend to travel via Crewe, Birmingham or Manchester. For more information on these, take a look at our guide for travel from the North of England (LINK HERE).


Here are a few sample journey times including a change in London:

Coach from Cardiff to Paris: from 15.5 hours; Cardiff to Amsterdam: from 17 hours Coach from Swansea to Paris: from 17.5 hours; Swansea to Amsterdam: from 19 hours Coach from Newport to Paris: from 15 hours; Newport to Amsterdam: from 16.5 hours


Most coach routes serving mid and west Wales start in Aberystwyth or connect through here via local services. From Aberystwyth coaches either run directly east through Shrewsbury to London and Birmingham, or head south via Swansea, Cardiff and Newport to London.

National Express services terminate in London Victoria from 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.


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 Wales to Europe by train

To travel from Wales to Europe by rail, you need to go via London to connect to Eurostar’s international rail network out of London St Pancras International Railway Station.


Here are a few train journey times (times show the total duration of the trip, including allowing for sufficient time to transfer from Paddington to the Eurostar check-in and for the 45-minute check-in time at Eurostar, based on appropriate times of connecting trains in to and out of London):

Train from Cardiff to Paris: 6 hours; Cardiff to Amsterdam: 7.5 hours

Train from Swansea to Paris: 5.5 hours; Swansea to Amsterdam: 9 hours

Train from Newport to Paris: 6 hours; Newport to Amsterdam: 7 hours


In north-west Wales, services start in Holyhead and onwards to Chester and Crewe to connect with rail routes in the North of England and onto London. For mid Wales, branch lines connect to Shrewsbury then onto Birmingham and finally London. On both of these routes your train would terminate in London Euston, from which it is a 15-minute walk to St Pancras.

Rail services in south Wales run from Fishguard on the south-west tip of Wales through Swansea, Cardiff and Newport via Reading into London Paddington. From here it’s a 20 minute journey on the London Underground to St Pancras.


Eurostar runs direct services to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Lyon, Lille and Disneyland Paris (and during the summer a direct train to Avignon and Marseille and the winter there’s a direct ‘ski train’ service to Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-St-Maurice).


You can buy through-tickets that start outside of London 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.

Book train travel to Europe >>


Written and researched by Ginny Light.


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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.

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