How to travel from the UK to Spain without flying
Updated: Mar 28
There are many ways to travel to Spain from the UK without flying thanks to a variety of train and ferry services from the south of England. Our team has tried and tested many of them and so we have tried to summarise all the available options in this post based on our experience. On arrival in Spain, there are plenty of options at rail and ferry terminals for onward travel by rail and bus.
For detailed information to how to take public transport to the UK's ferry ports, see Green Traveller's Guide to travelling as a foot passenger from the UK to Europe.
Photos: Eurostar and Brittany Ferries
By Ferry from the UK to Northern Spain
Brittany Ferries runs overnight ferry services for foot passengers (and cycle bikes) across the Bay of Biscay from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander (it also runs a service from Portsmouth to Bilbao though it is not for foot passengers). These luxurious ferries are like going on a mini-cruise, the dining is first-class, there are lots of facilities to keep the kids happy, extremely comfortable sleeping cabins. And you may see whales and dolphin on the crossing - the Bay of Biscay is one of the best places in Europe to spot these magnificent marine animals.
Route: Portsmouth or Plymouth to Santander
Journey Time: 20-24 hours (can vary by up to an hour due to tidal conditions)
Sample timetable: Departs Portsmouth 5pm, arrives Santander the following day at 5.30pm. Departs Plymouth 3.45pm, arrive Santander the following day at 1.15pm.
Frequency of Departures: Portsmouth-Santander 2 per week (journey time is 24 hours); Plymouth-Santander 1 per week (this is the fastest service - takes 20 hours)
Car hire at Santander: Yes
Route: Portsmouth to Bilbao (not for foot passengers)
Journey Time: 33 hours 30 minutes (it's a two-night crossing)
Sample timetable: Departs Portsmouth at 9.30pm on Sunday and 7.30pm on Thursday for 2-night crossings arriving at 8am on Tuesday or Saturday morning.
Frequency of Departures: Portsmouth-Bilbao 2 sailings each way per week (journey time is 24 hours)
Car hire at Bilbao: Yes
How to travel to Portsmouth ferry terminal
By Bus: The easiest way for foot passengers to reach the harbour is to take a National Express coach (e.g. from London Victoria), which stops right outside the ferry departure building. The closest train station to Portsmouth ferry terminal is 'Portsmouth Harbour' (it's a 20-minute walk from here to the ferry check-in or a 10-minute taxi ride (costs about £5). There are also local bus services to Portsmouth ferry terminal operated by Stagecoach (bus 20) and First Bus (buses 8, X4 and X9).
By train: Train services London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour take 85 minutes and there are also services from London Victoria and Cardiff. NB between May and September, there is a shuttle bus from 'Portsmouth & Southsea' railway station to the ferry terminal.
Book a train to Portsmouth >> (train tickets provided by Trainline)
Portsmouth Harbour facilities: Bar, café, shop, bureau de change, internet access point.
How to travel to Plymouth ferry terminal
By Bus: National Express runs coach services from London's Victoria coach station to Plymouth coach station.
By Train: There is a good rail service from major railway stations in the UK to Plymouth train station. It takes 3-4 hours from London Paddington to Plymouth.
It takes about 20 minutes to walk from both Plymouth bus station and Plymouth train station to the Plymouth ferry terminal.
Book a train to Plymouth >> (train tickets provided by Trainline)
Plymouth Port facilities: Baby changing, bureau de change, café, disabled access.
Ferry tickets provided by Brittany Ferries (NB. To book as a foot passenger, choose the 'on foot' option from the vehicle selection drop-down selection on step 1 of the ferry booking process):
On arrival at Santander ferry terminal: The ferry terminal lies just one block along Avenida Castilla to Santander's main train station - if you have too much to carry, it's just a minute in a taxi. Santander's train station is well connected to the Spanish rail network, with trains running to major centres in the region and the rest of the country. Santander is the capital of Spain's verdant Cantabria region (part of the wider 'Green Spain' region, along with the Basque Country, Asturias and Galicia), with rugged mountain ranges and a beautiful stretch of coastline including the stunning Picos de Europa mountains.
On arrival at Bilbao ferry terminal: The port of Bilbao is 10 miles (16km) north-west of Bilbao-Abando railway station, from where there are regular train services to major centres across
Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona. There is no public transport direct from/to the ferry terminal, however there is a taxi rank outside the ferry terminal, or you could walk just under 2 miles (3km) to Santurtzi metro station to take the metro to Bilbao-Abando station (Santurtzi is the last stop on Line 2 and goes direct to Bilbao city centre).
For ideas of where to stay, great locally run restaurants, heritage attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Green Spain.
Here's a video we produced about a trip Green Traveller made to Green Spain:
Video produced by Green Traveller Productions
By train from the UK to Spain
It is possible to travel by train to Spain in a day from the UK. The fastest route is to take the Eurostar from London St Pancras International Railway Station then change in Paris to catch a high speed train to Figueres, Girona and Barcelona. From Barcelona there are trains throughout Spain, including to Madrid and south to destinations such as Cordoba, Seville and Malaga. En route to Spain, you have to change stations in Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon, which can take about half an hour on the Paris RER line (it's only two stops, though we recommend you leave at least 50 minutes for the entire transfer - you have about an hour and a half to get the connection, though you could get an earlier train and spent a bit more time in Paris, e.g. have lunch at the wonderful Train Bleu Restaurant in Gare de Lyon). See our guide to How to transfer between train stations across Paris. At Gare de Lyon, you board a TGV high speed train to 'Barcelona Sants' station.
By train from London to Barcelona
Journey Time: from 10 hours 10 minutes
Sample timetable: Depart London 10.24am, arrive Barcelona 9.46pm
Transfer: Paris Gare du Nord to Paris Gare de Lyon
Frequency of Departures: 15/day
Carbon emissions: 7kg (flight would be 180kg)*
Car hire at Barcelona Sants Railway Station: Yes
For more information about the journey and arriving in Barcelona, see our guide to How to travel by train from London to Barcelona
Stopover hotels to break the journey in Paris
If you want to break the journey and stay overnight to see a bit more of Paris while you're travelling through (and catch the day time train the following day down to Barcelona), there are lots of lovely places to stay in Paris conveniently near both Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. Here are some examples of hotels that are conveniently near these stations:
For details of to travel to Ibiza from Barcelona, see our step-by-step guide:
Please note: The information on this page aims to give you a reasonable idea of train and ferry routes, times and tickets, in order that hopefully there’s enough detail to know what's available, how to plan an overland journey and where to book tickets. The information was up to date at time of publication, but services do change from time to time and we cannot take responsibility for any errors or inaccuracies we provide. Always confirm details when you book with the relevant travel operator. If you are aware of any inaccuracies, we'd really appreciate being informed via our contact page so we can make the relevant changes to the information provided for the benefit of other travellers.