Please sign in to post.

Dover to Calais

We are getting off a cruise in Dover and want to go to France. Thought it might be best to rent a car there.
Can someone tell us how to get from Dover to the other side of the Chunnel? Is it likely there would be a town with car rental or would we need to go into Paris? Thank you.

Posted by
33337 posts

Where do you want to go in France?

Do you have a particular destination or is it "it is so close, just over there, I can see it, we should go?"

The answer is quite different depending.

Also a big part of the answer is when? The Channel (that's the water, not the tunnel underneath) is very different depending on the season.

If you call it a chunnel (a term not used locally much, not for several years) you are likely referring to the Channel Tunnel, also sometimes called the Eurotunnel. It has 2 railway tracks, one each way (plus other uninteresting stuff) and only carries trains. Some of the trains are high speed passenger trains going between London and Paris and London and Brussels, called Eurostar. Others are freight trains carrying rail freight between England and counties in mainland Europe. Still others are drive-on/drive off car, motorcycle, and bus trains between Folkestone (west of Dover) where the tunnel mouth is in England to Coquelles near Calais in France where the other tunnel mouth is.

If you wish to experience the Channel Tunnel (35 minutes of dark on an otherwise very fast train) from Dover you need to go to one of the stations served by Eurostar trains. The big terminal in England is in London, there are occasional trains from Ashford and more frequent ones from Ebbsfleet. You could take a train from Dover to Ebbsfleet to catch the Eurostar. On the other side the big terminals are Brussels in Belgium and Paris in France. There are also frequent services at Lille, on the French Belgian border, and very occasional trains at Calais Frethun, but not near rental places or the other trains.

Or you could catch a ship ferry across the Channel from Dover to Calais. If you are thinking about that option I can direct you to recent experiences people have had going as foot passengers on those ferries who have written here of their adventures -- the ferry companies don't welcome foot passengers, only one on that route accepts them, and the experience can be interesting.

So please tell us what you hope to achieve, when you are going, and probably if you will have typical cruise luggage - that is to say a lot of large luggage. Then we can get precise.

Posted by
34 posts

Sorry we will be off the cruise ship on Sept 13th and will have probably two suitcases. We want to go to some villages in Provence, Disneyland Paris and I am not sure about Paris itself. We have been there before. The last time we rented a car in Germany and did a tour of several countries. We did not know if we could rent a car to take to France and also thought the left hand steering wheel would be easier.
Are you saying we could rent a car in England, we can take a train back to London if that helps, and then the Eurostar takes the car?
Thank you.

Posted by
33337 posts

Sorry I wasn't clear.

Eurostar for people, Eurotunnel for cars. Eurostar https://www.eurostar.com/uk-en was explained better in the previous.

Eurotunnel https://www.eurotunnel.com/uk/ is where you drive up to the train off the M20 near Folkestone, drive on, sit in your car, and drive off in France.

IF your car rental company allows it. Many don't allow their cars on ferries, and the Eurotunnel counts as one. You need to check.

Unless you are doing a day-trip or are (like me) a Eurotunnel Frequent Traveller, the Eurotunnel is very expensive. On the order of £150 each way for trips planned close to departure, and as low as £85 each way for trips planned way in advance.

You need to tell the car rental place because they need to give you the original papers for the car so that you can clear border controls and check-in.

And you will be driving a UK car in France, with all that involves, from the speedo being in mph when you need kph, to the driving position being on the wrong side for driving in France.

Consider getting to Ebbsfleet or London St Pancras International and taking a Eurostar to Lille and getting a car there, or even better take the train to Provence and get a car there, maybe in Avignon.

It is a very long way to Provence - France is about the size of Texas and you are doing just about the longest part - and Autoroute tolls will be in the vicinity of 100€ each way.

Posted by
33337 posts

There are special Eurostar trains which go direct from London to Disneyland Paris.

Posted by
6113 posts

If your starting point is Dover, then the easiest way to get to France is by ferry from Dover. DFDS and P&O operate the route to Calais, with numerous sailings a day, taking about 2 hours.

Please don’t use the term Chunnel - no one under 35 here would have any idea what you are talking about, as it’s not a term in common parlance.

You are unlikely to find an English car hire company that would permit you to take their cars to France and the last thing you need in France is a right hand drive vehicle. Hire in Calais. I haven’t done this, as I always take my own car across, but it’s a big town, so google should help you out with options. You certainly don’t need to go as far as Paris to hire a car!

Posted by
5139 posts

How long will you be in France? If your stays will be limited to Disneyland Paris and Provence, then I don't see a compelling need for a car until you get to Provence. Just take the train from London to DLP. Then train to one of the cities in Provence and rent the car. Where would you fly home from?

Posted by
34 posts

Thank you for all the replies. I am sure I will have more questions. We are going round trip from Heathrow. However, since I have to change the return date I could have us leave from France. We are on Virgin Atlantic. I don't remember tolls the last time we were in France! I think we'll rent a car in France. We are making a list of where we want to go to help plan how many days.

Posted by
34 posts

oh here is a question, we will be traveling with our daughter. I am not sure where we stayed before but were in the same room. Is that a problem at hotels getting two beds? Also, are there chains in France that are good to stay at?
Thanks.

Posted by
16894 posts

I would stick with the train until you actually need the car. Are you planning to visit Paris first or on the way home? If you want to continue to Provence by fast train, you can get from Ebbsfleet to Avignon TGV station in as fast as 6.5 hours. Some schedules have you changing trains in Paris, which also means crossing town by taxi or public transport from Gare de Nord to Gare de Lyon. A better plan is an afternoon departure with an easy transfer in Lille.

You'll have to confirm train schedules closer to your departure date - maybe early spring but possibly not until later spring. Looking Up Train Schedules and Routes Online gives you the Deutsche Bahn train schedule link and tips for using it for all of Europe (but not to buy these tickets).

Or if you visit Paris first, before making your way south, then you might fly from Marseille or Nice back to London, to avoid backtracking by train. See www.skyscanner.com.

At many hotels in France, a double room can be configured with the beds together or separated into twin beds. But that's something to confirm at the time of booking. Online photos help with this. In a few cases, they might just have regular double beds that don't separate.

Posted by
6113 posts

The last direct train from England to Avignon departs 14 September, as it’s a summer only route, otherwise you will have to change in Paris.

Posted by
34 posts

We'd rather rent a car in Lille or Calais and drive ourselves. Our daughter is 40 with special needs.

Posted by
8889 posts

Aimebelle, a car will be significantly slower than a train. As I don't know your daughter's special needs, I cannot comment on the advantages of car vs train.

rent a car in Lille or Calais

A lot of people fix on Calais to get a car as it the first place after the Channel Tunnel. It is not a good choice because:

1) Very few Eurostar trains stop at Calais (3 per day). Lille-Europe has a train from London every 1-2 hours, most also stopping at Ebbsfleet.
Current Eurostar timetables are here: https://content-static.eurostar.com/documents/460888_Timetables%20Core%20Destinations_Issue%2083_EN_0.pdf

2) The Eurostar stop at Calais-Fréthun, which is a secondary station in the middle of a field outside Calais, not in the centre of Calais.

Lille-Europe is a major station with car rental offices.

Posted by
33337 posts

It may be difficult to get three adult beds in one room.

American chains may be the best option, or connecting rooms.

Ibis will be likely too small, Novotel may be able to help, but maybe not.

Be careful of choosing some of the budget chains - they usually have a double bed with a bunk bed above - a room for 3 usually means 2 plus a child.

Posted by
6113 posts

I am not sure why people are focussing on the Eurostar, which departs from Folkestone, not Dover, but you can’t get on there, so you have to backtrack to Ashford, Ebbsfleet or London. If you are in Dover, take the ferry to Calais from Dover.

Posted by
6670 posts

I'm sort of a spectator here, but Jennifer makes sense to me. You're in Dover, there are lots of ferries to Calais, and there are car rental offices in Calais (Enterprise at the terminal, others a little farther off). Kayak.com shows two-week car rentals between Calais and Nice (just an arbitrary choice) in September in the $200-300 range. There's no dropoff charge within France, and that's a car built for driving on the right like sensible people. ;-)

I don't think you've said how long you will be in France, but driving doesn't seem like such a bad idea for three people who don't want to go into Paris. Flying back from a southern French city would be more efficient than driving, and probably cheaper, I'd think.

Posted by
33337 posts

I don't have time to write the entire reply now, but those suggesting that 2 foot passengers plus an adult with special needs (unspecified, and I don't need to know) should jump through the hoops that P&O put in the way of foot passengers and then try to get the whole gang to a car hire place remote from the Calais port should read the recent accounts on the Forum of 2 able bodied people who thought they would do the same thing.

Posted by
33337 posts

Now the night is over - I can spend a couple of minutes and fill in the gaps.

About a month ago a similar question was asked in the France Forum at https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/calais-ferry-terminal-to-calais-frethun

If you go to that thread and scroll down to the third answer, Simon said:

If youre travelling by foot it could be really tricky - there is only a bus service in summer, and that is the Ferry to Calais centre-ville, then you have to get to Freethun, which is a whole new level of trickiness.

Further down that thread, at the 11th post lisalu910 wrote:

Oh gosh, glad you asked this...

I made the same trip on a Sunday three weeks ago, and it was a little
hairy!

From the train station in Dover (I’m assuming you’re coming from
London?) it is a good 30 minute walk to the docks to get the ferry,
and there is NO shuttle bus to take you there. I missed my scheduled
ferry because it took longer than I anticipated to get there.
Thankfully, I was able to take the next one about an hour later,
though.

Then arriving in Calais, I had to take a taxi to the train station
(Calais Frethun) and it wasn’t easy to get a taxi on a Sunday
afternoon when the whole town seemed to be shut down. it also cost 40
euros!!! Then the ride was at least 20 minutes and I barely caught my
train to Lille - having arrived an hour later after missing the ferry.

I was a little frazzled by the whole experience because for some
reason I assumed (incorrectly, it turns out!) that there would be
shuttle buses between the docks and train stations. But there aren’t,
and at least on a Sunday the transportation is very limited. It is not
walking distance to Calais Frethun from the docks, and taxis are
difficult to come by on Sunday, I ended up sharing one with another
woman who had been waiting a while or else I don’t know how long I
would have had to wait.

Good luck, and plan plenty of time to make your connections!

She continued two posts down:

I did learn the hard way that foot passengers on the P&O Ferries are
only incidental, and they make few accommodations to foot travelers -
for example, when you dock in Calais you’re on your own to figure out
where you’re going and how you’re going to get there “on foot.” No
helpful directions telling you how to get to the train station(s) or
anything like that. If you ask in the terminal how to get to the train
station, they pretty much look like you had just asked how to get to
Mars. (“You want to go to the GARE? Why would you want to do that?”)

The last time I crossed the English Channel was in 1979 (yes, 40 years
ago!) and we went one way on the Hover Craft and the other way on the
ferry. After both crossings we got on the train for the rest of our
journey, and though I don’t remember specifically how we got to the
train station (it’s been a LONG time!) I’m pretty sure it didn’t
involve the logistical nightmare I encountered this time or I would
have remembered that.. There were lots of “foot passengers” in the
pre-Eurostar days, and somehow everyone got on a train and on their
way without too much fuss. Needless to things have changed a lot, and
I feel lucky I even made it to Lille, not knowing what I was getting
into before I set out!

and then she continued in the next post, but I have run out of characters and will continue in the next answer....

Posted by
33337 posts

so, continuing:

The next post read:

To the OP: if you’re taking the P&O Ferry, keep in mind that when it
says be there an hour before sailing time, it means just that. You can
ONLY embark from the bus that drives you right into the ferry, you
can’t just walk onto the ship by yourself. If you miss that bus, which
picks up the foot passengers at the terminal an hour before the
scheduled sailing time, then you missed the boat altogether. (Ask me
how I know!)

and Chris F replied in the next post:

In the pre-Channel tunnel days it was a lot easier, there were two
stations at the docks, "Dover Western Docks" and "Calais Maritime".
You got a train from London to Dover Western Docks, which stopped
beside the ferry. Covered walk to the ferry, and the same thing at
Calais. Trains from Calais Maritime to all over Europe. If the ferry
was late, the train waited. Click for photo of Calais Maritime.

That was then. "Dover Western Docks" and "Calais Maritime" were closed
when the tunnel opened. Dover Western Docks station is now the cruise
terminal. "Foot passengers" use the Eurostar trains, and the majority
of the car, bus and trucks also use the Channel Tunnel; faster and
more reliable. The ferries survive as the cut-price end of the market.
Slower, every expense spared and anything to keep prices down and
undercut the tunnel. They make some money out of cost-sensitive but
non-time-sensitive trucks. Virtually no profit from foot fares, so
they don't bother to cater for them. One company doesn't even accept
foot passengers, the other does it at minimal cost.

If you want to click on Chris F's photo please go to the link given to this thread and scroll down.

I don't want to beat a dead horse, and I have intentionally left out my comments in that thread because I don't want you to think it is only Nigel banging on again. There are over the years many posts here on the Forums where people have had less than steller experiences as a ferry foot passenger, either going to find a rental car or a train. This is just one example from within the last month.

My advice remains the same, enhanced by the fact that daughter has special needs. When your cruise ship docks, get to the station - probably taxi unless the cruise ship provides transport - and take a train to either Ashford International, Ebbsfleet International or London St Pancras International. These are high speed Javelin trains. Go to whichever station will have a suitably timed train and fir which you pre-purchased tickets on the Eurostar to Lille. All inside the station at Lille are several brands of car hire and the garage is right inside the station. If you don't want to take the train part way to Provence, Lille is a decent location to start a drive, it will put you right on the Autoroute de Soleil, the way south.

It won't offend me if you elect to take the ferry as foot passengers - I just want you to go into it with eyes wide open.

I hope it is a wonderful trip for all of you.