My wife and I (against all advice I read) will be arriving in London in June,spend 2 nights,then plan on renting a car and going to Munich (1 overnight on the way), 2 nights there, 3 nights outside Zurich, then to Dover for a couple of days. My question: should we take the train to Calais to rent the car and return it there before going across to Dover, or rent it in London? Or, even in Brussels? We want a car, so that if we see a sign that points to, say, the worlds largest ball of string, we can take that road. Or, better yet, "For The World's Best Brats and Beer, turn here." Any words of wisdom?
Here's the facts bearing on the issue:
You don't need a car in London: parking's a bummer and there's a congestion zone charge you have to fiddle around with figuring out how to pay.
There are frequent trains to Dover.
It's cheaper to move a couple of bodies across on the ferry than a car (especially both ways).
There a car rental place not too far from the Calais ferryport, but a good ways from the Calais train station.
Go for it.
Trier is about half-way twixt Calais and Munich, which would leave you time to drive the Mosel Valley and the Rhine Gorge enroute to Munich the next day.
Remember that the drive from Zurich back to Calais will be rough -- close to nine hours driving time.
Too much surface travel, too little time. You can fly from London Stansted on Ryanair to southern Germany (Memmingen, "Munich West") in a couple of hours for under 15 British pounds each way. Get a car there for a few days for the area between there and Zurich, if you wish. This will save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. But I don't really think a car is good for Munich at all - too much traffic, and it's much easier to get out of and back into town on the train, if you're doing daytrips anywhere.
And don't expect roadside advertisements of any sort. I'd direct you to Andechs Monastery south of Munich(see Rick's description, easy to reach via S-Bahn and a short hike) for good beer and traditional food.
Getting in a car and just driving around isn't generally a good way to experience Europe, but it's a horrible way given the distances you intend to travel. Plan your trip a bit more thoughtfully for a less expensive and less stressful experience.
If you insist on driving (I'm one of those that won't drive in the UK and see no need to)- don't rent a british car and then spend all the time (or most of the time) driving in the rest of Europe. The steering wheel will be on the "wrong" side! I agree with the first answer. Trains and public trasport are as easy if not easier in Europe. Parking is expensive and limited, gas (petrol) is beyond expensive! and traffic is horrible and often you can't get close to what you want to see and must walk a LONGER way than if you had used subways, buses, trains, etc.
You don't need (or want) a car in the following places: London, Munich, Brussels. Zurich? Big maybe, but you did say "outside".
"We want a car, so that if we see a sign that points to, say, the worlds largest ball of string, we can take that road. Or, better yet, "For The World's Best Brats and Beer, turn here." Well, maybe not cheesy stuff like that, but you'll find those sort of signs all over Western Europe. There's often a large brown sign that shows a slightly abstract representation of the highlights of the next town, if any. For example, Leuven, known for it's large Stella Artois brewery and university, has a picture of an old fashioned brew kettle and a scholar with an oil lamp.
Thanks for everyone's input. We will probably get a car in Calais, but will be staying in one location for the remainder of the trip (Black Forest area), and make day trips using auto and public transportation. Unless there is something wrong with that plan? Our big city visits are only one day excursions; we're more into the countryside type of scenery.
Don't snag a car in France and drop it in Germany, unless you have a really deep pocketbook!
Actually we would have dropped it back in Calais, but now have changed our mind and decided on pick up and delivery in Dover. I believe we want to see the channel from on top, instead of below. Not sure why, but car rental leaving from Dover was almost half of the Calais quote. Not sure why.
There are lots of car rental agencies IN the Calais ferry port, not "near it." (We were actually there returning a car in June, 2008.) From the ferry port, it would be easy to drive away in whichever direction you wish to travel (except back towards Britain--you would need pontoons to do that!) If you take a train from London to Dover, you will need a taxi to get the mile plus from Dover Priory train station to the ferry port unless you enjoy wheeling suitcases through heavy traffic---the area is not pedestrian friendly. I think there are buses also available. I don't think you would want to take a UK car to the continent---you would be stuck with a right-hand side steering wheel.
Joe, checking autoeurope car rental prices, I also found that renting the car in Dover is less expensive than in Calais. As others have noted, the steering wheel will be on the right side and you will be shifting a manual transmission with the left hand. Could be interesting unless you request an automatic. You will also incur the cost of transporting a car, roundtrip, on the ferry.
If you are driving to Baden-Baden, on the outskirts of the Black Forest, it will take you 6 hrs. from Calais. It'll definitely be a beautiful drive but you'll have to use two days to drive it, roundtrip. Also, make sure you have money to pay for the toll roads in France. Just be sure to plan out your days and make sure it'll all be possible. Have fun on your trip!
I wish all forums were this helpful! Thanks for the tips!
Final thought: My experience is that Dover-Dunkerque is cheaper than Dover-Calais with a car (especially during early AM and late PM). Also the Dunkerque route has more frequent crossings with vehicles. If Calais is a have-to-see spot, it's only about a half-hour drive from Dunkerque.
You can noodle it all out at: directferries.co.uk.
The channel is not particularly pretty or interesting. Your targets seem to be London and Germany/Swiss. Fly RyanAir or some other low-cost carrier London-Frankfurt (or Zurich) and rent a car there for short driving distances and simplicity. You might even find a major-carrier flight "multi-city" that would be reasonable (home-LON-FRA/ZUR-home)
I mean no offense, but the fact that you were even considering renting a vehicle in GB and driving it on the continent with the driver on the wrong side of the car, shows that you do not appreciate the differences between driving in the USA and driving there.
You never, ever, EVER, want a car in a large city. It is very difficult to park less than a 30 minute walk from the center, and very difficult to navigate without a genius reading a very good map. Cars are fine in rural areas. Train into any city.
Planning a vacation in Europe is NOT the same as planning a trip to Yellowstone in the USA. A wise person does not make the same choices there as they would here.