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UK to Spain by Ferry Tips

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

In this blog Duncan shares why he takes the ferry from the UK to Spain on all of his tours. He also offers a few handy tips and tricks to make the most of the sea crossing.

Upon leaving Santander I noticed the crew of the boat putting triple chains around the trucks, pictured above. I knew I was in for a bumpy ride as we wished bon voyage to Spain and headed back to the UK across the sea. During stormy weather I’d recommend staying away from high traffic areas (people that may vomit) and if you are prone to suffering from sea-sickness – pack some ginger!

Currently Brittany Ferries are the sole operator travelling by sea between the UK and Spain. The most popular routes go from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Bilbao and Santander. There was also a ferry that went between Cork and Santander but this appears to have been replaced by a Rosslare to Bilbao service.

All of my experiences with Brittany Ferries have been positive. The company began back in the 70s transporting cabbages and onions from Brittany to Plymouth and other ports, later growing into a major ferrying company. Hundreds of tourists, lorries, and heaps of cargo are now transported across the seas surrounding the UK each day. From conversations over the years, I’ve met quite a few people who think getting to Spain by ferry is expensive. But when you look at the alternative method by road; the fuel to go through France, wear and tear on your bike, and the cost of accommodation (because who wants to do 1,000 miles of French motorway in one day!?), the ferry virtually pays for itself.

You're going to be spending a night on the boat so you'll need to decide on sleeping arrangements. A two-birth cabin on the ferries cost around £85. If the purse-strings are a little tighter, you can get a reclining seat that costs a tenner and try to kip on that. A favourite tip of mine is bring yourself a blow-up mattress and a sleeping bag. Once you’re on board make your way to the lounge – pronto! Pitch yourself up on a free bit of floor and remember to bring some ear plugs. I’ve found that you can actually sleep horizontally like this rather than squirming to get comfortable on the chairs.

Each of the ferries differs in speed. This means some take longer than others to complete the crossing. You should choose your ferry based on what time you want to get there and what time you want to get back. For instance; if you arrive late home in the UK, are you going to need accommodation for the evening?

There’s plenty to do on the boats, they’ve got swimming pools, bars, restaurants, entertainment. My favourite thing to do is a bit of whale and dolphin spotting. In order to see them you have to be actively looking for them. Binoculars are a great tool to help with this. Sometimes the captain will announce a sighting if they look like they’re hanging around, but more often than not they’re gone in a flash. I’ve managed to see all kinds of whales such as minke, sperm, and beaked. The beaked whales come right alongside the boat and have a good look at you! At times you’ll see humongous dolphin pods piling towards the boat and you almost panic thinking they’re going to collide. Suddenly, before impact, they dive deep under the massive ferry and swim out from the other side. It’s an awesome spectacle.

With that said, there’s loads of natural history to see on the ferry over – you don’t have to spend the entire time getting plastered at the bar!

Duncan's Spanish travel books are available from his website - Click for more info

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