Best holidays by ferry from the UK

 By Annabelle Thorpe

Fancy a short break but can’t face the stress of an airport for just a few days away? Jump on a ferry instead – the waters around English are awash with all manner of ships – from hydrofoils to car ferries – offering a stress-free way to everywhere from the Scilly Isles to Spain.

Whether you want a weekend of sandcastles on the beach, or tapas on the piazza, here are my 10 suggestions for fuss-free ferry trips.

Northern Spain

It’s a long crossing to the northern Spanish ports of Bilbao and Santander – around 24 hours – but it’s a memorable way to travel and both cities offer a more authentic glimpse of Spanish life than the touristy towns of the Costas. In Northern Spain, Bilbao is renowned as a tapas capital and is home to the world-famous Guggenheim art gallery. Santander has wonderful beaches within an easy drive, and is also a gateway to the green mountains of inland Spain and the famous wine-region of Rioja. Book with Inntravel.

Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight may only be five miles across the Solent from the mainland, but walking off the ferry feels like stepping back in time to a simpler, more peaceful world.  Choose between the wilder, less developed West Wight – latticed with walking trails and gastropubs, or the busy beach resorts on the eastern side. For great-value self-catering accommodation, check out Classic Cottages.


Home to some of the most beautiful beaches in France, Brittany is an ideal choice for families, with fast crossings from Plymouth, Poole & Portsmouth. The picturesque walled city of St Malo is a great choice for a short break; stay right by the entrance to the historic fortress at the France & Chateaubriand Hotel, and spent lazy days pottering the cobbled streets and dipping in and out of the boutiques and bistros.  Or discover the historic old harbour at Roscoff, with a stay at the chic Le Temps de Vivre Hotel, which has wonderful views out over the Channel. For good value family holidays, we recommend Siblu holiday villages.

Channel Islands

A unique combination of British and French cultures, the Channel Islands can be easily reached by ferry from Portsmouth and Poole in Hampshire. Jersey boasts the warmest year-round weather in the UK, and is fringed with golden sand beaches and a sophisticated capital, St Helier – the offers great shopping, restaurants and luxury places to stay, including the Pomme d’Or, right on the harbour. Check out the Seymour Hotel Group.


Choose between the bustling city of Dublin or the seaside charms of Rosslare in Country Wexford, with a short-break to Ireland, easily accessible from the ports of Holyhead and Pembroke in Wales. Dublin offers a fantastic mix of culture and craic; visit the Temple Bar area for pints of Guinness and a party feel, take in the beautiful architecture of Trinity College and indulge in a luxurious night or two at the gorgeous Merrion Hotel. Or head south to County Wexford, to stroll along the quiet, sandy beaches, browse in the art galleries or indulgent in a pampering spa weekend at the beachfront Kellys Hotel. Book a tailor-made tour of Ireland with McKinlay Kidd.

Scilly Islands

The crossing from Penzance to St Mary’s may be a little bouncy, but once you arrive it’s all worth it – the Scillies feel like nowhere else in the UK.  Sixty miles off the coast of Cornwall, the islands offer everything from five-star luxury to simple campsites.  Couples looking for a romantic getaway will love Hell Bay on the tiny island of Bryher, while The Flying Boat Cottages on Tresco are ideal for families, with lots of activities on offer from sailing to cycling the island’s quiet lanes. Tresco is also home to the famous Abbey Gardens, one of the most beautiful botanic gardens in the world.


Taking the car ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge offers the chance for a self-drive break around some of Belgium’s most beautiful cities.  Medieval Bruges – famous for its spectacular architecture, chocolatiers and beer halls – is just three hours drive; check in to the Hotel Navarra to be walking distance from the cafe-lined Grand Place and the elegant 19th century Grote Markt marketplace. Historic Ghent is the same distance from Zeebrugge, where the canals are lined with wonderfully-preserved medieval houses; stay at the Ghent Marriott to be right in the heart of the city.


Home to some of the most iconic sites in France, from the Bayeux Tapestry to the five World War I Normandy Landing beaches, the region feels wonderfully unspoilt, dotted with historic chateaux, apple orchards (used to produce Calvados) and chic little towns.  Choose from Cherbourg, with its rich seafaring history – it was one of the first ports visited by the Titanic, and there is a fabulous exhibition at the Cite de la Mer Museum. Caen makes an equally good base – ideally located for exploring the Normandy Landings sites and home to the spectacular 11th century Chateau de Caen, one of the largest medieval complexes in Europe.


Rotterdam has quietly become one of northern-Europe’s hippest cities, and it’s an easy overnight sailing from Hull. The city is littered with art galleries and eye-catching architecture, and has a clutch of chic boutique hotels including the Citizen M, which offers pod-style rooms at bargain prices. It’s also home to some of the best nightlife in Holland – the bars and clubs dotted around the Stadhuisplein are the place to start. Bring the car and you can make it a twin centre break with Amsterdam – just one hour’s drive away.

Lundy Island

For the ultimate – but easy – escape from it all, hop on the MS Oldenburg ferry from the Devon coast to the island of Lundy, which lies 12 miles into the Bristol Channel. The island is just 1.72 square miles and home to a population of 28, which swells in the late spring and summer months with day-trippers and visitors staying in the Landmark Trust Holiday Cottages. There are 23 properties to choose from, and the island offers plenty of walking and wildlife-watching and the chance for some real peace and quiet.

Last updated: 18 May 2021

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