Travel from England to Holland for free? Now, that sounds too good to be true. But those with an appetite for rail and ferry travel really can cruise the North Sea for nothing.
To Harwich for the Hook
Consider the facts. From London or East Anglia, the obvious rail-sea route to the Netherlands is via Harwich and Hoek van Holland. That Harwich-Hoek crossing offers twice-daily sailings in each direction.
Rail & Sail to Holland
Stena Line’s Dutch Flyer ticket is perfect for rail-sea journeys. Stena offers the ticket in conjunction with English rail operator Greater Anglia (which offers rail services to Harwich International) and with Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), which operates onward rail services from Hook of Holland to all parts of the Netherlands.
Anywhere in the Netherlands for £45
The one-way fare for a journey from any Greater Anglia station in eastern England to any NS station in the Netherlands is £45. We think this ticket is a great deal, and used it a few days ago for a journey from London to Leeuwarden (capital of the Dutch province of Fryslan in the north-east of the Netherlands).
A bargain rail-sea route
Had we just rolled up at Liverpool Street station in London, we would have paid £30 each for a one-way ticket to Harwich. It is worth noting that, from some other stations where the Dutch Flyer is valid, passengers needing to travel on morning peak trains to reach Harwich for the 09.00 morning sailing to Hoek could easily pay upwards of £50 merely for the one-way rail journey to Harwich.
Now throw in the consideration that, with the Dutch Flyer ticket, one has onward travel by train from the Dutch port on arrival. A one-way ticket from Hoek van Holland to Leeuwarden would have cost €24.60 (which at today’s exchange rate is just over £20).
Not a cent extra for the boat
Ergo, we purchased over £50 of rail travel for £45, and paid not a cent extra to sail across the North Sea in great comfort with Stena Line. There are on-board restaurants and bars, and plenty of diversions to while away the time. If you opt for an overnight boat, then you have to pay a modest surcharge for a cabin.
The arrangement at both ports are perfect for rail-sea transfer. At both Harwich and Hoek van Holland, trains pull up just by the quayside.
Boat trains to Harwich
At Harwich the hop from train to ship is entirely under cover and takes just three minutes. Direct trains from London, Colchester and Ipswich connect perfectly with all sailings. For the morning sailing from Harwich there is also a direct train from Lowestoft. For the evening boat, there is a useful direct train from Cambridge to the port.
Onward connections from Hoek van Holland
On arrival in the Netherlands, the transfer from ship to train takes about 10 minutes (with a seemingly endless elevated sloping gangway that brings passengers down from Deck Nine on the ship to ground level).
Hoek van Holland station is but a pale shadow of its former self. No longer are there any great expresses, the destination boards on their carriages a litany of expectation: Rome, Athens, Copenhagen, Moscow. Those grand trains of yesteryear have been banished. Nowadays, it is just a humble local train to Rotterdam, stopping at all stations along the way. At Rotterdam, there are good onward connections to all parts of the Netherlands.