Last week, we looked at ferry services that make the short hop over the Strait of Dover, linking the English ports of Dover and Ramsgate with nearby France and Belgium. These are great options if you are based in southeast England, bound for the near-continent and do not fancy the prospect of a longer ferry journey.
But for many journeys by boat to and from Britain there are some credible alternatives which deserve a look. This week we explore shipping routes across the North Sea.
Stena Line offer twice-daily sailings from Harwich to Hoek van Holland (a Dutch port that Brits still colloquially refer to as “The Hook”). One of the two services is by day, the other an overnight crossing. The ferry terminals at either end of this shipping route are well served by trains, so this makes an excellent rail-sea route linking London with Amsterdam, Rotterdam and northern Germany.
A Dutch Flyer ticket from just £39 allows you to travel from London Liverpool Street (or more than 160 other train stations in eastern England) to anywhere in the Netherlands. The fare covers the rail journey to Harwich, the 7- to 8-hour journey on the ship and then the onward train ride from Hoek van Holland to any train station on the Dutch network.
This really can be tremendous value. Rail fares in the Netherlands can be pricey, but with the Dutch Flyer ticket you effectively get onward travel within the Netherlands at no extra cost. Travelers using the overnight ferry option will need to pay a modest supplement for cabin accommodation.
Directly to Denmark
A prime choice for travelers bound for Scandinavia or the Baltic region is the DFDS service from Harwich to Esbjerg. The 18- to 19-hour crossing is a real chance to relax. Fast trains to Harwich from London connect with the late afternoon departure of the ship. From Esbjerg there are convenient same-day train connections on to Copenhagen and Hamburg.
One-way fares for the ship start at £49.
By ship from northern England
If you are based in Scotland or northern England, it is a long haul down to Harwich to catch a boat across the North Sea. But there are three long-established daily shipping routes direct from the North to the continent. All three are overnight services.
1. With DFDS at 5 p.m. every afternoon from Newcastle (North Shields) to Ijmuiden on the Dutch coast. DFDS lay on a connecting coach service which will speed you from Ijmuiden to the middle of Amsterdam.
2. A 6:30 p.m. P&O Ferries ship from Hull to Zeebrugge in Belgium, perfectly placed for access to Flanders. A bus collects foot-passengers from the ship in Zeebrugge for a shuttle transfer to Bruges railway station.
3. A second P&O Ferries daily departure from Hull, this one at 9 p.m. bound for Europoort in Holland. P&O offer real cruise-ferry luxury on this route. This route offers a choice of onward bus connections from the Dutch port of disembarkation: a direct express coach to Rotterdam and one to Amsterdam. You can link onto the Dutch rail network in both cities with same-day onward connections to destinations across central Europe.
Our view is that these North Sea shipping routes offer an imaginative way to make journeys from many parts of Britain to the eastern Alps, the Rhine Valley, central European capitals and much of eastern Europe. They are all certainly a lot more fun than shuffling through long lines at airport security.