The ultimate guide to driving to Europe this summer

France, Morbihan, Pont Scorff, Classic Car driving through the village
The open road beckons: more of us than ever before are opting to drive to Europe - Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

A holiday promises freedom. The reality is delayed flights, forking out for luggage (we’re looking at you, Ryanair) and car hire rip-offs. That’s before we mention the impossibility of using your wine allowance on the return.

That may explain why more of us are taking our cars to Europe by ferry. The most recent government statistics, from 2022, show passenger numbers on the Dover-Calais route doubled from 2021 to 5.1 million. P&O says it transported 3.5 million people last year. With your car, you’re limited only by boot capacity. “Bring the bikes and inflatable canoe!” you’ll chirp breezily to the kids.

Admittedly, the reality is not quite so sunny. Remember those reports of massive delays at Dover last April as Brexit checks bit? They were not an exception, reported consumer group Which? Travel after a survey of more than 2,000 readers. Add in poor facilities on Dover-Calais routes (food and loos were particular gripes) and Which? recommends swapping Calais for Dunkirk, 35 minutes’ drive up the coast. Brittany Ferries’ routes to St Malo and Roscoff also won praise. In short, it pays to be picky.

Le Shuttle via the Channel Tunnel from Folkestone deftly side-steps the issue of facilities – you’re in the car for the journey, handy if you’re bringing the dog – and is faster at 35 minutes to a ferry’s 1h 30m. The catch? While there are red-eye bargains, it’s typically twice the price.

Once you’re across, however you do it, the open road beckons, with nary a border-check between countries. For this list we’ve limited ourselves to 10 hours’ driving time and used péage (toll) routes across France: cumulatively expensive, still worth every euro. The surprise is how much 10 hours permits. Why suffer traffic jams down the M5 to Cornwall when you could be on Brittany’s coast or among the Swiss Alps, could be slugging Grand Cru French wines or touring fairytale Germany? There are also brilliant family destinations 30 minutes from disembarkation. Keep them quiet.

Brittany, France

Best for bespoke beach breaks

You may think you’ve done Brittany as a self-drive destination. This new 11-day trip suggests otherwise. It’s a bespoke Brittany for insiders, looping around the peninsula via the sort of places the French would prefer to keep to themselves: places like medieval Dinan and village resort Trébeurden, where you stay bang on the beach; yachtie favourite the Gulf of Morbihan and ancient Paimpont forest associated with legends of King Arthur (the Bretons claim him as their own). And while other holidaymakers merely paddle off the Pink Granite Coast you’re taking a traditional sailboat to winkle out hidden coves.

Drive time from Calais: 5h

How to do it: Original Travel (020 3958 6120; has 10 nights’ B&B from £2,930 per person, including Le Shuttle crossing.

Brittany's Pink Granite Coast includes Pors Termen beach in Trébeurden
Brittany's Pink Granite Coast includes Pors Termen beach in Trébeurden - Herve Lenain / Alamy

Interlaken, Switzerland

Best for an alpine family holidays

The closest Alps to Calais? Not France, actually, but the big stuff in Switzerland. A nine-hour Harry Potter audiobook will get you across north-eastern France to Interlaken. Here, Manor Farm Camping has two-bedroom canvas tents for under £200 a week. When not swimming and canoeing, you can catch a ferry to one of Switzerland’s loveliest resorts. Within a 30-minute drive are fairytale villages like Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald, where cable cars swoosh past the north face of the Eiger to a snow-capped summit. For kids it’s magic. One tip: download another Harry Potter before the return.

Drive time from Calais: 8h 30m

How to do it: Eurocamp (01606 787125; has six nights, in a safari tent sleeping four, from £196. Return crossing with Irish Ferries ( from Dover to Calais costs from £153.

The fairytale landscapes of Interlaken
The fairytale landscapes of Interlaken - Ivo Scholz/Switzerland Tourism

Black Forest, Germany

Best for footpaths and food

France is big. Deceptively so. So instead of the Dordogne for walks and splendid lunches, take the A26 and turn left after Reims. You’ll be in the Black Forest within seven hours. Imagine reliable weather – this is Germany’s sunniest region – strolls in pine-fresh air, delightful towns like Freiburg and terrific gastronomy in inns like cuckoo clocks – and Britons in the minority of visitors. This three-centre self-guided walking tour is just the job for drivers. Like most people who book, you’ll stay in family-owned hotels and end in Freiburg. But you’ll drive rather than hike between each, freeing up time to make the most of recommended walking routes in each destination.

Drive time from Calais: 6h 45m

How to do it: Inntravel (01653 617001; has eight nights’ B&B, plus two picnics and five dinners, from £1,440 per person. Return crossing on Le Shuttle ( costs from £196.

The Black Forest may be seven hours' drive from Calais, but it's well worth the journey
The Black Forest may be seven hours' drive from Calais, but it's well worth the journey - Peter Backhouse

The Hague, Netherlands

Best for cycling with kids

Strap the bikes to the boot-rack and embark on the best easy-riders’ holiday in Europe. Lycra louts will hate it – no hills. For families, however, The Hague is the cycling jackpot: flat terrain, a cycling culture and stellar scenery. You’ll get the gist on the path from your beach cabin at Kijkduin to Scheveningen resort, with a Ferris wheel on its pier. Daytrips abound. Unesco-listed Kinderdijk, all reedy canals and windmills, is under an hour away, as is Delft, a nicer alternative to Amsterdam. Also Kijkduin is within half an hour of the ferry. No “Are we there yet?” whines on this holiday.

Drive time from Hook of Holland: 25m

How to do it: Haages Strand Huisjes cabins ( has four nights’ self-catering, for four, from £742. Return crossing with Stena Lines ( from Harwich to Hook of Holland from £294.

Windmills line a canal in Unesco-listed Kinderdijk, less than an hour from The Hague
Windmills line a canal in Unesco-listed Kinderdijk, less than an hour from The Hague - Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy

Italian Lakes, Italy

Best for slow-travel hedonism

You’re right – the drive via Dijon and Lausanne is an odyssey. But, mamma mia, how the Italian lakes reward your effort over a fortnight: diamond-clear light and sparkling water, pastel villas among cypresses, food of gods and a backdrop of Dolomites. Recover from the drive to Lake Maggiore with a few days waterside in Cannero at Hotel Cannero; slow starts, swims and promenades, a trip to the gardens on Isola Bella off Stresa. Feeling better? Then shift to Lake Garda. It lacks Lake Como’s celebrity cachet, so the beaches are quieter, the hotels cheaper and you’ll easily get a table for lunch.

Drive time from Calais: 9h 50m

How to do it: Hotel Cannero (+39 0323 788046; has doubles from £132, B&B. Return crossing on Le Shuttle costs from £196.

There are abundant walking options around the Italian Lakes
There are abundant walking options around the Italian Lakes

Flanders, Belgium

Best for easy historic touring

It’ll never not be extraordinary that within two hours you can take Le Shuttle and drive north to Bruges. Here, Hotel Navarra is a good-value stay with parking. Yet Bruges is just the start. Belgium is hugely undervalued for an easy tour of history and beauty. You’ll potter along vast beaches between Belle Epoque resorts of the Belgium Riviera; De Haan is cute. You’ll zip to Antwerp, buzzing with creatives, or marvel at Ghent – as historic as Bruges but cheaper and far less busy. The best bit? After all that, the train home is only 90 minutes away.

Drive time from Dunkirk: 1h

How to do it: Hotel Navarra (+32 50 34 05 61; has double rooms from £162, B&B. Return ferry with DFDS ( from Dover to Dunkirk costs from £165.

A picturesque scene by one of the canals in Bruges
A picturesque scene by one of the canals in Bruges - Nick Brundle/Moment RF

Donegal, Ireland

Best for wild coastal escapes

Why schlep to Scotland’s NC500 only to get stuck behind motorhomes when you can zip across Northern Ireland on the A6 in two hours? Everything you seek from the west Highlands is in Donegal: heart-stoppingly beautiful beaches, a mercurial ocean that’s all foam and glitter, revelatory honest food in historic pubs like Biddy’s O’Barnes ( and Olde Glen Bar (, the glorious sense of being at the ragged edge of things. All that and empty roads too – the Wild Atlantic Way of Donegal is quiet compared to sections in Cork and Kerry. Start with a bed at Rathmullan House near Letterkenny and explore.

Drive time from Belfast: 2h 15m

How to do it: Rathmullan House (+353 74 9158188; has double rooms from £196, B&B. Return ferry with Stena Line from Liverpool to Belfast costs from £418.

Rathmullan House is an excellent base from which to explore Donegal, and it sits at the beginning of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way coastline
Rathmullan House is an excellent base from which to explore Donegal, and it sits at the beginning of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way coastline

Burgundy, France

Best for wine connoisseurs

Given that Brexit has reduced our wine allowance to just 24 bottles it makes sense to import only the best stuff. That means au revoir the Calais hypermarket, bonjour Burgundy, France’s most fabled terrior. It’s home to names like Château de Chassagne-Montrachet, Olivier Leflaive’s Chevalier-Montrachet, the Grand Crus of Les Clos des Meix, and Pouilly-Fuissé straight from the source. They’re among the 11 wineries and 54 wines you sample on a trip which starts in Chablis, a straight-forward journey from Calais down the A26. Accommodation is in smart four-stars. Travel between vineyards is by chauffeured car, plus e-bikes and on foot.

Drive time from Calais: 4h 40m

How to do it: Grape Escapes (01920 468666; has seven nights’ B&B, plus four lunches and two dinners, from £2,151 per person, including guides. Return crossing with Irish Ferries from Dover to Calais costs from £153.

The vineyards outside of Chablis – an oenophile's delight
The vineyards outside of Chablis – an oenophile's delight - Jumping Rocks/UIG

Harz, Germany

Best for fairytale romance

Skip Germany’s Romantic Road – it’s too far to drive in one hit. To find fairytale Germany closer to home, drive east from Calais (via Ghent, Antwerp then Dortmund) to Hamlyn. The pretty town of Pied Piper fame – they stage outdoor performances of the tale throughout summer – is a fine gateway to the Harz region, a criminally under-rated area built of hiking trails and splendid steam-train rides and half-timbered towns like Wernigerode seemingly built by residents who’d read too many Grimm tales. Goslar is a Sleeping Beauty charmer with central traditional four-star Alte Münze hotel.

Drive time from Dunkirk: 6h 45m

How to do it: Alte Münze (+49 5321 22546; has doubles from £132. Return ferry with DFDS from Dover to Dunkirk costs from £165.

Wernigerode is like something out of a fairytale
Wernigerode is like something out of a fairytale - Francesco Carovillano

Spanish Pyrenees, Spain

Best for epic road trips

I won’t pretend the journey isn’t long: you’re facing either the 20-hour ferry to Bilbao or a slog south on the péage via Bordeaux. (I’d do it over two days.) Yet this Pyrenees road trip is one of Spain’s great journeys, starting at foodie San Sebastian before passing through the Navarre desert to reach Aínsa – an extraordinary base for guided hikes in the high Pyrenees. East again, there are Romanesque chapels and bearded vultures in the Garrotxa National Park before your foot comes off the gas beside the Med’ on the Cadaques coast. A 20-night option looks tempting.

Drive time from Dieppe: 9h 25m

How to do it: Pura Aventura (01273 676712; has 13 nights’ B&B, plus two lunches and five dinners, from £2,475 per person, including guides. Return ferry with DFDS from Newhaven to Dieppe costs from £207.

Pura Aventura's Pyrenees trip includes an excursion to spot bearded vultures
Pura Aventura's Pyrenees trip includes an excursion to spot bearded vultures

* Crossing prices are based on a standard car with four passengers.

FAQs – driving to Europe this summer

Ed Wiseman

Before you travel

When travelling overseas motorists must now display the UK logo on the rear of their vehicle
When travelling overseas motorists must now display the UK logo on the rear of their vehicle - Horst Friedrichs / Alamy
  • The ‘GB’ sticker has been replaced with the ‘UK’ sticker, and must be displayed on the back of your car in Europe. If your number plate already has a ‘UK’ identifier on it, this is sufficient everywhere on the Continent except Spain.

  • Europeans drive on the right, which means that the headlights on a right-hand drive car are tilted in the wrong direction and need to be adjusted to be legal. Some vehicles allow you to do this electronically but others require headlight beam deflector stickers.

  • In France and other European countries, you must carry a high-visibility jacket in the car (not the boot) for emergencies. It’s mandatory to have a reflective warning triangle and spare headlight bulbs, too.

  • Your insurance policy should provide you with basic cover in Europe but a comprehensive policy is advised; upgrade for a small fee. Carry a certificate of insurance, along with the original V5C (no photocopies) and if the car isn’t registered in your name, a letter from the owner giving you permission to drive it overseas. A photocard driving licence is sufficient for European holidays. Breakdown cover is recommended.

Getting there

By train

  • The quickest way across the Channel is Le Shuttle, or the EuroTunnel. Regular trains take you and your car from Folkestone to the French town of Calais in 35 minutes. There are no facilities on board apart from toilets, but you can get out of your car. It’s a great option for families with pets, but it’s more expensive than the ferry, with prices starting at over £200 for a five-day return, which covers unlimited luggage and up to nine passengers per car.

  • The optional Le Shuttle Flexiplus ticket, which costs around £250 each way, entitles you to board any train on your booked travel day, instead of a specific departure. You’ll also get access to the Flexiplus lounge at each end, where you can help yourself to free coffee and food. Using Flexiplus, you can turn up at the port and board the next train; without it, you should arrive an hour or more before your booked slot.

By boat

  • The most popular way to cross the Channel is by ship. Short crossings from Kent are cheaper than the train. On board, you generally leave your car (and pets) on a lower deck and spend the duration of the crossing wandering the vessel’s shops and eateries. Dover to Calais takes around 90 minutes and check-in closes an hour before departure. Ferries are susceptible to weather; when it goes wrong, the disruption can be severe.

  • There are several cross-Channel routes, including slower but less crowded crossings from Dover to Dunkirk, plus connections to the northern French coast from Plymouth, Poole, Portsmouth and Newhaven. Some ferries go to Spain (such as the 33-hour Portsmouth to Santander route) while others go to the Netherlands (like the 12-hour crossing from Hull to Rotterdam). These longer voyages can involve sleeping on the vessel – a fun adventure for more swashbuckling families.

On the road

  • French speed limits can be strict and traffic police can collect on-the-spot fines. Motorways have tolls, which are paid in cash or by card, or using a pre-paid radio device. Arrange a Crit’Air sticker in advance if you plan to drive into a city.

  • Germans are good drivers but follow strict rules. If you’re going into a city, order an “Umweltplakette” emissions sticker in advance. Parts of the “autobahn” network have no speed limit, but be careful and move over for faster traffic (of which there is plenty).

  • Spanish motorways are mostly free but some have tolls. British drivers currently don’t have to have an emissions sticker to enter Barcelona or Madrid. Speed limits can be as low as 20km/h (12mph) in urban streets.

  • Italy is known for more flamboyant driving, especially in cities; it’s often easier to park on the outskirts and get public transport, rather than joining the fray. The motorway network is paid for with tolls.

  • Switzerland requires drivers to buy a vignette at the border if they’re using the motorway. Speeding is taken seriously; fines start at £20 for going 3 mph over the limit on the motorway.

Flight vs ferry: how costs compare


One week parking at Long Stay North Gatwick: £149

Return easyJet flight to Zurich: from £89 per person

Week’s Economy car hire with Enterprise: £277

Total for four: £782


Return with Irish Ferries from Dover to Calais: from £159

Petrol: £113

Tolls: £55

Total for four: £327

*For a week to Interlaken, Switzerland, in mid-June. Tolls and fuel calculated via: