The Bottom Line:
One of the fastest - and cheapest - ways to cross the English Channel is via Eurotunnel. Whether you use Eurotunnel across the English Channel for a short excursion or as one leg of a European touring vacation, you just drive aboard Le Shuttle, and, hey presto, 35 minutes later you're in another country.
I'm not a great fan of tunnels, so I'd been wary about using the Chunnel. But, once inside the brightly lit compartment of the Car Transport, with room to hop out and have a stretch, my companion and I didn't even notice it was a tunnel. Wallace the Westie, slept all the way.
Where:The tunnel joins Folkestone in Kent with Coquelles, outside Calais. It has its own motorway exits, leading straight to check-in at both ends.
- from France take junction 42 off the A16 motorway
- from the UK take junction 11A off the M20.
Book: online at the Eurotunnel website or by phoning:
- from the UK - 08705 35 35 35
- from France - 0810 63 03 04
- from outside Europe - +33 (0) 3 2100 2061
- Schedule: 10 trains daily both directions - Every 2 hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and one at midnight.
- Fares:One way fares start at £49, round trips for same day or short stays as low as £22. Motorcycles travel for half price.
Arrive at least half an hour before your departure (and not more than two hours) to allow time to check in, get into the boarding lanes and go through British and French security and frontier controls. In addition to passports and visas(if required) for all passengers, you'll also need registration documents and proof of insurance for your car.
What if I end up on the wrong side of the road?:
Not a chance. Yes they drive on the right in France and on the left in the UK but those clever engineers who designed and built this wonder of the world thought of everything - including how stupid some of us drivers might be.
Both getting on and off the Chunnel, roads are engineered to guide you to the correct lane. By the time you have gone through British and French passport control and customs and are ready to leave the private roads on the Eurotunnel sites, you are acclimated to the correct side of the road for the country you are in.
Can I just drive up without a booking?:
You may be able to get aboard the next available shuttle, paying in pounds, euros or by credit card. But it's more expensive than booking in advance and you aren't guaranteed a place. During busy times of day or at the start of European school vacations, you could end up waiting quite some time to board a shuttle.
But you can still be spontaneous. Shuttles through Eurotunnel can usually be booked as little as a day in advance.
The Chunnel is for cyclists too:
Each Eurotunnel Shuttle can carry six cyclists. The bicycles are carried on a specially adapted trailer and the cyclists travel in a minibus. To book a bicycle crossing, telephone the sales support department, weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5:30p.m. on +44 (0)1303 282201.
Cycles on a roof rack
Some carriages on the Shuttle are double deckers and some are single. If you are carrying bicycles on the roof of a car that make the car more than 1.85 meters tall (about 5.15 feet), tell the agent when you book your travel so that you can be assigned to an appropriate carriage.
The Eurotunnel experience:
I'm not the greatest traveler when it comes to long tunnels. I can still remember a long, white knuckle journey on a coach going through the Mt. Blanc tunnel on the way to a ski trip that I don't ever want to repeat. So I was anticipating my first car journey through the Eurotunnel with some dread.
I'd traveled on Eurostar, the high speed rail link through the tunnel, without any problem but I thought that was different. Afterall, I'd been on subways and trains through tunnels before.
In the end, it turned out to be the easiest,quickest and most comfortable way to cross the English Channel ever. Boarding was a snap. We showed up early for our train and actually got on an earlier departure. Driving on Le Shuttle, the Eurotunnel Car Transporter was a bit like driving into a garage.
The inside was painted a sunny yellow and the lights stayed brightly lit throughout the journey. So bright, in fact, as we chatted happily and my dog snored in the back seat, it took about five minutes of racing across the French countryside before we noticed that the carriage windows had turned from tunnel black to sky blue.
Speaking of dogsThe tunnel is the most comfortable and humane way to travel across the English Channel with a pet. Your animal stays with you the whole way. If you are coming and going from the UK with a dog or cat though, the animal must be proven rabies free, microchipped and registered for the UK Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), which takes some advanced planning.
Cheap enough for Day TripsEurotunnel is priced to encourage day-trippers and short visits - and it only takes 35 minutes. If you're renting a self-catering cottage in Kent, you can hop across to stock up on cheaper wine and beer, cheaper cigarettes if you smoke, plus lovely French cheeses and groceries to stock your cupboards. Touring in the south of England? Pop across the channel for lunch, a visit to the Normandy countryside and a change of scene.
Insider TipI find the shopping and catering at Eurotunnel facilities on a par with airport duty free - pretty conventional. And once you've entered the Eurotunnel site, you can't really leave without repeating all the frontier security checks. So leave some time to visit Calais first. See the Rodin statue of the Burghers of Calais and learn their heroic story, shop the Calais hypermarkets for wine and bargains, then pick up one last French picnic and head for the tunnel at Coquelles.