Travel between Paris, Northern France and a variety of British destinations is so remarkably easy that I am always surprised more long distance visitors don't combine the UK and France in their European travel plans. Visitors who would think nothing of clocking up a thousand miles on a tour of New England, or an East Coast drive from New York to Florida, balk at the 280 miles between Paris and London, or the less than 50 miles between the Normandy coast and Charles Dickens country in Kent.
Maybe that's because weighing the various kinds of travel seems too confusing. Which routes are the shortest, the cheapest, the ones that best suit your own travel preferences? This round up of travel options between the UK and Paris as well as some other popular departure points in Northern France will enable you to consider the pros and cons and make an informed decision. I hope it will also inspired you to try your own cross-channel entente-cordiale.
Travel from Paris and Northern France by Train
Eurostar has long been my choice for quick channel hops between Paris and London. The high speed train covers the 306 miles between Paris Gare du Nord and London St Pancras in two hours and fifteen minutes. That's less time than some people spend commuting to work.
But, you don't have to travel from Paris to London to take advantage of these trains. Eurostar also has fast direct trains from Lille, in northeast France to stops in Ashford and Ebbsfleet in Kent - jumping off points for excellent touring of Southeast England - before arriving in London.
And if you don't mind changing trains, Eurostar can arrange connecting travel from Caen, Calais, Reims,Rouen and EuroDisney Paris, through Ashford, Kent, to the entire British rail network all the way to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in Scotland.
- The pros:
- City center to city center for quick connection to local public transportation without the time and expense of airport transfers.
- Generous free baggage allowance
- No booking fees
- Plenty of space and ability to walk around
- When factoring in extras (baggage, credit card, online booking) charged by some airlines and cost of ground transportation to city centers, fares are comparable or better than flying.
- The cons:
- Longer journeys can involve rushed transfers between stations or more than two transfers.
- Train stations are either exciting or hectic and confusing depending upon your point of view and the languages you speak.
- Waiting areas at Paris Gare du Nord have limited seating and poor food options.
Fly to UK Destinations from Paris and Northern France
A large number of airlines fly from Paris's two airports - Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Aeroport and Orly Aeroport - to destinations all over the UK. Airlines and airline routes change from time to time. In 2012, these were the companies and routes.
From Charles de Gaulle: Air France, British Airways, Delta, EasyJet, Flybe, Jet2.com and Quantas. Destinations served include London Heathrow and London Luton, as well as Aberdeen, Belfast and Belfast City, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
From Paris Orly: Air France, British Airways,Flybe, Open Skies and Quantas. UK Destinations served include London City, Heathrow and Gatwick as well as Southampton.
- The pros
- Faster access from France to the more distant UK destinations in Wales, Northern England and Scotland.
- Some price benefits over train and car on the longer journeys or with the budget airlines.
- The cons
- Smaller airports may only be served by no-frills, budget airlines
- Price benefits can be swallowed up by local transportation costs or extra charges for baggage.
Driving to the UK
Paris is approximately 178 miles from the entrance to Eurotunnel at Coquelles, near Calais, and a Channel crossing on what is known as Le Shuttle.(Find on a map) If you are traveling with a lot of luggage, a large family or a microchipped pet that has qualified for a pet passport, driving your own car onto Le Shuttle makes good sense. Tickets are issued per vehicle (with cars and larger people carriers at the same price) and each vehicle can carry 9 passengers for no extra fee. The crossing itself takes 35 minutes to Folkstone in Kent, 66 miles from central London.(Find on a map).
- The pros
- Fast, relatively cheap for large groups
- Convenient if you are touring in northern France, Pas de Calais and plan to tour in Kent and southeast England by car.
- The cons
- You must drive on and off le Shuttle. There are no foot passengers.
- Need to factor in fuel costs and French motorway tolls.
- Not all car rental companies permit cross border or one way rentals. Those that do add a surcharge for the service.
Drivers and cyclists also have a choice of ferry crossings from Northern France - see below.
The growth in popularity of Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel has meant fewer ferry companies now make the channel crossing. If you like the idea of a pause before and after your vacation, you are towing a trailer or have a full vehicle ferries could be your choice. The shortest crossing, from, Dunkerque to Dover, takes about 2 hours. Dover to Calais crossings take about 2.5 hours and ferry crossings of between three and five hours will take you from Le Havre and Dieppe in Normandy to Newhaven or Portsmouth on the South Coast of England.
- The pros
- Take a car full of passengers - you may pay more per passenger but not very much as the main cost is your vehicle.
- Very inexpensive for foot passengers and train stations nearby or even at the ferry ports.
- Food, shopping, games and entertainment and sometimes slot machines at sea.
- Choice of departure and arrival ports to suit your other vacation plans.
- If you cross to Dover you get to see the unforgettable white cliffs from the sea.
- The cons
- The Channel can get rough so not for you if you get seasick.
- Risk of cancellations in bad weather.
- Risk of industrial action. The French crews and port workers are notorious for wildcat strikes.
The long way is also the cheapest. Coach operators, using either ferries or Le Shuttle, run regular services from Paris, Lille, Calais and other towns in Northern France to London, Canterbury and several other towns in the Southeast. Decent onboard toilets, air conditioning and wi-fi are usually included. The journey between London and Paris takes seven hours via Eurolines, a branch of National Express Coaches, and costs about £55 each way with special deals as low as £9 from September to December. If you are willing to keep your mind occupied for 9 hours, you could try the Megabus service to London from Paris or Boulogne, with supercheap fares starting at £1 each way.
- The pros
- City center to city center
- Sooo cheap
- The cons
- Two days of your break are spent traveling
- Sooo boring
If you are cycle touring, a ferry is probably the easiest way to cross the channel as your cycle will usually travel free, as a foot passenger. You'll need to book it in though and it will be issued with a boarding card.
Up to six bicycles can be taken on each Le Shuttle journey - cyclists travel in a mini van while their bikes travel separately.
Passengers with bicycles that can be folded or dismantled and packed in a bicycle carrier can take them onboard Eurostar trains as their carry on luggage. Places must be reserved for bicycles that can't be dismantled or folded and there is a charge for carrying them.