Buyer's Guide: Ferry to France

If you're not keen on the idea of air travel, and have some reservations about spending a couple of hours on a cramped train, the ferry might just represent the best way of you getting across the English channel for a stay in Europe's cultural capital.

Apart from a comfy and relaxing ride, the ferry also offers flexibility allowing you to leave at a time that is convenient for you (many ports see around 20 departures a day), and giving you the opportunity to bring your own car - and as much luggage as you need - with you on the trip. Most importantly, it's also remarkably inexpensive, with tickets available for as little as £30.

Routes

The quickest and most popular route across the Channel is via Dover to Calais, which is operated by PO Ferries and DFDS. If you're looking to cut your time at sea by as much as possible (how long your journey takes in total will of course depend where you're driving from - and where you are planning on setting up shop in France) and don't mind sharing a busy ferry with fellow passengers, this is the one for you.
If you live further afield, or are looking for a long and relaxing ride, then Brittany Ferries run services from Potsmouth, Plymouth and Poole - touching down at some of France's more picturesque port towns such as Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg (Calais isn't everyone's cup of tea). Crucially, this means less driving at the other end as well.

Price guide

PO Ferries will take a typical family of four (two adults and two children) from Dover to Calais and back for around £150 - and that includes the cost of hauling their car across the Channel too.
Note that the exact cost of a parking space depends on the size of your car: PO charge a standard rate for vehicles of less than 2.4 metres in length - anything more than that and you can expect an additional fee to bear (so measure up and make sure you know what you need to book).
Brittany Ferries are a little more pricey; their shortest crossing - Portsmouth to Le Havre - costs £89 for a one way trip. For a return trip for a group of four, you can expect to pay a little over £200, which is still a pretty neat outlay to take your family on a foreign holiday.
Bringing your pet with you on your trip can also set you back an additional £50 or so - so unless you can't find a good dogsitter, it's probably best to leave Patch at home.
You can compare routes and prices with Direct Ferries or Ferry Savers, where you can enter your details and dates to see each operator's fares in one place.