Take the Ferry from England to Spain

This post may contain affiliate links. See About Us for more information.

Flying is quick, if not easy. You head to the airport, go through security and passport control, wait for your flight, sit in a cramped seat and then finally land at your destination and sprint for freedom. It takes only an hour or three to get to Spain from England, depending on where you are going.

But what about those of us who hate to fly? Or maybe you want a little adventure – it’s all about the journey and not the destination, right?

Then I say, think about taking the ferry from England to Spain next time!

Take a Ferry from England to Spain - much more fun than flying

Take a Ferry from England to Spain

Brittany Ferries operates boats from Plymouth and Portsmouth to Bilbao and Santander in northern Spain. The trip takes approximately 24 hours.

The boats cross the Bay of Biscay and sail through the night to reach Spain. You can book private cabins or just a chair onboard, but I’d definitely recommend a cabin. You can splurge for one with a porthole and watch the views from your room. If nothing else it is a great carefree place to store your luggage if you aren’t bringing a vehicle with you.

Many people take advantage of the fact that the ferries carry cars! Yes you can take your car, truck or caravan to Spain with you without having to make the long drive around and through Belgium and France.

Those of you who travel with a pet will be happy to know you can take your furry friends with you too. The trip to Spain requires your pet be in the kennel or your vehicle but you can visit them or take them out for exercise during the passage.

You shouldn’t get too bored on board. The ship has restaurants, bars, shops, a spa, swimming pool, and entertainment. Some people enjoy it so much they take the ferry as a roundtrip mini cruise and disembark for only a few hours.

Book your ferry ticket here.

What to Expect on the Ferry to Spain

After comparing prices on Direct Ferries and finding the best price and route for my schedule I made my way from London to Portsmouth by train.

Take a Ferry from England to Spain - much more fun than flying

I took the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander in the early spring. We left the port just as the sun began to set. As soon as I dropped my bags in my little cabin, I grabbed my camera and headed upstairs to take some photos and look at the scenery. It was windy and brisk but lovely.

After it got dark and I was chilled to the bone, I went back to my cabin to get the picnic dinner I brought with me. The ferries have restaurants and bars onboard but you can bring food and drink with you. And I did! I brought a bottle of wine, a big salad from Marks & Spencer, and some snacks for the morning as well. The food on the boat also looked decent and several people told me the more upscale restaurant was really good.

Although I had a cabin, it was quite small and interior with no view. There was not much point to hang out in there so I moved around the ship – checking out all the decks, sitting on the small sofas in front of windows, and talking to other travelers. There were many people on my boat heading to one of those crazy adventure rally races across Europe to Africa in old cars and rusty trucks. Several others were headed to Portugal for the summer in camper vans. I even met a few folks who were simply taking the ferry roundtrip as a mini-cruise and two gentlemen transporting cargo for work.

After we were serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the bar it was time for bed. As mentioned, the economy rooms are small, but great for one person. The second bed folds down from the wall and can be a bit of a challenge to get into, or so I heard from other travelers.

lBrittany Ferries lounge

The room had its own toilet and shower and you are provided with towels and soap. I found it perfectly fine for my needs, even a bit luxurious to be able to have my own space.

It is not compulsory to rent a cabin, which can double the cost of the ticket. You can simply book a seat or just find a place to sit for the night in the public spaces, of which there are many. I did see people who were sleeping in the seats. I would not wish to do that unless I didn’t have a choice. I think it makes the adventure more fun to have a little room of your own.

There is supposedly WiFi available on board but it was basically useless. Maybe in 24 hours one or two text messages or emails might go through. The connection was very slow. I had hoped to get some work done but quickly figured out that there was no internet and I should instead try to do the offline work I could and then just enjoy the ride.

In the morning I grabbed a coffee from the a la carte cafe, and drank it upstairs while listening to a presentation from the ship’s naturalist from ORCA about whales that live in the Golfo de Vizcaya. I spent the remaining hours of the journey whale and bird watching on the top deck with the naturalist and some other friendly folks. We had a beautiful sunny day and the views were lovely. We didn’t see any whales but we were treated to some dolphins following in the ship’s wake. (Did you know you can volunteer to survey wildlife onboard cruise ships with ORCA? Sounds awesome doesn’t it!)

Arrival in Santander was easy. I grabbed my luggage from the cabin and lined up as we waited to disembark. Then I walked into town and to my lodgings at nearby Hostal La Mexicana. Easy!

Looking for a good place to stay in Santander for a night or more? Here are a few good deals I have found:
Reserve your lodgings now on Booking.com

Ferry Options and Details

You can cruise to Spain from two places in southern England – Portsmouth and Plymouth – and arrive in either Santander or Bilbao. The fastest option is from Plymouth to Santander, which takes less than 24 hours.

Book your ferry ticket here.

You can bring your car, caravan, motorcycle or bicycle on both routes. But keep in mind that bringing these items will increase the costs. However the package deals traveling with a vehicle usually include a cabin for two people. So if you are bringing your car and traveling with someone this can be relatively affordable. I also met a family that was taking turns sleeping in the cabin or watching the kiddos.

As mentioned above, you can also bring your pets with you. Animals must remain in your vehicle or in the kennel and you will have to pay extra for them. However this can be very helpful as many of the budget airlines that fly between the UK and Europe do not allow animals, and a train ride would take many days. For more information about bringing your pet, click here.

Do you think you will make the journey often? Then join the Brittany Ferries travel club and save!

Another way to save money is by booking round trip or holiday packages. These can include accommodations and other activities and be more affordable than booking on your own.

Take a Ferry from England to Spain - much more fun than flying

I hope this information about traveling from England to Spain via ferry helped you. Enjoy your trip!


Once you get to Spain, here are a few tips for things to do:

  • Explore Madrid – you can easily get there by train from Santander
  • Check out one of Gaudi’s designs in nearby Comillas
  • Visit Barcelona – it is easy to reach by bus or train from Bilbao


Take a Ferry from England to Spain - much more fun than flying - ferry from Portsmouth to Santander or Bilbao