It’s the perfect time to take a road trip from England to France with my recommended routes and guidance! Why not avoid airport security lines and the stress of flying for a retro slow travel experience?
In January 2020 I was researching how to do a road trip to France from England without having my own car. The plan was to spend three weeks in March touring the coastal areas of western France.
Even without the knowledge that travel would shut down in March, I knew I didn’t want to fly, go on a tour or train it. I wanted that all-American luxury of having your own car to take you from door to door! When France unexpectedly locked down it enabled us to quickly regroup to get back to England.
Driving is a boon for unpredictable weather and schedules. Shoulder seasons can be so tricky to pack for! To be honest, in March we were just barely through with winter when spring took off cold, wet and windy. Having the freedom to chuck an extra layer or boots in the back seat was heaven. Doesn’t that sound nice? No packing restrictions and no limits on what you can take.
Now that travel is slowly slowly starting to open up again, I feel a road trip is still the perfect solution to scratch that travel itch with the minimum of fuss and risk.
By car you can travel in your bubble, stay socially distant if you choose and avoid large city centers in favor of small towns and countryside. Of course if you want to pop into a large town it’s easy to stay on the outskirts and visit for a day or two.
Let’s start planning your road trip.
Insider Route Options for the perfect Road trip from England to France
- Rent a car in England and cross over to France via the Eurotunnel
- Rent a car in England and cross over to France by ferry
- Take the Eurostar train to France and hire a car in France
- Take a ferry on foot to France and hire a car in France
1. Rent a car in England and take the car on the Eurotunnel to France
PROS You can pack your car from the convenience of home or hotel. You won’t have to pay for trains or taxis from home to port or lug suitcases around. Stock up on wine or antiques in France and bring it all home in your own car!Eurotunnel is the fastest Channel crossing taking only 35 minutes from England to France and has 4 departures every hour.
CONS Cars in Great Britain are right hand drive (you drive on the left side of the road), but cars in France and most of Europe are left hand drive (drive on the right side of the road like the US). You’ll need to be able to adapt your driving to using a right hand drive car in a left hand drive country. If you’re a wee bit claustrophobic, you may not like being in a tunnel for the better part of 20 minutes.
Choose this option if:
You don’t like boats or long ferry crossings. The shortest ferry from Dover to Calais takes 1:30 hours but if you’re going this route you may as well take the Eurotunnel. If you’re prone to seasickness the Eurotunnel is ideal especially if you’re heading for northern or eastern regions of France.
2. Rent a car in England and take the car on a ferry to France
PROS You can pack your car from the convenience of home or hotel. You won’t have to pay for trains or taxis from home to port or lug suitcases around. Stock up on wine or antiques in France and bring it all home in your own car! Most ferry ports depart from the south coast of England. Choosing a ferry port to enter France in the Normandy or Brittany regions can potentially save driving hundreds of miles if your destination is west or south.
CONS Cars in Great Britain are right hand drive (you drive on the left side of the road), but cars in France and most of Europe are left hand drive (drive on the right side of the road like the US). You’ll need to be able to adapt your driving to using a right hand drive car in a left hand drive country. Ferries take longer than the Eurotunnel and if you’re prone to seasickness they may not be the best option. Most ferries are flat bottomed and although perfectly safe, tend to rock in rough seas.
Choose this option if:
You like boats and have the time for a leisurely journey to the west or south of France. The shortest ferry crossing, from Portsmouth or Poole, takes a little over 4 hours . Most have a night time option boarding in the evening to arrive the next morning. Coming back from France you may only have a night time option.
3. Take the Eurostar to France and rent a car in France
PROS If you’d like to see Paris, taking the Eurostar into Paris’ Gare du Nord station gives you the option of spending a few days there before setting off on your road trip. You’ll be renting a left hand drive car meant for French roads (and most of Europe)
CONS If you decide to pass through Paris, you’ll have to arrange to transfer between stations with luggage. If you stay for a few days, you’ll also need to arrange for taxis or train to the rental car location.
Choose this option if:
You really want to see Paris en route.
4. Take a ferry on foot to France and hire a car in France
PROS Once you arrive in France, you’ll be renting a left hand drive car meant for French roads (and most of Europe). You can choose which ferry port you’d like to enter France which may shave miles off driving to your destination vs taking the Eurotunnel.
CONS You’ll have to lug suitcases from home to train/taxi and then onto the ferry and of course do the reverse once you get to France and when you return. You won’t be able to load up your car with French wine and other goodies. Well you could, but you’ll have to lug it onto and off the ferry.
Choose this option if:
You’re not eligible to rent a car in the UK. For example I can drive on my US license in Europe but not in the UK because I’ve lived here for 12 months or more. You’ll be able to drive on your US driving license in the UK (as long as you haven’t been in residence for over 12 months) and Europe.
Road Trip Resources
Eurotunnel “Le Shuttle” crosses from Folkestone England to Calais, France. It’s the fastest way to cross the English Channel with 4 departures every hour and a 35 minute transit time. You drive to the Eurotunnel port (make sure to look for the non-commercial vehicle entrance) then wait until you’re directed to drive onto the train bed. You stay in your car during the crossing.
Europcar was the one rental company I found that allowed us to rent a car in England to drive to Europe. The whole process was fairly straightforward and I didn’t encounter any problems. Of course you may find other deals. If you’re a Costco member for example, they’ve got some great car rental deals in France.
You’ll need a UK or US driving license to hire a car in England or Europe. If you’re driving on your US license, expect to show your return ticket to the US. Be sure to carefully check all details when booking such as insurance coverage and additional driver if needed. The rate I got from Europcar in England was inclusive, but when I checked rates in France; insurance, GPS and other perks are all a la carte.
If you’re traveling to England from the US
Most US to UK flights will fly into one of London’s major airports; Heathrow or Gatwick. Heathrow is more accessible to central London. Gatwick is south of greater London and may be a better choice if you don’t plan to spend time in the city. Your US city of departure will determine which airport you fly into but it’s worth checking to see if you’re able to choose.
Before you leave the US, book a hotel in London. Once you land, travel into London using my recommendations. Or if you’d preferred to be picked up at the airport, ask your hotel to book a taxi. Expect to pay about £80 ($115.) one way into central London.
Once you’re ready to start your road trip, travel back to the airport or nearest car rental agency location to pick up your car.
Not visiting London?
I recommend staying at least a night once you arrive in London before setting off on your road trip. This will also make it easier to coordinate your arrival to your ferry. England is 5 hours ahead of the east coast. If you’re traveling from the US east coast, you may not feel too jet lagged, but from the west coast it’s a haul. I’ve found it’s a good idea to catch up on sleep to recover from jet lag before taking the next leg of your journey.
You can book a room in an airport hotel then once you’re ready, pick up your rental car in the airport or take a train to your nearest car rental agency.
You’re ready to board the ferry or Eurotunnel and start your fabulous England to France road trip. Bon voyage!