Five animals you never thought you’d be able to see from a ferry!
The team from ORCA, one of the UK’s leading whale and dolphin conservation charities, give some inspirational insights into the marine life that can be seen in waters around the UK and Europe, from the ferry.
One of the absolute joys of being out at sea is having the chance to spot some of the incredible wildlife we have around the UK and Europe. ORCA have been using ferries to monitor whales, dolphins and porpoises (known collectively as cetaceans) for more than 20 years, and in that time we’ve had some sensational sightings that really stick in the memory.
We’ve compiled a list of five surprising species that you can see simply by stepping on to a ferry and enjoying the experience of travelling by sea.
Orcas, or killer whales, are a species very close to our heart. Not only are they our namesakes, but they are also one of the most intelligent and sophisticated animals on the planet. You might think you’d need to travel somewhere exotic to find these icons of the ocean, but in fact you can glimpse this unmistakeable species around the UK.
As well as regular sightings on the ferry between mainland Scotland and Shetland, we even have our very own resident pod. These animals are most commonly found in the Hebrides and can occasionally be seen from the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry network.
This group in particular is a crucial population that, unfortunately, is in real trouble. Toxic pollutants called polychlorinated biphenyls (or PCBs) have built up to record levels in these animals, and mean that they haven’t bred for over 30 years.
Known as the greyhound of the sea, the fin whale is the second largest animal on the planet, with only the giant blue whale larger. These baleen whales are filter feeders, using huge strips of keratin in their mouths like a sieve to consume vast quantities of krill and other small marine animals.
Fin whales can be seen in large numbers in the Bay of Biscay from aboard Brittany Ferries voyages to northern Spain. Their size (up to 27m) means they can be seen from far away even with the naked eye, meaning it is the perfect place to study them.
ORCA are using ferries in this area to learn more about their behaviour, with the aim of trying to better understand the threat of ship strike. Busy shipping lanes in other parts of the Bay of Biscay are putting fin whales at risk, so we are working with Brittany Ferries to better understand how we can reduce this risk by studying the animals we see.
Acrobatic and energetic, dolphins are always a crowd favourite and the beautiful striped dolphin is one we love to spot. Typically they enjoy deeper waters of 1,000m or more, where the fish and squid they hunt can be found.
Striped dolphins are also very social, both within their own species and with other dolphins as well. Hybrids are sometimes seen, with interbreeding with short-beaked common dolphins something recorded numerous times in the north Atlantic.
Striped dolphins have also popped up in slightly unusual places too – in 2017, an ORCA team recorded striped dolphins on the ferry crossing to the Isles of Scilly, the first ever recorded sighting of this species in the area.
Small, shy and very difficult to spot, the harbour porpoise is the most common cetacean in Europe but is one of the most elusive. They are only 1.5-1.7m long, and they are usually found close to shore, where they feed on species such as sand eels.
The harbour porpoise is the only species of porpoise found in Europe, and their small size and shy nature make them difficult to spot in all but the best conditions. The distinctive triangular dorsal fin is usually found heading away from the ship as these shy animals seek out peace and quiet!
Harbour porpoises in the North Sea are a particular focus for ORCA – they are frequently caught and killed by fishing nets in the area, which is why ORCA’s research has been used to help designate a “Special Area of Conservation” in the area to help keep them safe.
The sight of a breaching humpback whale is one that most people will have enjoyed in nature documentaries by the likes of David Attenborough, but it’s also one that very lucky ferry passengers can enjoy on occasion as well.
With the recovery of humpback whales after the ban on whaling, plus the incredible distances this particular species can migrate, we see them increasingly popping up in unexpected places. Visits to the cornish coast can be added to sightings in the Hebrides, and even the occasional encounter in the English Channel.
Of course, this increase in sightings presents its own issues – by moving closer to shore, the animals are at increased risk of being entangled in kreel lines holding lobster and crab pots. ORCA monitors humpback whales across Europe and beyond, and our friends at British Divers Marine Life Rescue are also on hand to assist any animals in distress.
Ferry travel is a wonderful way to appreciate awe-inspiring species in their natural habitat. We’re continuing to celebrate wildlife at sea on ferries across the UK network, so keep an eye out for teams at sea if you travel this year!
If a favourite part of your holiday is indulging in local cuisine, you are not alone. A survey* commissioned by Discover Ferries has revealed that almost two thirds (60%) of British holiday makers enjoy dining out on regional delicacies when they go away, with over a third (39%), citing that as their favourite holiday food. The survey also showed that our favourite holiday drinks are beer, wine and cocktails.
So, whether you like sampling seafood, waking up to waffles, or enjoying a wee dram of whisky, we have compiled our top ten foodie destinations you can reach by ferry.
Following on from Amsterdam City Hall’s decision in May 2019 to only serve vegetarian food as standard at city council events, it’s fitting that Amsterdam is our foodie destination for vegetarians. With more people choosing an organic and meat-free diet for their perceived health and environmental benefits, Amsterdam is a worthy destination for those committed to sustainability.
In Amsterdam-Noord, Café de Ceuvel offers a completely vegan menu with CO2-free coffee and locally brewed beer.
For the more adventurous we recommend trying Betty’s, in Rijnstraat in south Amsterdam. The 3-course ‘surprise menu’ is just that – a surprise. You let them know if there’s anything you don’t eat and wait to see what Gido has prepared you.
Taste the season in Morris & Bella, in Spaarndammerbuurt, Amsterdam West, where locally produced vegetables take centre-stage. A slow fine dining concept, Morris & Bella offers 4-6 course menus which change every month.
Of course, all foodie destinations in Amsterdam are best reached by bicycle.
Stena Line – Sailing to Hook of Holland from Harwich
Sometimes overlooked as a culinary destination due to its bigger neighbours, Belgium’s proud food culture may come as a surprise to some visitors. Belgian beer, moules-frites, chocolate and waffles are well-known Belgian specialities, but they are far from the only delicacies to tempt the gourmands among us. The North Sea Coast, for example, offers diners treasures such as mussels and grey prawn croquettes. Ghent delights include Waterzooi, a creamy fish stew, and the sweet and sour flavours of Flanders beef stew, which comprises beef slow cooked in beer. Originally from Wallonia, we recommend trying Ardennes ham, meatballs with a rich stock and Liege syrup (a sweet, sticky brown jelly made from evaporated fruit juices—dates, apples, and pears) and Tarte au Riz, a sweet flan filled with a custardy mixture of rice and milk and glazed with egg.
As Britain’s favourite holiday drink, we thought we should mention that Belgium is home to over 800 varieties of beer. We holy recommend trying the Westvleteren 12, considered by some to be among the best beers in the world. Westvleteren beers are sold in small quantities on a weekly basis from the doors of the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus.
Brittany’s most famous export is the crêpe, and we suggest trying the original version. Traditionally made from buckwheat flour, they come in both sweet and savoury versions (galettes).
When it comes to fresh vegetables, Brittany is a key producer of artichokes and onions on the land and seaweed in the sea. People have been collecting seaweed along the Finistère coast for centuries and many local dishes have a seaweed twist.
Two of the most important ingredients in French cooking, butter and salt, are made or harvested in Brittany. The salt marshes of Guérande, which cover over 2,000 hectares of land, is famous for its course sea salt (gros sel) and sea salt flakes (fleur de sel), which are both harvested from June-September.
This part of northern France is also well known for its buttery delights, including a plethora of cakes, pastries and biscuits special to the region. Famous Breton pastries include the kouign amann (“butter cake” in Breton) and the far.
Guernsey’s gastronomy is a unique fusion of flavours, combining the French love of seafood and the British love of creamy milk. Local delicacies to look out for are Ormers, a mollusc resembling a flattened sea snail, that has an almost meat-like taste and texture and can be found in the restaurants around St Peters Port from January to April.
The island’s signature cake, Guernsey Gâche, is a fruity bread made with sultanas, raisins, and orange peel, and best eaten with Guernsey’s creamy butter.
When it comes to dairy, Guernsey cows are regarded as producing the most delicious milk in the world. Not only is it super-creamy, but Guernsey milk is also said to have great health properties, containing 12% more protein and three times as much as omega 3 than regular milk.
When people imagine Irish food they often think of a dish with potatoes, and it’s true that the potato has a special place in Irish cooking. From Irish potato bread (or farl), which is a staple of a Northern Irish breakfast, and Colcannon, made with mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage and butter or cream, to the simple potato galette, which involves pan-fried potatoes in butter.
The potato in its many forms also provides the perfect accompaniment to Ireland’s other delicacies, such as grass-fed beef, Lee-river salmon, drisheen (a type of blood sausage) and battleboard, a salted ling fish often eaten on Fridays.
A trip to Ireland would not be complete without experiencing the local Guinness, said to taste different in its birth country than its exported namesake, and a dram of single pot still Irish whiskey, a uniquely Irish form of spirit, made in large copper stills, using a mix of malted and un-malted barley and triple-distilled.
Stena Line – Sailing to Belfast, Dublin and Rosslare
Isle of Man
As you would expect from an island, seafood is a key ingredient of Isle of Man gastronomy. Whether it be the national dish, Queenies (known elsewhere as queen scallops), sourced locally in Manx waters, or kippers (herring smoked over oak-chips in a centuries-old tradition). More unexpected is Loaghtan lamb, from the rare-breed Manx Loaghtan sheep who have four, or sometimes six, horns. Their meat is considered a delicacy, being more gamey and lower in fat than regular lamb and found in shops and restaurants around the island.
The speciality that Manx people are most proud of, however, is their award-winning cheese from the Isle of Man Creamery. The cheese travels no further than 15 miles from farm to store, and products come in all varieties.
For many a visit to the Isle of Wight is like going back in time and conjures up memories of sticks of rock and tea rooms, however the island’s food scene has changed dramatically over the last fifteen years since chef Robert Thomson won the island a Michelin star at The Hambrough. As all chefs will tell you, the secret to great tasting food is fresh, quality ingredients. Local island specialities include: tomatoes from The Tomato Stall, grown in perfect conditions; The Isle of Wight Cheese Company, whose multiple award-winning Isle of Wight Blue is mild, incredibly creamy, with a beautiful blue rind^; garlic from The Garlic Farm, which grows multiple varieties of garlic, sells garlic-inspired products and holds culinary workshops throughout the year.
English wines, particularly white and sparkling varieties have been winning international awards in recent years, even beating established French rivals. The Isle of Wight has two vineyards Adgestone, one of the oldest vineyards in England whose award-winning Dry Wight should not be missed and Rosemary Vineyard, whose founder is also behind the popular Mermaid gin from the Isle of Wight Distillery.
Getting to the Isle of Wight
Hovertravel – sailing from Portsmouth to Ryde (foot passengers only)
Red Funnel – sailing from Southampton to East Cowes and West Cowes
Wightlink – sailing from Portsmouth to Ryde and Fishbourne and Lymington to Yarmouth
London’s food scene is well established and enjoys a reputation for being among the best in the world – both in terms of fine dining, but also in terms of the variety of international cuisines available. The capital’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is reflected in range of authentic culinary delights on offer, from Vietnamese in Shoreditch to Turkish in Harringay, Portuguese in Vauxhall, Chinese in Chinatown and curry in Whitechapel.
For those wanting to experience something more locally sourced, Borough Market and local farmers markets offer artisan products from small producers around the UK and beyond.
London has re-established its place as a top brewing location with local craft breweries popping up all over the city. One of the most well-known of which is the Meantime brewery in Greenwich, which offers tours, tastings and brewing masterclasses.
Normandy has a rich culinary heritage. One of the most loved specialities of this part of northern France is neither beer nor wine, but in fact the humble apple. This highly versatile fruit forms the basis of delicious desserts such as apple tarte tatin, or, for those wanting a more adult twist, it is also the key ingredient in the formidable local cidre or calvados, which can be enjoyed either as a refreshing drink or a delicious ingredient in a regional variation of that other French classic, moules-frites.
For lovers of seafood, Normandy is the chief oyster-cultivating, scallop-exporting and mussel-raising* region in France, with clams, cockles and lobster also in plentiful supply. Many local restaurants create their own special version of a classic seafood platter, which are perfect as a sharing dish when dining with friends or loved ones
Also not to be missed are the Normandy soft cheeses: Camembert, Pont-l’évêque, Livarot and Neufchâtel, all of which have AOC (appellation d’origine controlée) certification and are available in the local shops, restaurants and farmers markets.
Brits may joke about the deep-fried Mars bar, but Scotland has long established itself on the culinary map with household brands such as Scottish smoked salmon, Aberdeen Angus beef and Scottish malt whisky. Oban is the seafood capital of Scotland, offering the finest fresh lobster, crab, scallops, monkfish and oysters. Game, such as vension and grouse, is a speciality when in season, and no trip to Scotland would be complete without trying haggis with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).
Undoubtedly Scotland is most famous for its whisky and whether you’re visiting the islands (Arran, Campbelltown, Islay, Jura, Mull, Skye) or the mainland, you have plenty of opportunity to get into the national spirit.
Whether you are a sports fan, music-lover or a petrol-head, there is festival or event to suit your tastes (and budget). Why not pack up your car or bike and travel by ferry to our top 10 favourites for the year:
St Patricks Day, Dublin (17 March) St Patrick’s Day: Ireland’s most famous event of the year, sees over 100,000 visitors join locals in the streets of Dublin for the country’s biggest parade. The parade features colourful floats, dancers, marching bands and music from all over the world. Once the parade has finished everyone hits the bars and pubs of Dublin to continue the festivities and make new friends while partaking in the national pastime – drinking Guinness. Irish Ferries and Stena Line sail from Holyhead to Dublin and P&O Ferries sail from Liverpool to Dublin.
King’s Day, The Netherlands (27 April) King’s Day (Koningsdag) is a Dutch national holiday which honours the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, who was born on 27 April. The Dutch celebrate by partying in the streets from the night before and covering everything possible with orange: flags, wigs, revellers clothes – to honour the Dutch Royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. In Rotterdam expect outdoor parties around the city featuring house, disco and hiphop, street flea markets and a great festival atmosphere. https://www.rotterdamfestivals.nl/en/featured/kings-day/ P&O Ferries sail to Rotterdam from Hull and Stena Line sail to the Hook of Holland from Harwich.
World Pilot Gig Championships, Isle of Scilly (April / May) What’s a Pilot Gig Championship, you may ask yourself? A pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat. Originally from Cornwall, a pilot gig was used to get a ship’s pilot out to an incoming vessel and gigs would race to get their pilot out first. Now, the World Pilot Gig Championships take place every year over the first May bank holiday weekend and feature more than 150 men’s and women’s teams racing over 3 days. It’s the Isles of Scilly’s busiest weekend of the year so book up well in advance to see this oar-some event! http://www.worldgigs.co.uk/ Isles of Scilly Travel operates the Scillonian III from Penzance to St Mary’s from March – November.
The Isle of Man TT, Isle of Man, (First two weeks of June) The Isle of Man TT is a must-see event for all motorsports fans. Every year the world’s greatest motorcycle racers get together to race the 37.73 mile ‘Mountain Course’ around the island’s public roads. The event consists of one week of practice sessions and one week of racing. For those of you who want to try the course yourselves, it’s become a tradition on ‘Mad Sunday’ for spectators to tour the Mountain Course. https://www.iomtt.com/tt-info Isle of Man Steam Packet Company operate services from Heysham, Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin to Douglas on the Isle of Man.
Bastille Day, France, 13-14 July Celebrate with all of France on their national holiday, 14 juillet, which remembers the storming of the Bastille in 1789 – the event generally thought of, as the start of the French Revolution. Head to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, a medieval city on an island, connected to the mainland by just one bridge. Not only is the island a great place to explore, but because its geography you’ll get an unparalleled view of the fireworks reflected in the sea. Mont Saint Michel is a 55mins drive from the port of St Malo. Brittany Ferries and Condor Ferries operate services from the UK and Jersey to St Malo. Or drive down from Calais in 4h 40 mins from where DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries operate frequent daily services.
HebCelt Fest, Stornoway Isle of Lewis (mid-July) Having featured big name artists such as KT Tunstall, Texas, the Levellers, the Fratellis and Van Morrison, HebCelt Festival is firmly on the music festival calendar. Held in the beautiful grounds of Lewis Castle, overlooking Stornoway harbour, this event brings together a variety of music from around the world and quality live Celtic music at one of our favourite family-friendly festivals in the UK. https://www.hebceltfest.com/ Caledonian MacBrayne sail from Ullapool to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Pride Amsterdam: (end July – first week of August) The highlight of this 9-day LGTBQ+ celebration is the world-famous Canal Parade, featuring 80 boats sailing along the canals with music and entertainment, with lots of people lining the canals to join the party. Other events include Pride walks, open-air cinema and LGTB history tours. https://www.amsterdamgaypride.nl/ DFDS sail from Newcastle to Amsterdam, Stena Line sail to the Hook of Holland from Harwich and P&O Ferries sail to Rotterdam from Hull.
Cowes Week, Isle of Wight (end July – first week August) Cowes Week is the oldest and largest sailing regatta in the world and a highlight on the British sporting calendar. Spectators can enjoy much of the racing from the shore, with The Green and The Parade great spots to view the action from. The week culminates on the middle Friday of August in a spectacular air show and fireworks display set off from the water just outside Cowes. http://www.cowesweek.co.uk/ Red Funnel sails from Southampton directly to Cowes. Hovertravel operates hovercraft services from Southsea to Ryde and Wightlink sails from Portsmouth to Ryde or Fishbourne and Lymington to Yarmouth.
Christmas Festivities, London (December) Get into the festive spirit in London. Sing along to carols under Trafalgar Square’s traditional Christmas tree, an annual gift from Norway before taking in a show in the West End. See the South Bank, Covent Garden and Leicester Square transformed into a Christmas wonderland, grab a hot chocolate and take the kids ice skating at the seasonal rinks that pop up at Canary Wharf, Greenwich, Somerset House and newly-reopened Battersea Power Station. Uber Boat by Thames Clippers run frequent services along the Thames and special Illuminated River tours, for the best views of the city.
Hogmanay, Edinburgh (31 December) With its origins going back to the Viking celebration of the Winter Solstice, Scotland’s New Year’s Eve party is legendary. The city of Edinburgh turns into an outdoor party, with concerts, silent disco, a ceilidh under the castle and a spectacular firework display over Edinburgh Castle at midnight. Wrap up warm as the party lasts into the small hours. P&O Ferries sail from Larne to Cairnryan and Stena Line sail from Belfast to Cairnryan. Edinburgh is a 2hr50mins car journey from Cairnryan.
During the pandemic we rediscovered our love of the great outdoors. Some of us dusted off our hiking boots, some bought a bike, some a paddleboard and some brought a new four-legged friend home to stay. Whether you are anxious to get out and spend some time doing the activities you enjoy or want to try something new we’ve got some great ideas for where you can have an active and rejuvenating holiday. And by taking the ferry you can bring everyone, including your pet, and your sports equipment with you, so there’s no need to spend time searching for a pet hotel or equipment hire, you can just pack and go*.
Best for paddleboarding
If you have conquered your local lake or reservoir by paddleboard and are looking for something more adventurous, explore uninhabited islands off Tresco and Bryher in the pristine archipelago of the Isles of Scilly.Sail on the Scillonian III with Isles of Scilly Travel. On the Isle of Man, the picturesque bay of Port Erin offers sheltered waters bordered by cliffs and is a great place to paddle while the sun is setting over the Irish Sea. Sail with Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. In Normandy the white cliffs and natural arches of Etretat provide a stunning backdrop for a paddle along the Alabaster Coast. Sail with Brittany Ferries, DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries.
Best for cycling
Swap the busy weekend roads of the UK for more of a relaxing cycle. The Velomaritime along the north coast of France is a well-marked 1,500 km cycle route from Dunkirk to Roscoff encompassing iconic landmarks such as Mont St Michel and the Pink Granite Coast, with some of France’s best-known regions for gastronomy. Sail with Brittany Ferries, DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries.
Well-known for its flat landscape and traffic-free cycle routes, the Netherlands is a great place for leisure cyclists. Westduinparknear The Hague is one of the beautiful nature reserves in the area with a diverse landscape and even freely-roaming highland cows. Sail with DFDS, P&O Ferries and Stena Line.
Selected as the final stage in this year’s ‘Tour of Britain’, cyclists can tackle the challenging route from Ryde to the Needles on the Isle of Wight themselves. Take advantage of free carriage for bikes on Hovertravel, Red Funnel and Wightlink.
Really only known to locals, the Thames Path along the River Thames in London offers long stretches of traffic-free cycling. For a great day out cycle along some of London’s most historic neighbourhoods from London Bridge to Royal Greenwich, through Rotherhithe and the original mooring spot of the Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower ship, to the Brunel Museum and past the Cutty Sark into Greenwich. Uber Boat by Thames Clippers takes up to 20 bikes on board and serves 24 piers along the Thames.
Best for walking with the dog
If your dog is as much a part of your holiday plans as your suitcase, ferry travel opens up a wide range of pet-friendly destinations. The cliff path between Freshwater Bay and Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while some areas are restricted for dogs, you can walk your pooch between Brook Chine and Hanover or on the dog-friendly beach below Fort Redoubt all year-roundSail with Hovertravel, Red Funnel and Wightlink.
Easily accessible by ferry, with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company to Douglas, which now has city status for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Head towards the scenic bridged gorge and waterfall of Glen Maye for an invigorating walk with your four-legged furry friend.
Best for hiking
For breath-taking scenery and more challenging hiking we recommend the mountainous terrain of the Inner Hebrides, Ireland and Northern Spain. In the Hebrides combine your hike with the thrill of minke whale-watching, best seen from April to October from Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry service. These incredible creatures can also be glimpsed when exploring hiking routes in Carsaig on the south coast of the Isle of Mull.
The snow-capped Picos de Europa in Cantabria, Spain are visible when you sail into Santander. The high alpine region offers varying levels of hiking, from a few hours to long distance GR routes. Try the Ruta de Cares, a relatively easy hike along the Cares Gorge, with dramatic precipices. Sail with Brittany Ferries.
If you enjoyed learning to surf in Cornwall last summer, go further afield via ferry and test your skills on the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean from the sandy beaches of the Channel Islands and France. Suitable for all levels, try Jersey’s long beaches of St Ouen’s Bay and uncrowded beaches of Bidart on the French Atlantique Coast. Sail with Condor Ferries to Jersey and Brittany Ferries to Bilbao, Spain for Bidart.
Being near or on water improves our wellbeing and lifts our spirits*, so why not travel by ferry and try kayaking or coasteering. Guernsey’s south coast near Petit Bot is ideal for families and adrenaline junkies. With the chance to vary activities for first-timers and daredevils, there’s something for everyone from rock-hopping, shore scrambling to wave-riding, and even cliff-jumping. Sail with Condor Ferries.
The Ardennes is the adventure centre of Belgium, and kayaking in the Ourthe, Semois and Lesse rivers offers spectacular views of the steep cliffs, green forests and castles along the way. For the more advanced kayaker, head to Houyet down river to Anseremme, taking in Walzin Castle as you go. Sail with DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries.
Best for golf
The best way for golfers to explore the uncrowded golf courses of Northern France is via ferry with flexible booking and plenty of car boot space for golf clubs. Arriving overnight into Brittany’s port of St Malo or on the short-sea crossings into Dunkirk and Calais brings you close to the challenging fairways of the local golf courses. Offering visitor golfers great value, the cost of green fees at local French courses compare favourably to British golf clubs. Try Golf de St Malo, Golf des Ormes and close to Dunkirk, Golf Du Bois De Ruminghem. Sail with Brittany Ferries, DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries.
With some of the best golf-courses in the world, Ireland is definitely a destination for golfing enthusiasts. Arrive in Belfast and drive down to Newcastle to the Royal County Down Golf club with pristine greens and vistas over the sea to the mountains. Sail with Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, P&O Ferries and Stena Line.
Best for mountain sports
Not just popular during the winter holiday season, mountain resorts offer activities all year round. Whether you are transporting skis and snowboards or climbing and hiking gear, ferries offer great value crossings to favourite destinations including Courchevel, Chamonix and Morzine. If you enjoy the thrill of mountain winter-sports, why not try the excitement of adrenaline sports in the summer, from white water sports, wild swimming and paragliding to mountaineering and mountain-biking. Sail with Brittany Ferries, DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries.
*If you are taking your pet to Northern Ireland or into the European Union you will need to visit the vet at least one month in advance to get an Animal Health Certificate. More information about pet travel can be found here.
Getting out on your bicycle is not only a great way to reconnect with nature and the great outdoors, but it’s also a good way to stay fit and healthy and disconnect from our busy daily lives. Discovering a destination by bike has never been easier, with more traffic-free routes and cycle paths available than ever and cycle routes to suit all abilities. We’ve put together a list of our top picks for cycle routes accessible via ferry.
This cross-border cycle route takes you to Trappist breweries in Brabant and Flanders in The Netherlands and Belgium.
What could be better than a mix of exploring the mainly flat countryside of The Netherlands and Belgium by bicycle with the reward of an artisan Trappist beer to keep you motivated? Based on an existing cross-border cycle route, this 334km route is split into six sections, the shortest being 30km (18 miles) and the longest 76km (47 miles). Each section features a mix of rural landscape, villages, and cities and, as the name suggests, a Trappist brewery to sample some of Flanders’ and Brabant’s famous artisan beers. There is a detailed guide for the route, including suggestions of where to eat and where to stay en route on the Visit Brabant website
Getting to Brechte – P&O Ferries sail to Rotterdam from Hull and Stena Line sail from Harwich to Hook of Holland. If travelling by bicycle sail to Rotterdam or Hook of Holland and catch the train to Brechte. If travelling by car the journey time is 1h15 from Rotterdam/ Hook of Holland. It’s also possible to sail to Calais or Dunkirk from Dover with Irish Ferries, P&O Ferries or DFDS, then the journey time by car to Brechte is between 2-3 hours.
Traffic-free Trail Rides on the Isle of Wight
Red-Squirrel Trail – this 32-mile scenic trial takes you through woodland, wetlands, countryside, and of course along part of the Island’s stunning coastline. Though the trail is mainly flat, it is off-road, so you will need an appropriate bicycle for varied terrain and gradients. It is suitable for all abilities and can be broken down into smaller sections.
For those of you who are looking for more of a challenge, Chalk Ridge Extreme has been described in The Guardian as ‘superlative off-road cycling’, with challenging gradients, mud and slippery chalk surfaces. Though not all traffic-free (there are some road sections that link you to bridleways), this 53-mile route takes in some of the islands most important landmarks such as The Needles and Carisbrooke Castle.
Getting to the Isle of Wight: Hovertravel sails from Southsea to Ryde. Bicycles are stored in the hold. Red Funnel sails from Southampton to Cowes. Wightlink sails from Portsmouth to Fishguard and Lymington to Yarmouth. Bicycles are free of charge on all routes.
Jersey – from East to West: Gorey to St Ouen’s Bay
Jersey boasts beautiful sea views, plenty of hills and lush countryside and with 96 miles of official signposted cycle routes it has plenty to offer all levels of cyclists from short routes between bays and a re-invented railway path, to the 40-mile Around the island coastal route circumnavigating the island.
Although most of Jersey’s 10 official cycle routes do visit a beach at some point, cycling through Jersey’s fields and countryside offers a more relaxed cycling experience. Surrounded by beautiful fields and flowers the Gorey to St Ouen’s Bay route is 14.5 miles and takes in sights such as Gorey Castle, Mont Orgueil Castle, La Hougue Bie and St Ouen’s Church.
To see all Jersey’s official cycle routes click here.
Getting to Jersey: Condor Ferries sail from Poole and Portsmouth to Jersey. There’s no extra charge for bringing a bike as a foot passenger, though you will need to book it in as space is limited. Bicycles can also be carried on bike racks on the back or roof of your vehicle.
The Vélo Francette Cycle route, France
For those who want a multi-day cycle experience, the Vélo Francette cycle route starts in Ouistreham in Normandy and heads south, on signposted track, through Normandy, the Loire to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, meandering along waterways, through peaceful countryside, picturesque villages and regional natural parks.
However, as not everyone wants to cycle 600km you can also do sections of the route for some outstanding cycling experiences. The Normandy part of the route covers 140k and goes through historic D-Day landing beaches, Normandie-Maine Regional Natural Park, the hilly Suisse Normande (Norman Switzerland) and the fortified medieval town of Domfront.
Getting to Ouistreham: Brittany Ferries sails directly to Caen, or nearby, Le Havre from Portsmouth. DFDS sails to Dieppe from Newhaven. Ouistreham is a 2-hour drive from Dieppe. DFDS, Irish Ferries, and P&O Ferries sail to Calais from Dover. Ouistreham is a 3.5-hour drive from Calais.
Isle of Mull, Scotland – Circular Route
Starting at the ferry terminal at Craignure the circular route around the Isle of Mull offers spectacular scenery that’s hard to beat – rugged mountains, coastline, villages and wildlife. The Isle of Mull is the perfect island getaway for those who enjoy challenging cycling. The whole circular route is 85 miles but luckily there are several convenient short cuts, and different sections if you want to cycle over different days.
For more details on the route and other stunning cycle routes click here.
Getting to Mull: Caledonian MacBrayne sails to Craignure from Oban, bicycles can be brought on the ferry at no additional charge.
London: Thames Path – London Bridge to Greenwich
Linking famous tourist attractions Tower Bridge and the Tower of London to the Cutty Sark and the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, National Route 4 heads east along the Thames from London Bridge through Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and Deptford. The narrow streets of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, that used to house dock-side warehouses, have now been converted into stylish apartments. Don’t miss two Rotherhithe gems, The Brunel Museum and Thames Tunnel, the oldest tunnel in the oldest Underground in the world, and The Mayflower pub, where the Pilgrim Father’s ship, the Mayflower, moored in 1620 before it departed for the New World. The route is 4.7 miles.
Getting from Greenwich to London Bridge with bikes: Uber Boat by Thames Clippers operates regular westbound services from Greenwich to London Bridge City pier, the journey takes approximately 30 mins and up to 14 bicycles can be accommodated on the vessels.
Isle of Man – Island of Champions
As you would expect from the birthplace of Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh, the Isle of Man offers a lot of fantastic cycling routes for keen cyclists and leisure cyclists, whether you are looking for a family afternoon activity or a challenging hill cycle to get the adrenaline pumping, there’s a route for you.
The 10-mile Heritage Trail follows the old steam railway line from Douglas to Peel and is ideal for families as its flat and traffic free. The route goes past the Union Mills, through woodland and along countryside trails.
The ultimate road bike route is the 91-mile round the island Raad Daawheeyl tour, which you can do either do in sections, or if you’re really fit, then in a day. This circular route sticks to the coastal road and takes in many of the Isle of Man’s sights including Castle Rushen, the Sound and Calf of Man, Peel Castle, Kirk Maughold Church and Laxey Wheel.
Getting to the Isle of Man: Isle of Man Steam Packet Company sail from Heysham, year-round and from Belfast, Liverpool and Dublin in the summer season. Bicycles can be taken on board at no extra cost.
Ireland’s Ancient East & the North’s Causeway Coastal Route
Waterford Greenway Trailis a beautiful 28-mile trail runs along an old railway line from Waterford to Dungarvan, past ancient aqueducts, Viking settlement and medieval ruins, with scenery ranging from the Comeragh Mountains to the coves and rocky headlands of the Copper Coast. The Greenway opened in 2017, exactly 50 years after the last train serviced the route, for use by walkers and cyclists. It is mainly flat so suitable for all levels and is divided into six sections, if you don’t want to tackle it in one go.
Getting to Waterford – Irish Ferries and Stena Line sail to Rosslare from Pembroke and Fishguard. Waterford is just over an hour drive from Rosslare.
Causeway Coast and Glens, Co Derry & Antrim. This 100-mile coastal road running from Larne to Derry passes by some of the most spectacular coastline in Europe, the Nine Glens of Antrim, the river valleys of the Bann and the Roe and natural wonders such as the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-o-Rede, not to mention the famous Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. Note that this is a public road and some sections can be very busy with traffic.
Click here for shorter cycling options in the Causeway Coast and Glens.
The COVID pandemic has highlighted the importance of staying healthy in both mind and body and our research has shown that taking to the water helps us relax, unwind and forget our worries. With over three quarters (77%) of respondents agreeing they find spending time by the water relaxing, and two thirds (66%) agreeing they feel like they have been on holiday when they have spent time by the water or by the sea.*
To help you relax and rejuvenate we’ve put together a guide to breaks that will leave you stronger in mind and body.
To build core strength and flexibility while calming your mind, visitors to the Isle of Wight can attend sessions that combines traditional Asana yoga with stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Travel from Portsmouth or Lymington with Wightlink, from Southampton with Red Funnel or via Hovertravel from Southsea.
Operating with capacity for bicycles, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers enables city dwellers and visitors to take in the sights of London from the river, before continuing their commute or exploration of the city’s parks, piers and pathways on two wheels.
The picturesque sandy beaches of the Isles of Scilly are perfect for water sports including open water swimming and kayaking – on a sunny day you’ll find it hard to believe you are in Britain. To embrace your adventurous spirit and take social distancing to the extreme, charter a boat to reach an uninhabited island for a solitary stroll. Isles of Scilly Travel offers services on The Scillonian departing from Penzance to St Mary’s Harbour.
For those who took up walking during lockdown and are looking to continue this during their holidays and leisure time – the Isle of Man’s Raad ny Foillan Coastal Path provides the perfect challenge. Covering nearly 100 miles, ambitious walkers can complete the route in four days or for a gentler pace, opt to walk the course in 10 days. Walkers are rewarded with spectacular views, fantastic picnicking spots and superb eateries to suit all budgets. Travel with Isle of Man Steam Packet Company from Heysham to Douglas year-round or seasonally from Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast.
Holidays to reset the mind
Retreat to the aptly named Holy Isle a remote Buddhist island, just off the Isle of Arran, Scotland, for Tai Chi, yoga and meditation. With relaxing activities that focus the mind in tranquil, beautiful surroundings, it’s easy to see why visitors return to Re-Vitalise Retreats. Travel to Arran with Caledonian MacBrayne, which offers routes from Ardrossan or from Kintyre, departing from Clanoig in the summer and Tarbert in the winter months.
The Netherlands has a culture of indoor wellness centres that offer the ultimate in hot and cold pools, steam rooms and saunas to relax the mind and reinvigorate the body. Travel to Holland with DFDS via its Newcastle to Amsterdam route, with P&O Ferries departing from Hull to Rotterdam, and with Stena Line’s services between Harwich and the Hook of Holland.
To really get back to nature, practise the Japanese art of forest bathing at St Brelade in Jersey. Proven to reduce stress and improve concentration, visitors are encouraged to take in the beauty and fresh air of the forest with all five senses, under the guidance of local herbalists, they can even forage ingredients for a relaxing tea. Condor Ferries operate links to Jersey from Poole.
Nourishing breaks that will heighten your senses
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so what better place to visit than France’s apple region. Apple desserts, apple juice, cider and the infamous apple brandy from Calvados, there are plenty of sampling opportunities across the region. From May to December, visitors can even participate in harvesting the fruit. Sail to Normandy from Portsmouth or Poole with Brittany Ferries, or from Newhaven to Dieppe with DFDS. Irish Ferries, P&O Ferries and DFDS operate services to France from Dover.
Fishing offers anglers contemplation as well as the prospect of catching supper. Northern Ireland has some of the best natural conditions for fishing, with rich fishing grounds in the Atlantic and Irish Sea and pure freshwater lakes and streams. Catch and cook tours are available for novices. Travel to Northern Ireland with P&O Ferries from Cairnryan to Larne, or sail to Belfast with Stena Line from Liverpool and Cairnryan. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company also offers a seasonal Douglas-Belfast service.
The Irish coastline is also home to a variety of edible plant life making it a haven for foragers. Alongside mushrooms, herbs, mosses and wild blackberries, there are more than 600 types of nutrient-packed seaweed. Foragers can sustainably harvest by cutting the tips – never the root – with a sharp knife, the result adds flavour to soups, baked goods and infused oils. The food trail in Waterford is a great introduction to Ireland’s native plant life and local producers. Travel to Ireland from the UK with Irish Ferries via its Pembroke-Rosslare and Holyhead-Dublin routes, with P&O Ferries departing from Liverpool to Dublin, and with Stena Line on its Holyhead-Dublin and Fishguard-Rosslare services.
*Research for Discover Ferries was carried out online by Censuswide on 3rd to 7th September 2020 amongst a panel resulting in 2,001 responses from general consumers in the UK.All the research conducted adheres to the MRS Codes of Conduct (2010) in the UK and ICC/ESOMAR World Research Guidelines.