Planning a family road trip to Europe from the UK? Over the past eight years, we have crossed to the continent several times, driving from London for holidays in France, Switzerland and Italy. In this post, I will share tips for planning to travel to Europe by car and ideas for Europe road trips with kids.
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Crossing England to France
The main options to cross the English Channel to travel between England and France by car are to travel on a ferry boat or to take the Le Shuttle passenger shuttle.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle
The easiest and fastest way to travel between England and France is to take the Le Shuttle (previously Eurotunnel Le Shuttle) from Folkestone to Calais. The car shuttle ride takes only takes 35 minutes.
We have travelled on Le Shuttle for each of our Europe family road trips, including several car trips with our dogs. Each time we found the process of travelling on Le Shuttle easy and seamless from start to finish.
It is easy to book with Le Shuttle and manage your booking online, including make any changes to your booking and add passenger details. There are three main types of ticket options for Le Shuttle: Standard (non-refundable), Standard Refundable and Flexiplus.
Le Shuttle also has special ticket offers for day trips, overnight stays and short stays. Standard Refundable one-way ticket prices with Le Shuttle start from £150 per vehicle, while Flexiplus one-way ticket prices start from £274 per vehicle. Check the latest Le Shuttle ticket prices
Since our family road trips to Europe are always during peak periods – bank holiday weekends, half term breaks and school holidays – we have found it worth the extra charge to book Flexiplus tickets. With Le Shuttle Flexiplus, you can turn up at anytime on your booked travel day and have priority for boarding once you are past border controls.
The Flexiplus Lounges at Le Shuttle Folkestone and Calais terminals are located after border control. The lounges offer complimentary food and refreshments, including wraps, sandwiches, soup, fresh fruit, snacks and desserts.
Ferries from Dover to Calais are usually the cheapest option to cross between England and France. Ferry crossings take around 1 hour 30 minutes to arrive at Calais.
There are several ferry boat options from Dover to Calais, such as P&O Ferries and Direct Ferries. Ferry boats typically offer facilities on board such as duty free shopping, restaurants and toilets. Trip costs on P&O Ferries for one car and up to 9 people start from £63 for one way and £126 for return.
Driving in the EU Requirements
When planning a UK to Europe road trip, make sure that you are up to date on the latest government advice. The best resources for UK drivers in Europe are: GOV.UK Driving in the EU, AA Driving in Europe and Green Flag Essential Checks Europe.
Compulsory equipment requirements for a driving holiday in Europe include an UK identifier (on your number plate or a UK sticker), headlamp beam converters, a first aid kit, a warning triangle and high-visibility jacket. We have the AA Euro Travel Kit which contains all of the essential items for driving in Europe.
If you are travelling on Le Shuttle, then you can also purchase an AA Euro Travel Kit, or any of the required items, at the AA Travel Shop at Folkestone Terminal or at the Flexiplus Lounge.
Europe Road Trips with Kids
With so many exciting destinations to explore, road trips are one of the best ways to travel Europe with children. In this section, I will share ideas for Europe road trips with kids from our family holidays driving to Europe from UK.
France Road Trips
Disneyland Paris is a popular destination for day trips and road trips from UK to Europe. We have planned several road trips to Disney Paris through the years. Disneyland Paris is an easy 3 hour 30 minute drive from the Le Shuttle or ferry terminals of Calais, France.
There are plenty of accommodation options around Disneyland Paris, many a short shuttle bus away from the theme parks. The closest on-site Disney Paris hotel is Disneyland Hotel, which is located at the Disneyland Park entrance and re-opened on 25 January. Disney Hotel New York – the Art of Marvel and Disney Newport Bay Club on Lake Disney are a 10 to 15 walk to the theme park entrances.
Val d’Europe is a convenient area to stay in near Disneyland Paris, offering a wide array of hotels, aparthotels and Airbnb flats within steps of shops, restaurants and other facilities. Hotel L’Elysee and Staycity Aparthotels are highly rated accommodation options in Val d’Europe for visiting Disneyland Paris.
On our most recent road trip to Disneyland Paris, we stayed at a lovely pet-friendly house in Lésigny. The Airbnb was tucked away in the south-eastern Paris suburbs, about a 20 minute drive from Disneyland Paris. I share more about the Airbnb near Disneyland Paris in our 2022 Disneyland Paris Trip Report.
Read on for tips and inspiration for planning a trip to Disneyland Paris;
The French Alps is a top Europe road trip destination for family summer holidays. If you are traveling to France from UK by car, the French Alps towns of Annecy, Chamonix are about a 8 to 9 hour drive from the port city of Calais, France.
Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (or simply Chamonix) is one of best destinations for a French Alps summer road trip, with a variety of places to stay, plenty of shops and facilities in the town centre and so much to do for the whole family.
While it’s best known as a winter sports destination, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (or simply Chamonix) also makes a fantastic base for enjoying mountain adventures in the summer. Families can enjoy hiking, lake swimming, mountain biking, road cycling and more in Chamonix and the surrounding area. Highlights for our family holidays in Chamonix in summer include enjoying family-friendly hikes and visits to Merlet Animal Park.
Find tips for visiting Chamonix, along with inspiration for things to do in Chamonix in summer in this post: Visiting Chamonix in the Summer
Morzine, located at the heart of the Portes du Soleil area is another popular destination for a family holiday in the French Alps. The charming alpine village and resort of Morzine offer top-notch facilities, great restaurants and a summer programme of family events and activities.
We keep coming back to Morzine in the summer for the wide range of outdoor activities the resort and surrounding area offers. Between the alpine walking and hiking trails, treetop adventure parks, an equestrian centre, an aquatic centre and much more, there is plenty to do for families in Morzine.
One of our favourite places to visit is the nearby Lake Montriond, a picturesque alpine lake that offers a wide range of activities, from recreational water sports to hiking excursions.
Annecy, one of the most picturesque towns in France, is a centrally located in the Rhone-Alps region. You can easily combine a visit to Annecy with Morzine or Chamonix on a French Alps road trip, since it is about 1 to 1 hour 30 minutes drive away. Known for its stunning lake surrounded by mountains and the picturesque canals that wind through its medieval centre, Annecy has been nicknamed the “Venice of the Alps”.
Swimming, sailing, water skiing are popular water activities at Lake Annecy, considered the purest lake in Europe thanks to conservation efforts. Summer mountain activities at Annecy include hiking, biking, canyoning and paragliding. The historic center of Annecy is also a pleasure to explore, with one of the top sights being the Palais de l’Ile, built on a natural rocky island in the 12th century.
Read on for tips and inspiration for planning a French Alps road trip with kids;
Alsace Christmas Markets
One of the best European destinations with kids, the Christmas markets in the Alsace region of France are typically open from late November to late December. Alsace cities and towns to visit for their outstanding Christmas Markets are Strasbourg, Colmar, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé.
On a Europe Christmas road trip, we stayed in the historic town centre of Colmar to visit the Alsace Christmas Markets. Situated in northeast France, Colmar is near the border with Germany and 45 minutes from Strasbourg, the Alsatian region capital.
Colmar makes a convenient base for exploring the Alsace Christmas Markets since the town is a short drive, between 20 to 30 minutes, from the picturesque villages and medieval towns of Kaysersberg, Riquewihr and Eguisheim.
If you have time to, it is also a great experience to head into the surrounding vineyards of the Alsace region to visit the local wineries. On our Europe Christmas road trip, we visited one of the wineries, Maison Gustave Lorentz, which is about 30 minutes drive from Colmar. Make sure to check the opening hours, since many wineries are only open during certain days of the week depending on the time of year.
Read on for more tips and inspiration for visiting the Alsase Christmas Markets;
Switzerland Road Trips
With its stunning natural beauty, Switzerland is an excellent destination for Europe road trips with kids. We planned a Switzerland road trip over October half term to Zermatt, Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps.
Note that to drive in Switzerland, your car must have a special toll sticker, or vignette (sticker or e-vignette). The vignette costs CHF 40 and can be purchased online or at customs upon entering the country. You can find more details or buy a vignette on the Swiss government website.
If you are planning an October road trip to the Alps, do keep in mind that there are limited mountain transport options and some restaurants close for a few weeks until the start of the winter season. In the Swiss Alps, for example, the gondola transport from Grindelwald to Männlichen is typically closed from the last week of October.
For our October half term road trip to Switzerland, the first place we stayed in was Zermatt, located in the Valais region. We then drove north to our Airbnb in Wilderswil, a small village on the outskirts of Interlaken to explore the Jungfrau Region.
Zermatt is a car-free village. If you are travelling by car to Zermatt, you will need to park your car in the neighboring village of Täsch, which is 5km away. Options for parking in Täsch are at the train station, Matterhorn Terminal, or at private car parks.
We booked a parking space in advance at Taxi Christophe, a covered parking lot in Täsch. Taxi Cristophe also arranges the taxi transfers and e-taxis to and from Zermatt. The taxi transfer dropped us off at a taxi station at the entrance of Zermatt. An e-taxi then picked us up moments later and brought us as close as possible to our Airbnb flat.
The highlight of our short stay in Zermatt over October half term was taking the Gornergrat Railway for the 35 minute cogwheel train ride to the top of Gornergrat (3100m). Gornergrat Railway is open year round, with four stops along the way with various options for hiking or snowshoeing
From Gornergrat, we hiked to Riffelsee, which is an easy downhill walk that takes about 30 minutes. Riffelsee is an alpine lake at 2770m offering stunning reflection views of the Matterhorn peak. It is then a short walk up from the lake to Rotenboden station, the next stop on the Gornergrat Railway back to Zermatt.
A popular destination for a Swiss Alps road trip, the Jungfrau region has so much to offer for outdoor activities, stunning natural beauty and tourist attractions. Located in the Bernese Oberland, the Jungfrau region includes the Jungfrau massif, the Lauterbrunnen Valley, Mürren, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald and Interlaken.
The highlights of the Jungfrau part of our Switzerland road trip were exploring Lauterbrunnen, taking the cable car to the mountain village of Mürren and hiking along the Jungfrau Eiger Walk to Kleine Scheidegg.
To visit Mürren (1650m), and enjoy the amazing views overlooking the Lauterbrunnen valley, there is a cable car from the Stechelberg station, which is a 5 to 10 minute drive from Lauterbrunnen village. The brilliant Allmendhubel “Flower Park” playground (1932m) is a short funicular ride away from Mürren. (Note that the Allmendhubel playground is only open from July through early October.)
The following day we drove to Grindelwald, where we took a cable car to Eigergletscher. From there, we walked down to Kleine Scheidegg, following the Jungfrau Eiger Walk, a 2km hike which offers stunning views of the Eiger.
We had lunch at Bergrestaurant at the Kleine Scheidegg station, which I can recommend, before returning to Eigergletscher to take the cable car back to Grindelwald. Another option to get between Eigergletscher and Kleine Scheidegg is to take the Jungfraubahn train that runs hourly. Usually there is also a train that operates between Grindelwald and Kleine Scheidegg, however, this was closed for maintenance when we visited.
For our stay in the Jungfrau region, we chose a pet-friendly Airbnb rental in Wilderswil that was a comfortable size for our family. The Airbnb had a grill, outdoor patio dining area and garden space with beautiful mountain views. Wilderswil was also conveniently located for exploring the nearby valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald.
Pet Travel to Europe
One of the reasons why we love planning road trips is that we can bring our dogs on our family holidays to Europe. Rex and Reya, our German Shepherds, have come with us on Europe road trips to the French Alps, Alsace, Switzerland and Fano Italy.
I have found most places we have visited in France, Switzerland and Italy to be very welcoming to dogs. We haven’t had issues finding pet-friendly Airbnbs, even if it does narrow down the selection. I always check that dogs are allowed before making a restaurant reservation and, generally, most restaurants are dog-friendly.
When planning to travel with a pet to Europe, it is important to speak to your vet about your specific travel requirements well ahead of your trip. Requirements vary by country and you may need to start preparing for your pet to travel weeks in advance. The best resource for up to date information on travelling with your pet is GOV.UK Taking Your Pet Abroad.
Europe Travel Inspiration
I hope you have found this post on planning a road trip in Europe with kids helpful! Find more tips, ideas and inspiration for travelling Europe with children in our travel guides;
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