Northern France
What to do and see within 90 minutes of Calais




from the UK


March 2012: This page does seem to have a mind of its own at the moment, and my carefully-placed
images sometimes seem to twist around, or to jump into the wrong positions. 
Until I can sort this out, I can only apologise and hope that the information and links are useful to you just the same.




















From January 2012 a new, Euro-style parking-control disc
has come into use, superseding the
familiar one employed in France by generations of motorists.


If you find yourself in an area of a town designated
a “zone bleue”, where parking spaces are marked with blue lines,
you must display the new type (see left).

They can be obtained, free, from the nearest tourist office or
town hall (hôtel de ville, or mairie).
Set the dial so that the pointer shows your time of arrival.  You then have one or two hours’ free parking (this varies from place to place; read the notice near your car).




















There is a wide choice of ferry operators, taking cars and foot passengers.


On the short routes from south-east England:

Dover to Calais with P&O (90-minute crossing)

Dover to Calais with DFDS (formerly Norfolk Line, 90-minute crossing)

Dover to Dunkerque with DFDS (2-hour crossing)

Ramsgate to Ostend (Belgium) with Transeuropa (4-hour crossing)


Longer routes, but avoiding long drives through England:

Harwich to the Hook of Holland (Netherlands) with Stena Line

Hull to Rotterdam (Netherlands) with P&O

Hull to Zeebrugge (Belgium) with P&O


BD04924_ TIP 1  Try the Direct Ferries or websites for some comparisons, to find the cheapest crossing.  You might have a pleasant surprise, and good savings.
BD04924_TIP 2 The ferry companies usually offer cheaper summer crossings if you book and pay for them before the preceding Christmas.
BD04924_TIP 3  Also towards the end of the year, ferry companies sometimes offer special deals where you pay in advance for a number of return crossings at a cheap rate, to be used during the following year, and then book the exact dates of travel later, as you want to use them. Sign up on the companies’ websites for information letters, and you will be told about them.






Note that, as well as your driving licence, you must carry the original of
your vehicle’s registration document (log book), plus – if the vehicle is not registered in
your own name – a letter from the owner authorising you to drive it. 
You must also carry the vehicle’s current insurance document.
These must be with you in the car at all times.



You will also need

Warning triangle for use after a breakdown

Yellow hi-visibility waistcoat (this must be in the passenger area of the car, not in the boot)

GB plate, if you do not already have national ID marked on your vehicle’s registration plates.

Stick-on headlight adaptors, for deflecting lights to the right while driving in France.

Most of these can be found in Halfords



These are advisable, too

Breakdown and travel insurance, such as that offered by the AA

Road atlas, such as the AA Big Road Atlas of France
Good local map such as Michelin road map 511 (1:275 000) for Nord, Pas de Calais, Picardy.




And, to entertain
the children
on the journey,
what about these cheery
ß-   I-Spy books?   -ą


(for some reason, unfathomed by me, the images to left and right here
 may not show up, but
clicking on the centre of either should take you to its relevant page on Amazon)









Though the trains of both travel through the Channel Tunnel, Eurostar and Eurotunnel are two quite different forms of transport and start and finish their journeys at different places






Eurostar, from London or Ashford, for foot passengers
You travel as a foot passenger, by  high-speed train, from London-St Pancras to Calais-Fréthun (just a few trains a day stop here) and to Lille-Europe. You can continue on this service to Paris or Brussels. It is also possible to board the France-bound train at Ashford, in Kent.

BD04924_TIP If you would  like to know about the scenery you are passing in Northern France, in what at first may seem like an apparently featureless landscape, click here.









Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, from Folkestone, for vehicles with their passengers
You have to be travelling in a vehicle to use this service, which makes the short journey through the tunnel from Folkestone to Calais-Coquelles in 36 minutes. Cars are driven onto a special train, and passengers can remain in their vehicle for the entire journey.  This makes it especially suitable for those with mobility problems or for people travelling with pets.
(To visit the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle website click on the panel, left.)

BD04924_TIP 1  Book an outward and return trip as two separate “single” crossings. 
You can change the date of a journey free of charge before you make the first part of it; however if you have booked your journey as a return ticket, this means that any amending must be done before you start the outward journey (in other words, if you want to alter the date of the homeward part, you cannot do it once you have set out on the outward journey).  If you make your booking as two single journeys, then you can amend the date of either.



BD04924_TIP 2  If you envisage taking your car over regularly for short (or long) breaks during the year, consider the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle special deal whereby you pay upfront for 10 single crossings to use during the following 12 months at a cheap rate, and then book the exact dates of travel later. You can buy these at any time of year, by signing up as a “Frequent Traveller” on the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle website. However, there are often supplements to pay if you should want to travel at popular times, such as from the UK in the morning, or from France in the afternoon!

Note  If you plan a day-trip or a 24-hour return, it will be cheaper to book this through the normal Eurotunnel Le Shuttle channels than to use one of your  “Frequent Traveller” crossings.









You can fly to Le Touquet/Côte d’Opale with LyddAir from Lydd (Kent).


Otherwise the nearest airport to the north of France, with flights from the UK, is Paris/Beauvais (60km south of Amiens), with Ryanair flights from Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and Knock.

BD04924_TIP  Many international airlines have flights to Paris Roissy/Charles de Gaulle (just over 100km south of Amiens). If it’s easier for you to fly into here, you could rent a car at Roissy and drive north along the A1 autoroute to the areas of Northern France covered on this website in just over an hour.








Here is a link to the Amazon page for the AA Big Road Atlas of France , the AA's paperback road atlas based on the excellent French IGN maps.


And here is the Michelin road map 511 (1:275 000), which covers the whole area of my Northern France guidebook on a single sheet; useful if you are touring in the area. It is good at marking Allied graveyards (marked “Brit.”) for those on battlefield pilgrimages.


The French Institut Géographique National (IGN) produces slightly more detailed maps, with the relief features such as hills and valleys shaded in, so that they stand out.  These can be bought in French supermarkets or bookshops, or ordered online from
- 101 Lille-Boulogne-sur-Mer  covers Dunkerque across to Arras – the Opal Coast and its hinterland, including Montreuil and the 7 Valleys, Flanders, part of Belgium, the battlefields of the Artois, and extending east beyond Lille and Bethune.
 - 103 Amiens to Arras  covers Abbeville, Amiens, Peronne and the battlefields of the Somme, extending south as far as Beauvais.


The following are a couple of useful websites for pinpointing a place, or for the calculating and printing-out of a desired route:



Via Michelin



BD04924_TIP   Invest in a sat-nav!  
I bought TomTom One Europe with maps for Western Europe from Amazon some years ago, which I have found excellent.  More up to date sat-navs include Tom Tom Start, and Garmin Nuvi








You can buy a “beeper” to work the automatic toll barriers thoughout the French motorway system enabling you to use the “Liber-t” lanes – pronounced “lee-bair-tay” – that are marked with an orange “t”. It’s a godsend for anyone driving a right-hand-drive car in France with no passenger in the front seat to deal with toll tickets and payments. It helps to avoid queues, too; while other vehicles are lining up to pay at the manned booths, you can cheerily sail past them all in the lane reserved for automatic payment (télepéage)!
   The device, sold by a company called Sanef, is a small plastic box that can be clipped into position in a holder that you fix to the inside of your windscreen. Full instructions on exactly where to site it are given on the Sanef website.
These transponders (to give them their proper name) are now being marketed in the UK as well; there is information in English on this page of the Sanef website.  Order a télepéage beeper from there, using your UK bank details, and future tolls will be automatically debited to your UK bank account.

BD04924_TIP 1 Before fixing the device into its final position on the windscreen, work out the best place by holding it up against the glass for the first few times you pass an automatic barrier, then stick the holder in place and you can click the transponder into it for use during your journeys.
BD04924_TIP 2 If you are using a credit card or a bank debit card to pay Sanef tolls, and are issued with a new/updated credit card, be sure to contact Sanef and give them the new details - otherwise your beeper will not work next time you try and use it!
BD04924_TIP 3  Always remove the télepéage transponder from the car when you leave it.  It is attractive to thieves, who can drive around France merrily clocking up tolls on your bank account until you manage to block your Sanef account.






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