Dunkerque is the northernmost French ferry port, only six miles from the border of Belgium. The third largest harbour in France, Dunkerque is popular with surfers, windsurfers and kayakers. Less touristy than some of the other French ports, Dunkerque is mostly industrial, producing a substantial portion of France’s oil and steel products.
South of Dunkerque is the port of Calais. Calais is one of the oldest and most popular ports for ferries to France via the English Channel. Only one hour and fifteen minutes from the port of Dover, Calais is also the closest port to the U.K. Like most of the towns on France’s west coast, partially demolished and restored medieval buildings and permanent reminders of World War II abound. Calais is also a gateway to many small and fascinating French towns.
Another popular and well-established ferry port in France is Boulogne. Also reputed to be the largest fishing seaport in France, Boulogne has a great selection of seafood restaurants to choose from. Preserved and renovated, Boulogne’s old walled medieval town contains churches, museums, palaces and restaurants just waiting to be explored. Outside the fortressed town, the Nausicaa Aquariium hosts a wide variety of marine exhibitions and activities to educate and entertain visitors of all ages. For those who prefer to just lounge in the sun, there are miles of long wide sandy beaches.
Once a popular seaside resort, Dieppe is one of the more attractive ports accessible by ferry. Less industrial than some of the other coastal towns in France, Dieppe is known for its delicious scallops and a great Saturday morning market. High chalk cliffs and pebbly beaches enhance the appeal of this small medieval town.
Further south along the coast is the city of Le Havre, which sustained the heaviest damage of any port in Europe during World War II. Reinforced concrete was the primary material used in Le Havre’s restoration, which occurred from 1946 to 1964. Architect Auguste Perret single-handedly planned and organized this colossal task, which resulted in a fascinating and visually compelling mixture of medieval architecture and thoroughly modern structural design that is internationally renowned.
Another interesting place to visit if you’re traveling by ferry to France is Cherbourg. The largest aquarium in Europe, containing 500,000 liters of seawater, can be found at La Cite de la Mer in Cherbourg. One can also visit Le Redoutable, which is the very first French nuclear submarine and also the largest submarine in the world that can be visited by sightseers. Cherbourg is also the home of a luxury umbrella factory, and those fortunate enough might catch a glimpse of them being wind-tested at nearby beaches.
Popular for both day trips and longer holidays, St. Malo can be found further south. Once legendary for corsair, pirates and privateers, St. Malo is now known for its great beaches and resorts. Those planning to visit St. Malo during the summer must be sure to make hotel reservations way in advance.
If war-struck and restored medieval churches and palaces, World War II relics and memorabilia, and aquariums are a bit overwhelming, then Roscoff might be just the place to go. As the southernmost and quietest ferry port on the French coast, Roscoff is best known for quiet nature walks and relaxation. Most of the harbor traffic consists of boats for fishing and for seaweed harvesting. As with most of the French coastal towns, restaurants in Roscoff are known for their seafood. Roscoff has sometimes been called “The Seaweed Capital of the World”. This is because of the massive amount of seaweed harvested in Roscoff and the numerous and diverse uses the inhabitants have discovered for it.
The great selection, availability and affordability of ferries to France ensure that surfers, scientists, beach bums, historians, and seafood gourmets will never lack places to explore and enjoy on the other side of the English Channel.