How easy is it to travel on the Hull ferry with children on bicycles? What happens when you arrive at Zeebrugge or Europoort? How do you find your way? Where’s the best place to go? Is the cycling safe?
Cycling off a huge ship with children into an unknown country can be daunting. However, we have lots of experience in doing precisely that, so relax and let us answer all your questions.
Ferries leave Hull every day for both Zeebrugge, Belgium and Europoort, the Netherlands and vice versa. The latter is advertised as Rotterdam, but it’s useful for cyclists to know that it’s actually 35km away from Rotterdam. Foot passengers can book a coach transfer with their ferry ticket.
If you want to take the Hull ferry with children on bicycles, we’ve found it’s better to book directly with P&O ferries. Book online as foot passengers for the cheapest cabin and then phone up afterwards to book your bikes on. It’s usually £10 per bike, although we managed to pay £20 for two adult bikes with two child bikes attached to them using Follow-Me Tandems. P&O voucher codes tend to only be aimed at motorists. You can pay £10 extra each way for a sea view, which we think is definitely worth it.
You can, though, get mini-cruise deals where you spend a night on the boat, enjoy a day cycling and return on the same boat that evening. Alternatively you can stay for a night or two before you return and still take advantage of the mini-cruise deal. Otherwise, buy a straightforward return and go for as long as you like.
Can a ferry be a better deal than a cheap flight?
Typically, the earlier you book the cheaper it is. Compared to a cheap flight, it may initially seem like a steep price tag. However, you do get two nights’ comfortable accommodation and the pleasure of knowing you have made a lighter carbon footprint.
If you travel on the ferry without a car it’s much cheaper and by the time the airline adds on all those charges for luggage and seating you together, you’ll probably find the actual price is not much different. The whole experience of being on the ferry is lots of fun and you get to miss out on all that airport hassle. Of course, it’s much simpler to cycle onto the ferry than having to box up your bikes for the plane.
Arriving at Hull Ferry Port
To get your bikes and children to Hull train station you can use your friends and family railcard. The ferries are all evening departures so you can make a day of getting to Hull. A more dramatic option we’d like to try is to get off the train south of the Humber, use the cycle lane and NCN 65 to cross the Humber Bridge and arrive in further style!
Once in Hull, it’s a flat, mostly traffic-free, four mile ride to the ferry. For those travelling without bicycles there is a bus that goes from Hull station to the port too. If you have a few hours to spend in Hull the Ferens Art Gallery is excellent. Three of us also visited The Deep one time, (although the adults and children in our family have different views about aquariums)!
Getting Onboard the Hull ferry with children on bicycles
Cyclists board in the same place as the car traffic at Hull but are able to wait in their own separate holding area so it feels safe- even for littlies. Access to the terminal building is possible from this waiting area. One’s on the roof for Europoort, the other at ground level for Zeebrugge. Friendly staff usher cyclists to where they need to be and prevent motor vehicles from getting too close. If you arrive as check-in opens, they will often let you board first. Find out more about our trip to Europoort, en route to Finland, here.
Children love exploring the ship, chatting to the in-costume actors promoting the children’s show, watching the boat leave the port and making friends in the play area. There’s a cafe near the play area which works for the supervising adults particularly, especially as there’s soya milk for those who prefer to be dairy-free.
You can buy meals on board and if you pre-book them when you buy your ticket you get a cheaper deal. However, we prefer to save money by bringing a picnic. That way, we can eat as soon as we board and we are sure everyone has food they enjoy.
Our first trip from Hull as parents was when our eldest was 16 months old. We were glad of the travel cot they supplied and enjoyed watching her toddle around the open spaces. For children of any age, and grown-ups too, it’s a bonus not to have to sit still when travelling.
We have taken the Hull ferry with children on bicycles many times and have arrived both into Zeebrugge and Europoort. One time we arrived into Zeebrugge and returned home from Europoort, which can make a fun round-trip. When planning a cycle tour we try to keep the prevailing wind behind us as much as possible!
Arriving from the Hull ferry with children on bicycles to either destination was not as daunting as I had imagined. Being spewed off the ferry can feel weird, especially the first time. It’s helpful to know that you cycle off into a very wide area with many lanes (used for loading in the evening). That means it’s easy to move well out of the way of motor traffic since the cars and lorries all keep to just a couple of lanes. Other ferry traffic tends to give cyclists a wide berth and the off-road cycle paths start almost immediately.
The cycle path at Zeebrugge begins just after the first roundabout out of the port. You do have to cycle alongside cars and trucks to reach it but you’re very visible and this section lasts only for about 2-3 minutes. You keep looking to the right and you can soon join the two-way traffic-free path. We cycled along the North Sea Cycle route to the Netherlands on one long trip and, on another, visited Bruges for a mini-break.
We used this cycle map to find our way both to Bruges and to the Netherlands. The cycle paths in Belgium were impressive; a dream compared to he UK. However, when we crossed the border into the Netherlands we noticed a difference in terms of the width and the surface of the cycle paths. In Belgium we felt a little anxious when our children didn’t quite keep far enough to the right side of the cycle path. Fast moving bikes hurtling in the other direction seemed a little close for comfort at times. Once in the Netherlands, cycling was nothing but a pleasure.
Onward to Bruges
The ride to Bruges is about 25km if you go the slightly longer, prettier route via Damme. It took us all day as our set up at that time included slinging a balance bike over the handle of the double Chariot trailer for our then just-turned-two-year old. However for much of that ride he insisted on riding the balance bike while we wheeled our bikes alongside. His four-year-old sister slept in the trailer, and I pulled her empty bike along using the Follow-Me Tandem. He finally went to sleep in the trailer for the last few kilometres into Bruges as his sister pedalled energetically, singing “Doe a Deer” on repeat at the top of her voice.
Where shall I go from Europoort?
The welcome at passport control is typically a hearty one, with lots of interest about our set-up. People are genuinely interested about what we’re doing on the Hull ferry with children on bicycles. At Europoort it’s only a very short u-shaped journey back to the terminal building and from there it is a segregated cycle path the whole way. Do bear in mind that these paths can be used by people with small-engined mopeds or scooters. These, along with many speedy cyclists whizzing along, means that children have to adopt a different kind of cycle awareness.
We have cycled in many directions around Europoort and in every case we have found it to be safe, well-signed and cycle-friendly. We bought Falk cycle maps, which are extremely user-friendly. It’s about 35km from the ferry terminal to Rotterdam, where you can take a train to other Dutch destinations.
Hoek Van Holland
If that feels a little far for smaller legs, Hoek Van Holland is an 8km ride away, plus a twenty minute journey from Pistoolhaven on the RET fast ferry. Read more about cycling to Hoek Van Holland from Europoort here. Once at Hoek you join the North Sea Cycle route which takes you as far as Bergen in Norway. We didn’t quite get that far!
We also loved the small town of Brielle which is about 15km from Europoort. From Camping de Krabbeplaat you can take a little passenger and bike ferry across to the town of Brielle. The children were impressed by the inflatable slide in the water at the campsite beach. We’ll post more about our cycle tours in the Netherlands soon.
Other ferry routes out of the UK
There are plenty of other options as well as the Hull ferry with children on bicycles. It’s also possible to leave the British mainland to the Netherlands from Newcastle and from Harwich but many previous routes have now closed. You can also leave mainland Britain with bikes to many other destinations, including Dublin, Larne, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, French destinations, Spain and Portugal. There are a very small number of ferries that do not accept foot passengers (with or without bicycles), for example Birkenhead to Belfast. There’s a great post in Cycling UK which gives more detailed information on this topic.
Using the Hull ferry with children on bicycles has been the start of many happy adventures for us. We’d be glad to hear about your adventures too or to answer any questions you have before setting off. Do leave a comment.