How to get to the Paris Olympics without using Eurostar

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Fi Derby

31 May 202315 min read

If you're finding prices for taking Eurostar to the Olympics in Paris too steep, here are some alternative travel options..

Our train trip to Paris without using Eurostar

Fi St Pancras 1

Whether you’re having trouble getting Eurostar tickets or just don’t fancy a long tunnel trip, you’ll be pleased to hear the Eurostar isn’t the only way to get to France and the Paris Olympics without a car. P&O ferries have recently reintroduced their foot passenger option on some of their Dover to Calais sailings, and there are nearby rail connections at both ports.

Paris Olympics Souvenirs 1

Important Note:
If you've already purchased Eurostar tickets, don't forget to buy your UK train tickets to connect with it using London International.
   

Additionally, consider alternative options such as Flixbus coaches from London to Paris.

If you really need or want to fly to Paris, check out Kiwi.com. We like them because they do split ticketing with flights.

I love to view a landscape as I pass it, so this journey’s train-ferry-train combination suited me better than a journey through the Channel Tunnel. The English Channel crossing between Dover and Calais might be a short but sea views are sea views, and who wouldn’t be impressed by those white cliffs.

Booking our pre-Olympic train and ferry trip involved dealing with a few different carriers but it wasn’t difficult, and all the French websites and apps I used were available in English via Google Translate. For booking I used:

How long does London to Paris via the Dover-Calais ferry take?

Dover Fi Ferry 1

It is possible to travel to the Paris Olympics from London via train and ferry in one day. Trains to Dover Priory station go through London from most areas of the UK so the one-day route below might also work for you if you don’t live in London but can get to a connection early enough. Alternatively, you could catch the 15:50 ferry and arrive later in Paris. Below are suggested out and return itineraries and costs, correct at the time of writing.

London to Paris via Dover and Calais

Paris to London via Calais and Dover

Costs (April 2024) Paris to London via Calais and Dover (1 Adult)

We could just about have made the whole trip in a day from home in Devon but because we didn't want to rush any connections, we opted for overnight stays in Dover. Budget accommodation is also available in Calais.

The Dover-Calais ferry and train route to Paris takes longer than the Eurostar but we really enjoyed our trip. We got to see the scenery change as we travelled and agreed it was romantic watching Dover’s white cliffs fall behind us as we sipped a glass of wine on the ferry. 

To help you plan your trip to the Paris 2024 Olympics without using Eurostar, I’ve detailed our planning process and journey experience below.

Booking tickets for London to Paris via the Dover-Calais ferry

Fi Eiffel Tower 1

Step 1 – Plan before booking

Useful information.

a.     P&O are currently the only Dover-Calais ferry company who take foot passengers.
b.     They offer three crossings for foot passengers a day.
c.     You must buy your foot passenger ticket before you arrive.
d.     As a foot passenger, you can’t take pets on board.
e.     Check-in at both Dover and Calais closes 90 minutes before your sailing time.
f.      You need to allow 30 minutes disembarkation time at both ports.
g.     A shuttle bus will take you between your ferries and the terminal buildings.
h.     In Dover you will need to take a taxi between the train station and the ferry terminal.
i.      In Calais a free local bus is available to take you to Calais Ville train station.
j.      More information about getting to Olympic venues.

You don’t have to plan your trip before you start booking but doing so will help you take notice of check-in times and avoid hurried connections. I used a spreadsheet for this pre-booking stage, but notes work just as well.

Here’s what I suggest you do:

a.     Write down your Paralympic and Olympic ticket dates and your available travel dates.
b.     Use the P&O website and the SNCF-Connect app to check the connections of ferry crossings and trains between Calais and Paris. Write down a few options.
c.     Check connection times between UK trains and sailings from Calais. Write down those options. 

At this point you’ll see a plan start to emerge and you’ll be able to decide for yourself whether you want or need to put in a mid-trip overnight stop on one or both of your journeys.

Once you have this information, you can book your ferry crossings.

Step 2 – Book your return Dover to Calais ferry crossings

Calais Ferry Terminal

Note: Don’t forget to factor in the 90-minute ferry check-in and 30-minute ferry disembarkation times as well as transfer times between the train stations and ports. I recommend allowing at least two hours at each end of your journeys. 

P&O’s foot passenger information page is worth reading thoroughly. It answers questions about accessibility and gives sailing times. It also gives plenty of detail about the shuttle bus service in Calais. 

Ferry booking tips:

a.     Find the booking link at the bottom of the Foot Passenger Information page.
b.     Select a return trip and add your travel dates. At this stage you don’t need to know exact ferry times so pick a morning one for Dover and an afternoon one for your return trip from Calais. 
P&o 1a
c.    Select the number of passengers. Foot passengers aren’t allowed to take pets so don’t check that box. You can add special assistance requirements on this screen. 
P&o 1b
d.     Under ‘Travelling by’ select ‘Foot Passenger’. Then click ‘Show times’. 
P&o 1c
e.     Select your outbound and return sailings making sure they align with your train connection times. You’ll have the option to hold the fares for 30 minutes while you double check connections. 
P&o 1d
f.      Add your details and buy your Dover-Calais ferry tickets.

Step 3 – Book French trains between Calais and Paris

French Train 1

Note: Ferries are more dependent on weather than trains, which means it’s a good idea to book flexible train tickets that allow you to change your train if necessary. This sometimes, but not always incurs a small additional cost.

French and European state-owned train operators SNCF-Connect have both a website and an app. I used the website to book tickets but recommend downloading the app as it gave us e-ticketing as well as excellent real-time information while we were travelling. 

a)    Download the SNCF-Connect app (App Store and Google Play).
b)    Open the SNCF-Connect website and create an account. Once you’ve done that, click the ‘Train’ link below ‘Where do you want to go?’
c)    Enter your arrival town, Paris then your departure town, Calais. Calais has two train stations so be careful to select ‘Calais City’ (aka Calais Ville) not Calais Frethun.
d)    Allowing at least two hours from your ferry arrival time in Calais, select your date and time. Screenshot Sncf 1d
e)    Add any additional travellers then click ‘See prices’.
f)     Click on possible options to bring up the travel information. Scroll down to check journey details. Direct Calais to Paris trains are available if you prefer but we found the changes easy. You can also check here whether your ticket will be modifiable (recommended). 
Screenshot Sncf 1f
g)    Once you’ve chosen your journey, click ‘Choose this ticket’. Then continue to payment. Depending on your train, you may be prompted to select seats.
h)    Once you’re logged into the SNCF-Connect app on your mobile device, you should be able to see your tickets. These are scannable at French train station barriers and by staff on French trains.

Step 4 - Book UK trains to and from Dover

Note: Mainline train journeys that require you to make a cross-London connection give you access to the London Underground via your mainline paper ticket. Look for the cross symbol on the ticket and use the ticket as you would a separate London Underground ticket (the barriers will return it to you). If in doubt, station staff are very helpful. 

We are lucky here in Devon to have great mainline connections to London and beyond. To book our UK train tickets I used the Trainsplit ticket-splitting app in conjunction with my Devon and Cornwall Railcard. 


The Trainsplit app makes it easy to find cheaper alternative journeys through split ticketing.


The app is available on both iOS and Android devices. Just search for "Trainsplit" in your app store and download the app today.


Ticket splitting and Regional Railcards

Splitting a long journey into shorter sections can often mean cheaper train fares. Trainsplit did this for me and presented me with different pricing and journey options.

Here’s what my Trainsplit search and results looked like:

The app allowed me to filter results according to my preferences. I went for ‘Best Value’.

As you can see below Trainsplit can present search results in a Grid or Timeline format. I choose grid as it allowed me to make comparisons more easily.

 Trainsplit 1b

Trainsplit 1c

Train journeys with cross-London connections

Because Devon trains come into London Paddington and Dover trains leave mainly from London St Pancras, our journey required us to use the London Underground to change stations.

This was all handled by the Trainsplit app but because TFL don’t allow digital tickets to be bought this way, I picked up paper tickets from the ticket machine at our local train station before we travelled.

The paper tickets included whole-journey tickets and seat reservations. We weren’t issued with separate Tube tickets, but I could see from the cross on our journey tickets that they included our Tube transfer.

Note: Tickets displaying this cross sign are only valid for travel for reasonable Tube journeys between your two mainline stations.

Step 5 – Optional overnight in Dover

Dover Travelodge Fi

If you’re travelling from London to Paris in one day, you won’t need this step, but we opted to spread our journeys and stayed at Travelodge Dover on our way out and Premier Inn Dover Central on our return. Both are a 15-minute walk from the P&O Eastern Ferry Terminal, and both offered us a friendly and conveniently located service with the option of dinner and breakfast. Next time we travel we might consider an overnight stop in Calais, which has similar budget accommodation available. 

Getting around Paris on public transport

Paris has a comprehensive public transport system that works in a similar way to the one we’re used to in London. Before you leave the UK, download the Île-de-France Mobilités app (App Store and Google Play). The app has several useful features: 

a.     Downloadable transport maps.
b.     E-ticket and travel pass purchases.
c.     Usable E-tickets on your mobile device.
d.     Realtime transport options.
e.     Access to the Paris Metro plus other transport options.

We enjoyed walking around Paris so much we decided not to use our Navigo Day Tickets to access the Metro. Week and month Navigo passes are also available if you’re staying longer. 

Paris Olympic venues will include iconic locations across the city and elsewhere in France. We travelled in April and preparations were in full swing with some areas of the city already off-bounds. Paris 2024 venues include a temporary stadium at the Eiffel Tower, urban sports at the Place de la Concorde, and fencing and Taekwondo under the glass roof of the Grand Palais.

It’s all going to be amazing, and we are tempted to return for the event itself.

FAQs

What was it like travelling from Dover to Calais as a ferry foot passenger?

Dover Fi Ferry 2

It was a bit like the good old days of slower travel. We travelled on two of P&O’s newest ferries and felt as though we had embarked on a cruise. With sundecks, shops, food stations and super comfy seating, the boats really did have something for everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and, despite gale force winds being forecast, barely felt any roll at all. 

How do I get from Dover Priory station to the ferry terminal?

Dover Ferry Terminal

It’s a slightly confusing and lorry-heavy 45-minute walk from Dover Priory station to the P&O ferry terminal. By taxi it only takes 10 minutes and there are usually taxis waiting outside the station and at the terminal.

How do I get from Calais ferry terminal to Calais Ville station?

Calais Baladin Bus 1

The free Balad’in bus runs a regular service between the ferry terminal building and various Calais locations. It stops right outside Calais Ville station, and you can pick it up across the road on your return journey. You can find more about times for this bus on P&O’s foot passenger information page but for real time information, download the Zenbus app (App Store and Google Play) It is possible to walk from the terminal into Calais, but the walk takes about an hour and is mostly through dockland.

How much time do I need to allow at the Dover and Calais ferry terminals?

Fi Dover Terminal 1

As a foot passenger, I recommend arriving at the ferry terminals at least two hours before your sailing time. This is to allow time for your bus transfer between the terminal and the ferry as well as passport and security checks. 

Where are the ferry check-in desks at Dover and Calais?

At Dover the P&O check-in desk is up the steps or ramp straight ahead of you as you enter the ferry terminal building (not the Port Reception desk to your right). To find the P&O foot passenger check-in desk at Calais, turn right as you enter the terminal building and head to the desk signed ‘ticket office’. 

Will I need to present my passport between Dover and Calais?

For foot passengers, the passport control and security systems are similar at Dover and Calais. You will initially be asked to present your passport when you check in. Once you are on board the bus that will take you to the ferry, you will be taken to passport control and security and given instructions. You will have to get off the bus, but the process isn’t difficult. We found the staff in both Dover and Calais very helpful.

How will I get onto the ferry if I travel without my car?

This depends on the ferry. Our bus drove us onboard, which was great because we were able to find seats before the car passengers arrived. At the end of each journey foot passengers were asked to wait at the on-board Information Desk before being taken down to the car deck to pick up the bus (hence the 30-minute suggested disembarkation time).

Should I use e-tickets or paper tickets for this journey?

We used a mixture of paper and e-tickets and experienced no problems with either. Because we’re super-cautious, we carried printed copies of all our tickets and saved screenshots of relevant e-tickets before each journey leg.

How good are Wi-Fi connections on this journey?

The ferry, all our UK and most of our French trains had free Wi-Fi and charging sockets. The only exception was the TER Regional train in France. You’ll need an adaptor for France and don’t forget to check your phone provider to find out about using data in Europe. 

Do I need passports and visas for this journey?

As a UK citizen, you’ll need your passport to travel to France. It needs to be valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave France and be less than 10 years old. You won’t need a visa to travel to the EU if you have a UK passport, but you’ll only be allowed to stay for 90 days in a 180-day period. Plenty of time to enjoy the Olympics and Paralympics if you wish.

Can I use my mainline train tickets on the London Underground?

Underground Sign 1

If you need to change stations in London and have purchased a through-ticket, that ticket should also allow you access to relevant Tube stations. Check your paper mainline ticket for a cross symbol or ask staff at the Underground stations if you’re unsure. We had absolutely no problems with either of our cross-London journeys, the ticket barriers returned our tickets each time.

Are French trains like UK trains?

Fi Ter Inside 1

The route between Calais and Paris is electrified so you’ll probably enjoy a quieter journey than you would in the UK. We used direct and changing routes and travelled on two types of train; the high-speed INOUI trains were modern, had upper decks and cafes, and were very long. The SNCF app helped us find our carriages and seats. The TER regional trains were older, stopped at more stations and didn’t have Wi-Fi or charging sockets, but they were still comfortable. Most importantly, on all our journeys, the train staff were friendly and helpful, and the SNCF-Connect app walked us through the processes.

What do I need to know about French train stations?

Fi Calais Ville Station 1

Just like in the UK, French train departures are listed on screens at each station. If you arrive early, you might need to wait for your platform number. Most platforms don't have seating, but all our French trains had boarding times that were a few minutes before departure.  Paris Gare du Nord (Paris Nord on announcements) and Lille Flandres are larger stations so leave yourself time to find your platform. Calais Ville train station is relatively small. If you find yourself with time between ferry and train in Calais, you can either explore the town or relax in the nearby and very lovely Parc Saint-Pierre.

Bon voyage!

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