Ferries & Cruise Ships

Ferry companies and services and in Spain

Ferries & Cruise Ships

Regular car and international ferry services operate all year round between Spain and the UK and Morocco, and domestic ferries run between the mainland and the Balearics, the Canaries and Spain’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Spain’s most important ports include Algeciras, Almeria, Barcelona, Bilbao, Cadiz, Las Palmas (Gran Canaria), Palma de Mallorca, Santander, Santa Cruz (Tenerife) and Valencia.

Three companies – Brittany Ferries, P&O and Trasmediterránea – operate ferry services between the UK and Spain (Santander and Bilbao). There’s little to choose between them for comfort, services and fares. Ships provide a variety of facilities and services, including a choice of bars and restaurants, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, cinema, shops, hairdressing salon, photographic studio, medical service, children’s playroom and evening entertainment, including a nightclub, casino, discotheque and live music.

The ferry companies offer various fare tariffs (depending on the time of year) and a choice of single fares, mini-cruises (spending around five hours in Spain or the UK), mini-breaks (five days abroad) and ten-day returns (up to ten days abroad), as well as standard return fares. Children aged under four (two or under with Trasmediterránea) travel free and those aged from 4 to 11 (Trasmediterránea), 14 (Brittany Ferries) or 15 (P&O) travel for half fare. It’s advisable to book well ahead when travelling during peak periods and at any time when you require a luxury cabin. If possible, it’s best to avoid travelling during peak times, when ships can be uncomfortably crowded.

Travelling between the UK and Spain by ferry will save you around 1,200km (750mi) of driving compared with travelling via France. Ferries can also be a cheaper way to travel, particularly with children and a car, as you don’t have to pay for air fares for children or (if you bring your car with you) car rental at your destination. Travelling from the UK to southern Spain by road (via France) entails spending three full days driving and making two overnight stops, plus meals and petrol costs, although it usually works out cheaper than the ferry if you use budget accommodation and don’t splash out on gourmet meals.

Note that the seas are often rough between Spain and the UK (the Bay of Biscay is famous for its swell) and travelling isn’t advisable during bad weather if you don’t travel well (sailings can also be delayed or cancelled due to bad weather in the Bay of Biscay). If you take a mini-cruise during stormy weather, you will have just a few hours’ respite from the rolling seas before having to endure the return journey! Check the weather report and be prepared to travel via France or fly. If you do travel by ferry, keep a good supply of seasickness pills handy!

Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries operate an almost year-round, once- or twice-weekly service between Plymouth in the UK and the Spanish port of Santander. The days and times of sailings vary according to the time of year. Always check the departure times carefully. The journey time is just over 20 hours between Plymouth and Santander, when one night is spent on board ship.

To book call UK 870-366 5333 or Spain 942-360 611 or visit the British or Spanish website (http://www.brittanyferries.co.uk  or http://www.brittanyferries.es ). Brittany Ferries runs a Property Owners’ Travel Club for frequent travellers, offering savings of up to one-third off single and standard return fares.

P&O Ferries

P&O Ferries operates a year-round, two or three times weekly service between Portsmouth in the UK and the Spanish port of Bilbao (the ferry port is actually at Santurtzi, around 13km/8mi northwest of the city centre). The journey takes 35 hours from Portsmouth and 29 hours from Bilbao. Ferries operate for most of the year. Like Brittany Ferries, P&O offers luxury cabins with a double bed, two easy chairs, writing desk, television (TV), shower, toilet, washbasin, two large windows and room service.

To book call UK 0870-598 0333 or Spain 902-020 461 or visit the website (http://www.poferries.com ). P&O offers several discount schemes, including ‘Homeowner Traveller’ with discounts of up to 45 per cent and annual season tickets.


Spain’s largest ferry company, Trasmediterránea, has recently introduced a ferry service between Portsmouth in the UK and the Spanish port of Bilbao. The service runs two or three times weekly for most of the year. The journey takes 29 hours from Portsmouth and 34 hours from Bilbao. Like the other ferry services, the Trasmediterránea service offers a range of cabin accommodation and on-board facilities such as pool, cinema, shops and restaurants. To book call Spain 902-454 645 (http://www.trasmediterranea.es ).

Other International Ferry Services

There are hourly car ferry services from Algeciras to Tangier and Ceuta and an additional hourly service from Algeciras to Tangier in summer (when there are usually long delays when thousands of Moroccan migrant workers return home). There’s also a ferry service from Gibraltar to Tangier, a year-round hydrofoil service from Tarifa to Tangier, and ferry services to Melilla from Almeria and Malaga.

Domestic Ferries

Domestic ferry services operate from mainland ports to the main Balearic and Canary islands, supplemented by inter-island services. Services include Barcelona to Palma, Ibiza and Mahon; Dénia to Ibiza and Palma; Gandía to Ibiza and Formentera and Valencia to Palma, Ibiza and Mahon. Services operate from Cadiz on the mainland to Tenerife, Las Palmas, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the Canaries. Tickets should be purchased in advance, particularly in summer, but can also be bought on board, when a surcharge is payable. There are various tariffs depending on the type of seat required (couchettes are available on night trips). Tickets for high speed ferries can sometimes be twice the price. Ferries carry cars, boat-trailers, buses and trucks, and are equipped with restaurants and coffee shops, bar-lounges, TVs, discotheques and shops. Ferries are very crowded in summer, with erratic schedules and a range of fares (shop around for the best deal).

There are regular inter-island ferries in the Balearics and Canaries, including a fast two-hour hydrojet service between Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza, and a regular ferry service from Ibiza to Formentera. Frequent inter-island ferry services also operate in the Canaries, including a hydrofoil service between all the islands. Most domestic routes to and from the mainland and the Balearic and Canary islands are operated by Compañía Trasmediterránea/TRAS) (for reservations 902-454 645, http://www.trasmediterranea.es ).

Trasmediterránea offers youths and retirees aged 60 or over a 20 per cent discount outside the high season to the Canaries and Africa, and a 38 per cent discount for residents of the Balearics or Canaries (you must present proof of this when you book your ticket). In the Balearics, ferry services include the following:

  •  Balearia (902-160 180, http://www.balearia.net ) – with ferries from Barcelona to the three main islands, from Denia (Costa Blanca) and Valencia to Ibiza and Majorca, and inter-island services;

In the Canaries, ferry services include:

  •  Fred Olsen (902-100 107, http://www.fredolsen.es ) – with services from Tenerife to La Gomera, Gran Canaria, El Hierro and La Palma;
  •  Naviera Almas (902-456 500, http://www.navieraalmas.com ) – offering routes from Tenerife to the western islands and from Gran Canaria to the eastern islands;
  •  Trasmediterránea – with routes between Cadiz and Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma, and inter-island services from Las Palmas to Santa Cruz, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

Cruise Ships

A number of companies operate cruise ships calling at Spanish ports such as Barcelona and Malaga (most Mediterranean cruises start from one of these two ports). Ships also call at Las Palmas and Lanzarote in the Canaries, Palma de Mallorca, and Gibraltar (which is also a major cruise port). Cruises are an increasingly popular holiday option among Spaniards and foreigners, and several cruise companies operate from Spain, such as ABCruceros, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruceros, MSC Cruceros and Pullmantur, offering a variety of cruise holidays to suit all pockets and tastes.

Most cruise lines offer large discounts for early booking, e.g. a general 40 per cent reduction or a 50 per cent reduction for the second person, and children often travel free.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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