When you picture exploring the UK, what comes to mind? Most people consider romantic city breaks, a hiking trip in a national park, or perhaps a road trip – usually driving around Scotland. Ferry trips are often overlooked yet can be some of the best adventures that the UK offers.
Holidays by ferry can get you to the UK’s remote, less explored regions. You’ll often find fewer tourists and more wildlife in these isolated destinations. Of course, you can also use ferry trips to link major cities, like Liverpool and Belfast.
These are the best holidays by ferry to take in the UK. Why drive or fly when you can sail the seas? You’ll be sipping a beer while spotting dolphins in no time.
Ferry from Liverpool to Belfast
Travelling from: Liverpool (England) to Belfast (Northern Ireland)
Duration: 8 hours
You’ve probably heard of this route. Liverpool to Belfast is one of the most famous holidays by ferry to take in the UK.
Stenaline runs twice daily departures from Liverpool to Belfast, with one day crossing and one night crossing. As of 2022, the day crossing departs at 10:30 am and arrives at 18:30 pm, while the night crossing departs at 22:30 pm and arrives at 06:30 am.
Crossing in the day is perfect if you want to enjoy the ferry trip and have a mini cruise experience. Each ferry has a licensed bar, kids’ play area, amusement arcade, and restaurants. You can also head out onto the decks to watch the ocean – sometimes spotting dolphins! If you really want to spot marine life, we’d recommend bringing a pair of binoculars and a warm blanket.
Of course, crossing overnight also has its benefits. If you are working a 9-5, you can finish work on a Friday night and catch the ferry straight to Belfast.
You can maximise your weekend in Belfast by arriving early Saturday morning. You also save money on accommodation, which you’d have to purchase for Friday night if you flew instead. If crossing overnight, you can ‘rough it’ and sleep in the lounge areas or book a cabin for more privacy.
Why visit Belfast? The Northern Irish capital is a cultured and beautiful city. You could happily spend a weekend in Belfast as a city break. Alternatively, use it as a launchpad to explore more of Northern Ireland. If you rent a car, you could easily visit the Mourne Mountains, Giant’s Causeway, and Derry in a week or two.
If you need any extra inspiration, you can read my existing guide on things to do in Belfast.
Ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan
Travelling from: Belfast (Northern Ireland) to Cairnryan (Scotland)
Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Website: https://www.stenaline.co.uk/routes/ belfast-cairnryan/
So, I’ve covered Belfast as a city break. But what if you want to depart from Northern Ireland on a ferry trip to Scotland? The good news is that this is an easy trip.
You can also use Stena Line to cross from Belfast to Cairnryan. Stena Line runs six services a day, meaning you have a lot of departure choices. As of 2022, these departure times are: 03:30 am, 07:30 am, 11:30 am, 15:30 pm, 19:30 pm, and 23:30 pm. Onboard, you’ll have all the standard facilities like restaurants, a licensed bar, a kids’ play area, and an amusement centre. You will often spot dolphins en route, so keep your eyes peeled!
Because the crossing takes only 2 hours and 15 minutes, it is best to aim for a departure between 07:30 am and 19:30 pm. The 3:30 am and 23:30 pm crossing are pretty inconvenient and arrive at such unsociable hours that you probably won’t utilise your time in Cairnryan very well.
But why should you visit Cairnryan? In short, Cairnryan is a scenic place to visit and has great access to attractions and nearby Glasgow. Cairnryan is a fantastic introduction to Scotland if you are short on time.
You can explore the nearby Galloway Forest Park, where there are waterfalls, deer, and crags to hike. Galloway Forest Park gives you a Highland experience without you actually venturing to the Highlands National Park. The Red Deer Range is amazing to get close to semi-feral deer!
You can also venture into Glasgow from Cairnryan if you want a Scottish city experience. It is a two-hour drive up the coast, passing Culzean Castle, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, and Dean Castle Country Park.
Ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly
Travelling from: Penzance (England) to the Isles of Scilly (England)
Duration: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Planning a holiday to Cornwall? Consider adding a detour to the Isles of Scilly to your trip.
You can catch a ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly in under three hours on the Scillonian Ferry. On the ferry, there is a café, reclining seats for lounging, and outdoor decks for passengers to access. You’ll want to bring a blanket and binoculars for the decks! You can spot basking sharks, dolphins, seals, and puffins on the crossing.
Just one thing to note: Scillonian Ferry only operates from March until November. And, even in this period, the ferry schedule is slightly hectic, with a single service in a day which varies in departure time. You could leave at 6:30 am on one day and 13:30 pm on the next. It is best to check the timetable online when booking and book in advance to avoid disappointment. Of course, the benefit of a limited schedule is that you know you are heading off-the-beaten-path!
Why should you visit the Isles of Scilly? The archipelago is remote, relatively untouched, and lesser travelled. If you want a peaceful holiday that feels like an international escape even though it is still in the UK, the Isles of Scilly is a great shout. Plus, the whole archipelago is an Area of Natural Beauty – enough said.
Ferry from Scrabster to the Orkney Islands
Travelling from: Scrabster (Scotland) to the Orkney Islands (Scotland)
Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Fancy heading to a remote paradise in the north, not the south? The Orkney Islands are for you.
North Link Ferries run services from Scrabster to Stromness three times a day during the week. You can catch a ferry from Monday to Friday at 08:45 am, 13:15 pm, or 19:00 pm. While, at the weekend, you can depart twice daily at 12:00 pm and 19:00 pm.
North Link Ferries have great onboard facilities. You can watch a film at the cinema, shop, eat at your choice of restaurant, or catch up on some rest in a cabin. Keep your eyes out for any marine life from the outdoor decks, too, as dolphins, whales, porpoises, and orcas frequent the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Orkney Islands are fantastic to visit. Obviously, the wild, untamed natural scenery makes the islands a hot spot for adventurous tourists. However, the Orkneys are also known for neolithic UNESCO heritage sites, excellent whisky, and wildlife spotting opportunities. The most famous historical site on the Orkneys is Skara Brae – an ancient dwelling site older than the Pyramids in Egypt!
Ferry from Aberdeen to the Shetland Islands
Travelling from: Aberdeen (Scotland) to the Shetland Islands (Scotland)
Duration: 12 hours and 30minutes
If you are planning a visit to or live near Aberdeen, how about an exciting trip to the Shetland Islands? This journey is the most expeditionary out of all our holidays by ferry to take in the UK.
North Link Ferries run a single daily service from Aberdeen to Lerwick, the main harbour in the Shetlands. Unfortunately, the timetable only offers night voyages to the Shetlands, departing at 17:00 pm or 19:00 pm, depending on the day. All ferries arrive at 7:30 am in Lerwick, with the later departing services running directly to Lerwick and earlier departing services stopping briefly at the Orkney Islands.
If you can, plan the ferry trip in summer to enjoy more daylight hours. This way, you’ll be able to watch for marine life on the decks, enjoy sunset and sunrise on the ocean, and appreciate the scenery on the way.
Booking a cabin is probably a good idea for this longer North Link service. However, there are reclining chairs if you want a frugal trip.
Why visit the Shetland Islands? Well, because they are easily one of the best places to visit in Scotland. Whether you want to go whale watching, come face-to-face with Shetland ponies, or discover archaeological sites, the Shetland Islands have a lot on offer. If you feel stuck in a rut and need some adventurous UK travel, I’d highly suggest jumping on a ferry from Aberdeen.
Ferry from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight
Travelling from: Portsmouth (England) to the Isle of Wight (England)
Duration: 45 minutes
If you are based in London (or just want an adventure down south), I’d recommend a ferry trip from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.
Wight Link runs an impressive number of daily services from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. Between 05:00 am and 20:00 pm, you can catch a ferry every hour. While, outside of these peak travel times, you can catch ferries at 03:00 am, 22:00 pm, and 23:59 pm.
The trip only takes 45 minutes, so it is an easy crossing for families, elderly travellers, or those that get seasick. Onboard, each Wight Link ferry has slightly different facilities. You can expect to find restaurants, pet-friendly areas, and sun decks on each ferry. However, it is worth checking ahead if you desperately want a specific facility like a children’s play area, which only some ferries have.
The Isle of Wight is a great place to visit and, while admittedly popular, is popular for a good reason. Since the Victorian Era, the island has been a major holiday destination and shows no sign of slowing down! The most famous natural feature on the Isle of Wight is The Needles – a chalk rock formation on the coast. But the Isle of Wight is also known for its music festival, Blackgang Chine Amusement Park, and stunning hikes. In short, the Isle of Wight is a dreamy coastal destination, which is a little more exciting to get to and more natural than coastal cities like Blackpool.
Ferry from Poole to Guernsey
Travelling from: Poole (England) to Guernsey (England)
Duration: 3 hours
Guernsey is certainly a UK destination less travelled. Tourists are quick to whisk themselves away to destinations like the Isle of Wight or Belfast, but Guernsey is much less visited. Of course, don’t tell everyone this – you’ll find a mix of laidback residential areas and remote natural beauty.
Condor Ferries run sporadically and often have limited services depending on the season. The website says that services run four times a week, but their timetable shows single daily services. I’d recommend planning a trip in advance and contacting Condor Ferries to confirm service timings if needs be.
And why should you visit Guernsey? First and foremost, for the peace and quiet. Guernsey is the perfect place to master the art of the dolce far niente – the sweet art of doing nothing. Full of beaches and isolated, picturesque chapels, Guernsey is rumoured to be home to fairies and witches. But even if these are just myths, the island makes a pretty magical-looking holiday destination.
UK Ferries FAQS
Can you take pets on UK ferries?
Yes, on most ferries, you can bring pets. Check with individual ferry companies about their exact pet policies, as there may be different requirements. Typically, ferries will allow pets to be kept securely in cars, in carriers, or may have pet-friendly areas onboard.
Should I book a foot passenger ticket or bring a car?
This question massively depends on where you are going. For a city break in Belfast, a foot passenger ticket is cheaper and probably the best bet, as you won’t need a car to explore the city. However, if you are going to the Shetland Islands, bringing a car is a good idea.
Will I get seasick on UK ferries?
Some people will get seasick on UK ferries. However, services are typically altered to avoid bad weather, so you shouldn’t experience too rough a crossing.
If you are prone to seasickness, bring ginger tablets, take anti-seasickness tablets beforehand, remember to eat, and bring warm layers to sit on the decks and get fresh air.
What luggage can you bring on UK ferries?
How much luggage you can bring varies from ferry to ferry. Check on the website for exact luggage allowances for every individual company before sailing.
Hopefully, you’ve found some inspiring holidays by ferry. The UK has some fascinating destinations to explore and reach by ferry, so consider a ferry journey to reach your next holiday spot.
Feel free to drop any recommendations in the comments below. Happy sailing!