Guide to taking a bike on a ferry

Combining your bike trip with a ferry journey is a great way to travel. Photo Isle of Mull, Caledonian MacBrayne
Caledonian MacBrayne ferry with Isle of Mull
Caledonian MacBrayne ferry with Isle of Mull

Guide to taking a bike on a ferry

As a seafaring nation, it only makes sense for the UK's cyclists to combine cycling with a ferry trip. With this simple guide Cycling UK's Sam Jones provides some tips on what to expect and where you can travel with your bike.

When it comes to travelling with your bike, there are few methods more convenient than going by ferry. In most cases, it's simply a case of rolling into the port, walking on board pushing your wheels and then heading to the passenger deck. It's that simple.

Unlike arriving by plane, your cycling tour begins as soon as you disembark at your destination. You're immersed right into your destination from the start - surely a major reason for anyone's decision to travel. Many of my most memorable cycling adventures have begun and ended with a ferry, and the only thing I've ever needed to worry about is making sure I'm riding on the correct side of the road when I ride off.

Living on an island, the ability to take the sea lanes is a blessing as it really does open up our horizons for cycle travel without the hassle of boxing up a bike for flying or worrying whether there is sufficient space on the train. Whether you’re planning a trip to the Western Isles or the Isle of Wight, or to our European maritime neighbours in Ireland, France, Spain and the Netherlands all of these destinations are easily accessible with a bike and often affordably so too (fares start from £5).


Map of ferry routes from the UK. Credit Discover Ferries
Map of ferry routes from the UK. Credit Discover Ferries

With over 80 routes from the UK and with multiple operators working the lines, Cycling UK has been working with Discover Ferries (the industry body that represents 13 ferry operators in the UK and British Isles) to produce a guide for the cycle-ferry traveller. Together, we’ve produced a handy breakdown of some of the operators and their destinations which you can download (accurate as of April 2022) and also practical advice for travelling by ferry whether you’re just going with your bike/trike/tandem etc or are planning on attaching it to your vehicle.

There are of course numerous private operators too within the UK that provide crossings for rivers, lakes and lochs. These have not been included in this guide.

If on your travels you do have any thoughts (positive or negative) relating to the information we have provided, Cycling UK wants to hear about it - just pop any comments you might have in the box below (login required).

Looking for inspiration on where to ride? Head to our routes page for some suggestions!

Taking bikes as a foot passenger

DFDS Seaways on its way from Dover
Sailing from Dover. Photo DFDS

It’s easy to take a bike on a ferry as a foot passenger and cycle off into the sunset from the port, with one of the biggest benefits of cycling when taking the ferry being that often (but not always) you’re one of the first on and first off.

Passengers travelling with bicycles generally check in at the same time as other foot passengers. With car ferries, you'll usually be directed to queue in a dedicated lane where you will wait until directed to cycle up to the ferry ramp. Sometimes you may have to wait a while, and given it can be quite exposed you'll want to make sure you have the appropriate clothing to hand depending on the weather.

You will have to dismount from your bikes once you reach the vehicle ramp due to the risk of slipping off your bike on the wet metal, and then push your bicycle up the same vehicle ramp as that used by cars. Stewards will be on board to instruct cyclists where to leave and secure your bicycle. 

For foot ferries, you might have to access the vessel via a narrow gangway, so it's worth thinking about removing your luggage and making two trips. Depending on the tide you might also find in certain ports you can have a steep ascent or descent to make to reach the gangway.

Once on-board travellers will be shown where to park and secure their bicycle on the deck for the crossing. On car ferries your bike will be stowed on the car deck which is inaccessible once the ferry leaves so make sure to stow anything that could be knocked off the bike – lights, bike computers etc – and make sure to take the luggage you need.

On foot ferries, frequently your bike will also be inaccessible and occasionally exposed to the elements, so make sure all your luggage is securely fastened, saddles covered (especially leather ones) and components are packed away.

How your bike will be secured during your journey will depend on the operator. It can be to the floor, wall or a railing for the crossing. There will usually be some rope to help fix your bike, which is your responsibility. It's worth learning a couple of simple knots such as the Bowline and/or Reef knot to help with this. Bringing your own bungee or other means of securing your bike is recommended at all times, but particularly during peak times when there are more travellers,

For further information relating for some of ferry operators leaving the UK see below:

Brittany Ferries

Accepts bicycles with foot passenger bookings for a small additional fee charge on routes between Portsmouth and France (Caen, Saint Malo, Cherbourg and Le Havre), Portsmouth to Spain (£75 for cycle carriage between Santander and Bilbao) Poole to Cherbourg and Plymouth to Roscoff in France, or Plymouth to Santander in Spain. For the Portsmouth to Spain route, Cycling UK has heard some reports of people bagging their bikes and taking them on as luggage when booked as a foot passenger to avoid the £75 fee.

Caledonian MacBrayne

Accepts bicycles with foot passengers free of charge on its multiple routes to from Scotland’s West Coast to islands from Arran to North Uist. Passengers travelling to the terminal by train will need to check with Scot Rail to check if they need to book their bikes onto the connecting train service. 

Condor Ferries

If you’re travelling as a foot passenger there’s no charge for taking your bike, but space is limited, so you need to include the bike when you make your booking, by selecting ‘Bicycle - wheeled on’ in the Extras page. 

DFDS

Accepts bicycles as part of a car booking for no additional charge on its routes between Newcastle and Amsterdam, Dover Calais, Dover to Dunkirk and Newhaven to Dieppe. It also accepts foot passengers with bikes from £25 per person each way. The DFDS website is packed with useful cycling tips and cycling route advice. 

John O'Groats Ferries

Accepts bicycles for no additional charge with no booking required. Cyclists are requested to arrive at least 30 mins before scheduled departure. There is a connecting coach transfer between the ferry port Burwick (Orkney) and Kirkwall for every ferry for an extra £1 on the foot passenger fare. Services leave in the morning and evening all year round, with an extra mid-morning service laid on in the mid-morning during the peak season June, July and August. 

Hover Travel

Bicycles are carried free of charge to and from the Isle of Wight, however, and it is usually possible to carry upto four bicycles per hovercraft subject to freight and luggage. Check if there is space for your bicycle(s) on the crossing you wish to travel on at the terminal before purchasing your ticket. There is no pre-booking and it is based on a first come first served basis only. 

P&O Ferries

Accepts bicycles as part of a car booking for no additional charge on its routes between Dover and Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, and Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne, Northern Ireland. Foot passengers can also travel with a bike. A clever interactive adventure planner on its website gives ideas for cycling adventures and gives tips about travelling to watch professional cycling overseas. P&O Ferries doesn’t accept bicycles on its Liverpool to Dublin route.*

*Above information was accurate prior to P&O Ferries actions on 17 March 2022. Please check P&O Ferries website for updates

Pentland Ferries

Accepts bicycles for no additional charge. The route goes between Gills Bay, which is three miles from John O'Groats and up through Scapa Flow to the conservation village of St Margaret's Hope on Orkney, which sits 15 miles south from the island's capital Kirkwall. Last check in is 30 minutes before scheduled departure. 

Red Funnel

Accepts bicycles for no extra charge on its route from Southhampton to East and West Cowes. It’s worth noting that bikes cannot be carried on the Red Jet Hi-Speed service because of the design of the ship unless they are of the folding type and carried in a purpose designed bag.


Red Funnel ferry
Journeys at sun set can be magical. Photo Red Funnel

Stena Line

Accepts bicycles for a £10 charge on its routes between Cainryan in Scotland and Belfast, Liverpool to Belfast, Holyhead to Dublin, Harwich to Hook of Holland and Fishguard to Rosslare. Check each service to see whether you are allowed to cycle on to the landing deck or if your cycle is transported differently in a transport van. If your bike is transported in the van, consider protecting the frame as Cycling UK has received reports of users frames being scratched when left unsecure.  

Wightlink

Allows foot passengers to take a bike free of charge on routes from Lymington to Yarmouth, and Portsmouth to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Its website site is also packed with tips about cycling on the island and cycle festival details. 

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

Allows foot passengers to take a bike free of charge. They operate regular ferry sailings to the Isle of Man from Heysham and Liverpool (Birkenhead during winter) and seasonal sailings from Belfast and Dublin. 

Isles of Scilly Steamship Group

Packs bikes into a luggage hold and therefore must be booked in advance due to the limited availability of space. Bicycles are £28.84 return (inc trailers) and children’s bikes and scooters (under 5) are £10. 

Irish Ferries

Bicycles are permitted on board all crossings including Dublin – Holyhead, Rosslare to Pembroke and Rosslare to Cherbourg/ Roscoff. Foot passengers can travel with a bike from £10/ €10 each way. 

MBNA Thames Clippers

Cyclists can sail through the heart of London on the ferry services, stopping off regularly and sightseeing by bike from each pier. MBNA Thames Clippers serve 22 piers across London, from Putney in the West to Woolwich in the East. Each ferry has space for up to 10 cycles on a first come, first-served basis at no extra charge. 


Person loads pedal bike onto bike rack on Thames Clippers boat on a sunny day.
Taking bikes on a car

Family car about to board DFDS
Family car about to board. Photo DFDS

Discover Ferries points out that the majority of passengers taking ferry holidays with bikes simply strap them onto their cars, caravans, or motorhomes in racks or boxes. The pricing of taking bikes on a vehicle is simple – passengers just need to include the additional height and length of the vehicle when making their normal ferry booking for their car.

While the booking process is simple, it is worth remembering that rear mounted cycle racks can obscure rear lights and number plates so car owners may need a lighting board with number plate and electrical supply to ensure their car and bike racks are legally roadworthy.

If you're thinking about travelling this way, and are not sure about what type of car rack you might need, Cycling UK has produced a guide for car racks to help you out. 

For further information relating for some of ferry operators leaving the UK see below:

Red Funnel

Return crossings between Southampton and East Cowes start from £49 for an average size car. Bikes attached to an overhead bike rack can be carried for £5 each way if between 2m -2.7m in height, or for £20.50 each way if over 2.7m in height. They are free of charge if under 2m or attached to the bike rack on the back of the car. 

Stena Line

Return crossings on Harwich to Hook of Holland start from £118 for two adults and a car with a bike rack (attached at the back of the car). Return crossings from Cairnryan to Larne start from £302, and from Holyhead to Dubin from £310, for a standard car with a bike rack attached to the back of the car. 

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company 

Crossings to the Isle of Man from Heysham and Liverpool and seasonal sailings from Belfast and Dublin start from £113.50 each way for a car with a bike rack attached and two people for departures between 9th June and 5th September this summer. 

Wightlink

Return crossings on its Portsmouth - Fishbourne route start from £57 for an average size car. Car ferries also operate between Lymington and Yarmouth. Vehicles carrying bicycles will be charged an additional cost if the bicycles add additional height or length to your vehicle – see Vehicle size guide for details.


Passengers stand on blue deck of ferry and look towards white yacht and Lymington in the distance. The weather is sunny.

Brittany Ferries

Return crossings on its Portsmouth/Caen route start from around £260 for a standard size car (up to 5m long and 1.83m high) with rear-mounted bicycle rack for departures between 1 July to 31 August. 

DFDS

Crossings on the Dover-Calais route start from £68 one way for a standard  car with a bike rack attached for departures this summer. 

Irish Ferries

Return crossings on both UK to Ireland routes start from £312 for a standard size car and driver, with a bike rack attached, for departures in May, June. A return crossing from Dover to Calais starts from £118 for a standard size car, with a bike rack attached behind..

P&O Ferries

For a standard size car with the bike rack attached to the back of the car a return crossings on the Dover to Calais route starts from £63 each way, on the Cairnryan to Larne route from £114 each way and on the Hull to Rotterdam route from £159 each way.*

*Above information was accurate prior to P&O Ferries actions on 17 March 2022. Please check P&O Ferries website for updates

Caledonian MacBrayne 

Return crossings on the Wemyss Bay (a short car or train journey from the centre of Glasgow) to Rothesay (Isle of Bute) route start from £37.50 for a standard size car and two adult passengers with a bike rack attached free of charge. 


Two cyclists push bikes and carry bags onto ferry on a sunny day.
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Comments

Why no reference to the Channel Island ferries?

A good point! This is still a work in progress, so this sort of input is really helpful. We'll definitely be looking to include these, and the ferries to Shetland and Orkney too. Thanks!

I have a few years experience of using these links, unlike Sam, found the boarding process to be unfriendly for cyclists. 

  1. I have not found it possible to get any information about when bikes will be allowed go board.  The usual response to the question is "well it's down to the marshals".  Consequently I have never been able to turn up and board, there is always an extended wait between check-in and boarding, with little of no information available at when boarding will be allowed, which makes it difficult to park the bike and find much needed shelter.
  2. Portsmouth terminal is particularly unfriendly as the passenger facilities are all located before check-in.  The bike racks are out doors and cannot readily be observed from the facilities in the terminal, and bikes are not allowed in the terminal itself.
  3. None of the ports has any covered shelter for use when between check-in and boarding, so when it is wet there is no alternative but to stand out there in the rain, and for late evening crossings, that can get very cold.
  4. Far from being allowed on first, I've had to wait for up to 2 hours, in the open air, while lorries are checked and loaded.
  5. I'd love to know how Sam manages to be "first in the bar", but then the film clip was made with Brittany Ferry's help.

I echo many of Duncan Murray's experiences. Vehicular drivers and passengers are protected from the weather, maybe motor cyclists are to some degree by their leathers, but cyclists have a lightweight cag at best.  Secure / easily viewed parking for bikes with access to the cafe and loos should be the 'norm'; if not then a heated conveniently located shelter is next best.  I have experienced '2-wheel comraderie' with motor cyclists so any facilities should be good for them too.  Our best experience - leaving Europort for Hull - the Dutch really do know how to prioritorise cyclists.  Fred

FYI bicycles are treated as luggage, travelling either direction, Holyhead- Dublin or Dub - Holyhead. The bicycle is taken off you at check in and manhandled onto a luggage truck, which is then driven onto and travels with the ferry, then on the far side, you will find it in the baggage hall, on both occasions, B4 I arrived in the baggage hall myself, unceremoniously propped up against a wall. A bit disconcerting, esp if you have a very valuable bike and the baggage hall in Dublin was full of members of the public and stag weekend revellers :(

On the Birkenhead to Belfast ferry you are made to put your bike on to a rather decrepit truck, which then takes your bike through the car park to the ferry.  My bike fell over and was dragged on its side, tearing up my nice new, and rather expensive pannier.  When I asked for compensation they said I had agreed to terms which meant I had to meet the first £320 in damages.

My experience in 2021 is similar. Woefully inadequate bike ‘trailer’ towed behind the luggage van. Only room for 6 bikes in total!! Cable ties are available to secure the bike but high risk of damage especially if rough weather.

I emailed Stena to complain and suggested improvements but never got a reply. Very disappointing customer service.

Encourage more members to lobby Stena to improve the service to travelling cyclists on the Irish-UK routes

While I understand using a 'ready-made' map like that provided by Discover Ferries, I made my own map (years ago) and keep it updated. The impetus was to enable me  - at a glance - to spot 'circular' routes that are interesting and different. eg getting to Scotland by going via France.  Or a loop Ireland to Scotland and back by different routes.

So - while I understand the map (3 years later?) still doesn't include the Orkneys and Shetland, or Channel Islands (and don't forget Alderney, and connections from the islands to France), it needs some other updates such as:

Add Kintyre Express with its 2 routes between NI and Scotland. 

Delete Oban - Lochboisdale route which now goes Mallaig - Lochboisdale.

What about the Weymouth - St Malo route?

And Rosslare - Bilbao ?

There are various short but vital Scottish ferries missing, eg Arran (Lochranza) to Kintyre, Lismore to Oban and to Port Appin.  And the ferry across the Kyle of Lochalsh.  And the 2 vital linking ferries in the Outer Hebrides.

(later) 2 more come to mind, Tobermory to Ardnamurchan, and Mull to Loch Aline, both vital for interesting cycling in that part of the world. Oh, and the short hop ferries to Iona, Ulva, Gigha, and probably others.

I suggest the biggest 'missing piece' is a much better map, or maps.  Happy to share mine if contacted.

One aspect of taking a bike by ferry, perhaps the first step in the journey, is making a booking, where that is needed. These days, that will often be done online. Sadly, not all operators make this process easy for those wishing to take their bike(s). For example, in the P&O and DFDS booking systems, you can choose 'Bicycle' when asked for vehicle details but if you are a group, say two parents and two children, and specify 4 people, the booking system only lists a single bike with no option to update the number. This is hardly bike-friendly. Stena and Brittanly Ferries, on the other hand, allow you to specify the number of bikes form the outset.

Booking passage on a ferry would appear to be as challenging as trying to book a ticket for a bike on a (UK) train ... but that's another story!