12 Hours In Boulogne

There are so many great things to do on a day trip to Calais, but our very favourite of these will always be to spend 12 hours in Boulogne playing on the beach and practicing our French!

Heading over to France for the day during school holidays has been something we’ve done for the past few years now, yet until last April we hadn’t ever ventured further than Calais.

However with the good weather arriving, and family friends joining us on the trip, we decided to be brave, drive a little further round the coast, and enjoy 12 hours in Boulogne.

12 hours in Boulogne

8.30am – Set Sail

P&O are our ferry company of choice the fares are always reasonable, even for peak crossings, plus there are many great deals to be had.  This Easter holidays crossing cost us just £24 return for the car and up to 5 passengers, plus they threw in a voucher for 6 bottles of wine for free onboard.

An early start is essential for making the most of your 12 hours in Boulogne as the ferry crossing takes 1.5 hours each way, however we have our breakfast on the boat to save time when arriving in France and so that we can hang on a little later for lunch.

For a quicker crossing you could take the Le Shuttle, but with speed comes the lack of views and excitement that a ferry crossing brings!

11am  (French Time) – Remember To Drive On The Right

After leaving the Ferry you have two choices. You can take the A16 and drive direct to Boulogne in around half hour, or enjoy the, hour long, more scenic route along the coast taking in some quaint French towns and breathtaking sea views along the way.

After reading these great tips for taking a European road trip from the lovely Mummy Barrow, we decided maps, local radio and coastal roads were the way forward for this visit!

12 hours in Boulogne

12noon – Hit The Beach

Even after spending just 12 hours in Boulogne its clear this town has a lot to offer its visitors, from fresh fish to old town charm, but its crowning glory for us will always be the beach. Little O squealed when she saw it appear, all that open sand just for us!

There is a free car park available right by the beach, the water is clear and shallow and the sand goes on for miles making it the perfect place to stretch those legs after a good few hours of travelling.

12 hours in Boulogne  12 hours in Boulogne 12.45pm – Stroll Into Town 

The walk from the beach heading into the town centre passes some wonderful fresh fish stalls (at such great prices), a play park and crazy golf centre before turning away from the sea wall uphill into town.

From here you can wind your way though the streets towards Place Dalton, the old-town cobbled square, where you find the main cafes and restaurants, plus two open air markets each week on Wednesday and Saturdays.

12 hours in Boulogne1.15pm  – Eat In The Old Town Square

With so much fun being had, bellies will be rumbling loudly by now! Place Dalton is lined with lovely places to eat (Le Welsh is my particular favourite), but if you can’t choose a restaurant then a picnic on the steps of the old town church with a feast from Lestienne is always a winner on a warm day.

2.30pm – Visit Europe’s Biggest Aquarium

Boulogne is home to Naussica, Europe’s largest aquarium. The perfect after lunch treat for the children.

12 hours in Boulogne

4pm – Head To Wine Warehouses

No 12 hours in Boulogne would be complete without a trip to the Calais Wine Superstore. This place is like a grown-up sweet shop, plus there is the bonus of trying before you buy!

Sadly I was driving so could only have a sip of the wines we were looking to buy, but other members of the party got stuck in to discovering new wines for their basket.

12 hours in BoulogneIf wine isn’t your thing, there is a more electric mix of shops to be found just down the road at Cite Europe.

7pm – Return To The Port

Check-in for your crossing normally closes 30 to 45 minutes before departure so be sure to check what time you need to arrive at port.

8pm – Dinner On The Boat

Most ferry companies offer a hot buffet service on their crossings, but we much prefer to grab some french bread, cheese and cold meats before leaving Boulogne to create our own picnic dinner onboard.

8.30pm (English Time) Say Hello Once Again To Those Iconic White Cliffs

Vera Lyn did have a point…those cliff are rather magical to see as the sun is setting over the English Channel!

12 hours in Boulogne

Spending 12 hours in Boulogne is a wonderful, albeit tiring, way to enjoy a quick trip to France…..it sure beat spending the school holidays at soft play!




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  1. Sounds like you had a great time and the timing was perfect. The weather looks great too.
    I like making a schedule too, so I don’t miss anything. 🙂

  2. Looks like you managed to squeeze in a lot, and I love that you have your own picnic on the ferry on the way home. Great idea, and stays authentic to your French day out 🙂

  3. Gosh this sounds fabulous and that crossing is so cheap. I’ve never yet taken the kids abroad so we really must get organised and do something like this, you’ve made it sound so easy. Mich x

  4. Years ago I used to go on regular day trips to Boulonge with my parents. There was the ferry to Calais but from Folkstone you could sail directly to Boulogne – I’m showing my age! We always looked around the town and had a lovely lunch in the same restaurant before heading to the hypermarket.

  5. I am so glad you have written this article – i have seen the ferry deal and have put it on my list but was worried about timings. You have literally answered all of my questions in one post. Thanks Alice. Looks like you all had a fab time. I have been to the wine warehouse a few times before and looking forward to going back!

    1. I also have a post in draft called ‘5 places to go on a day ferry to Calais’ with other things to do – will send it your way once live. Pleased to have been of help. X

  6. Oh it does bring back some memories. I went twice to Boulogne on school day trips – quite an undertaking for a school in Birmingham. In those days you could go Dover-Boulogne on the ferry which made it easier.

    1. We find it fine – the girls have being doing it since they were 4 and 2. Let us know how you get on

  7. Boulogne is so much nicer than Calais, it’s pretty for a start! And the drive along the coast is beautiful, it seems you had an action packed but very fulfilling day out. I did a summer course in French in Boulogne nearly 20 years ago and remember it well. #citytripping

  8. Brilliant! We are so lucky to be so close to France in the UK, all that wine and cheese, and that gorgeous empty beach! We recently did the ferry journey back from here for my son’s first visit to the UK – those white cliffs almost made me cry! 🙂

  9. A great way to spend a day in France – and with ferry prices like that would be bonkers not to go! The beach there is gorgeous – and pretty empty too which is a bonus. I love the picture of the two girls in the store – so cute! Thanks for linking to #citytripping

  10. What a fab thing to do! Feeling inspired to do the same. Bit of a longer crossing for us from Cornwall, we’re going to France for 3 weeks in the summer, can’t wait!

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