We drove from London to Brussels and although the journey takes about six hours, it was quite an easy and cheap way to get there and back. From the north of London it is about a two hour drive to Dover. For those living in South London it is about half that.
Norfolkline ferries depart from Dover and make a two-hour crossing to Dunkerque, which is about fifteen minutes from the France-Belgium border and two hours from Brussels itself. Ferry tickets are extremely cheap and start at £19 for a one-way ticket, which includes the car, four people and just about as much luggage as your vehicle can hold.
Checking in and negotiating customs and immigration is far easier than at any airport as you never have to leave your car. The most any official will probably ask you to do is to wind down the window so they can take a look at the passengers in the back seat. You do need to take your passport and although we were never asked to show the ferry ticket confirmation it is probably wise to bring that as well.
Boarding opens 45 minutes before sailing but given that you have to clear immigration and customs, arriving an hour or more before departure is a good idea. The boarding system is very well organized, with large trucks and lorries having a completely separate holding area and loading ramp to cars. Once the cars are parked, the deck doors at those levels are locked and vehicles are not accessible during the crossing.
Facilities on board are adequate given the short sailing time with a duty free shop, children’s play area, bar, restaurant and access to outside decks. There is ample seating and we saw some people take over a few seats with pillows and blankets, making them into a temporary bed.
Disembarking couldn’t be any easier in Dunkerque as we simply drove off and right onto the A16 towards Belgium. On the return journey through Dover a short queue formed as border agents stopped random cars for questioning but otherwise the whole process is very smooth and a whole lot less painless than checking in for a flight. Also there is never the worry for being charged for excess baggage.