Taking your dog by train to Europe...

Dogs on trains...  Experienced canine train traveller Astrid.  Photo courtesy of Wendy Shillam

Warning about pet travel from 1 January 2021:  see  www.gov.uk/guidance/pet-travel-to-europe-after-brexit for official advice.

How to take your dog by train...

This gets asked surprisingly often, as it's difficult and expensive to send dogs, cats or other pets abroad by air, and pets find it very stressful travelling alone in the hold of a plane.  So why not take your dog by train, the civilised and comfortable overland option?  The biggest issue is that Eurostar doesn't allow dogs at all, except guide dogs.  But don't worry, there are alternatives - this page explains the options for civilised & enjoyable train travel between the UK and key European destinations with your dog, cat or other pet.

small bullet point  Step 1, taking your dog on trains in the UK

small bullet point  Step 2, getting your dog across the Channel

small bullet point  Step 3, taking dogs on trains in mainland Europe

Pet passport, microchip, vaccinations...

Before you start, you'll need to make sure your dog or pet complies with the necessary rules & regulations of the PET Travel Scheme, including being fitted with a microchip, and having a pet passport and the necessary vaccinations, see www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/pets/travel for details of the latest rules.

Warning about pet travel from 1 January 2021:  Brexit is likely to ruin the ability to travel freely between countries with your dog, see www.gov.uk/guidance/pet-travel-to-europe-after-brexit for official advice.  However, PET Passport arrangement remain in place during the transition period in 2020.

Step 1, taking a pet on British trains

This bit is easy.  You can take dogs, cats and other small animals with you free of charge on all British trains, up to a maximum of two per passenger, as long as they do not endanger or inconvenience passengers or staff.  Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times unless contained in a basket.  Dogs without leads, cats, birds and small animals must be carried in an enclosed basket, cage or pet carrier which must be rigid and not open (to prevent escape) and the animal able to stand and lie down in comfort.  Animals and containers must not occupy seats, otherwise a charge may be made.  If you want to use a Caledonian Sleeper to or from Scotland, you'll need to pay a fee, see here.  For full details of dog & pet regulations on British trains see www.nationalrail.co.uk/passenger services/luggage animals.html.  So far, so good.

Step 2, getting across the Channel

Let's get the biggest problem out of the way first:  Eurostar doesn't carry dogs or pets at all, except guide dogs.  And most ferry operators won't let foot passengers take dogs either.  In fact, there are only three ferry operators who let foot passengers take dogs, Stena Line Harwich to Hoek van Holland, P&O Hull-Rotterdam, DFDS Newhaven-Dieppe & Newcastle-Amsterdam.  You could of course dress your dog as a guide dog, pretend to be blind, and take Eurostar.  Indeed, I'm only half joking, as the Eurostar journey would be so simple compared to some of the other options, though I must admit I haven't yet heard from anyone who has actually tried it.  Difficult to be convincing if your dog is a Yorkshire Terrier, unless he's a very good actor.  But more realistically, here are the options for crossing the Channel with your dog or pet:

small bullet point  Option 1, by ferry Harwich-Hoek van Holland

small bullet point  Option 2, Folkestone Taxis Folkestone-Calais

small bullet point  Option 3, by ferry Newhaven-Dieppe

small bullet point  Option 4, by ferry from Hull or Newcastle

  The dog-freindly train *& efrry route to Europe:  The Stena Line ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland

London to Holland by Stena Line Rail & Sail ...  A train takes you from London Liverpool Street station directly to the ferry terminal at Harwich, with your dog at your side.  You walk off the train into the terminal, walk through a painless security check, get your boarding card & cabin key and walk straight onto the overnight ferry to Hoek van Holland, settling your dog into the on-board kennels.

  Captain's class cabin on the 'Stena Hollandica'

Cosy cabins:  The overnight Harwich-Hoek ferry is a floating hotel.  All passengers travel in a cosy private cabin with en suite shower & toilet and satellite TV.  This is a Captain's class cabin with double bed and complimentary minibar...

Secure door to the kennels on the ferry

Clean & secure kennel... On the ferry, Kennels A & B are located on Red Stairs on 8 Deck, just below the main passenger deck (9 Deck) & cabin decks (10 & 11).  The door has a 4-digit security code lock so only pet owners can enter.

Kennel on the Stena Line ferry Harwich to Hoek van Holland

Inside the kennel...  The kennels have large and small cages and a washbasin.  Cats & dogs are not allowed in cabins or passenger areas, but it's only for one night and you can access the kennels at any time during the crossing...

Channel 6 on your cabin TV views the kennels

Pets on TV...  All cabins have satellite TV.  Channel 6 cycles through wide and close-up shots of all the kennel cages, so you can see that your pet is OK.

  Dogs by train! An ICE train from the Netherlands to Germany at Frankfurt hauptbahnhof

Onwards to Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria or wherever by high-speed train:  At Hoek van Holland, you collect your dog from the kennels and walk off the ship, through passport control and straight onto the station for the frequent metro train to Schiedam & Rotterdam.  Get off the metro at Schiedam Centrum and take an intercity train to Amsterdam, or get off at Rotterdam Alexander and take an Intercity train to Utrecht. Trains run from Amsterdam to Berlin and from Amsterdam via Utrecht to Cologne & Frankfurt.  This is a superb German ICE train at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof...

Option 1:  London to Hoek van Holland with Stena Line...

...for onward trains to Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Central & Eastern Europe & Scandinavia.

I highly recommend this option for both comfort and simplicity for travel with your dog between the UK and the following countries:  Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, central & eastern Europe and Scandinavia.  However, it's a long way round if you're bound for France, Spain or Portugal.  In many cases you can book your whole trip online, complete with a kennel on the ferry.

What is Stena Line Rail & Sail?

Stena Line Rail & Sail is an integrated train & ferry service between London & the Netherlands run jointly by Greater Anglia, Stena Line and NS (Dutch Railways).  One ticket bought at www.stenaline.co.uk covers the whole journey from London or any East Anglia rail station to Amsterdam or any Dutch rail station.  It works in both directions, of course, but I'll describe the outward journey from the UK here...

You take the 19:32 train from London Liverpool Street station to Harwich and your dog travels with you on the train.  At Harwich, the train arrives alongside the ferry terminal at around 20:54.  It's totally painless:  You walk straight off the train into the ferry terminal, through passport control (where your dog or cat's pet passport will be checked too) and onto the luxurious Stena Line superferry to Hoek van Holland.

You enter the ship via the passenger gangway onto Deck 7, you take your dog up two decks by lift or stairs to the Guest Services desk on Deck 9, which is the main passenger deck with all the bars, lounges & restaurants.

The Guest Services staff will  give you a kennel number in either Kennel A or Kennel B, and give you the 4-digit code to access the kennels.  You then go down one deck on Red Stairs to the kennels on Deck 8.  The kennels have a sink with running water, and they provide blankets for dogs to sleep on, but you should take your own pet's water bowl, food bowl and perhaps their favourite toy.  If your pet needs a pee or poo, go down one deck on the same Red Stairs to Deck 7 and press the white button to open a door to a small outside deck area where they can get some air, have a little exercise and do their business.

After settling your pet into their kennel you can settle in to your own private en suite cabin on Deck 10 or 11 and perhaps have a late dinner in the ship's restaurant (or a nightcap in the bar) on Deck 9.  All cabins have a shower, toilet, free WiFi and satellite TV.  Channel 6 on the TV shows CCTV pictures of the kennels, with close-ups of individual cages.  You can visit your dog at any time during the crossing, although pets are not allowed in the cabins or public areas, other than to reach the Customer Services desk on embarkation.

The ferry sails at 23:00 every day and arrives at Hoek van Holland at 08:00 next morning, Dutch time.  You now collect your dog from the kennels, if they need a pee you can take them to that small outside deck area on Deck 7.  You then walk off the ferry into the terminal and out onto the adjacent railway station for the frequent local train to Rotterdam.  Change trains in Schiedam for the frequent InterCity trains to Amsterdam, arriving Amsterdam around 10:01.  In the reverse direction, you'd leave Amsterdam around 18:46, the ferry sails from Hoek around 22:00 arriving Harwich at 06:30, you reach central London around 08:50.

You'll find full details, photos & a video guide on the Stena Line Rail & Sail page.

Onward trains to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Eastern Europe etc...

Direct daytime trains link Amsterdam with Germany and Switzerland - in many cases these go via Utrecht, and changing at Utrecht saves going all the way into Amsterdam.  Regular daytime trains link Rotterdam with Brussels and Paris.  All of these trains take dogs, sometimes free, sometimes for a fee, sometimes with a child rate ticket.  Or take a train to Cologne then the Nightjet sleeper to Munich, Innsbruck or Vienna, dogs are carried for €29 paid on board the train, as long as you and your party occupy a whole compartment.  You'll find specific timetables for journeys between London and each of the following countries by clicking the relevant link:  Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Czech Republic & Poland.

How much does it cost?

You'll find specific fare & booking information for journeys between London and each of the following countries by clicking the relevant link:  Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Czech Republic & Poland.

...and to take a dog or cat? 

On the train from London to Harwich your dog travels free.  On the ferry, you must reserve a kennel during the online booking process for an extra £17 each way.  On the Dutch domestic trains between Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam & Amsterdam or Utrecht, small dogs or cats in containers on your lap travel free of charge, but if you have a larger dog you'll need to buy a dog day-ticket (Dagkaart Hond) for €3, you may be able to buy this at the Guest Services desk on deck 9 on board the Stena Line ferry, otherwise buy it at Schiedam station.  On the international daytime trains from Amsterdam or Utrecht to Germany and Switzerland, cats and small dogs (up to cat sized) in containers go free, larger dogs on leads require a child rate ticket which you can buy online exactly as you would for a child, although unlike kids they don't qualify for the free kid with an adult deal.

How to buy tickets for you & your dog, step 1:

Book your Rail & Sail ticket from London to Amsterdam online at www.stenaline.co.uk.  You simply need to add a reserved kennel for your dog or cat at the stage where it asks you to enter the number of adults and your chosen cabin type.  You'll find 'number of cats or dogs in kennel' listed underneath the various breakfast and dinner options.

How to buy tickets, step 2:

You now need to book the onward trains to your European destination.  Booking usually opens 90 days ahead, you cannot book before reservations open.  Trains from Amsterdam to Cologne, Frankfurt and Switzerland pass through Utrecht so it's quicker to pick them up there rather than going all the way into Amsterdam, unless you really want to.  For daytime travel from Amsterdam or Utrecht to Germany or Switzerland, book your own ticket at www.bahn.de.  Small (cat-size) dogs & cats in containers go free, if you have a larger larger dog it travels at the child rate (either full-fare flexpreis or discounted sparpreis, it doesn't matter) so simply use www.bahn.de again to buy a child ticket, I recommend buying this as a separate booking to avoid the system automatically offering the 'Child under 15 accompanied by an adult goes free' offer which doesn't apply to dogs!  There are Nightjet sleeper train from Cologne to Innsbruck (for Italy) & Vienna (for all points east) and you can easily book these online at www.bahn.de.  Onward connections from Innsbruck to Italy or Vienna to Budapest can be booked at www.oebb.at.

Inward one-way tickets:  Note that www.stenaline.co.uk can only book one-way or return tickets starting in the UK.  One-way or return tickets starting in the Netherlands must be booked at the Dutch version of the Stena Line website, see the advice here.

Harwich-Hoek with a pet, in pictures...

The dog-freindly train *& ferry route to Europe:  The Stena Line ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland

London to Holland by Stena Line Rail & Sail ...  A train takes you from London's Liverpool Street station directly to the ferry terminal at Harwich, with your dog at your side.  You walk off the train into the terminal, walk through a painless security check, get your boarding card & cabin key and walk straight onto the overnight ferry to Hoek van Holland, settling your dog into the on-board kennels.

Captain's class cabin on the 'Stena Hollandica'

Cosy cabins:  The overnight Harwich-Hoek ferry is a floating hotel.  All passengers travel in a cosy private cabin with en suite shower & toilet and satellite TV.  This is a Captain's class cabin with double bed and complimentary minibar...

Secure door to the kennels on the ferry

Clean & secure kennel... On the ferry, kennels are located on Red Stairs on 8 Deck, one deck above the deck where you enter the ship (deck 7), just below the main passenger deck (deck 9) & cabin decks (10 & 11).  The door has a 4-digit security code lock so only pet owners can enter.

Kennel on the Stena Line ferry Harwich to Hoek van Holland

Inside the kennel...  The kennels have large and small cages and a washbasin.  Cats & dogs are not allowed in cabins or passenger areas, but it's only for one night and you can access the kennels at any time during the crossing...

Channel 6 on your cabin TV views the kennels

Pets on TV...  All cabins have satellite TV.  Channel 6 cycles through wide and close-up shots of all the kennel cages, so you can see that your pet is OK.

Dogs by train! An ICE train from the Netherlands to Germany at Frankfurt hauptbahnhof

Onwards to Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria or wherever by high-speed train:  At Hoek van Holland, you collect your dog from the kennels and walk off the ship, through passport control and straight onto the station for the frequent metro train to Schiedam & Rotterdam.  Get off the metro at Schiedam Centrum and take an intercity train to Amsterdam, or get off at Rotterdam Alexander and take an Intercity train to Utrecht.  Trains run from Amsterdam to Berlin and Amsterdam & Utrecht to Cologne & Frankfurt.  This is a superb German ICE train at Frankfurt (Main) Hbf...

Option 2:  London to Paris by train + Folkestone Taxis.

For France, Spain or Portugal you really need to go via Paris.  As Eurostar won't take pets and most Channel Ferries won't let foot passengers take pets either, here is a solution which works well:

Step 1, travel from London to Folkestone on any frequent domestic train, with dogs going free.  You can check train times & fares at www.nationalrail.co.uk.  There are hourly or half hourly trains from London Charing Cross, Waterloo East or St Pancras to Folkestone Central.  Take your pick.

Step 2, use Folkestone Taxis to run you from Folkestone to Calais via the Eurotunnel shuttle.  Book your trip by calling Folkestone Taxi Co. on 01303 252 000 (+44 1303 252000 from outside the UK) in advance, see their pet transport page at www.folkestonetaxi.com/Pet+travel+abroad.  They can take you and your dog and up to 3 other passengers from Folkestone Central station to Calais Ville or Calais Fréthun stations for around £125 plus the cost of the Eurotunnel ticket, perhaps another £75.  You and your dog remain together in the taxi throughout the journey via the Channel Tunnel car shuttle train.  Folkestone Taxis have been highly recommended by several travellers, further feedback is always appreciated.

Alternatively, a cheaper solution is of course to get a friend to drive you to Calais and drop you at the station, using a cheap day return ferry ticket - try www.dfds.com or www.poferries.com.  The dog remains inside the car on the ferry car deck.

Step 3, take a French domestic train from Calais Ville or Calais Fréthun to Paris.  To check train times use www.raileurope.com (in £ or €) or www.thetrainline.com (in €).  On French trains, small dogs under 6 Kg placed in containers not exceeding 45cm x 30cm x 25cm pay no more than €5.10 per journey.  Larger dogs muzzled and on leads pay half the 2nd class full fare, even travelling in 1st class.  For onward train travel with your dog to Spain, Italy, Portugal and so on, see the following section.

How to plan your trip...  The French trains from Calais to Paris are irregular and less frequent than the British ones, so start by picking a suitable afternoon train from Calais to Paris and work backwards.  Ask Folkestone Taxis what time you need to leave Folkestone Central in their taxi to make this train.  Then work out a train from London (or your local station) to Folkestone Central with plenty of time in hand.

You can buy your own ticket at www.raileurope.com or www.thetrainline.com then pay for the dog at the station in  Calais, as the dog price is fixed and spaces cannot sell out.  Or you can buy tickets for both you and your dog online at the official French Railways website oui.sncf but only if you select 'France' top right and leave it in French.  On their home page, click the down arrow to open the advanced options, a button marked animal appears, next to the bicycle button.  Only the bicycle button appears in the English version, not the animal button.

This blog may inspire you: Argo, the dog who took the train to Italy....

Option 3: London to Paris via the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry...

This only works for smaller dogs & pets in cages or carriers.  Dogs go free of charge on any of the normal domestic UK trains to Newhaven (see www.nationalrail.co.uk for train times), you can then take an DFDS ferry across the Channel from Newhaven to Dieppe (www.dfds.com), then a domestic French train to Paris (www.thetrainline.com for train times & booking).  Most ferry companies do not allow foot passengers to take pets, but DFDS allows you to take a cat or dog with you as a foot passenger on these routes under the PETS travel scheme, as long as the animal is caged, see the pets page on their website.  The caged pet is handed to staff at check-in and returned to you after the crossing.  It basically takes most of a day to go from London to Paris via Newhaven-Dieppe.  Once in Paris, you can take onward trains to Spain, Portugal or the South of France, as shown in step 4 below.

Option 4: Hull-Rotterdam or Newcastle-Amsterdam by ferry...

You can take a dog as a foot passenger with pet-friendly cabins on DFDS overnight Newcastle-Amsterdam ferry,  However, you cannot book online, you need to phone them, check sailing times at www.dfds.com then call 0871 522 9955.  P&O also take dogs with foot passengers on their overnight Hull-Rotterdam ferry, see www.poferries.com.

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Step 3, taking pets on trains in mainland Europe...

Once safely across the Channel, you can take a dog or cat with you on most trains across Europe, sometimes free, sometimes for a small charge, sometimes with a normal child-rate ticket.  In sleeping-cars and couchettes on overnight trains, you can generally only take a dog if your party occupies all the berths in a compartment.

small bullet point  France

small bullet point  Netherlands

small bullet point  Switzerland

small bullet point  Italy

small bullet point  Spain

small bullet point  Portugal

small bullet point  Germany

small bullet point  Austria, Scandinavia, central & eastern Europe

small bullet point  Denmark, Sweden, Norway

small bullet point  Greece

To France...

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To the Netherlands...

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To Switzerland...

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To Italy...

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To Spain...

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To Portugal...

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To Germany...

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To Austria, central & eastern Europe...

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To Denmark, Sweden, Norway...

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To Greece...

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For more information...

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Feedback requested!

Feedback from anyone who takes their dog or cat into Europe by train would be very welcome.

Traveller's reports...

Dog owner Wendy Shillam reports:  "We've been taking our dog abroad since the rules changed 9 years ago.  Firstly I agree that its mad that Eurostar doesn't allow dogs, especially as it would be a good earner for them and they need the money!  I wrote to the COE but got no reply.  The most comfortable and quickest way for dogs to cross the channel (though not always the cheapest) is by car with Eurotunnel.  They just stay in the car with you and there is no bother.  Once, we then left our car at the Calais 'parkway' station, but on returning we saw that quite a few cars - not ours thank goodness - had been broken into.  It is a very desolate spot and no security as far as I can see.  But it is free parking.  Once across the channel be careful which train you get from Calais - some especially on Sundays are really slow.  We also have taken the motorail train from Düsseldorf, it's not too far and then you can get a car-carrying overnight train from Düsseldorf to Italy, the south of France or Austria.  Dogs are accepted on these German motorail trains in the sleeper cabins and we have never had a problem. Our dog Astrid, a nine year old Mini Schnauzer, has lasted 17 hours on a train with no ill effects - overnight she just settles down to sleep, generally taking up most of my bunk!  The steward will tell you if there are longer stops which allows you to give your dog a 'comfort' walk.  The irony is that if we could travel on Eurostar we would never dream of taking our car with us at all!  On Spanish trains dogs should be muzzled - the guard did let us get away with it, but if Astrid had been a bigger dog there might have been trouble.  Also beware if you plan to travel with your dog by bus in Spain.  They insist that the dog goes in a casket (which you have to bring) in the hold underneath the seats, which I suspect on a hot day is tantamount to animal cruelty!  Astrid has been most comfortable and spoilt in France, Italy, Belgium and Sweden.  Also remember that if you are going to the South dogs need to be protected against a nasty bug called lishmania which can cause a chronic disease with no cure - but drugs can control it.  So always check with a  vet who knows about foreign travel well before you go."


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