Brittany Ferries Cork to Santander – so much more than just a ferry!

When Brittany Ferries announced the sea connection between Cork and Santander back in Spring, I felt like I’d won the lottery. This elation made no sense as I already have a direct flight from Santander to Dublin but somehow this sea connection felt so much more significant. Keen to check it out, I boarded that ferry to Cork along with my husband and three children in July and the experience went way beyond what any of us had expected.

santander cork ferry

Here’s me anticipating the adventure on board the Connemara in Santander on July 1! Our car is second from the back – parked on deck. The access ramp is still open as you can see.

santander cork ferry

Here we are pulling out of port. The last time I was so excited was the day I stepped inside Centro Botin for the first time – that’s the Centro in the background…

26 Hours That Flew By (Really!!)

I live in the city of Santander and, with the ferry port right in the city centre, it was fast and truly surreal to drive up onto the boat (yes, we went up a ramp onto the deck). We were giddy knowing that the next time we turned on the ignition we would be in Cork!

Although it sounds like a long time to travel, the 26 hours flew by. I had taken the ferry to Plymouth a few years ago so I knew what to expect, but there was something really special about hopping on in Santander and hopping off (or driving off) in Ireland.

santander cork ferry

Binoculars would have been handy – but I was just about able to see people waving from the Centro Botin!

santander cork ferry

How pretty is this view of the bay of Santander! The blue and white building on stilts is the Royal Maritime Club from 1927 designed by Gonzalo Bringas. You really get to appreciate the city’s architecture as you arrive and leave!

What We Did on Board

We boarded around midday and spent the first hour on deck enjoying the wonderful views of the bay of Santander. Travelling on the ferry gives you a unique vantage point of the key streets, parks and landmarks. I’ve taken quite a few tours of the bay on boats of varying sizes but I have to say that the views from up high on the ferry present the city and the bay in a whole new light.

After boarding the ferry, we quickly dropped off our overnight bags to the cabin and we rushed back up on deck to enjoy the views. (When you travel with your car, you only take an overnight bag to your cabin. Everything else stays in your car.)

It was a personal thrill to see the city’s newest icon – Centro Botin – (you can read why I’m such a fan here) from the ferry. I love to capture it from the water but the views from the ferry were wonderful as the terminal looms right out over the Renzo Piano creation. (In fact, the site upon which the centre was built used to be a Brittany Ferries carpark.)

The departure from the passenger terminal was extremely smooth and emotions were high as we left the port and starting floating past Santander’s landmarks. After passing Centro Botin, and the ever stylish Puertochico neighbourhood and little port, the next major sight is Magdalena Palace – an icon of the early 20th century which brought significant fame and royalty to this Northern city.

The city’s beaches, which were the reason tourists came back in the 1850s and still are a huge draw, look pretty spectacular also. And it’s impossible not to be impressed by the Puntal (a sandbank which I nickname Treasure Island). The ferry appears to brush past this beach as it makes its way carefully though the shipping channel. (The sensation is exactly the same if you are on the Puntal beach as the ferry feels like its right beside you!) And finally, as the ship leaves the bay and enters open sea, the two city lighthouses bid us farewell. One is in the sea and the other is on the Cabo Mayor headland.

When we left the city well and truly behind, our thoughts turned to exploring the space in more detail and then food. We brought our own meals for the first day and ate at the dining area beside the restaurant. This was followed by a nap back in the cabin. We chose an external cabin with a window which was nice to look out but the best part was the fold-down beds. Now I’ve slept in a fair share of beds from hotels to hostels and I have to say the ferry beds are incredibly comfortable and cosy and the gentle rocking of the boat induces sleep straight away.

After we rested, it was time for a snack while we waited for the Spain v Russia match. That’s when we tried a glass of Guinness which was also delicious (and turned out to be better than some of the versions we had later in Ireland). After the host nation sent Spain packing, we settled down for the night and all of us dropped off quickly.

During the night – the sway did pick up although nobody actually seemed to wake up. In the morning, the children felt a little off colour so we suggested they stay lying down and avoid breakfast altogether.

Myself and my husband felt fine and took turns to check out the catering on-board which turned out to be a decent combination of French and Irish cuisine. Breakfast consisted of cereals, breads and a full Irish for those who enjoy a fry-up. The sway was more noticeable in the dining area so we kept it Continental and headed back to the cabin.

As we edged closer to Ireland, the sway settled right down and we were all able to walk around the boat and have an early lunch together. The Connemara operates to Irish mealtimes on board which was handy as the children were now starving and wanted to eat early. The kids portions were well-priced and went down a treat. The adults amongst us also enjoyed our meals.

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The two boys gearing up for the Spanish game – as we leave Santander – with the 5-star Hotel Real – in the background. Unfortunately the red jerseys didn’t help as Spain went on to lose the game against the host-nation Russia…

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Over on the other side – looking at El Puntal – the sandbank that I like to call Treasure Island. You can see mainland Spain in the distance

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Can you see how high up we are? Some of the cars (including ours) are on the deck while the heavier vehicles are stowed down below…

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The ferry takes about 30 mins to leave the port – which is good because I wanted to enjoy and capture the city from every angle possible…

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The Magdalena Palace from 1911 by local architects Riancho & Bringas and the open sea. I’ve rowed and come out on a motorboat but this is a different feeling altogether!

What We Didn’t Do on Board

Because the Connemara is a “no-frills” or “economy” service, it means there aren’t any cinemas or other entertainment on board. It didn’t affect us in the least as it meant we spent a lot of time in the cabin, reading and sleeping. This was a bonus as far as we were concerned because we’d had a busy week in advance of the trip. After the stress of closing off a few work projects before the holiday and packing bags last minute, it was great to have had that day “off” on board to unwind.

We had a 4-person cabin and the youngest two were supposed to share a bunk. Of course, it ended up a bit different and I found myself getting elbows and knees in the back during the night. (That’s how I noticed the sway had picked up.) But because I’d actually had so many naps, it wasn’t a problem and I was glad the five of us were together.

Although there is free wifi in certain public areas of the boat and you can purchase a wifi package for your cabin for a fee, I highly recommend the digital switch-off. Our eldest (now a teenager) and younger two read their books and played mini board games we brought as well as exploring the boat. They weren’t the only ones – most of the passengers on the Connemara were families and whilst my three didn’t strike up a friendship with anybody else, it did feel like a friendly space. There was a play area near the restaurant for small kids and the older ones seemed to enjoy doing laps of the boat.

The only contact we missed with the mainland was during the Spain-Russia game as the satellite coverage of the game was patchy at the beginning. But that was a small price to pay when you consider how free we all felt with our mobile phones packed away and books out.

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Two lighthouses in shot – Mouro Lighthouse is in the foreground and the ‘faro’ de Cabo Mayor is in the rear. I love the different angles and perspectives you get on board. Oh to be a bird in this bay!

santander cork ferry

Another great perspective – we are out into the open sea – looking back at Mouro and the Magdalena Palace as the city fades away into the distance…

santander cork ferry

Pondering the journey ahead – and examining the inner workings at the same time…

Land Ahoy

Before we knew it, we were approaching Cork – completely refreshed and rested in every sense. It was exhilarating to catch a sight of Ireland after more than a day at sea. As you probably know, Ireland has experienced a heat wave this year, so we were welcomed by its usual dramatic coastline but this time it was framed by beautiful blues skies and drenched in golden sunshine.

It was impossible to feel anything other than pride as the boat progressed along the coast. Although I often feel a surge of happiness when approaching Dublin by plane, it’s often replaced by some concern about the landing (and the same when arriving into Santander). On the ferry, it all happens so slowly and calmly and gracefully – you don’t have anything to be concerned about. In my excitement, I didn’t take many photos but I rectified that on the return leg – as you’ll see.

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it’s the following day and here we are approaching Cork’s Ringaskiddy Port – but first we get up close and personal with Cobh – formerly known as Queenstown in East Cork – where you’ll find a heritage centre that outlines the town’s connection with the Titanic

Disembarking in Cork

The crew guided us safely down the ramp and I think we were one of the first vehicles off board. Because we had been parked on deck, we had a significant amount of sea salt to clean from the windscreen and the vehicle. We did this responsibly with a bucket and cloth as water shortages were being discussed on the radio and there was talk of hose-pipe restrictions in some parts of the country.

santander cork ferry park dublin

Biking in Phoenix Park in Dublin is one of those activities we always do in Ireland. And yes, those are wild deer in the background. This is the largest enclosed park in Europe and it dates back to 1662. You can see the scorching weather has taken its toll – I’ve never seen the grass look so brown!

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More sunshine and browning grass – this time beside Doolin in Clare – with the Aran Islands in the distance and you can just about make out Galway also. Great views and great fun!

When in Ireland

Our time in Ireland was, as always, brilliant. In addition to meeting up with lots of family and friends, we got to enjoy the country in glorious sunshine. It was great to have our own car there rather than a hire-drive – and because it’s a 7-seater so we were able to pack the car full with people and pets. We had wonderful walks, meals, chats and more and in no time at all we were back in Cork’s Ringaskiddy to return to Santander. This time I made sure to take some photos as we left Cork harbour.

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Waiting to leave Ringaskiddy on a glorious morning in July

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Family portrait in reverse – actually I think they’re checking the car is parked properly 😉 You’d be surprised how many people seem to leave on the alarms and forget to apply the handbrake!

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Passing in front of colourful Cobh just outside Cork city…

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Farewell Ireland – it’s been great!

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The Pilot guiding Connemara’s captain out of the bay…

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Cars on deck – a lot of these are brandishing a sticker showing there is a dog on board – which is a fantastic facility. The dogs can stay with their owners in specially adapted cabins…

Back on Board

The departure was wonderful. Cobh looked so pretty as we sailed out into the bay! The return trip was fantastic overall. Again, we spent most of the time sleeping and reading – which was sorely needed as we had packed a lot into our eight days in Ireland.

The crossing had been quite calm on the way over, but on the way back, it was mirror-like with just an ever-so-gentle sway from time to time to remind you that you were on the ocean. We had breakfast before boarding as the return departure was 11am so the return trip was punctuated by lunch, dinner and breakfast and the England-Croatia match in between. Plus lots of naps on those ever-so-comfy-beds.

Time flew by again and about 60 mins before our scheduled arrival time, we spotted Spanish land on the horizon. The day was overcast but it was still wonderful to observe the city all over again – from up high.

santander cork ferry

Land ahoy! It’s Santander up ahead! And the Santander Pilot boat is approaching…

Santander Cork ferry

Captain’s view isn’t bad! you can just about make out the 5-star Hotel Real up on the hill…

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Mucking about trying to line up Mouro lighthouse in the centre of the lifebuoy!

Santander cork ferry

I wasn’t the only person who was clicking away. Here’s my daughter taking a selfie in front of Magdalena Palace!

A Different Perspective of the City

The view of Santander from the ferry was incredible again – I don’t think I could ever tire of the bird-like views from up high on the ferry. It was lovely to enjoy the bay and all the landmark buildings which seemed tiny compared to the Connemara.

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Back at base by my beloved Centro Botin. If you want to know more about this new arts centre designed by Renzo Piano, check out these posts here

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Driving down the ramp of the Connemara with the Centro Botin in full sight!

Disembarking in Santander & Immediate Thoughts about the Trip

We drove down the ramp (reminding ourselves that in Spain you drive on the right) and were back home in 10 mins all over again. The most strenuous part of the trip was unloading the bags from the car. Had we flown, we would have loaded and unloaded our bags twenty times over. Security also feels much less intrusive when travelling by ferry. Of course, the car and passengers are checked before boarding and upon arrival again but you don’t feel the same level of personal intimidation by the process. Maybe this is why the ferry was so busy with young families and passengers with reduced mobility. There were also lots of passengers travelling with pets which got us thinking about the subject of a dog for the family.

Room for Improvement?

Although I was concerned that the ‘economy’ classification would mean things were very basic, we had all that we needed on the journey and more. And it was great not to have too many distractions on board. The only critique I can think of for this route is the ban on bike and foot passengers which my family were very disappointed to learn about. Brittany Ferries says it’s because of the configuration of the Connemara and its limited number of cabins. I hope that something can be tweaked in time as the route is not just a great connection route for families and tourists in cars but would also be fantastic for cyclists and Camino de Santiago walkers from Ireland. In the meantime, it’s a wonderful service for getting people in cars, vans and trucks from Ireland straight to Spain.

Why Now?

Although Brittany Ferries say it has launched this new route to celebrate the 40th anniversary of connecting Santander with the UK and Ireland with France, it is no coincidence that the route is up and running before Brexit. Back in May, the Irish Times published an article ‘New Cork-Spain ferry will allow hauliers to avoid UK after Brexit’ (read it here) where Commercial Manager at Cork Port, Captain Michael McCarthy says, “We’re delighted the new service with Brittany Ferries… they have been the most fantastic partners and both of us believe that the Connemara is an ideal start up ship and will lead to further investment in a larger vessel as we develop the route.”

Give it a Spin

The Captain isn’t the only one who hopes this is a profitable crossing. I’ve been living here over a decade and rumours of a direct ferry connection between Ireland and Spain have come and gone. It is like a dream come true for anybody who travels between Ireland and Spain for business or pleasure to have the option of taking the ferry. While the direct flight is fantastic, there are many occasions when you need more space. And driving from Northern Spain to Northern France to get the ferry to Rosslare feels like a bit of a trek.

Take for example a group of friends who are rowers here in Santander and travelled with the fixed-seat trainera (a typical rowing boat for 13 people) to Cork to participate in the Ocean to City race in May. They’ve considered driving the trainera through France or the UK but it seemed like a bit of a logistical nightmare. When this direct connection with Cork was announced, they knew they had no excuse and had an amazing time. They’ve returned with great plans to engage much more closely with their Cork counterparts.

Other friends living in Cantabria but originally from Dublin have also taken the opportunity to drive over with their family and enroll their daughters in a Dublin school for a term. Of course, they could have flown into Dublin but it makes it so much easier to pack up and drive. And I’m sure the reverse is also happening – with families and businesses and associations in Ireland reaching out to their counterparts in Northern Spain. I reckon the authorities here in the city realise this ferry connection is a fantastic vehicle for networking, trade and tourism between Ireland and Northern Spain.

Take Two!

Because the whole family really enjoyed the trip and we are all happy to make our annual Summer trip by boat every year, at the end of July we decided to do something we’ve been thinking about for ages and we adopted a family pet – well, two actually. We hadn’t taken the leap until now because we didn’t want to have to leave them behind at a boarding kennel while we spend a few weeks every Summer in Ireland. It also helps that the children are old enough to help out with the dog-walking! A week after returning back to Santander, we came across these two dogs who had been abandoned together and now they are part of the family.

cork santander ferry

Do you think they’d like to explore Ireland next Summer? I think so!

We hope to be able to bring them with us next year on the ferry although one of them isn’t too keen on being in the car at the moment so maybe a ferry might be a bit ambitious. I’ll be taking the advice of their vet (another good friend) when the time comes to booking next year’s trip.

Hope you have enjoyed reading about the ferry trip. A lot of people are curious about it and have asked me whether it’s something they should try – which prompted me to share this trip here. I’d better sign off now as it’s time to take the dogs out for a walk  – in the shade – as it’s an exceptionally warm day for mid-September. Thanks so much for reading and if you have any comments, questions, queries or clarifications, I’d love to hear back from you…

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16 comments

  1. Felicidades por el artículo Pam 🙂 Congratulations!

    1. Thanks Miguel – glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Nicola Bolton · · Reply

    A pleasure to read your account of the ferry crossing to Cork!
    Brings back memories of our family crossing to the Uk c. 1995 when our children were teenagers!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Nicola – the views of Santander bay from the ferry you took haven’t changed that much since then, have they? We did a long-weekend round trip to Plymouth for a wedding (as foot passengers) when the children were in buggies and prams and that’s when I realised how great the views were, and, how child-friendly the ferries can be. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  3. Great article Pam and I can understand your delight at the new ferry crossing! And congrats on the new additions to the family!!! Be interesting to see an article on dog friendliness of Spain 🙂

    1. Hi Aileen – as you can imagine, I’ve been learning so much about becoming a dog-owner in Spain and so far it’s been nothing but extremely friendly and positive. It helps that the weather is still great so I haven’t had to work out where they can and can’t gain entry – as it’s still warm enough to eat and drink outdoors with them by our feet. I’ll learn a lot more when Winter kicks in and the outdoor tables are packed away. And I better work out some dog boarding options sometime soon also. Wish your place in Aigle was somehow nearer as it looks amazing! Happy Dogs indeed! All my best XX

  4. Nikki Johnston · · Reply

    Really enjoyed reading that Pam. Congrats on the article. Have passed on to my brother and family who could well be tempted with the route!

    1. Thanks for sharing Nikki – it’s certainly getting easier and easier to get to and from Santander! You’ll be glad to know that the Northern Spain aperitivo is still alive and well – let me know when I need to show your brother’s family the ropes…

  5. ursula lennon · · Reply

    Hi Pamela, i really enjoyed reading your interesting and entertaining article about your ferry trip. Madeline and the boys also travelled over to ireland by ferry in August. The heat wave here was AMAZING !! Let’s hope its a sign of things to come, for next summer !!!!!! We live in hope here in Ireland, as you would know !!!!
    Kind regards,
    Ursula Lennon

    1. Hi Ursula – great to hear Madeline took the ferry over also – must get in touch with her to find out what she thought! It was amazing to be in Ireland during the heatwave – fingers crossed it wasn’t just a once-off. Thanks for reading the post and commenting! All my best 🙂

  6. Martin Mahony · · Reply

    Hi Pamela very much enjoyed your ferry article.Might give it a try sometime.We are presently in Santander enjoying the lovely weather.Arrived Sun last 16th so escaped the destruction wreaked by storm Ali in Ireland..Keep up the posts. Regards Martin Mahony

    1. Hi Martin, great to hear you are back in Santander and luckily avoiding the storm in Ireland. Thanks for taking the time to read the post on the ferry and for encouraging me to get more posts out. Enjoy the rest of your stay here and have a safe trip back. All my best, Pamela

  7. Thank you for the very informative blog.
    We are booked for next year cork-Santander then return Cherbourg-rosslare.
    Can I ask you what type are the electrical sockets in the cabin please.
    I would imagine euro two pin
    Regards David

    1. Hi David – glad to hear you are going to give the route a whirl! I can’t remember personally whether they were 2-pin or 3-pin as I always travel with adaptors (and can’t remember whether I needed to use them). I’ve just had a quick look at the Brittany Ferries blurb on the Connemara and the photos seem to suggest a 2-pin socket – have a look and see whether you agree http://www.brittanyferries.ie/ships/economie/connemara/accommodation. I also came across this webpage which seems to suggest that all Brittany Ferries ships are 2-pin http://www.brittanyferries.ie/information/faqs/ships-ports/cabin-plug-sockets but adaptors for 3-pin devices are on sale in the ferry shop.
      Perhaps you should get in touch with Brittany Ferries direct to clarify this.
      Have a good trip and best regards, Pamela

  8. Arvinder Bawa · · Reply

    Hi, nice to read your account of the new ferry service to Cork. After I have renewed my passport and the Brexit shenanigans calm down, we should make the trip to Ireland. Marisol is not keen on travelling by sea, but we have had a few nice rides. One cruise was particularly brilliant. At other times we have done the bay trips in exotic locations. Singapore and Seattle come to mind. Travel stories are so good, they allow you to see through another person’s eyes. Your photos are a nice part of the writing. All best, Arvinder.

    1. Thanks for commenting Arvinder – great you are thinking about making the trip (if Marisol can be convinced). We really enjoyed the pace of travel by ferry but of course it’s nice to have the choice and be able to hop on a plane also. Looking forward to your next instalment on life in Laredo (and your brilliant travel stories too). All my best to you and Marisol, Pamela

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