I love this time of the year. I love the bare trees, the crunchy leaves, the frost that coats the garden (but not my car!) in the morning, and I especially love the festive atmosphere. I am a HUGE Christmas fan and love soaking up every bit of festivity before the big day. When P&O Ferries got in touch to see if we fancied popping over the water to France to have a day of experiencing how the French gear up for Christmas, we couldn’t wait!
Europe is renowned for its amazing Christmas markets and we thought we’d team a visit to one with a spot of shopping and sightseeing to really make the most out of our day trip. I didn’t even know it was possible to do a day trip on the ferry to France until I heard about it through P&O. You can find out more about their day trips here.
How we got there
We booked onto the 8.25am ferry from Dover to Calais and arrived just under an hour before departure. Dover is a pretty easy port to get to but we struggled a bit navigating our way through the ferry terminal. There weren’t many signs to help out us first time ferry goers, but all the members of staff we asked for help couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly, so it was all good.
We went through passport control, security and check in before queuing up in our lane to get on the ferry. The boarding process was really efficient, and in no time at all we had parked up and were making our way up to the upper decks.
The ferry was easy to navigate and it wasn’t too rough, so there were no cases of seasickness – thank goodness! We treated ourselves to breakfast, popped to the duty free shop to pick up a European motoring kit and went up on the upper deck to look out to sea and show the kids the outside of the ferry. They loved it, despite it being rather fresh and breezy!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to our car and drive off the ferry into France. You can read more about our ferry experience here (link back to stand alone ferry post).
It was between Lille and Arras and Lille just narrowly won due to the fact I found lots of different recommendations of things to do there. The drive was just under 1 hour and 15 minutes and very straightforward. It’s great being able to use my phone abroad these days for Google Maps – life saver. Even driving into the centre of Lille was easy enough and finding our car park was fine once we drove back around, after missing the turning the first time!
I pre-booked parking at one of the central car parks and it was cheap (7 euros for five hours), clean and well managed. It played music, which was fun, and it was only an eight minute walk from the central square, which was perfect.
Lille is a lovely city. Very easy to navigate and walk around. There is so much to see and do and we felt safe the whole time we were there. On our walk into the centre from the car park we saw lots of different beautiful buildings and some great shopping streets.
What we did
We decided to hit the Christmas market first and were not disappointed. There was a HUGE ferris wheel in the central square with a giant Christmas tree and some Santa scenes, which the kids loved. Little I was desperate to go up on the ferris wheel but we didn’t let her in the end because we knew fine well she would get a quarter of the way around it, get scared and probably have a meltdown high in the sky!! She’s at that age where she has loads of confidence and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, she gets scared, bless her.
We then walked round to the actual Christmas market which was on Place Rihour. They was a security checkpoint and they were checking people’s bags, which was good to see. It was a good size market – not too big that it was overwhelming, but it still had lots of different food and product stalls – around 80 in total. There was even a (very authentic) Santa for children to have their photo taken with. Unfortunately mine didn’t want to!
We picked up a few bits in the market – a Lille bauble for our tree to remember the trip, a plant hanger and a little owl bag for Little I.
Once we were out of the market and back on the shopping streets, we walked around and picked up some gifts – wine and cheese, naturally. I then spotted a Sephora and, much to the husband’s dismay, a gust of wind blew in our direction and blew me into the shop! I picked up some of Rhianna’s Fenty Beauty foundation, which I’ve been after for a while, and a couple stocking fillers. Anytime I spot a Sephora abroad, I have to go in!
What we ate
We ended up eating what was meant to be a ‘snack’ in the market, with grand plans to try out one of the local bistros, estaminets, later on, but the portion sizes in the market meant we never got hungry enough to go for a meal before we left! Such a shame, because I really wanted to try out a local dish.
Rob and the kids went for a traditional sausage at the market and I spotted a cheese stall. It was heaven. Especially for someone who has just recently started eating dairy again. There were all sorts of options to choose from but I went for chopped up potatoes with some creamy sauce with three slabs of camembert on top! I couldn’t finish it so Rob had to help me but it was delicious. It had to be washed down with a ‘vin chaud’ of course.
On our way back to the car we stopped at Le Merveilleux de Fred and picked up some Merveilleux cakes. They consist of a sandwich of two meringues with whipped cream in-between them, covered in more whipped cream and chocolate shavings. There are so many different flavours to choose from. I went for cherry, Rob went for White chocolate and milk chocolate and Little I went for caramel (but then decided she didn’t like them!). They were lovely and light and got a 10/10 from the husband, who is a lover of all things sweet. I’m more of a savoury kind of gal. Hello more cheese!
Other things to do in Lille
Here are some other recommendations of things to do in Lille, which we would love to do next time!
· La Pisine
· The Zoo at the Citadelle
· Maison Meert – a beautiful shop and tearoom.
The drive back was as easy and straightforward as the drive there and the traffic was slightly heavier at about 4pm, but not too bad. The kids had a bit of a nap which was great!
The ferry port at Calais seemed to be a bit more straightforward than the Dover side. We seemed to get through the passport control and check in quicker and it was slightly easier to navigate that Dover – there were more signs (and there were lots of little toilet blocks etc around the site, which were handy).
The ferry back was slightly different than the one out and had a few more facilities, such as a Kids Zone which was a small play area. It kept the kids entertained for a bit and we got a table right next to it so we could sit and have a coffee (Starbucks – happy days!) and share a pizza.
Our ferry got in about 7.30pm and the drive home wasn’t too bad. The kids eventually fell asleep again and we were home by 9pm. A quick transfer of the kids into bed and we were ready to chill out after our French adventure.
All in all we had a really good experience and have told so many people about what we got up to, because we couldn’t believe how easy it was to just pop over to France for the day. It really is great way to experience the Christmas atmosphere in a different country, and it is an easy way to travel with kids too. We would definitely recommend it for a family day out, with a difference, where you can pick up some Christmas gifts along the way.
For more information on day trips with P&O Ferries, click here.
*This post is a sponsored collaboration with P&O Ferries but all thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.