Athens to the UK with (not by) a bicycle4 minute read

My route from Athens to the UK was scheduled to take ~82 hours, but that includes about 9 bonus hours in Brindisi and 16 bonus hours in Paris. And does mean that I arrive in Portsmouth, which might not be everyone’s idea of the UK.

Leg 1: Coach Athens-Patra (€20.70)

They’ll take bikes underneath. I had to take off my front wheel, but otherwise left the bike intact.

Takes about 3 hours. Has wifi. More or less airconditioned.

Another option is to cycle along the Gulf of Corinth, which I have done before, in the opposite direction. 3 hours versus 3 days.

Leg 2: Ferry Patra-Brindisi (overnight)

It’s a 3-4km ride from the coach station to the ferry port. Ignore the one way signs and take the first ‘exit’ into the port, saving yourself a huge loop. There’s a handy AB supermarket just before you turn into the port.

Do you really need to arrive at least 2 hours before departure for check-in? Probably not. Did I? Yes. Passport control doesn’t open until 60 minutes before departure.

Don’t worry about boarding: the bike just rolls on and gets tied up. Easy.

I got the overnight ferry so that I could make full use of the cabin. Some people will think this is a waste of money when you could just sleep on deck. I think it’s worth every penny. I slept like a log from about 10pm until about 7am.

Plus it’s nice to have somewhere to dump all your crap while you romp about the ship. And I met a lovely chap called John from Poland.

The ferry arrives a short 3km ride from Brindisi town.

Leg 3: Train Brindisi-Milan (overnight)

Again, I booked an overnight train to avoid spending money on a hostel in Milan. That meant two things:

  1. A full day in Brindisi to eat focaccia.
  2. Only 90 minutes to get between station in Milan for my connection to Paris.

There was no problem getting the bike onto the train, but Brindisi train station doesn’t have a lift between platforms so be prepared to lug.

Try to book a lower bunk so that you feel less like a prick when you take up the entire floor space with your bike. You can’t squeeze the bike underneath the bed, so it has to fit into the space between the ladder and the window.

Woe betide you if there are two bikes.

Try to book a cabin near to the train door so you don’t have to carry your stuff so far. Alternatively, I simply moved my stuff up the carriage into an empty cabin about half an hour before Milan. This is only really important if you have a tight change, which I did.

I got a three bunk cabin, by the way. You will not be able to do anything in a triple cabin. The beds are comfortable, but there isn’t much head room. There are stools to perch on in the gangway, but you’ll frequently have to stand up to allow passage.

In spite of there being shampoo in your deluxe complimentary pack, I couldn’t find the shower. There is a sink in your cabin, but you won’t be able to get to it because your bike will be in the way. There are adequate sinks in the toilet.

Leg 4: Train Milan-Paris

I only had 90 minutes to get off the train, put my bike together, cycle to Garibaldi and pack up the bike again. Luckily, it only took me 45 minutes.

The Milan-Paris train left from platform 11 – useful to know, but only if it always does.

I got a hostel and stayed overnight in Paris, where I wandered around and ate crêpes.

Leg 5: Train Paris-Caen

Easy: just wheel the bike onto the train.

Leg 5.5: Cycle to port which is actually 16km away

Ooh – unexpected! Thank god I allowed plenty of panic time.

Leg 6: Ferry Caen to Portsmouth

Easy. The bike wheels on and, some hours later, wheels off.


So that’s it: Athens to the UK in four travelling days. It is possible to do the journey faster, but I was quite pleased with my free time in Brindisi and Paris.

As with any journey, things went wrong. I was never meant to go via Caen and Portsmouth – I’d booked for Cherbourg and Poole, but bad weather scotched that plan.

But that’s all part of the adventure and I’d much rather have these disruptions than the misery and suspicion of airport security and customs. Overlanding wins!

And if you’re worried about expense, then you might be surprised…

One more thing…

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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