Crossing the North Sea on a Cargo Ship

It had been a dream of mine for a while. Although I don’t have a bucket list, I do have a list of ten things that I want to do at some point in my life and crossing a sea or ocean on a cargo ship was one of them.

Cargo ship across the North Sea.
Good morning from the North Sea!

Something else on that list was cycling to the North Cape. After accomplishing that, I was on my way home and I decided I was going to make a detour across England. It was then that it occurred to me that this was also an amazing opportunity to check another thing off that list.

I was in Norway at the time and after some research I found that a cargo ship was actually the cheapest way to get to England. In other – normal – circumstances flying would have been so much cheaper, but I was traveling with a heavy bicycle. And after all, from the very beginning my intention had been to travel overland to Europe’s northernmost point and back.

Cargo ship across the North Sea.
The ‘Begonia’.

In this post I want to explain a bit about how I found that ride on a cargo ship.

First of all I needed to find freight companies with routes between Scandinavia and the UK. Actually, the first thing I looked up were ferries from Scandinavia to the UK. There used to be one from Bergen, Norway, to Newcastle, which would have been great, but it got cancelled several years ago. There is only one left nowadays and it goes between Esbjerg, Denmark, and Harwich, England. The main reason I decided to cycle back through England was that I didn’t want to cycle through Denmark and Germany again. Esbjerg lies in southern Denmark, so that wasn’t an option. I then started to browse the internet, looking for other options. I visited some travel forums and in one particular topic they were talking about cargo ships, as an option to travel around Europe.

They mentioned DFDS Seaways, which is also one of the bigger ferry companies in northern Europe and the one that operates the Esbjerg-Harwich route as well. After checking out their website I was surprised at the number of freight routes they have all over Europe. This definitely was the company I needed!

I was a little south of Oslo and it was clear that the freight route from Gothenburg, Sweden to Immingham, England, was my best option. I dropped them an email and they responded within 48 hours, saying that I could get on board. All I needed to do was fill out a passenger reservation form. After I did that I almost immediately received an email with a booking confirmation and that was that! A big thumbs up for their customer service.

Excited and looking forward to the next stage in what was an absolutely amazing adventure, I spent my last couple of days in Scandinavia cycling to Gothenburg, staying close to the beaches and enjoying the warm and sunny weather.

Leaving Gothenburg on a cargo ship.
Leaving Gothenburg…

How much did it cost? you ask. It was 2140SEK in total, which is about 250 euro, for a sea crossing of 1,300km, one night in a single en-suite cabin on board, four meals and as many snacks, (soft) drinks and coffee as you could eat or drink. There was free wi-fi, a large flat-screen TV, a living room, dining room, games and DVDs to watch. It was nothing less than fantastic.

Dining room on a cargo ship.
Dining room.
Living room on a cargo ship
Living room.
Passenger cabin on a cargo ship.
My cozy little cabin.

Usually there are quite a few truck drivers on board, but because it was a Monday, they told me, there weren’t any. It was just me and a couple from England who were traveling by car. The journey lasted a little over 26 hours. I totally loved spending a night and day at sea. The only things you would see during the day were water, other freight ships and (the blue/orange flame of) oil or gas rigs. The North Sea is dotted with those rigs by the way; I saw a surprising lot of them.

Oil or gas rigs at the North Sea.
Oil or gas rigs at the North Sea.
Oil rig at North Sea.
Another one.

It was a great experience for sure, and something that I would definitely recommend doing. I really, really liked it. So much that I will probably do something like this again in the future. It’s cheap, it’s fun and it’s just a cool way to travel. And… most importantly, it’s not a sardine can like a plane!

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Sunset on a cargo ship at the North Sea.
Good night from the North Sea!

UPDATE (December 12, 2016): I have been informed that it is no longer possible for non-commercial passengers to travel to Immingham by cargo ship, as there are no adequate passport control facilities at the harbor. 

21 thoughts on “Crossing the North Sea on a Cargo Ship

  • Soooo jealous! I have wanted to do the same for so long but I was told that security was too tight on international ships and that some crazy security clearance needs to happen first- maybe different in the Euro zone? Either way, great post, super jealous and I am now on a mission!

    • Thanks for commenting Geoff. It’s totally different in the Euro zone I guess, I think it’s possible and fairly easy to take cargo ships between US ports though. I only needed my passport and had to fill out a form with my details. I can imagine it would be a lot more difficult if you wanted to cross an ocean and go to another continent. I’m pretty sure that requires a specific visa.

  • That is awesome! Much more impressive accommodations than I thought.

    Likewise, this is also on my ‘to-do’ list. Now I cannot wait to check it out myself! Thanks for sharing Bram 🙂

  • I actually had no idea that was a possible way to travel in Europe. I’m going to check out the website!

  • That looks SO cool!
    I have to say, when I first read that you would be crossing by cargo ship, I thought: ‘oh boy’. It’s not that I need a lot of luxury when I’m traveling, but in my head a cargo ship seemed cold, rusty and uncomfortable.
    What I see in those pictures is anything but!
    I’m checking that company out.
    Let’s plan a trip!:)

  • Oh maybe you could tell us just how comfortable it was?
    Like what where you bathroom options? Was it just one shared bathroom?
    Were there several?
    Were you being cooked for?
    Could you go outside whenever you wanted to?
    Where there chairs on the deck?

    Getting excited over here:)

    • Sofie,

      All accommodation was en-suite. The bathroom in my single room had a shower, toilet and sink and was as big as the rest of the room. Absolutely no complaints there.
      In the picture of the dining room you can see the kitchen on the left-hand side. That’s where the cook would prepare our meals (the crew’s dining room is on the other side of the kitchen). The fridge in that picture was always full of drinks, cheeses, yoghurt and fruit too. The cook was a nice and funny guy as well. He even let me do my laundy in the crew’s laundry room!
      As a passenger you could go outside at all times, but only on the rear deck of the ship. It’s not big though and there’s not a lot to do (very windy!), but there were tables and benches where you could sit. You obviously weren’t allowed anywhere near the cargo.

      If you’ve got more question, you know where to find me! 🙂

  • Surreal! Totally would love to do this 🙂 Great shots!

  • Waannnnaaa go for that ….

    crazyy pics thanks for sharing …..!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • What a great trip! Congrats!

    I love unique (and cheap!) ways to travel, this is definitely one of those!

  • Wow, much nicer than I expected. It has me thinking that maybe we could put our motorhome on one. We did on a ferry to Newfoundland and they look similar.

  • Done it myself from Immingham to Esbjerg in 2006 on board DFDS Tor Suecia (now named Suecia Seaways). I took my car and I too found the experience absolutely fantastic. The cabin, lounge area, service and food were fantastic. There were 6 passengers on my crossing, another guy driving to Denmark to visit family and 4 truck drivers, made for good company on the crossing. Sadly I don’t think DFDS allow passengers on the Denmark route any more, just commercial drivers.

    • Right! I agree with everything you said :-). I can’t wait to do something like this again. It was brilliant.

  • My daughter and want to travel from the US to either Swden or Danmark on a cargo ship? Any ideas?

    • Christine, I’m not sure if it’s possible to travel across the Atlantic on a cargo ship. There may be some companies that accept passengers, but with immigration laws and things like that, I don’t know how easy it is to find them. I’m sorry I can’t help you better!

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