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How can I travel with my pet from Spain to the UK without it going in the hold?

As pets are not allowed to travel in the cabin of planes from Spain to the United Kingom, what alternative routes are available to pet owners who don't want their furry friends to fly as cargo down below in the aircraft's hold?

Travelling with a pet
Taking a pet from Spain to UK. Photo: Egor Gordeev / Unsplash

Many people in Spain own pets, around one in four households, and this is true too of foreign residents.

But what happens when you want to travel to the UK with your furry friend – is there any way for your pet to travel without going in the hold?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that no pets are permitted to fly in the cabin on any flight into the UK. 

This is down to government regulations. The UK is considered rabies-free, which means that there are very strict protocols to follow when importing a pet. 

The only animals that may be permitted to fly in the cabin are registered assistance dogs, even then they are still only allowed on certain routes on particular airlines. Emotional support animals do count but must still travel in the hold. 

This means that if you don’t want your pet to fly as cargo, you will have to find alternative routes to get them into the UK.

According to the UK government website, you can enter with your pet cat, dog or ferret only if it:

  • has been microchipped
  • has a pet passport or health certificate
  • has been vaccinated against rabies 

Dogs must also have a tapeworm treatment before travel. If you do not abide by the above rules, your pet may be put into quarantine for up to 4 months and you will have to pay any fees or charges.

READ ALSO – Reader question: What are the latest rules on travelling between Spain and the UK with pets?

For many pet owners, the prospect of having to be separate from their furry friends on a flight without being able to check on them as they’re kept in crates in the cargo is a major source of worry.

Will the experience be traumatising for them? Will they be taken care of in situations of extreme heat or cold or poor ventilation? There have been cases of pets dying or getting injured as a result of being in these often difficult transport conditions, so for many owners the risks are just not worth it.

But what are the alternatives if you still want to take your pet with you from Spain to the UK but you want to make sure they’re by your side at all times?

By car

If your pet is used to travelling in the car on long journeys, this will most likely be one of the easiest ways of travelling with them from Spain to the UK. It means that you can stop as often as you want for toilet and water breaks, and also stop overnight along the way if you need to. 

A non-stop car journey between Madrid and London (1,726km distance) will take at the very least 19 hours, but you should expect it to be considerably longer if you include stops. 

When you get to Calais, you can take your vehicle (and your pets inside) on the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle over to Dover in just 35 minutes.

Keep in mind, your pet will not be able to leave the vehicle during this crossing. In order words, your pet won’t be allowed in the passenger seating area.

Standard prices for the Eurotunnel cost from around €100. 

By train (and taxi)

Travelling by train with your pets may seem like an easy and great alternative to flying, however one of the main problems is that Eurostar doesn’t allow any pets on board, with the exception of guide dogs and assistance dogs.

This means that travelling by train is going to be a lot more complicated than you might have first thought.

Firstly in Spain, Renfe states that on Ave and long distance (Larga Distancia) trains, you can travel with your pet as long as:

  • It’s a dog, cat, ferret, but not poultry
  • Does not weigh more than 10 kg
  • Always travels inside a cage or carrier, with a maximum size of 60x35x35 cm
  • Only one pet per person allowed
  • Your ticket allows travel with a pet

The pet ticket is free if you travel with a Premium ticket, in a Preferential or Grand Class bed or a Grand Comfort Seat. For Basic tickets, you can travel with your pet for an additional €20.

However, larger dogs are not allowed on the AVE long-distance trains or the media distancia (medium distance) and Avant trains. If you have a larger dog, you will most likely need to take the much slower local Cercanías trains and then Rodalies in Catalonia up to the Pyrenees to cross into France.

Once in France, you are able to take small dogs under 6kg with you, as long as they travel in a carrier not exceeding 45cm x 30cm x 25cm. Larger dogs must wear a muzzle and be on a leash. They will pay half the price of a 2nd class full fare. Pet tickets cannot be booked online so you will need to call ahead of time to book.

When you reach Paris, you will have to find a way to get to the UK via the Eurotunnel instead of the Eurostar. This means either hiring a car to get across or taking a taxi.

Rail travel website The Man in Seat 61 recommends Taxi Company Folkestone Taxis, who provide a special pet taxi service for you and your pooch. They will be able to take you from the port in Calais to the port in Folkestone from around £125, with the cost of the Eurotunnel ticket added on top.

When you finally reach the UK, you can take dogs, cats and other small animals with you free on all trains. There is a maximum of two allowed per passenger. Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times or put in a carrier. Other smaller animals must be kept in cages or carriers, however they cannot go on seats, otherwise you will incur a fine. 

By ferry

If you want to travel by ferry from either Spain or France with your pet, this can also be a good option. Although it may possibly take longer, it could be more comfortable for your pet than the combination of different trains and taxis. However, many ferries don’t allow foot passengers to take pets, so again, you may need your own car. On ferries, pets can either stay in your car, in a pet-friendly cabin or in the onboard kennels.

Brittany Ferries is one of the few ferry companies to offer pet-friendly cabins and exercise areas on some vessels.

Brittany Ferries’ Galicia and Santander both have pet-friendly cabins and sail on routes from Santander to Portsmouth and Cherbourg to Portsmouth. Pont Aven also has pet-friendly cabins on its routes from Santander to Plymouth.

All these ferries with pet-friendly cabins have a pet exercise area onboard, but pets must be muzzled and on a leash when not in the cabin. 

The cost of taking a pet on-board costs approximately €82 each way from Spain and around €20 each way from ports in France. On average, ferries between northern Spain and the UK take between 24 and 28 hours.

P&O Ferries also accept dogs, cats and ferrets on the Dover to Calais route for around €18 per pet each way. However, pets must stay in your car for the entire crossing. You are not allowed to take one if you are a foot passenger.

By plane to France 

Another option that could save you some time could be to fly from where you are in Spain to Paris and from there go to Calais by train, and then take a taxi across to the UK.

This will of course depend on the size of your pet and your airline’s requirements, but if they are small (usually below 8kg with the weight of the carrier) they can travel with you in the plane’s cabin and then next to you on the bus, train or taxi. 

As with the other options mentioned above, these alternative routes can be longer and more expensive than just flying to the UK from Spain with your pet in the hold. 

Member comments

  1. …. And very, very good luck trying to book a pet friendly cabin on the Brittany Ferries’ Galicia (Santander and Bilbao to UK) route.

    Top tip… Don’t even bother trying to book a pet friendly cabin as they are booked up years in advance.

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Slow travel: Six inspiring ways to experience it and help Spain

The Spanish Tourism Office has launched a new slow travel campaign for this summer, promoting sustainable travel across the country. We've put together a guide which explains the concept and some inspiring ideas for a 'slow' holiday in Spain.

Slow travel: Six inspiring ways to experience it and help Spain

Tourism is a double-edged sword for Spain. On the one hand, it’s the driving force of the economy and provides work directly to around three million people, indirectly to plenty more.

On the other hand, the impact 83 million yearly tourists (2019 figures) have on the daily lives of locals in popular towns and cities, as well as what uncontrolled overbuilding, relentless air travel and other practices affecting the environment, have pushed many to question whether the financial benefits of the conventional tourism model are worth it for Spain.

Enter ‘slow travel’, also known as ‘slow tourism’. 

The new #SlowTravelSpain campaign launched by Spain’s Tourism Board aims to highlight the importance of forming a connection with local people, while also lessening harmful impacts on communities and the environment.

It will focus on lesser-known destinations in Spain and showcase activities with a low impact on the environment such as hiking and cycling.

Slow travel in Spain can also mean choosing to travel via rail, Spain’s Tourism Board has said, or participating in “responsible activities”, from eating locally-sourced food to staying at a small guesthouse rather than at luxury five-star hotels.

Spain is preparing for a busy summer with travel firmly back this season after the two and half years since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to the latest data from Spain’s National Statistic Institute (INE) in the first three months of 2022, the number of tourists visiting Spain skyrocketed by 696 percent, close to 9.7 million. In the same period of 2021, only 1.2 million arrived.

Catalonia for example is expecting a huge influx of tourists this summer. They expect record-breaking figures, with Barcelona city apartments at nearly 100 percent occupancy in for the whole summer.

The main tourist areas across the country’s coastline expect high occupancy rates in July and August not seen since 2006 and 2007, with even inland tourist spots likely to be 80 percent full in August. 

Due to these crazy tourism numbers, slow travel and minimising your impact on locals and the environment are more important than ever.

Needless to say, Spain’s national and local governments should be held accountable for implementing effective sustainable tourism models, but if you love Spain and want to be a more responsible traveller, there’s plenty you can do to help also while still having a great time. 

Here is some slow travel inspiration for your travels in Spain this summer. 

Hiking routes

It’s not only Spain’s famous hiking routes such as the Camino de Santiago, which should catch your attention, because the country in fact boasts an array of great itineraries all over the country. A hiking holiday is of course more sustainable, but it can take you to small towns and villages untouched by mass tourism, promoting responsible travel too.

Instead of the classic Camino Francés, across the top of Spain to Santiago de Compostela, why not try one of the alternatives, such as the Vía de la Plata instead? This camino runs from Seville in Andalusia, all the way up through Extremadura and into Galicia.

Or how about walking the Camí de Cavalls, a 360º tour of the Balearic Island of Menorca or the Camí de Ronda, an old smuggler’s route that runs the whole coast of Catalonia? Or perhaps you want something a little more challenging and mountainous – you could try the Sendero GR-142, through the Sierra Nevada, the provinces of Granada and Almería and the delightful Alpujarras and its mountain villages.

Hiking is a great way to explore Spain. Photo: Lisa Redfern / Pixabay

READ ALSO: Top tips to safely enjoy Spain’s Camino de Santiago on foot or by bike

Rural properties

Rather than staying in big, popular franchise hotels, why not book a casa rual or rural property? There are a myriad of different types of rural properties to choose from, which can be rented for weeks or months at a time, allowing you to stay in one place and experience a more natural slice of Spain. Many of them are renovated old farmhouses, olive mills, wineries and other historic buildings with plenty of character and charm.

You’ll find rural properties located in all of Spain’s 17 regions, set in some of the most magnificent landscapes such as natural parks, in verdant forests or along wild stretches of coastline. Some great Spanish websites to look for rural houses to rent include: Escapada Rural, Club Rural, and Casas Rurales. Opt for places in the regions not so well known by international tourists such as Asturias, Cantabria, Extremadura, and Aragón. 

Cycle paths

Spain is an ideal country for cycling in, not least because it’s home to several vías verdes or greenways. These are dedicated cycling routes, dotted all across the country, built along old disused railway lines. Today they have become an environmentally friendly way to explore the country.

Read here to see some of our favourite cycle routes in Spain, from the great TransAndalus trail to the Ruta Don Quijote through Castilla-La Mancha.

Windmills Castilla-La Mancha

See the famous windmills of Consuegra along this cycle route. Photo: JamesHose / Pixabay

National Parks

While Spain’s coastal resorts and historic cities grab all the attention, its national parks are visited nowhere near as often by international tourists. You could choose mountain climbing in the Picos de Europa in the north; spotting flamingos in Andalusia’s Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s most beautiful and important wetlands; or exploring the Caribbean-like islands in Galicia’s Atlantic Islands National Park.

Or perhaps the lunar-like landscapes of Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park are more your scene or the incredible soaring peaks and deep valleys of the Aragonese Pyrenees in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park.

Visit the Picos de Europa in Asturias. Photo: Daniel Nebreda / Pixabay

READ ALSO: Seven of Spain’s lesser-known natural parks to visit this summer

Lesser-known islands

Spain’s Canary and Balearic Islands are popular getaways, not just for Spaniards but for holidaymakers from all over Europe. They’re so popular in fact, that they are often among the top holiday spots in Spain. But, not all of these islands are equally busy. Head to the Canary Islands of La Graciosa or El Hierro for a quieter side to island life. The first is one of the last places in Europe with no paved roads and few people, while the second is well-known for its incredible underwater landscapes.

In the Balearics, laidback Menorca is quite the opposite of its party island sisters of Mallorca and Ibiza, while the tiny hippie island of Formentera is where most people get around on bikes rather than cars.

Discover Spain’s lesser-known islands. Photo: GERVASIO RUIZ / Pixabay

READ ALSO – Islas Cíes, Galicia: Discovering the incredible beauty of Spain’s most pristine islands

Train travel

Spain in general has an excellent public transport system and its rail network is extensive in some regions, often reaching charming mountain villages, natural parks and wild areas, without the need for a car. There are a few places however where the rail journey can even be your destination.

Catalonia’s Tren dels Llacs links the city of Lleida with La Pobla de Segur, winding its way across bridges, spanning spectacular lakes and gorges. The Transcantábrico runs all the way across what is known as Green Spain in the north from San Sebastián to Santiago de Compostela, while the Tren de Campos de Castilla trundles across the sweeping windmill filled plains of Castilla La-Mancha.

READ ALSO: How to buy cheap train tickets in Spain 

If you admire Spain’s culture, landscapes and people, give one of these slow travel methods a go. You might just discover a more relaxed and fulfilling way of travelling which gives you a deeper appreciation for Spain.