Red post boxes, fish and chip shops, pub food, afternoon tea: Anyone would think that you were in a British coastal city, but no! This is a tiny 2.5 square mile piece of The UK at the most Southern tip of the Iberia Peninsula.
Perfectly located at the jaws of Europe and Africa (all 9 miles away), and the opening to the Mediterranean Sea. Gibraltar has been British since long before America was….well American. Its a unbelievably beautiful 2.5 miles of territory bordered by Spain to the North. Its landmark feature is “The Rock” that rises 1400 feet from the ground.
The British captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. It has been a British territory since. Gibraltar plays an important part for British protection and was home to the navy during the two World Wars. The territory semi-governs itself on certain issues but The UK is head of state.
Everything is priced in the Gibraltar Pound that is on parity with the British Pound (Euros are also widely accepted due to Gibraltar’s small size and large number of tourists crossing the border from Spain – BUT be warned; you will pay slightly higher prices). My trip was not particularly frugal, and I did let myself go a little at times, but it definitely did not break the bank.
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION
ℹ️ Travel: As Gibraltar is surrounded on three sides by water and Spain on its fourth the territory can be accessed by sea, land or by air.
There are two airlines that serve the territory that have several flights weekly. British Airways serves from London Heathrow whilst Easyjet operate services from Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick.
Flights are reasonably priced were flight times are roughly three hours. Gibraltar must have one of the only runways in the World where you can actually walk across it. There is one road in and out of this territory to Spain and both the pathway and road crosses the runway, which is closed, when there is an approaching or leaving aircraft.
ℹ️ Currency: The Gibraltar Pound and the British Pound run side by side and are tendered without question.
The Euro (€) is also accepted but change given in Pounds. Gibraltar will cease to be a member of the EU (European Union) once The UK leaves on
31st October 2019.
ℹ️ Credit Cards and Banks: ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street. Every retailer accepts Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
ℹ️ Weather: Gibraltar is lucky enough to only be 9 mikes from Northern Africa so its climate is generally warm and sunny pretty much throughout the whole year, with temperatures rising into the low 30c’s during the Summer months.
ℹ️ Accommodation: The 4* Rock Hotel is perfectly located at the base of the rock and offers a perfect starting point for exploring. A double room costs £120 p/n without breakfast but don’t request it. There are plenty of cafes to eat in. For something a little lighter on the wallet look at the Engineer Guest House priced at £65 p/n.
TIP: Download the app ‘gibAPP’ (android/apple) for live bus tracking, vouchers, maps and tips.
WHAT CAN GIBRALTAR OFFER?
Getting around Gibraltar and exploring is fairly easy as long as you have a decent degree of fitness. Most places are accessible on foot. Remember this territory is 2.5 miles in size. I spent most of my time walking and despite the trudging around with all the new experiences I did not feel any pain!
If walking is not all your thing then Gibraltar offers a great bus service. They all (except the number 5 bus) offer a hopper-pass ticket whereby you can hop-on/hop-off any bus when an Adult ticket for £2.50 is purchased. Great value!
The one sight you will notice above anything else is “The Rock”. A vast limestone ridge that rises to 1400ft, with sheer cliffs on it’s North and East sides dwarfing a peppering of tiny bay beaches below. Most of the upper Rock is a nature reserve with spectacular views and several interesting spots to visit. Once at the peak you will be rewarded with panoramic views that are breath-taking: looking down is Europe at your feet, the North African coastline rises over the horizon, whilst, the gate to the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet.
There is a cable car that escorts visitors to the top of The Rock that takes around 6 minutes. The Base station is located at the Southern end of Main Street, next to Alameda Gardens, opposite “The Rock” hotel. Tickets cost between £12.50 (Euro13.80) to £20.25 (Euro22.50) that includes the cable car and entry to various attractions at the top. Click this link to pre-order you tickets in advance (valid for 6 months)
I purchased an ‘all-access’ ticket for £20.25 – it was well worth the money!
With the exception to the World War 2 tunnels (£8 extra) the ticket allows access to everything on The Rock. TOP TIP: Do not rush the tour. It does take the best part of 3-4 hours to do thoroughly so plan accordingly.
The upper rock nature reserve is defined by literally everything you can do on ‘The Rock’, and as mentioned, if you purchase the full ticket you can gain entry to all sights which include the Apes Den, Moorish Castle, Great Siege Tunnels, The Gibraltar Under Siege Exhibition (Awesome!), and St. Michael’s Cave.
As part of the package ticket are Gibraltar’s most famous inhabitants – the tailless Barbary apes, the only free-living primates in Europe. The apes cheekily loiter around ‘Apes Den’ near the middle cable-car station; the others can often be seen at the top cable-car station and the Great Siege Tunnels. Folk stories say when the apes disappear from Gibraltar, so will the British.
Although the Apes are generally friendly be aware not to carry any food or loose items such as a camera as they will swipe them from you in curiosity.
Half way down the side of The Rock, approx 400 yards from the Great Siege Tunnels, is Moorish Castle. Beautifully alight in the evening times can be proudly seen from the streets below.
The tower is all that remains of the castle that dates back to the 11th Century. It has seen many sieges over those years where it was captured by the British in 1704 where the British flag has flown ever since.
GREAT SIEGE TUNNELS
At the North end of The Rock is a labyrinth of tunnels that were dug out by hand by the British in 1782 as a way to load cannons towards the combined Spanish and French troops who tried to recapture the territory.
The tunnels meander down towards an area called ‘St. George’s Hall’ were several cannons were mounted pointing in various directions. When you see the size of the hall you will be impressed all this was dug out by hand!
GIBRALTAR UNDER SIEGE EXHIBITION
Just a short walk from Moorish Castle is the under siege exhibition. It does not take long to wonder around the remains of what was a hospital building to heal the war wounded plus and open courtyard were discipline was enforced and the dead were kept.
Although this exhibition is probably the most simplistic I actually found it the most interesting. Peppered around the peripheral walls of the building are engravings in the brick work that date back to the middle 1700s, that were carved by the soldiers at that time. I actually spent about half an hour reading all the carvings.
ST MICHAEL’S CAVE
St Michael’s Cave is located towards the Southern end of The Rock and is an attraction on its own. The cave is a series of tunnels and chambers lined with Stalagmites and Stalactites all beautifully illuminated to music. St. Michael’s Cave is now home to Prayer, Ballet, Concerts and used as a general auditorium with seating for a few hundred people.
LEAVING THE ROCK
If you have purchased either the cable car or full nature reserve ticket once you have finished all the tours you can make your way back towards the cable car station for the return trip back down to the base station.
However, if like me, you decide to walk the remaining decent from The Rock , follow the winding road (Old Queens Road) from the Great Siege Exhibition to a long narrow set of steps on the right known as the ‘Castle Steps’. This meandering stairway will escort you back down to Main Street through the narrow cobbles of old Gibraltar.
Take the Number 3 bus to Rosia that meanders towards the southwest end of town near the harbour (Rosia Road) and you will discover ‘Nelson’s Anchorage’ that pinpoints the site where Nelson’s body was brought ashore from the HMS Victory – preserved in a rum barrel. To commemorate this spot lies a 100 ton cannon gun.
I have to admit it was not on my ‘top sights’ of Gibraltar but I am pleased I made time for Trafalgar cemetery. In all fairness the cemetery is unavoidable if you are planning to walk to the cable car base station.
Located on Prince Edwards Road, Navel history buffs will love it! The cemetery gives a poignant history lesson with its graves of British sailors who perished here after the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. Opposite the cemetery is an aptly named pub called ‘The Trafalgar’.
EUROPA POINT and TRINITY LIGHTHOUSE
Catch the number 2 bus using your hopper ticket to Europa Point near the Gibraltar University. You will know you are at the right spot when your focus is taken by a beautiful red and white painted Lighthouse.
Again, it will not take you long to see whats on offer. It is an area for some incredible photographs across the Strait of Gibraltar towards Africa. There is a small cafeteria here but save your money and jump back onto the Number 2 bus back to Main Street once again.
Located on Bomb House Lane (Entry £2). Gibraltar has some active history during many siege’s during the 17th Century. This is a fine museum that comprises a labyrinth of rooms ranging from prehistoric and Phoenician Gibraltar, to the infamous Great Siege of 1779. More information can be found at gibmuseum.gi
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining and watching the world pass by over a drink. There are three main areas to focus on and all come with a slightly different atmosphere. Make tracks for ‘Market Place, Main Street and Casemates Square, and, Ocean Village’.
All areas are manageable by walking as they all pretty much connect to one another. For ease on the wallet, however, make tracks for Ocean Village especially from 4pm when happy hours begin until 8pm.
Market Place is home to the main market square and Gibraltar’s main bus terminus. Here you will find a ‘Square’ brimming with cafes, restaurants and quaint old pubs serving the traditional British food along with the usual pasta, pizza and meat dishes. In the centre of the Square you can often be entertained by street performers, artists and the odd stand selling handmade crafts.
Market Square is a little on the expensive side but ideal for a drink to watch passers-by. A great little pub is called the ‘Lord Nelson’ tucked away in the corner offering traditional pub food classics.
MAIN STREET AND CASEMATES SQUARE
Main Street is one long street lined with all sorts of local and international shops and department stores. Peppered between these shops are narrow streets that lead to off-the-beaten track tiny pubs and coffee houses.
Casemates Square is a hive of activity and is home to City Hall and Government buildings. Gibraltar is a VAT free territory so shopping along this street is marginally cheaper than back in The UK. Whats more, the currency is the British Pound so there are no exchange rates to contend with! For European visitors the Euro is widely accepted.
Certainly the best place to head to for value for money. The Ocean Village is found along the Harbour side and offers a great range of restaurants from seafood to traditional pub classics, to Cuban and Asian.
Whats more, there is a Floating Casino and restaurant that once was a cruise ship that now has been docked and converted into a floating hotel to match. Head to the Cuban bar for Happy Hour cocktails between 4-8pm.
I have to admit considering this little piece of Britain in the Mediterranean is only 2.5 square miles in size it not half packs a punch! There is so much to do and see and for history buffs it has some, and more! You will leave Gibraltar drained but in a good way. It seems odd to use the buses when the area is so accessible on foot but you will soon discover although walking is a great way to explore the terrain is hilly and your body begins to ache.
I arrived in Gibraltar with no expectations. I did not know what to encounter but I left with a soft love of the place. It old, quirky, cute, ironically diverse and yet feels like home…..but warmer.