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Think of Gibraltar and it’s likely that two things spring immediately to mind. However, there’s so much more to this small British Overseas Territory than just the Rock and its most famous inhabitants, the Barbary Macaques. So read on for my top ten things to do in Gibraltar.
START WITH A STROLL ACROSS THE RUNWAY
This might seem like an unusual recommendation but where else in the world can you walk into a country across a working airport runway? Only a few airlines service Gibraltar so for most of the day (and night) it’s easy to walk from the airport (if you’ve flown in) or from La Linea de la Concepcion in Spain into the centre.
If a plane’s arrival or departure is imminent the road will be closed to traffic and pedestrians so you can stop and get a great view of the plane on the runway.
GET YOUR BEARINGS AT THE TOP OF THE ROCK
Whether you’re flying into Gibraltar, arriving by sea, or crossing the land border from Spain, you can’t miss the Rock itself and, as you would expect, the views from the top – of Gibraltar, Spain and Africa – are stunning.
There are a few ways to reach the summit. The easiest way is to take a tour. You can find taxis offering rock tours just beyond border control, in Casemates Square, and towards the end of Main Street.
The Cable Car is another alternative. The Cable Car station is on Red Sands Road and ticket prices vary depending on whether you plan to take a return trip or walk back down and also whether you want to include an Upper Rock Nature Reserve ticket.
If you’re up for a challenge though I’d highly recommend walking to the top via the Mediterranean Steps. It’s hard work but you’ll be up close with nature and the views are well worth the effort. You’ll find the start of the route near the Cemetery at Jews’ Gate.
Once you’ve reached the summit, and if you’ve got a head for heights, you can walk along the Windsor Bridge, a suspension bridge over a 50 metre deep gorge on the Royal Anglian Way, or step out on to the Skywalk, a glass viewing platform 340 metres above sea level.
Whichever way you choose to get to the top it’s well worth buying the Upper Rock Nature Reserve ticket I mentioned earlier as this gives you access to several different attractions including the Skywalk, Moorish Castle, Great Siege Tunnels and St Michael’s Cave which are likely to be the high points (literally) of your trip.
STEP BACK IN TIME IN THE GREAT SIEGE TUNNELS
There is a vast series of tunnels inside the Rock at its northern end which were dug out by the British during the Great Siege of Gibraltar at the end of the 18th century. As well as being an interesting look into Gibraltar’s past there are great views through the holes in the rock which were originally used for firing cannons.
WONDER AT THE BEAUTY OF ST MICHAEL’S CAVE
This stunning grotto was created over thousands of years by rainwater slowly seeping through the limestone rock. During World War II it was made ready for use as a hospital but nowadays is open for public tours and the auditorium in Cathedral Cave hosts concerts and other events throughout the year.
SAY HELLO TO THE MONKEYS
The monkeys are officially Barbary macaques and, while it’s not unheard of to see them on Main Street or near Casemates Square, you’ll most likely need to head up the Rock for a guaranteed sighting. If you go up on a tour you’ll stop at the Apes’ Den while, if you’ve ridden the Cable Car to the top, there’ll be a welcoming committee as you step off. Likewise if you’ve walked up the Med Steps there will generally be one or two sitting at the top.
Remember that these are wild animals so keep your wits about you and don’t carry any food or you could find yourself the victim of unwanted simian attention.
If you really want to get up close and personal with the macaques you should get in touch with primatologist Brian Gomila of Monkey Talk who runs regular sunset visits to view the macaques in their natural habitat away from the tourist crowds.
GET BACK TO NATURE IN THE ALAMEDA GARDENS
Gibraltar’s Botanic Gardens are small but well worth an hour or so of your time. With flowers and trees from around the world this is a little haven of tranquillity away from the madness of Main Street.
Within the Gardens you’ll also find a small wildlife conservation park which houses a variety of both native and exotic animals, many of which have been confiscated by customs.
MAKE THE MOST OF THE SUN AND HIT THE BEACH
Gibraltar has a number of popular beaches. Eastern Beach is perfect if you’re a sun worshipper as it’s in constant sun throughout the day. You’ll also get a good view from your sun lounger of planes flying in and out of Gibraltar directly overhead.
Catalan Bay further around the coastline was first settled by fishermen from Genoa in Italy and has jumble of pretty colourful houses leading down to a beautiful sandy beach.
If snorkelling and diving is more your thing then Camp Bay is the spot for you. There’s a rocky beach and an artificial reef which makes it ideal for spotting marine life.
CHECK OUT MORE MARINE LIFE ON A DOLPHIN TOUR
The Strait of Gibraltar is a breeding ground for several types of dolphin including Common, Striped and Bottlenose and, if you’re lucky you’ll spot at least one. During certain times of the year you might also get to see whales up close.
There are two tour operators – the Yellow Boat and the Blue Boat – both departing from Ocean Village.
SOAK UP THE HISTORY WITH A MEANDER DOWN MAIN STREET
From Casemates Square, a former site of public executions but now a buzzing mix of bars and restaurants, you can walk up Main Street to Trafalgar Cemetery.
Exceptionally busy when there are cruise ships in port, Main Street is home to some of the big names from the British high street as well as plenty of electronic stores and shops selling perfume and cosmetics. Shopping might not be your thing but it’s interesting to see evidence of the influences on Gibraltar over the years – from traditional British red telephone and post boxes to buildings with Moorish and Andalucian facades.
Irish Town runs parallel to Main Street and is worth a wander as are the streets of Upper Town nestling on the side of the rock. You can even take the outdoor escalator if you’ve had enough of walking!
On, or just off, Main Street you’ll also find the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, the Great Synagogue, the Convent and the Gibraltar National Museum.
SEE THREE COUNTRIES FROM ONE SPOT
On a clear day from Europa Point, the southernmost point in Gibraltar, you’ll be able to clearly see the coasts of both Spain and Morocco as well as, of course, that of Gibraltar.
In addition to the red and white striped lighthouse, you’ll also find the Shrine of our Lady of Europe, the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque and Harding’s Battery.
Getting around Gibraltar is easy enough on foot and there are regular buses leaving from outside Casemates Square. You can also hire bikes but, be warned, there’s a lot of traffic in Gibraltar so, if you’re not a confident cyclist you might want to give them a miss.