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.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s only 6.8 square kilometres in size (5 kms long and 1.2 kms wide) although much of that area is taken up by the Rock of Gibraltar which stands at 426m high.
The population of Gibraltar currently stands at just over 33,500 making it the fifth most densely populated country in the world. And that’s before you take into account the 15,000 or so workers who cross the border every day from Spain.
Don’t let that put you off visiting though. For somewhere so small it certainly has enough to keep visitors occupied whether you’re on a day trip from the Costa del Sol or have a few days to spare.
As someone who lives in Spain but visits Gibraltar regularly (I’m an ex-frontier worker) these are some of my favourite things to do.
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 town 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.
Be warned that, if you dawdle too long on the runway to take photos, you’ll hear a disembodied voice from air traffic control telling you to hurry up and cross.
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.
Insider Tip: Buy your Cable Car ticket in advance as the queues can be long, especially in summer, and there’s no shade at the Cable Car station. You can buy online or at the ticket office at the frontier (on the Spanish side). The benefit of this is that there’s a free shuttle included which will take you straight to the Cable Car station where you can then skip the queue.
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, near the Pillars of Hercules monument.
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 need to head up the Rock for a guaranteed sighting. If you go up on a tour you’ll stop at the Apes’ Den halfway up the rock 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. The main entrance to the Gardens is just a short walk from the Cable Car station on Red Sands Road so, if you have the time either before or after your trip up the rock, I’d recommend taking a look.
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. Although entrance to the Gardens is free, there is a small admission charge to the conservation park.
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 the 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 companies – the Yellow Boat and the Blue Boat – both operating from Ocean Village where you’ll be able to buy tickets if you haven’t purchased them in advance (which I’d recommend in high season).
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.
Where to stay in Gibraltar
There aren’t many hotels in Gibraltar, unsurprisingly given its size, but there’s something for every budget.
The Sunborn in Ocean Village is a converted superyacht. Staying here means you have easy access to all the bars and restaurants in Ocean Village but are still just a short walk away from the centre of town.
The Rock Hotel is a Gibraltar institution which exudes old school elegance and has hosted many a celebrity over the years. Backing on to the Rock itself it overlooks the Botanical Gardens.
The Eliott Hotel is perfectly placed towards the top of Main Street which means you’re in a central position for most of Gibraltar’s attractions. It has a lovely rooftop pool not to mention stunning rock views from its rooms.
The Caleta Hotel is probably the best choice if you want to be close to the beach as it has a prime spot overlooking the sands of Catalan Bay.
The Holiday Inn Express is the closest to the airport but still within easy reach of Ocean Village and is situated at the foot of the Rock.
If you fancy a break in Gibraltar, here’s all the practical information you’ll need.
There are only a few flights a day from the UK to Gibraltar with departures from London Gatwick, Bristol, Manchester, and Edinburgh (EasyJet), London Luton (WizzAir) and London Heathrow (BA). The average flight time is around 3 hours.
If you’re a UK citizen you won’t need a visa to visit Gibraltar.
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.
The official currency of Gibraltar is the Gibraltar pound (with the same value as the British pound) although Euros are accepted in most places if you’ve crossed the border from Spain. There are a few bureau de change offices in Gibraltar.
Make sure you check your purse before you leave as, despite having the same value as the British pound, you can’t use Gibraltar pounds once you get back home (although you can use British pounds in Gibraltar).
Given its location, Gibraltar has, on average, 300 days of sunshine a year. Summers are warm and dry although the winters, while mild, can be wet. Summer temperatures often rise well above 30c.
Thanks to the famous Levanter (the wind which often forms a cloud hanging over the Rock), temperatures are cooler than further up the Spanish coast.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to take out travel insurance even if you are only going away for a few days. I recommend buying a policy through World Nomads.
I’ve partnered with Get Your Guide to bring you the best tours at the best prices to help you make the most of your stay in Gibraltar.