When most people hear Gibraltar mentioned, they think of a small piece of the U.K. at the south of Spain. Upon visiting Gibraltar though, it’s clear to see that there is so much more. Between its history, its diverse culture, its size and most importantly, the massive rock in the centre of the colony – it’s not your average city. With only 30,000 people living here (plus another 10,000 who travel over the border each day for work) and a total land area of 6.8km², it is scarcely the size of a large town although due to its prominent location at the gateway to the Mediterranean, it is an area of strategic importance. Due to this it has been at the centre of a number of different wars over the years, firstly the Moors had control until the Anglo Dutch war whereby Britain gained dominance. There have been plenty of attempts by the Spanish to regain control, most notably the Great Siege of Gibraltar, although none have been successful. With all of this history, it gives the place a unique feel with an eclectic mix of both British and Spanish influences.
The Pound Sterling is the main currency although Euro is common too. Card seems to be accepted anywhere although many of the retailers only charge your card in Sterling.
Again the language is a mix of both English and Spanish. English is the official language and you will get by fine with it, although a bit of Spanish can help at times.
If you are coming from one of the surrounding towns or cities in Spain, you need to get a bus to a place called La Línea de la Concepción, which is the town just north of Gibraltar on the Spanish side. The bus station is a five minute walk from the Gibraltar border and the border is easy to find with lots of other tourists making their way towards the check point. I got the bus from Marbella which took about 1 hour 30 mins and cost €7 each way. You can fly to Gibraltar either and the airport is just inside the border. The airport is quite small and easy to navigate – it also gives great views of the rock of Gibraltar so if you have time, you can walk into the airport and go up to the viewing deck and you can see the rock (pictured) without the need for a plane ticket.
Firstly, you will need your passport to enter Gibraltar. Coming from the EU, Britain, USA, Canada or Australia, you do not need to pre apply for a tourist visa. Those from outside these countries need to apply for a visa through their local British embassy.
What to do
There are plenty of things to do while here, with most revolving around the main tourist attraction – the unmissable and impressive Rock of Gibraltar. Other sights of note are St. Michaels Cave, the Pillars of Hercules, the Great Siege Tunnels and the city centre itself.
The Rock of Gibraltar
The rock is by far the most iconic and well known of the tourist attractions, and coming to Gibraltar it’s impossible to miss. Most of the rock is covered by a nature reserve and in coming here, you can also visit the caves and the tunnels at the same time while you will also have plenty of opportunities to see the wild monkeys. Getting here can be done in one of two ways – coming from the border you can either walk into the city centre and get a cable car from there or you can get a taxi. As I was a little pressed for time, I chose the taxi option which came in at around €30 which covered transport to The Pillars of Hercules, then to see the monkeys, St. Michaels Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels and then a lift back into the city centre. The entrance fees were the caves and the tunnels was included in this while the Pillars of Hercules and visiting the monkeys was free. In all, the trip took approximately 2 hours so it was a convenient way to see the main attractions for anyone who is short on time. The other way to visit the rock is by cable car – you can grab the cable car from the southern end of Main Street for about €24 which also covers entrance fees to the different attractions on the rock. To get to Main Street is about a twenty minute walk from the border so it’s not too far.
The Pillars of Hercules
According to legend, Hercules single handedly pushed apart the continents of Europe and Africa, thus creating the Strait of Gibraltar. The monument here is dedicated to this story and whether you believe this or not, you can’t argue with the views from here. It is possible to see along the coastline of Algeciras in Spain from here, you can see the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and you can see lots of Gibraltars reclaimed land below.
St. Michael’s Caves
The caves are an impressive series of limestone caves, found within the upper nature reserve on the Rock of Gibraltar. Initially believed to connect Europe to Africa underwater, locals thought that this passage was how the monkeys came to the rock! Inside the cave, it opens up into a massive open space which has been used as an auditorium since the 60’s with enough room to seat 400 people. In all, there are over 150 caves on the rock, St. Michaels Caves being the most famous with almost one million visitors each year. The entrance fee
is covered if you get the cable car or taxi to the caves so make sure you hang on to your ticket!
Generally referred to in Gibraltar as the apes, the Barbary Macaques are a wild breed of monkey that live of the upper part of the rock. In all, there are 5 different families living separately spread out in different parts and they are the only wild monkeys currently living in Europe. When I got to see them, it was mid June so there were lots of newborns around which was great to see. If you are going to see them, make sure you don’t feed them or have any food on you as they will steal it and apparently they often go for sunglasses too – it is probably advisable not to have anything hanging loose that might attract their attention! Also, as they are wild, trying to touch them or pick them up is strongly discouraged.
The Great Siege Tunnels
Another great reason to visit Gibraltar is the Great Siege Tunnels. To give a bit of background, they are a network of man made tunnels totalling six miles in length which have been dug into the Rock of Gibraltar. The tunnels were constructed by hand using sledgehammers and gunpowder with the aim of protecting Gibraltar against attack from the Spanish and French who were attempting to capture the rock from the British in the Great Seige war between 1779 and 1783. Inside the tunnels, you can explore different a number of different rooms, get views of the bay and see some of the artillery they used at the time.
Another previously unknown reason to visit Gibraltar is its airport runway – it is the only runway in the world that is also used as a public road! After you come through customs, everyone has to cross the runway to get to the centre of Gibraltar. When there are planes arriving or taking off, the runway is closed to cars and pedestrians so there’s no fear of any collisions luckily. On my way back to the bus station, there were a number of flights coming in to land so crossing the runway was closed to pedestrians and cars – it was a great chance to see the planes speeding down the runway and then two minutes later, to walk across the runway myself!
One reason Gibraltar sees a lot of tourism is for the shopping! Particularly for alcohol, cigarettes and electronics, with no tax charged on these items. For example, a litre bottle of Smirnoff vodka was £6.30 in a shop on Main Street while 200 cigarettes could be bought in the airport for £20 or £26 on Main Street. Leaving the country through the airport, it does have restrictions on how much you can bring but by land, there didn’t seem to be any such constraints.
Food in Gibraltar was, similar to the language, of Spanish and British influence. Lots of restaurants offered tapas menus with all sorts of meat and vegetable options while British eateries veered more towards ‘pub grub’ with full English breakfast and Fish & Chips being commonly advertised. Personally I went for the tapas and they didn’t disappoint!
So that’s our review of the wonderful Gibraltar. A place steeped in history, impressive landmarks and the best thing is that once you are here, everything is within walking distance. Hopefully this will be of some use to you if you plan on visiting. If you have any questions, do let me know and don’t forget to share below 🙂