Ah, Gibraltar, this tiny and confusing stretch of land! It sits so close to Spain that you might think it’s Spain. And yet it’s not. Gibraltar is actually a British overseas territory, which means it’s under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. But sadly more than half of the Brits don’t know that, according to The Olive Press publication.
Located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula at the crossroads of Europe and Africa, Gibraltar spreads over an area of only 6.7 km2(2.6 square miles). It’s hard to imagine that such a small place can have so much political importance, history and attractions. And yet it does.
A Brief History of Gibraltar
Because of its unrivaled position right at the entrance to the Mediterranean, Spain, France and Britain tried to gain control over Gibraltar for many years. In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Anglo-Dutch forces captured Gibraltar from Spain. But after the Treaty of Utrect in 1713 the territory was ultimately ceded to Britain.
Subsequently, the British turned it into a heavily fortified air and naval base that guards the Strait of Gibraltar, thus ensuring safe passage for trade ships which pass through the strait.
After the UK and Gibraltar left the European Union in 2020, Spain tried repeatedly to convince the United Nations to reunite Gibraltar with the rest of the mainland. But Britain has steadily refuted the claims.
How to Get to Gibraltar
You can reach Gibraltar either by plane, bus, ferry or car.
Gibraltar International Airport (GIB) has direct flights from London and Bristol and connections from many other European cities. If you travel from the US you can connect for Gibraltar in London. The flight takes a little under 3 hours.
For those coming from Morocco, the easiest way to reach Gibraltar is by ferry from Tangier. There are two routes:
- Tangier Ville Port – Tarifa (one hour). This route is shorter and better located, in the city of Tangier. However there is no rental car place in Tarifa, so you’ll have to travel to Gibraltar by bus.
- Tangier Med Port – Algeciras (one hour and a half). Although longer and farther away from Tangier (50 km away), this route is good if you are planning to rent a car. The car rental agency is located within walking distance from the ferry terminal.
If you’re driving to Gibraltar you’ll arrive first in La Línea, which is the border town between Spain and Gibraltar. Coming from the Costa del Sol, take the N-340 east toward La Línea or the A7 (Cadiz-Malaga highway), then turn south at the Junction 119 into the N-351.
If you are coming by bus you should know there are no buses that take you right into Gibraltar. However, all the major towns on Costa del Sol are connected to La Línea. The frontier is just a five minute walk away from La Linea Bus Station. Once you clear Spanish Customs and then Gibraltar Customs, bus no. 9 or 10 will take you into the city center or to the base of the funicular station.
Getting Around Gibraltar
If you come to Gibraltar after visiting Morocco and want to rent a car, the best option is to take the ferry from Tangier to Algeciras. The car rental just next to the ferry terminal. The drive from Algeciras is only 25 minutes (21.5 km) via Autovía del Mediterráneo/A-7. Once we enter Gibraltar navigation becomes more difficult because of the narrow and steep streets.
We checked into a hotel for two nights, so for us it made sense to bring the car into Gibraltar. However, if you are on a day trip to Gibraltar, having a car would be more of a hindrance than a help. Parking is hard to find and traffic is a pain.
Many visitors who come by car from Spain choose to leave their cars in La Linea. There is an underground carpark in Plaza de la Constitution which is easy to find and very cheap (€10/day). From there it’s an easy 10 minute walk to the border, where you can cross on foot.
After you pass through Immigration on the Spanish and then British sides, you will see busses waiting. For €2 you can ride the bus right into the centre of Gibraltar, where you’ll find the main square and the then the shopping street.
Gibraltar may seem small, but it’s not entirely walkable. The only part that you can explore on foot is the small old town, which in my opinion is pretty unremarkable and not worth wasting too much time with. The atmosphere has British feel with red phone booths and postal boxes, but in a sunny, Mediterranean climate.
If you want to go to the beaches, or to Europa Point and the upper rock attractions, you’ll have to take a Taxi, or book a sightseeing tour.
How Much Time Do You Need for Exploring Gibraltar
We spent two nights in Gibraltar, but only one full day for visiting the city and the Nature Reserve. Although small, the city has plenty of attractions to justify 2-3 days of fun if you have the time.
Nonetheless, most people visit Gibraltar as a day trip from Malaga or other cities on Costa del Sol. But ideally you should spend at least one night in Gibraltar if you don’t want to rush through the beautiful sights.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN GIBRALTAR
In our opinion Gibraltar’s most important historical sites and attractions are concentrated around the Nature Reserve, which is why I suggest starting your tour at the top of the Rock.
 Visit the Rock of Gibraltar
The 400 m high Cliff from from which Gibraltar takes its name is one of the city’s most sought-after attractions. Visible from very far away, the Rock offers spectacular views of two continents (Europe and Africa).
To get to the top of the Rock you’ll have to take the funicular from the base station on the edge of the old town, next to the Botanical Garden.
 Ride the Funicular to the Top of the Rock
Riding the cable car to the top of the Rock is one of the most exciting things to do in Gibraltar. The ride itself is short, taking only 5-6 minutes to complete. But rising to an amazing 412 meters above the sea level is absolutely breathtaking!
At the top you’ll encounter a series of terraces from where you can enjoy some amazing views, a gift shop and an eating area.
Many people just come up here for the views and then go back down. However, I suggest continuing your way down on foot. Along the way you can visit the entire Nature Reserve and the many points of interest you’ll encounter.
 Enjoy the Gibraltar Monkeys
Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary Macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. When did the macaques arrive in Gibraltar is still unclear, but in the 1700s when the British took over this territory they were already present.
The monkeys are one of the biggest attractions in Gibraltar. You can see them not only in the Nature Reserve, but also down in the city. They used to come every morning on our hotel terrace, searching for scraps of food.
Although they are incredibly smart and cute, people are not encouraged to interact with them or feed them. They seem very friendly and are not shy at all, but they can attack unexpectedly so it’s wise to keep a safe distance.
 Climb the Mediterranean Steps
Created back in the 18th century by the British military, these steps were used by the soldiers who had to access their defensive posts at the southern end of the Rock.
The steps are rather steep, but the hike is incredibly beautiful taking you to the ruins of the O’Hara and Lord Alley’s Batteries at 421 meters above the sea level.
 The Skywalk
Another thrilling thing to do up on the Rock of Gibraltar is walk along the glass platform of the Skywalk. The 8,000 square feet platform is entirely made of glass and anchored to the rock by 66,000 pounds of steel.
This is another point from where you can enjoy 360 degree views of the Strait of Gibraltar all the way to Africa.
 Visit St. Michael’s Cave
Also in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve is another popular attraction of Gibraltar: St. Michael’s Cave. This is actually a series of caverns made of limestone which was formed by the slow leakage of rainwater through the rock.
The cave was named after a similar grotto located in Apulia, Italy, where the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared. All throughout the cave you’ll see amazing stalactites and stalagmites and through theatrical lighting an angel-like figure of an angel appears in the center of the cave.
Visiting St. Michael’s Cave is a mesmerizing experience! The cave also houses a 400 seat auditorium where you can watch a sound and light show that turns the cave into an even more remarkable and fantastic experience. Like a cathedral!
 Walk Across Windsor Suspension Bridge
Hanging above a 50-meter deep gorge, the Windsor Suspension Bridge is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It reminded me a lot about the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, Canada. The bridge is a new addition to the Nature Reserve, being open to the public in 2016.
The bridge measures 71 meters in length and is located between two batteries along the Royal Anglian Way, one of the many footpaths on the Rock of Gibraltar. From up here you’ll be able to enjoy magnificent views across the strait, the bay and the city.
 The Moorish Castle
In the lower part of The Rock you’ll come across the remnants of the Moorish Castle complex. Today only the Tower of Homage and some fortified walls are left of this once grandiose fortification. Looking at this awe inspiring site you can only imagine how much more impressive the castle was in its heyday.
The history of the Moorish Castle dates back to the 11th century, when it was built by the Arabs to guard the Strait of Gibraltar.
 Go Back in Time at the Great Siege Tunnels
Given its strategic position, Gibraltar has undergone many sieges during its long history. But none was as famous as the Great Siege of 1779-1783, when France and Spain attempted to recapture it from the British. In order to defend the city, the British carved into the rock some very impressive tunnels.
It’s interesting to visit the tunnels and see the vast cannons and guns which were used to defeat the enemy troops. This was perhaps one of the strongest defensive military structures ever built. There are also traces of graffiti on the walls, left by 18th-century soldiers.
 Visit the Lighthouse at Europa Point
Sitting on the southernmost tip of Gibraltar you’ll find another interesting place to visit: Europa Point and Lighthouse. This place is the point where and where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Oceans. Other than the lighthouse there is not much else to visit here. Nonetheless, the views of the Rock and the coast of Morocco, which lies just 21km (13mi) away across the strait, will make your trip worth it.
It is a great place to watch the sunset over Spain and if you are really lucky you get to see passing Dolphins putting on a show.
We set off from the car park at the base of the cable car station and our route took us through the Alameda Botanical Gardens and along Rosia Road, which curved around the headland through a couple of vehicular tunnels in the rock.
 Walk Along the Main Street
Many people will argue that visiting Main Street in Old Town Gibraltar is definitely worth it. I personally didn’t find it very impressive. Especially after visiting The Rock and the beautiful sights within the Nature Reserve.
On the Main Street you’ll find lots of shops and restaurants, some of which have nice patios where you can sit outside. However, if you want to do some shopping this place may be for you.
Interesting Facts About Gibraltar
1. The Rock of Gibraltar is one of the two “Pillars of Hercules”
The Strait of Gibraltar spans between the mythical Pillars of Hercules. The northern pillar is the Rock of Gibraltar at Gibraltar, and the southern pillar is the Jebel Musa peak, in Morocco. The pillars were created when Hercules, the Greek mythical hero, smashed through the mount Atlas to create the straits.
2. Many celebrities were married or spent their honeymoon in Gibraltar
Getting married in Gibraltar is easy and relatively quick, which is why it is one of the most popular wedding destinations in Europe. Besides, it’s an English speaking country with year-round sunshine and great wedding venues.
Not surprisingly many celebrities tied the knot there. Among them were Lawrence Harvey and Margaret Leighton, as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. When asked why did they choose Gibraltar, John Lennon said: “It is quiet, British and friendly.”
Also, Roger Moore honeymooned in Gibraltar whilst Princess Diana and Prince Charles began their honeymoon there.
3. The airport runway intersects with city traffic
If you fly in or out of Gibraltar you’ll notice that your plane’s runway intersects a busy local street. Yes, that’s true! Winston Churchill avenue closes whenever a plane lands or departs, so cars and pedestrians must stop and wait for the plane to pass.
During busy traffic hours, this could be quite a scene! Especially when you realize that the only thing preventing a nasty collision between an airplane and a car are two flimsy looking barriers, similar to the ones you see at the train crossing in the countryside.
4. It has its own language
Despite being a British territory, Gibraltar has its own language called Llanito. It’s a strange mix of Spanish and English, along with some Portuguese and Maltese words. However, wherever you go you’ll be able to communicate in English or Spanish
5. There are plans for an undersea tunnel linking Gibraltar to Morocco
For many years people believed that Leonora’s Cave, which stems from St. Michael’s Cave, was in fact a secret tunnel that connected Gibraltar to the African continent. In 1840, a certain Colonel Mitchell and his friend attempted to discover this tunnel, but got lost in the cave and have never been found.
Although a secret tunnel between the two continents may have never existed, there are current plans for a railway tunnel connecting Morocco and Gibraltar. Expected to open in 2030, the tunnel would extend for 27 kilometers undersea with a maximum depth of 475 meters.
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