Gibraltar is, in a word, Britain. Picture cozy pubs, fish and chips shops, afternoon tea, and yes, even red telephone booth boxes. It is, after all, a British Overseas Territory. Geographically, Gibraltar sits perfectly positioned as the tipping point between Europe and Africa, poised on the edge of Spain, bordering the Cadiz province, and overlooking the Mediterranean coast and the famous Strait of Gibraltar. Morocco looms just across the Strait, so, as you can imagine, Gibraltar is influenced by a cross-section of cultures, from British to Spanish and a dash of North African.
Gibraltar is small. In fact, it’s only three miles long and three quarters of a mile wide. But within that small area there is plenty to see and do. Climb its most famous natural landmark, the Rock of Gibraltar, a monolith that overlooks the seaside port and city. Take off on its glittering waters for an adventure with marine life or stroll the Old Town streets in search of the perfect pint or quintessential afternoon tea. Add to all these opportunities Gibraltar’s gorgeous subtropical weather and a history that helped shape the modern world, and you’ll soon see why Gibraltar is a must-visit destination.
Climb The Rock
It’s one of the most iconic natural formations in the world. To skip the Rock of Gibraltar is to miss out on a piece of Gibraltar’s soul. Immortalized in history and literature, the Rock of Gibraltar is a limestone monolith that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. It is a defining feature of the European continent. According to Homer, the Rock is one of the two Pillars of Hercules — the other being Mount Hacho or Jebel Moussa in Morocco. According to legend, the Pillars were created when Hercules broke the mountain that connected Africa and Europe. Today, the view from the top of the Rock continues to be awe-inspiring, affording climbers with sweeping vistas of the Moroccan coast and southern Spain across the Strait.
There are several ways to visit the top of the Rock. Undoubtedly the most iconic way is via the Gibraltar Cable Car, which runs every 10 to 15 minutes. Keep in mind that you should buy tickets, which cost £16 ($19), online to avoid long wait times.
Those who want to summit on foot have the option of a relatively easy climb via the Charles V Wall or the Mediterranean Steps, which offer beautiful views, but are considerably more challenging. Whichever way you choose, the sensational views are sure to set the tone for the rest of your time in Gibraltar.
Know that there’s more than epic views atop the Rock. At the summit of the monolith, visitors will find a slew of activities, from the Skywalk to the Windsor Suspension Bridge and many walking paths. A separate ticket gets visitors into the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, a protected area that houses some of Gibraltar’s most impressive sites, including St. Michael’s Cave, a Moorish castle, and an old Jewish cemetery. This ticket, which includes cable car access, costs £29 ($36).
Gaze Upon Africa
Gibraltar’s southernmost point, Europa Point, is a must-visit, primarily because it boasts an iconic view of Africa. From Europa Point, Morocco sits majestically in the distance, just across the Strait. On a clear day it may even be possible to make out the Rif mountain range. While visiting the point, stop by the 19th-century Trinity Lighthouse, the old chapel of Nuestra Senora de Europa, and the Mosque of the Custodian of the Holy Mosques. The best way to reach Europa Point is to hop the Number 2 bus, which runs from the town center every 10 minutes.
Frolic With Dolphins
Believe it or not, the water surrounding Gibraltar is teeming with families of dolphins. These playful, graceful marine mammals are always out to play in the shimmering sea in and around the bay and the Straits. And unlike shark diving and whale watching, where probability of sightings are low, seeing dolphins is highly likely. Many tour operators and boats will take travelers out into the bay for several hours to catch a peek of these majestic creatures. Keep in mind that these trips are purely for watching dolphins, not swimming with them.
The trips run throughout the day from Marina Bay, but it is best to book ahead of time. Consider Dolphin Safari, an intimate experience with a maximum of 25 passengers per ship on a boat with both indoor and outdoor seating. Each voyage is led by a tour guide. Tours begin at £25 ($31).
Experience A Slice Of England
One of Gibraltar’s most charming areas is its Old Town, where activity centers around the famous Main Street. This area is a slice of English living — with a whole lot less rain and fog. Imagine the juxtaposition of cozy English pubs alongside palm trees and brightly colored buildings, with towering limestone rock in the distance. Begin your exploration along Casemates Square, which sits at the north end of Main Street and is one of the largest public spaces in Old Town.
Other Old Town sites include the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned. Main Street is also lined with restaurants, duty-free liquor, clothing, and souvenir shops.
Beneath the streets of Gibraltar there’s a web of elaborate tunnels that represent some of the most significant military developments in this part of the world. The Great Siege Tunnels were carved out of the northern face of the Rock of Gibraltar and were used by the British as defense when France and Spain tried to recapture the Rock from the British. The Great Siege lasted from 1779 to 1783 and it’s because of the tunnels, which were constructed entirely by hand, that the Spanish and French proved unsuccessful.
During World War II, additional tunnels were created, which extended the network to include more than 30 miles of tunnels. Admission to the tunnels is included in the price of Nature Reserve tickets.
Soak Up History
If the history and culture of Gibraltar is appealing to you, then a visit to the Gibraltar National Museum is a must. Even an hour there will provide greater insight into this British Overseas Territory. Attractions include a film about Gibraltar’s history, an area dedicated to its local marine life, a 26-foot scale model of Gibraltar, and the remains of a 14th-century Moorish bathhouse.
Other galleries highlight geological history from the Jurassic period to the present, a collection of Roman anchors, and more. The museum was built in the 1930s and is located in Bomb House — the former residence of the Principal Artillery Officer — on Bomb Lane. Admission is £5 ($6).
Immerse Yourself In Nature
Steal away into the lush, green oasis of The Alameda, also known as the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens. Commissioned in the early 19th century for soldiers stationed there, this relaxing respite can get busy on the weekends, but during the week it provides a secluded sanctuary from the tourist throngs on Gibraltar’s main streets. A small zoo, the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park, houses animals that have been rescued and cannot be returned to the wild.
Eating In Gibraltar
Gibraltar’s geographic position makes it a melting pot of some of the world’s best flavors. It acts as the bridge between Europe and Africa, with influences converging from Britain, Spain, and Morocco to provide dining experiences that are aromatic, flavorful, and, above all else, diverse.
Dive right in with an amalgamation of what makes Gibraltar’s kitchens so delicious. Jumpers Wheel is a local establishment with a waterfront location that dishes out some of the best seafood, caught fresh daily. Add to that a selection of salads and tapas, and this Mediterranean eatery is soon to become a vacation favorite.
Charlie’s Steakhouse And Grill
Come for the succulent cuts of meat and stay for the dreamy views across the harbor. Charlie’s Steakhouse and Grill serves up delectable cuts of meat, from rib eyes and filets to racks of lamb and, believe it or not, Indian dishes. The curry on the Passage to India menu is to die for.
A visit to Gibraltar cannot be complete without a stop in a classic UK pub. Fortunately, there are more than enough to choose from. But one that stands out is The Royal Calpe, a pub known for its meat pies, club sandwiches, fish and chips, and, of course, frothy pints. The Royal Calpe is located on the iconic Main Street, so it is easy to locate for anyone touring about town.
Shopping In Gibraltar
Shopping in Gibraltar is similar to shopping in the UK, though the emphasis is definitely on summer wear. Many of the big British High Street names, including Marks and Spencer, Topshop, and Monsoon are located on or around Main Street.
From Gibraltar, head north to Spain, where you can visit Setenil de las Bodegas, the town built under a rock or live like a local in Seville — or go south to Morocco, where you can learn the incredible story of tree-climbing goats (and what they have to do with argan oil) and visit the Sahara Desert.