When you visit the southern coast of Spain and want a break from the beach, a unique day trip is to visit the famous Rock of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is one of those must-see locations because of its strategic location.
Even though you’ll think you’re in Spain on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, you’re not.
You are back in little England.
This small British Overseas Territory is an area of 6.7 km2 dominated by the 426m-high Jurassic limestone called the Rock of Gibraltar.
The Moors first settled Gibraltar and then the Spanish until it was relinquished to the British in 1713. Because of its strategic location as the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, it was an important stronghold for the British Royal Navy in:
- Napoleonic Wars
- Battle of Trafalgar (more on that later)
- Crimean War
With this much history, hopefully, a day trip will be enough.
Spend A Unique Day on the Rock of Gibraltar
If you start early, your view of the great Rock of Gibraltar may have an ominous dark cloud hanging above the rock.
It could be off-putting as we felt we were back in the UK because the temperature had also dropped.
However, we were here for the day, so “onwards and upwards”, as they say.
First Decision: Where to Park the Car
Arriving on the outskirts of Gibraltar, you can either take your car into Gibraltar or park the car in Spain.
British ex-pats living in Spain will probably drive into Gibraltar to grocery shop at Morrison’s, a UK grocery store.
Otherwise, you can park your car in the large Spanish car park next door to the entrance area of Gibraltar. The cost for the day is reasonable.
Remember your Passport
Yes, it’s official. You are entering a British Overseas Territory, so have your passport ready.
We found all we needed to do was “wave” the passport and keep walking.
What was weirder was emerging onto the airport runway from the customs office.
The runaway serves both the Royal Airforce and international flights. So make sure you time it right, or you could be waiting a while to cross.
Walk or Taxi to Casemates Square
You have a couple of options when you emerge from the passport office to reach the main shopping area, Casemates Square:
Of course, we walked 1.5km along Winston Churchill Avenue, across the airport runway arriving at the town gate.
The reward was views of the old Moorish castle and seeing the old WWII tunnels cut into the rock.
We learned later these were The Great Seige Tunnels of the 1700s, with over 30 miles of tunnels inside the rock. (Extended during WWII)
1. Walkthrough the Landport Tunnel
The original land entry into Gibraltar is the Landport Tunnel is a unique experience of Gibraltar. It was once the only entrance into the fortified territory.
You’ll emerge into Casemates Square, full of bars and restaurants.
Our priority is a coffee, having driven from our housesitting assignment for the day trip. But at £3 each for a coffee (shock, horror, we’re not in Spain anymore), we keep walking.
2. Enjoy Coffee at Gibraltar’s Oldest Bar
It’s in the vibrant main pedestrian shopping street. We find the oldest bar/cafe in Gibraltar down one of the side streets.
Here the coffee is only £1.50 each.
Ordering in Spanish and responding in English is a little weird after four weeks in Spain.
Star Bar is a few hundred years old, and the legend is Christopher Columbus stopped by for a fillet steak. (You’d think it would have been for fish!)
Returning to the main pedestrian street, it feels a little unreal as the shops are British. And the bonus of shopping, there’s no VAT.
You may even see a local Bobby strolling along. (Nickname of a British Policeman.)
3. Find Everything British
Near the end of the pedestrian area are the British Garrison, the Referendum Gates and the Trafalgar Cemetery.
The Referendum Gate, built-in 1967, commemorates Glibratars sovereignty on the 10th of September (a national holiday) to remain British and not Spanish.
Finding the cemetery outside the Referendum Gates was unexpected. The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 is commemorative within the cemetery, even though there are only two graves.
The cemetery is small, and interesting to read plaques for this period of history.
Choose a Workout or a Comfy Ride
The Cable Car on Red Sands Road is the best way to reach the Rock of Gibraltar.
The 6-minute ride up to Upper Rock Nature Reserve runs every 10 minutes.
The latest prices are about £14 one way at the cable car entrance.
(Tip: You need to purchase a separate ticket to walk the Nature Reserve)
However, you can book online starting at £16, including a minivan transfer from the passport office.
Can you walk up the Rock of Gibraltar?
You can walk up the Mediterranean Steps, but you’ll need MapsMe to find the route.
Or you can take a different route via the Botanical Gardens and Wildlife Park up the steep Engineer Road. You’ll arrive at the Jews’ Gate entrance of the Nature Reserve.
4. Upper Rock Nature Reserve
Yes, folks, you have to pay for hiking in the park. It’s either 50p or £10 if you want to enter the various attractions on the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.
The Upper Rock Nature Reserve ticket includes the following:
- St Michael’s Cave
- Great Siege Tunnels
- “City Under Siege” Exhibition
- Moorish Castle
- Windsor Suspension Bridge
- 100 Ton Gun
Ticket in hand, our first stop is 100 paces to the Pillars of Hercules.
5. Impressive Pillars of Hercules
The view from the Pillars of Hercules of Africa was our first glimpse of this mighty continent.
It reminded us of an interesting fact learned at the Nautical Museum during our stay in Cadiz, Spain. The fact is: the Mediterranean Sea is colder than the Atlantic Ocean.
And seeing the coastline of Africa gave us an idea. Maybe we could go to Africa for lunch.
But first, we have to trudge uphill on a stony path. Feeling more like mountain goats, we found the entrance to the caves.
6. Go Underground at St Michael’s Cave
Next on the itinerary is St Michael’s Cave, a grotto of limestone caves with numerous stalactites and stalagmites.
The largest cave is Cathedral Cave which is used as a venue for concerts because of its natural acoustics.
During WWII, the caves were used as a hospital for shelter from airstrikes.
At the caves, we have our first encounter with the Barbary Apes who frequent the Rock.
Barbary Apes of Gibraltar
Very cute and not aggressive or cheeky, as we had been told.
Perhaps it’s because they have a security guard keeping an eye on them!
But another encounter with Barbary Ape males is a different story.
The male apes are more active, jumping in trees and shaking them violently. And they were also jumping onto the wing mirrors of the tourist vans for photos.
7. See the Views from Douglas Lookout
The Douglas Lookout has great views down to Catalan Bay.
In 1704, 500 Spanish soldiers climbed up this cliff to try and recapture the rock. Only to be captured and imprisoned.
From this viewpoint, you’ll also find Barbary Apes.
8. Visit the Great Siege Tunnels
During the 1700s, the British carved out tunnels in the limestone rock during the siege of France and Spain to regain the Rock of Gibraltar.
The tunnels were dug to place an artillery gun on the northeast side of the rock. Giving the British another advantage against any attack.
Walking through the tunnels shows the incredible engineering undertaken by 13 men in 5 weeks.
The tunnels were extended during WWII to store food, water, and ammunition for a garrison of soldiers.
9. Moorish Castle
When looking up at the Rock of Gibraltar, you see the Tower of Hommage and GateHouse.
The medieval fortification is called the Moorish Castle, built by the Marinid Dynasty of Morocco which ruled from the 13th to 15th century.
Opening Hours are Monday-Sunday 09:30 – 18:15
10. Walking down Charles V Walk
Now, all we need to do is get ourselves down off this rock.
Charles V Walk is the closest option.
The walk down has a lot of steps taking you down, down, down, past one of the many canon batteries with views out over the marina.
Again, another engineering feat shaping steps out of the rock.
And Before You Leave
If you love anything British, then you may want to check out Morrison’s UK supermarket. Otherwise, maybe a cocktail or beer in the square near Landport Gate.
Shopping or sightseeing on the famous Rock of Gibraltar is a perfect day trip while staying in Spain. Gibraltar overall is more expensive than Spain, but in a day you can explore the history of this small British Overseas Territory.
Remember to bring your passport and change your Euros for British Pounds. With no VAT (sales tax), shopping is a great incentive, especially the boutique stores.
Gibraltar is a great day out for shopping, fabulous views of the Mediterranean, and of course, visiting the Rock of Gibraltar.