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7 Things to do in Gibraltar

by Arun Victor

· Spain,Drive,Scuba Diving

Getting there

There were two key concerns weighing on my mind about going to Gibraltar. It wasn't the driving up the rock on narrow roads with steep drops. Nor was it the monkeys along the way that are known to get quite friendly with tourists. My fears were as urban as it gets - traffic and parking.

Gibraltar. Image courtesy Encyclopedia Britannica.

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory that is located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. What that means is that travel between Gibraltar and Spain involves crossing an international border. A lot of Gibraltar's workforce comes from neighboring Spain. This further complicates the matter with peak-hour commuter traffic, with reports of people being stuck in line for hours. To add to all of this, there were reports of parking (un)availability in Gibraltar (you know, with the place being small and all). The coalition of all these factors led me to consider the overwhelming opinion on Tripadvisor to park on the Spanish side and walk across into Gibraltar, thus avoiding lengthy vehicular traffic delays at the border. I'm glad I didn't listen.

We arrived at the border at about 8:30pm. Yes, there was a line but it was not terribly long and it seemed to be moving, albeit slowly. It was all of about 20 minutes when it was our turn at the border post for passport checks. My conversation with the British immigration officer -

Officer: Welcome to Gibraltar. First time here?

Me: Yes, it is.

Officer: I thought so. I didn't recognize you.

Me: Haha

It took me a moment after my chuckle to realize that he was actually somewhat serious when he said that he did not recognize me. I suppose the daily commuter traffic in and out of Gib means the immigration officers start remembering the people who go in and out of this place on a daily basis.

After crossing the border, it was a short drive through town and up the rock before arriving at our hotel on the rock - The Rock Hotel. The hotel offers complimentary parking on its premises to guests. To sum this up - almost no border traffic and no parking hassles on arrival! Smashing, innit?!

The late arrival did not provide proper photo opportunities, but here are some of the views of the hotel and from the room the next day.

The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar

View from our balcony, The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar.

Among the commercial vessels, you will notice a British Navy ship (above). It had just completed a mission and was at port that day. Gibraltar also serves as a military base for the British Armed Forces. As you pan your view to the south (left), you will see the Moroccan coastline at a distance (below).

Two countries. One frame. Morocco and Spain (left to right).

1. Tour The Rock

The rock is quite undeniably the main attraction in Gibraltar. So much so that it has coined itself into a globally used phrase, ‘the Rock of Gibraltar’. With its sheer size, steep cliffs, and spectacular views both from above and below, its popularity is entirely its own fault.

The Rock of Gibraltar

But this massive natural wonder is more than just a pretty face. She has substance. The rock has played a major role is several wars throughout history, most recently in World War II, as a strategic defensive and offensive resource. The World War II tunnels serve to preserve that history. Apart from the tunnels, there are several other points of interest on the Upper Rock including St. Michael’s Cave, Nature Reserve, and the Moorish Castle, to name a few. So how does one tour the rock? I counted 3 options -

 

  1. Ride the cable car up and walk around. Note that this does involve a lot of walking so be prepared for that. Also, be prepared to walk past of lot of monkeys along the way. (£).

  2. Arrange a tour with any of the several tour operators or even through your hotel. (££££).

  3. Show up at the cable car station. There will be taxis / tour operators at the station waiting to poach cable car customers. (££).

We were poached. And it was not too bad at all. We arrived at the cable car station around midday and the sales pitch for option 3 seemed too good to pass up - sit back, be driven and shown around by an entertaining and informative guide. All for 30 per person, including entrance tickets. As much as I enjoy being independent, the occasional guided tour can be rather relaxing. The only caveat to this though, is that if you have an attraction on the Upper Rock that you’re particular about, either (a) ask the operator if it will be covered on the route, and if not, (b) go with a different tour / option.

Here are some pictures from the tour.

View from Upper Rock

View from Upper Rock

St. Michael's Cave

Queen Charlotte's Battery

Moorish Castle

World War II Tunnels

2. Scuba dive

If you’re used to diving in places like the Cayman Islands, it is very important to manage your expectations before suiting up in Gibraltar. In March, the water is cold, terribly so, that you not only need a wet suit (at least), but also a hood and boots. Visibility is not always the greatest. A lot of wrecks and some marine life. But how often does one get to make an entry in the log book that says ‘Gibraltar’?

Scuba dive in Gibraltar

3. Drive over, under, and around The Rock

While you cannot drive to the Nature Reserve on Upper Rock with your private car (commercial vehicles only on Upper Rock), you can still do so to some extent on Europa Road, which runs past The Rock Hotel. Not only do you get some dramatic views of the rock from down below, but you also get to drive through some really cool tunnels.

Driving through The Rock

Driving through The Rock

Driving through The Rock

Driving through The Rock

A drive around the rock can be quite scenic

Driving through The Rock

Driving through The Rock

4. Hang with monkeys

If you’re visiting the Upper Rock, interacting with the primates that call this place their home is a part of the experience. Not to worry, they are quite harmless seem quite harmless. As with monkeys in general, guard your belongings and don’t feed them unless allowed under the supervision of your tour operator.

The Barbary macaque can get quite friendly here

He didn't pee

5. Drive across a runway

I have driven across runways before. But it was in a Cessna 172 during my private pilot training. Never in a family sedan. In Gibraltar, you can do exactly that. Winston Churchill Avenue cuts right through the runway at Gibraltar Airport. Road traffic is closed when the runway is needed for air traffic. Imagine coming to a stop at a railroad crossing for a train to pass. Except this time, it’s a plane. And if you look closely at the picture below, you can spot a military cargo jet that took off just moments later.

Winston Churchill Avenue cuts right through Runway 09/27 at GIB

Drive across Runway 09/27 at GIB

6. Eat

When on British soil, what does one eat? Why, Indian food, of course. But a close second is Fish and Chips. My one regret on this visit to Gibraltar was not making it to Roy’s Fish and Chips, one of Gibraltar’s most famous joint for this quintessentially English dish. Being a Sunday, the place closed early. I had to get my fix at another establishment instead - The Angry Frair.

Fish 'n Chips in Gib

7. Walk

After that meal of a big piece of fried fish, chips, and a cold pint, a little walking only seemed fair. So we continued strolling down Main Street all the way to Casemates Square, a wide open promenade with restaurants and bars with a lot of outdoor seating. Walking in downtown Gibraltar on a Sunday can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your taste. Just about every store is closed, but the restaurants are open, although not too late. While you would miss the lively bustle of a weekday, nothing is lost in terms of retail opportunity in Gib - everything is supposedly expensive and people generally go over to Spain for their shopping.

A very quiet Sunday in Gibraltar

In case you forgot you were in Britain

St. Andrew's Church of Scotland, Gibraltar

Send yourself a postcard

The entire walk, from The Rock Hotel to Casemates Square took about an hour. A cab ride on the way back got us to the hotel in less than 10 minutes. We were back in time to enjoy a beautiful Mediterranean sunset before calling it a night.

Sunset in Gibraltar

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