Before I went to Iceland, Gibraltar was my favorite place in the world. The British territory is located in the south of Spain making it a great day trip from the nearby towns of Cadiz or Malaga.
Why Gibraltar is awesome
If you’re visiting the south of Spain, I wouldn’t miss Gibraltar for the world. It’s one of the most unique places you will ever see. Here are some of the reasons why.
1. It’s British!
When you’ve spent a week drinking sangria and having tapas in Spain, walking into a British territory is wonderful and surreal. Though people do speak Spanish, you suddenly hear British English everywhere. And you’ll feel like you’re very much in the UK by the sight of the phone booths and mailboxes.
2. The rock of Gibraltar
The giant limestone monolith that makes up a large part of Gibraltar as a whole is a wonderful sight to see, inside and out. It’s a beautiful nature reserve with plenty of wildlife and some of the best views of the coast of Africa that you can get from Europe. You can even see the white tops of houses across the strait. You’ll also get sweeping views of Spain.
3. They have their own money
Though they accept euros in a lot of places, they actually have their own version of the British pound called the Gibraltar pound. So you’ll be able to take home an interesting souvenir if you’re into currency collecting.
4. It’s covered in monkeys!
To add to the quirkiness of Gibraltar, the entire peninsula is full of Barbary macaque monkeys. It’s the only place in Europe where you can find wild monkeys. They’re friendly, hilarious, and clever thieves. They know how to open bags and steal small items so keep your wits about you when you’re around these furry little guys.
Crossing the border
Since Gibraltar is part of the UK, you need a passport to cross the border by car or on foot. Aside from passport control, you’ll have to go through customs, which means going by car can add a little bit of time because you have to line up behind people who may or may not get their cars searched. Walking in and then taking transportation once inside will probably save you some time.
Entering from Spain can also be tricky going both ways because the entrance to Gibraltar goes across the Gibraltar International Airport. This is a very lofty name for one runway that runs east to west right at the border crossing. You actually have to walk across the runway to get to the rest of the peninsula. What this means for people entering from Spain is that you may have to wait in long lines if the runway is closed for a takeoff or landing. This doesn’t have to be a problem as long as you monitor the flight schedules and plan your visit around that.
Things to do
So what can you do on a day trip to Gibraltar?
On both sides of the peninsula, you’ll find some sandy beaches including Catalan Bay, Eastern Beach, and Sandy Bay. Of these, Catalan Bay has one of most picturesque shorelines. But Eastern Beach tends to be more popular because it’s next to the airport runway, so beachgoers can see flights taking off. It also gets sun all day because it’s not in the shadow of the rock.
If you rather spend your day sightseeing instead of sunbathing, you can also head to the southern tip of the peninsula where you’ll find the Europa Point Lighthouse. Here you’ll also see the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, which will give you a little taste of Morocco without leaving the UK.
Visiting the rock of Gibraltar
Of course, you can’t leave Gibraltar without getting yourself on the rock. You’ll easily find a full day’s worth of activities in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve also known as the Upper Rock Reserve. You can get there by car or take a cable car for an even more memorable experience. You can bundle your cable car tickets with tickets to the Nature Reserve. If you pre-buy your tickets, you can also use the free shuttle to get you from the border to the cable car station.
Inside the reserve, you’ll get a close up look at a lot of the wildlife, including migrating birds, and of course, the macaque monkeys. Though the monkeys roam freely and you might see them anywhere in the reserve or even in the city, you’ll have a better chance of seeing them in the Apes Den and near the Great Siege Tunnels.
Aside from monkey-sightings, this is a great stop for anyone who likes history. The Great Siege Tunnels are named after the French and Spanish attempt to recapture Gibraltar from Britain. The attempt failed because of the impressive tunnels that were excavated by the British. This is also where you’ll find the Moorish Castle, which you can see up on the rock from the ground.
A recent addition to the attractions in the reserve is the Windsor Bridge, which opened to the public in 2016. In case your day trip to Gibraltar needs a little more thrill, you can walk across the bridge which sits over a deep gorge.
Another must-see stop in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve is St. Michael’s Cave, which is not just one but several limestone caves located within the rock. The stalagmite formations inside the caves are colorful and dramatic. Interestingly, it also creates great acoustics, so one of the halls known as the Cathedral Cave is presently used as an auditorium for concerts and shows. If the timing is right, this might be a great reason to turn your day trip into an over-nighter.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Gibraltar guides on GPSmyCity here.