A weekend in Gibraltar can be an amazing opportunity to explore this British Overseas Territory, taking in its history, heritage and natural splendor. However, there are a few things you should be aware of before planning your trip. Start your visit by taking the cable car (EUR16) up the Rock of Gibraltar for an amazing view of both the town and sea below.
The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar is a renowned natural land feature that guards the Straits of Gibraltar between the Atlantic and Mediterranean Seas. It has played an important role in UK Military History, and remains part of the United Kingdom to this day. Gibraltar is a limestone monolithic promontory rising out of the Mediterranean to an impressive height of 426 metres, its northern summit, O’Hara’s Battery, providing stunning views over the Straits to Africa. As it’s a British Overseas Territory, you must bring along your passport when visiting Gibraltar – so make sure you bring it along!
Despite all the tourist attention and memorials to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, Gibraltar remains mostly serene. Britain has 300 years of sovereignty over Gibraltar and most inhabitants want to remain with Britain. On this 2.6 square mile peninsula, most of the 30,000 inhabitants live in flats crammed into the base of the Rock. But there are also some stunning houses to be seen here too; Old Town was rebuilt at the start of the 18th century and showcases European town planning influences from Genoese shutters to Spanish stained glass.
The city is alive with restaurants and bars, from Chatham Counterguard to fashionable marinas such as Queensway Quay and Ocean Village. The main shopping district features high street brands like Marks and Spencer, Bhs and Mothercare. For an unforgettable experience, don’t miss the Gibraltar Nature Reserve at The Rock! Here, you can spot free and wild monkeys – Barbary macaques! These friendly creatures can be observed from lookouts throughout the reserve and make for some memorable photo ops.
The Old Town
Gibraltar’s Old Town is the main shopping and tourist area of the city. This pedestrianised area is packed with shops, boutiques, restaurants and landmarks; plus you can admire many historic buildings while learning about Gibraltar’s culture and history. One of Gibraltar’s most striking sights is the medieval Moorish Castle that stands atop Casemates Square. During the Middle Ages, it served as both political and religious authority on the island; today it houses a museum featuring artifacts dating back 127,000 years.
The building itself is an impressive example of Islamic architecture, featuring towers and gatehouses similar to those found in Morocco. A leisurely stroll around the Castle reveals many intriguing details from the island’s turbulent past – battle scars and remnants of mosques and kasbahs. Visitors to Gibraltar can explore the Gibraltar National Museum, housed in a 1930s building that houses an amazing collection of cultural and natural history items. It also serves as the main interpretive hub for Gorham’s Cave Complex – recently inscribed into UNESCO World Heritage status.
Parliament House, one of Gibraltar’s historic landmarks, is worth visiting. Local merchants raised money through public subscription to build this grand new building in 1817; initially intended as a library and auction room, it later served as the seat of Parliament – the body which decides matters affecting the island. The Old Town is an integral part of Gibraltar’s heritage and currently undergoing redevelopment and renewal. This initiative strives to preserve its beautiful buildings and spaces while simultaneously revitalizing them, so that they can continue playing an integral role in Gibraltar’s future development plans.
The Great Siege Tunnels
The Great Siege Tunnels, or Upper Galleries, built by British engineers into Gibraltar’s cliff face in 1782 are one of the most remarkable defence systems ever conceived. During the Siege of Gibraltar, French and Spanish forces attempted to capture the Rock but were ultimately repulsed by these gun emplacements crafted out of solid limestone. Sergeant Major Ince designed these labyrinthine galleries as a means of moving armaments from one side of Gibraltar to the other, out of range of fire from Spanish troops during their siege. His innovative idea proved successful, ending the stalemate in 1783 and returning Gibraltar back into British control.
Today, the Great Siege Tunnels are open to visitors who can take a stroll along their beautifully decorated galleries filled with dioramas and artefacts that illustrate how Gibraltar’s fortifications were constructed. This gives viewers an intimate insight into life for those living in Gibraltar during this period. Visitors to the Rock in 1782 can admire not only its tunnels, but also a massive Mark X BL gun which was deployed for defense against enemy attacks. This artillery piece is the sole surviving example of its type in Europe – an impressive sight even back then!
Travelers exploring the Great Siege Tunnels may also visit Upper Rock Nature Reserve to witness Barbary macaque monkeys – known as the only wild apes in Europe! You might even get lucky enough to spot them at Apes Den! Lastly, Casemates Main Square provides plenty of shopping, dining and relaxing options!
St. Michael’s Cave
St Michael’s limestone caves are one of the most renowned attractions in Gibraltar. Been visited by ancient Greeks, Romans and Phoenicians alike, this natural grotto boasts spectacular calcite formations, stalactites and stalagmites. Dolerite rock was formed 200-145 million years ago when molten rock forced its way through cracks on the seabed. Over time, these same cracks slowly dissolved the rocks, resulting in mud and water seeping down into limestone to form cave passageways, galleries, and chambers.
This process created an astonishing array of calcite formations, stunning stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a crystal clear underground lake. Today, this stunning cavern draws over one million visitors annually to view displays that tell its fascinating formation story and long history. Exploring this cave can be an amazing experience, but it also presents some challenges. Be ready for some strenuous activity as you’ll be climbing and walking over uneven surfaces; so wear sturdy shoes and don a hard hat for added protection.
Organized tours of Lower Cavern, discovered during WWII, offer spectacular rock formations and an underground lake. However, this section can be difficult to explore alone so a guide may be necessary for your safety. For an even more thrilling activity, why not book a guided tour of Upper Cavern? With an expert guide, you’ll receive an in-depth geological and historical account of these caves over about three hours with plenty of time for photographs.
Europa Point is a must-see location for any visitor to Gibraltar, located on the southernmost point of the Rock and offering stunning views of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar. On a clear day, one can enjoy stunning views of Morocco’s Riff mountains, Mount Sidi Musa in Spain’s Cueta enclave, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Gibraltar also boasts its lighthouse and small museum. Other attractions on the site include Harding’s Battery and Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque. In 2011, Gibraltar government spent PS4.4 million to renovate the area.
In addition to being a great place for walking, the foreshore is ideal for bird watchers with many species migrating from Africa passing over. Dog walkers also frequent this area as their four-legged friend can get some exercise while enjoying some fresh air. Another notable landmark in the area is a restored historic coastal gun battery, featuring an impressive cannon as its centerpiece. Constructed during the mid-19th century, it was recently restored.
The sunken magazine in the battery once held ammunition used for firing guns and is now a visitor centre with displays about local history. A must visit for military history buffs as well as those just exploring military architecture generally, it makes an excellent starting point for visitors. The lighthouse is the main draw here, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. This is the most southerly lighthouse for which Trinity House is responsible outside the British Isles, having been automated in 1994. With its traditional red and white striped tower with a beacon that flashes every 10 seconds, standing 49 metres above sea level it certainly commands attention.