Gibraltar - also known as the 'The Rock' is a small 2.6 square mile British Territory on the Iberian Peninsula that sits just south of Spain guarding the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. Strategically important, this small piece of land has been a constant point of contention between Spain and Great Britain as whoever owns this small piece of land controls the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. During the middle ages, the Moors ruled the area, but by 1501 the Spanish had driven the Moors out of Gibraltar and Queen Isabella I of Spain annexed Gibraltar to Spain. In 1704 the Spanish and British fought the War of Spanish Succession which lead to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 that ceded Gibraltar from Spain to Great Britain. In 1830 Britain officially declared Gibraltar a British colony. Since then, Spain has attempted numerous times to try and regain ownership of Gibraltar - including two votes that took place in 1967 and 2002 - both of which the residents of Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to remain as a British Territory. Today as you visit Gibraltar it is quite obvious of the British influence in the area - from the iconic red phone booths to the abundance of pubs serving typical British fare, you may almost forget you are not actually in Britain when exploring this wonderful corner of the world. Below is how to spend one day visiting Gibraltar.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CROSSING THE BORDER INTO GIBRALTAR
Due to Gibraltar's location on the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, the cruise industry is a large presence in Gilbraltar - this is one way in which to arrive and spend one day visiting Gibraltar. Another great day trip can be had from crossing the border from Spain into Gibraltar for the day - by foot. This is how we arrived. Arriving to La Linea which is the border town on the Spanish side, we parked our car in parking garage called Focona Car Park which is very close to the Spain/Gibraltar border. From here - walk across the border! As you cross the border you will go thru Passport Control (don't forget your passport!) and then you will keep walking across what looks to be large parking lot - but in fact it's an airstrip! Yes, you will actually walk across the airstrip for Gibraltar Airport as you enter the country! There is a designated pedestrian pathway to follow and they will only allow you to cross when no flights are actively trying to land or takeoff. From here it's about a 10 minute walk to the city center. Buses are available to the city center, but we choose to enjoy the walk and take in the sights of the beautiful area!
GRAND CASEMATES SQUARE
Located at the end of Main Street in the heart of Gibraltar's shopping district sits Grand Casemates Square. The square takes it names from the casemates or bombproof barracks that were built here back in 1817. Today the barracks are gone but the name remains. As you enter into Casemates Square from Waterport Rd you will see four large arch gates the remain. These are the Grand Casemates Gates which were the main entry into the city at one point and could be used to close off the entire city. Once inside, the square is lined with shops, restaurants, and pubs galore! Take some time and just enjoy the view of the looming 'rock' overhead. For a bit of Gibraltar's darker history - up until 1864, Casemates Square was actually the site of public executions on 'the rock'.
GIBRALTAR CABLE CAR
The highlight of visiting Gibraltar is of course it's massive rock! To reach the top of the rock you can ride the Gibraltar Cable Car and enjoy the scenic views and access other attractions that are located on the rock itself in the Nature Reserve. Located near the southern end of Main Street, the Gibraltar Cable Car whisks you up 1351 feet in just six minutes. I recommend purchasing the Cable Car One Way & Nature Reserve ticket. Instead of taking the Cable Car back down, spend the rest of the day walking down the rock. Along the way you can enjoy the various attractions that are available in the Nature Reserve such as the Skywalk, O'Hara's Battery, St. Michael's Cave, Windsor Suspension Bridge, Great Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle.
Once at the top you are treated to some outstanding views overlooking the surrounding area which includes two continents, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Spend some time exploring the different terraces at the top or enjoy a bite to eat at the cafe or restaurant while enjoying the views. Even on a slightly cloudy morning, the views were phenomenal from this vantage point!
MONKEYS OF GIBRALTAR
Once reaching the top of the rock - watch out for Gibraltar's most famous residents - the Barbary Macaques! Originally from Morocco, these monkeys are the only wild monkey population in Europe. Today there are over 200 monkeys living at the rock and will no doubt be one of the best parts of your visit to Gibraltar! Just remember - these are wild animals, do not touch or get too close! And rule number one - put your food away when visiting this area! For us - our first encounter with one of these monkeys happened within minutes of us stepping off the cable car! As we were traveling with a 2 1/2 year, we had a stroller complete with a diaper bag that included a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The diaper bag was stashed on the bottom of the stroller with the sandwich inside the diaper bag and one of the monkeys ran right up to us, opened the diaper bag and then proceeded to grab the sandwich as well as my son's hat and ran off! This happened within seconds! Luckily the monkey ended up dropping the hat but ran off eating the sandwich - plastic baggie and all! Yep, that was quite the introduction to the monkeys! We made sure to not let our son have any food out for the rest of time while visiting the rock! Thru out the rest of the day as we explored the different attractions on the rock - we saw monkeys everywhere! Fair warning though - do be careful where you walk - we did watch a monkey literally jump out of a tree right onto a lady's back! Yikes!
One of the first attractions you come across within the Nature Reserve as you start walking down the Rock of Gibraltar is the Apes Den. This area almost always has monkeys in the area and is one of best spots to spend some time watching the monkeys. Many of the monkeys in the area seem quite calm and tame, but do remember they are wild animals and can bite or scratch if they become scared or upset. While the name Apes Den implies a den or cave, it's actually just an open area that you pass thru as you walk down the rock.
One of our favorite attractions included with the Nature Reserve ticket was the Gibraltar Skywalk. This former military lookout has been transformed into a glass platform walkway that offers some of the most spectacular views in Gibraltar. This 8,000 square foot platform equates to about the size of four tennis courts and is attached with 230 feet of rock and 66,000 pounds of steel and can accommodate up to 340 people. As you stand on the glass, you are actually hoovering 1,115 feet above sea level - just don't look down if you are scared of heights! Standing on the edge of this platform is both breath-taking and frightening at the same time as the structure seems to just disappear as you stand admiring Europe, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea below.
This artillery battery is located on the highest point on the Rock of Gibraltar. First constructed in 1890, O'Hara's Battery was in use thru World War II and the last shots fired from the battery was in 1976 for a training exercise. Today, the battery is no longer in use and has been opened to the public. Standing at 1383 feet above sea level, O'Hara's Battery offers more spectacular views over Gibraltar.
ST. MICHAEL'S CAVE
Filled with legends and local lore, it was once believed St. Michael's Cave was bottomless. Stories also abound that the cave is linked to Africa thru a series of caves running under the Strait of Gibraltar and that is how the Barbary Macaques arrived to the rock. The rock of Gibraltar actually has over 150 caves, but this the most visited receiving over a million visitors a year. Today, the largest chamber of the cave is named Cathedral Cave and has been transformed into a 600 person theater hosting concerts and private events. Visiting St. Michael's Cave is quite an experience as a light show lights up the cave's stalagmites and stalactites and music fills the cave as tourists come to explore the cave. Our 2 1/2 year old son absolutely loved the music and had a blast dancing to the beat - providing additional entertainment for the other tourists visiting the cave with us.
WINDSOR SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Named for the Windsor Castle located in London, the Windsor Suspension Bridge opened in 2016 and is spectacular! The 232 foot long bridge spans over a 164 foot deep gorge and provides for fabulous views over Gibraltar. This attraction is also included with the Nature Reserve ticket and is a must do while visiting Gibraltar. Walking out across the bridge can be a bit scary but so worth it for the experience and views! Adding to the thrill is that the bridge actually sways a bit with wind or with the movement of people on the bridge!
GREAT SIEGE TUNNELS
If you are a fan of military history - make sure and include a visit to the Great Siege Tunnels during your time in Gibraltar. The labyrinth of tunnels that run thru the rock of Gibraltar are absolutely amazing and are some of the most impressive defense systems every built by man! The tunnels were actually carved by hand during the Great Siege that took place from 1779 to 1783 as the Spanish and French were trying to take back Gibraltar from the British. To protect Gibraltar, the British wanted to place cannons along the side of the rocks but there was no direct path to the northern side known as the 'Notch' so it was decided to tunnel into the rock. Over five weeks during the Great Siege the British were able to dig 80 feet into the mountain and instead of focusing just on the 'Notch' they realized they could place holes in the rock wall with cannons aimed out towards the mainland - this was much more effective than tunneling all the way to the 'Notch'. Today as you walk thru the tunnels, it is amazing to look out thru these cannon holes to see the views around Gibraltar. When walking across the border at the airport, take a good look up at the rock and you can find the cannon holes dotting the mountainside. Eventually during WWII, additional tunnels were dug into the rock resulting in over 30 miles of tunnels as the British prepared for a Nazi invasion that never came. Tours can also be taken to see the WWII Tunnels within the rock.
The Moorish Castle is the name given to the fortification that overlooks Gibraltar and includes a collection of buildings, wall, gates and the Homage Tower. As the area was under Moorish rule for over 700 years, there are been buildings on this site dating back to at least 8th century. Today, what we see was actually rebuilt in the 14th century. The Homage Tower is the most visible portion of the castle and overlooks Gibraltar. Over the centuries this castle has stood dominating the hillside and in fact actually housed the prison up until 2010. Today the prison has been relocated and you can now explore this interesting piece of Moorish history. Spend a few minutes exploring the Homage Tower and then head up on top of to take in the views out over Gibraltar.
Interested in planning your own trip to Gibraltar? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day trip to Gibraltar: Leave car in Spain, walk across border, across the airport landing strip, then continue walking to Grand Casemates Square/Main, then walk walk to the Gibraltar Cable Car. Purchase Cable Car One Way & Nature Reserve ticket. Spend the rest of the day walking down the rock and stopping at attractions included in the Nature Reserve (Apes Den, Gibraltar Skywalk, O'Hara's Battery, St. Michael's Cave, Windsor Suspension Bridge, Great Siege Tunnels, Moorish Castle).