There is so much to see and do along Spain’s southern coastline. One could fill an entire itinerary with lounging on its sun drenched beaches, sampling mouthwatering coastal cuisine, or touring any number of sprawling vineyards. But there’s another nearby attraction that’s not to be missed if you find yourself in southern Spain. It’s actually not in Spain at all.
Gibraltar is a small British overseas territory that was seized from Spain in the early 1700’s and given over to Great Britain in perpetuity (map it!). Although residents of Gibraltar manage the territory, defense and foreign relations are handled by the British government. Control of this 2.6 square mile piece of land remains a point of contention to this day between the Spanish and the British government. Despite its tumultuous political history, the town itself is filled with wonder and beauty that is worth exploring should your travels take you there.
I was lucky to have the chance to visit Gibraltar while celebrating my birthday in southern Spain this year. My Russian and I took a day trip there and spent about 8 hours exploring the tiny British territory. Below are some tips I hope you’ll find helpful when planning a day trip to Gibraltar!
WHAT TO SEE & DO:
While relatively small, there is plenty to do on this 2.6 square mile territory. If you have a chance to visit Gibraltar, here are some items you’ll want to squeeze into your trip.
Grand Casemates Square
This popular square is centrally located in the heart of Gibraltar. It’s the perfect place to grab some fish and chips and take in the scenery (map it!). From there you can take a stroll along Main Street, a pedestrian path lined with a variety of souvenir shops, boutiques and eateries. We found an adorable British pub, the Angry Friar, and enjoyed a late lunch on the outdoor patio.
If you prefer a low key environment with a view of the sea, head over to Ocean Village (map it!). This marina is located in the Bay of Gibraltar and is a quick 5 minute walk from Grand Casemates Square. Here you’ll find luxury apartments, a floating casino and several seaside bars and restaurants perfect for enjoying a drink and watching the sunset.
Those wanting to reach the top of the Rock of Gibraltar should consider taking a cable car ride. Enjoy an audio guided tour as you ascend nearly 1400 feet to the top. There is a cafe and restaurant at the summit where visitors can enjoy a snack and drink as they take in views of the Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco and the town below.
The ticket office, entrance and parking is located at the end of Main Street beside Alameda Gardens (map it!). A single adult ride up is £12.50, the ride down is £14.50 and children are £6 each way. More info about ticket packages can be found here.
Travel Tip: Consider purchasing tickets in advance or arriving early, as lines can get extremely long.
The Upper Rock Nature Reserve
Gibraltar is best known for its iconic landmark, the Rock of Gibraltar. Some may recognize it as the logo of Prudential Insurance. Thousands of visitors come to marvel at its grandeur from afar, but there is plenty to discover atop this famous Rock. The Upper Rock Nature Reserve is home to over 500 species of flora, many of which are unique to Gibraltar. Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a few Barabary monkeys, as hundreds reside on the reserve.
There are also several waking trails that lead to other attractions including St. Michael’s Cave, the Ape’s Den, the Great Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle. There is so much to see and do that you could easily spend an entire day just exploring the Rock of Gibraltar. We didn’t get a chance to visit the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, opting instead to explore the surrounding town below, but if I have the chance to return I’ll define check it out!
Tickets for the nature reserve and accompanying attractions are available at the cable car ticket office and at the souvenir shop at the top station. Click here for more info about visiting the upper Rock.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
One of the hidden treasures of Gibraltar are its monkeys, yes monkeys! Hundreds of Barbaray Macaques have made Gibraltar home. They are easily spotted along the trails of the Upper Rock. Even if you don’t make it to the top, you can still find them hanging around town. Just keep your eyes peeled! We were lucky to spot a group gathered in a parking lot. They are very comfortable around people and will let you get close enough to snap photos and say hello! Just guard your bag and don’t have any food out as they are known to steal visitor’s snacks!
Europa Point is the southernmost point of Gibraltar (map it!). Here, visitors will find the Trinity House Lighthouse, the General Sikorski Memorial, the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque and absolutely stunning views. Look out over the Strait of Gibraltar and you’ll see the coast of North Africa including Morocco’s Rif Mountains. It is truly a sight to behold.
If you want to maximize your time while exploring Gibraltar, consider renting a car. The logistics of navigating and parking can be daunting, but it also gives you the freedom to see the sights on your own terms. Luckily, getting around is quite easy. The roads are in excellent condition and signs are easy to follow. From Malaga, it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes and parking is readily available (more on that below).
Travel Tip: If you’re driving from Malaga, consider squeezing in some time to beach hop along the way! We stopped at 2 beaches after leaving our hotel in Malaga at 9am and managed to arrive in Gibraltar by noon!
Travel Tip: If your car doesn’t have a GPS device and you don’t have an international phone plan, download directions in google maps before your trip so you can still access them offline while you’re abroad.
If the thought of dealing with a rental car is too overwhelming, there are several organized tours that will take you to Gibraltar. From Malaga, the ride is about 2 hours each way via air conditioned coach. You’ll be picked up and dropped off at a central location and given an abbreviated history of the territory along the way. Just plan for a very long day as most tours last about 12 hours. I found tour options here and here that are reputable and reasonably priced.
Travel Tip: There is also a public bus option for €10.34, but the ride takes nearly 3 hours and the closest stop to Gibraltar is still a 30 minute walk away. I would avoid this option if possible!
Although it is free to enter Gibraltar, you will need your passport to cross the border. Depending on your nationality, a visa may also be required. (U.S. passport holders won’t need one). You can check the travel requirements to ensure you have the proper documents prior to your trip here.
I was worried that parking would be a challenge. Luckily there was ample free parking as well as paid parking lots throughout Gibraltar, which made touring the entire territory quite easy. There is a free lot near Europa point so you can take your time exploring the light house and surrounding lookout points.
When visiting Grand Casemates Square, I recommend parking at the Landport Ditch Car Park (next to the blue bridge). It’s free after 7pm on weekdays, after 2pm on Saturdays, and all day Sunday. It’s also within walking distance from both the square and Ocean Village (map it!)
Although there are some small boutique hotels and hostels available in Gibraltar, most opt to visit for the day. The territory grows quiet around 7pm when the cruise ships and tour groups leave. Most of Gibraltar’s main attractions can be seen in one day’s time, so staying overnight isn’t necessary to get a good feel for the place.
Have you ever visited Gibraltar? What tips do you have for fellow travelers? Share your comments below!