Its cobbled streets are lined with British high street chains, red pillar-boxes, fish and chip shops and an overspill of British pubs. If it wasn’t for the 300 days of sunshine a year, you could quite easily mistake your arrival into Gibraltar for the UK. Thousands of tourists every year visit this small piece of Britain, famously known as “the rock” (and more affectionately known as “Gib.”)
Holding the title of the southernmost part of Europe and commanding the entrance to the Mediterranean, its strategic location has developed a somewhat disputed and lengthy tug of war between the British and the Spanish. Geographically correct (adjoined to mainland Spain,) the Spanish continue to lay claim that it is theirs, but with over 300 years of sovereignty the British are still rightful owners of this last European colony.
With a population of around 30,000 and only 7 miles of road (full with double deckers and cockney taxi drivers,) space is a premium which understandably doesn’t make for the most attractive of places. There are multiple high-rise buildings crammed around the base of the rock. On the subject of attractiveness, the hotels can only be described as Britain decorated in a 1970s time warp. If you look beyond its flaws, Gib has quite a few things worth seeing and doing. I had the added bonus of being a traveler away from home; so it was nice to get a taste of Britain – although granted only a small dose is needed!
Here are a few things to see & do in Gib:
1. The view from the rock
Owing to Gibraltar’s location, you get a pretty impressive view of Spain and Africa, making you feel incredibly close to two continents. On a clear day, you will be able to see the towering Atlas Mountains. There are a couple of different ways to get to the top. You can catch a ride up in the cable car or a much cheaper and prettier way is off the beaten track – hike up the Mediterranean steps and you will get a view like no other, with less tourists around too!
2. The monkeys
A visit to Gibraltar isn’t complete until you have bumped into its most famous residents, these Barbary macaques can be found getting up to all sorts of mischief around the top of the cable car and they usually hang out around the aptly named “apes den.” Not that you will have trouble locating them! They are entertaining creatures to say the least, watch out for any open zips on your bag. At first they seem cute but watch out for their wild ways, don’t be fooled they will jump on top of you at any opportunity. Legend has it that if the monkeys ever leave Gibraltar; this, in turn, will mean the British will no longer be in control.
3. Pub food and afternoon tea
A quintessential Gibraltar pub-crawl isn’t hard to come by here, with pubs at every other step you take, you will not be short of them. Some good, some not so good. They are mainly concentrated through the Main Street, Casemates Square and the new Ocean Village marina. If beer and steak pies aren’t your cup of tea, nearly every hotel and most restaurants on the rock serve a quaint afternoon tea. My recommendation has to be the Rock Hotel; sitting out on the terrace you can enjoy the view with tasty cakes, finger sandwiches and clotted cream scones – one not to miss.
4. Go back in time
And I’m not just talking about the 70’s British décor here, explore the history that seeps through Gibraltar. Take a walk through The Great Siege Tunnels, which were dug by the British in the late 18th century. If that sounds too claustrophobic, head to the Moorish castle easily spotted with its union jack flying high. Originally built in 1068, the route to the castle makes for a pleasant walk.
Photo: Flickr/Suzan Marie
5. Tax-free shopping
Gib is a tax-free haven. The ‘Main Street’ is a busy, pedestrianized area full of tax-free shops. Although as well as a tax-free haven, Gibs is also a cruise ship paradise. As a very condensed place to shop, this can get jammed with over excited cruise shippers on land for their next bargain. Stock up on spirits and perfumes, with a “10% off day” every day!
Gibraltar was an experience in itself and being there was surreal especially being from the UK. The views were pretty good and the monkeys added character but what I found most interesting was how friendly it was. In today’s (sometimes) hostile world, it is refreshing to experience a place where five different religions can live harmoniously side by side with each of their own place of worship squeezed around the rock.