One Day in Gibraltar: Britain’s Sunny Outpost in Spain

One Day in Gibraltar - Britain's Sunny Outpost in Spain

When you think of sunshine, palm trees, and the Mediterranean Sea you probably don’t think of Great Britain.  However, Great Britain’s old military outpost, Gibraltar is exactly that.  This little strip of sunny land jutting off the very southern coast of Spain makes for a neat day trip. 

While here, shopping is popular due to being duty free (no taxes).  Typical British stores such as Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, and more are located on or around Main Street.  Besides shopping, dining on fish & chips, and taking a pic in a red phone booth, you’ll see the stunning Rock of Gibraltar, come face to face (but not too close!) with the famous “Apes of Gibraltar”, and traipse through the stunning St. Michael’s cave.  Below, we share all about how to enjoy a day trip to intriguing Gibraltar while in southern Spain.

History of Gibraltar

So why does Great Britain still hold this strip of land that juts off Spain?  

This strategic piece of land was captured by the British in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession.  Several conflicts and sieges followed throughout the years at which time tunnels were completed, some which you can still see today.  Spain has attempted to reclaim this land a few times.  Most recently, in the 1960s, this attempt led to the border being closed for 13 years.  

In Gibraltar, Georgian architecture is prevalent as is the worn looking military look and feel of the town.  The 30,000 Gibraltarians that call this land home are immensely proud of their 2.6 square mile land including the massive granite monolith known as the Rock of Gibraltar.  The history, culture, and pride runs very deep with Gibraltarians and so this strip of land in Spain remains a part of Great Britain to this day.

When We Went

Early April, during our spring break.  We had a windy day with temperatures in the 60s, overall great for exploring.

How We Did It and Entry into Gibraltar

We stayed in Andalucia, the southern region of Spain.  It took us about 90 minutes to drive here in our rental car from where we were based in Malaga.  We followed the directions on our GPS to Gibraltar but parked at the Parking Santa Barbara lot, just outside the gates to Gibraltar.  The line to drive into Gibraltar was extremely long so we took a slight detour to get around this traffic.  Using our Waze app, we reached the parking lot much faster with this detour.

Once we parked our car, we walked a short distance to the border control.  We handed our passports to the Spanish official for check and then walked a few feet further where we then handed it to the Gibraltar official.  With our passports stamped we were officially in Gibraltar! 

This way to Gibraltar

From here, it was a windy walk across the runway of the Gibraltar Airport.  If a plane is landing, gates come down to hold both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.  Otherwise, just keep walking across the tarmac until you reach the town.

Our Day in Gibraltar

After officially entering Gibraltar, we walked for about a mile until we reached Casemates Square.  Here, we stopped for lunch at Latino’s, located in the large square surrounded by old military barracks.  We enjoyed our lunch of fish & chips in the sunny outdoors, what tasty British fare!

Fish & chips – delicious British fare!

From here it was another one mile walk to the cable car station to ride to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.  We planned to get a taxi from the border into town but none came along.  We actually appreciated the walk because one sees so much more on the ground than from a vehicle!  Once we arrived, we saw a long line to get tickets to the cable car.  As we stood in the line, I saw a sign for pre-purchased tickets.  I got on the website on my phone and purchased tickets right then and there.  We then left the incredibly long line and walked right up to the ticket booth to access our tickets.  Tickets were handed over and we joined the line which took about 15 minutes until we were in a cable car.  Buy your tickets ahead, folks!  Simply doing this saved us at least 45 minutes in the end.

The Cable Car up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar

The cable car ride was a swift, six minute journey to the top with incredible views as we sailed up.  As soon as we arrived at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar and exited the cable car, we were greeted by the Barbary macaques, also known as “Apes of Gibraltar”.  The Barbary macaques are Europe’s only monkey population, a population of about 200.  These guys are curious and are known to steal bags as they associate them with food.  We were entertained by the spectacles of watching them play, cradling their babies, and looking at us with the same curiosity as we looked at them…all from a safe distance. 

Barbary macaques, aka “Apes of Gibraltar” roam freely on the upper Rock of Gibraltar

 

NOTE: Even though there are several signs stating the dangers of getting too close to these wild creatures, people pushed the line, getting very close to them.  Some people even encouraged them to climb on them!  Also, do not feed them!  They are wild animals and not only can it disrupt their diet, but it teaches them to associate humans with food.  This is not safe for either the monkeys nor humans.  If the potential ecological repercussions aren’t deterrent enough, there is a £4000 fine for doing so, according to the warning sign.

 

Warning signs

We took in the amazing views from the top, it was seriously breathtaking! 

Breathtaking views of the Rock of Gibraltar

Down below is Gibraltar, to the east is the Costa del Sol of Spain, and to the south you can see the north of Africa.  Here it is known to be the only place in the world where you can see 3 countries (Gibraltar, Spain, and Morocco) and 2 continents (Europe and Africa)!

Looking down at Gibraltar below

View of Africa in the distance

We stopped for a drink at Mons Calpe Suite, the café at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.  Mike enjoyed an Old Fashioned, I had a refreshing Strawberry Daiquiri, and Ava loved her peach smoothie.  It was a great little break before we started our hike down.

Our first stop was St. Michael’s Cave, which we reached in about 20 minutes.  The cave contains limestone formations and massive stalactites.  St. Michael’s Cave is so large that it actually houses a stage for performances and concerts!  Stadium seating is in place to watch these performances as well as the light show, The Awakening.  We stopped to watch this for several minutes and were mesmerized!

With the lighting you can see the angel formation in the cave | The concert stage and seating

The cave has historical significance as well.  Legend says that the cave contained a subterranean passage to Africa and this is how the Apes of Gibraltar made their way here.  Military troops spent the night in here during wartime and it was prepared as a hospital during WWII, although it never was used for such.  

Continuing down, we reached the Apes Den and saw several more apes chilling.  They seemed unbothered by the many tourists trying to get their attention.  We actually saw many more monkeys at the top near the cable car, so we just quickly walked through here.

This is what the path mostly looked like on the way down.  Occasionally, a car or motorbike would come speeding by.

Finally, we made our way back to town.  The town was quiet with shops closed early in prep for the Easter weekend.   

Main Street in town

Making our way back onto Main Street, we stopped off for a yummy gelato, a great treat after an hour and a half of hiking down the Rock of Gibraltar.  We caught an outdoor Good Friday Mass, which was lovely to see.  Once again, we crossed the windy runway, made our way through customs, and we were back in Spain!

Other Things to Do While in Gibraltar

One can stay overnight in Gibraltar, however it is known to be quite expensive.  Staying in Spain and day tripping into Gibraltar made the most sense for us.

When hiking down the Rock, there are tunnels and military sites to explore, however these were closed on the day we visited.

There are also many nature trails if you want to hike even more than just back down to town.  The Windsor Suspension Bridge dangles high up on the Rock, if you aren’t afraid of heights!

There are also beaches on the shores of Gibraltar as well as dolphin watching boat trips. 

Europa Point is the southern most tip of Gibraltar.  It is here that legend states Hercules opened up the Straight of Gibraltar – separating Africa from Europe.  Supposedly, this allowed the Mediterranean Sea to be filled once again with water, due to now being connected to the Atlantic Ocean.  Whether you believe the lore or not, it’s still a cool spot to get a great view of Africa just beyond!

Tips For Visiting Gibraltar

  1. Follow the freeway signs to Algeciras and La Linea.  Once close, take the La Linea-Gibraltar exit. 
  2. Parking:  La Linea – GPS/Waze to the Santa Barbara Parking lot.  We arrived mid-day on a holiday weekend and easily found parking here.  As you leave, pay at the pay box first and present that receipt at the gate on your way out.
  3. Buy your Cable Car tickets ahead of time online.  We didn’t do this until we arrived and were actually in the line.  It took me minutes to do so and once I received the tickets in my email we moved out of the line and into the pre-purchased ticket line.  This saved us at least 45 minutes.  You also have the option to do a taxi tour which will drive you up to the top and stop at sites along the way.  This is not a bad idea if you have mobility issues or want a guided experience.  We, however, liked the freedom of stopping where we wanted for how long we wanted and taking in the sights during the walk down.
  4. When purchasing your cable car tickets consider how you want to get back down.  You have two options:  Cable Car up and down or Cable Car up and walk down.  We opted for the second option so we could see St. Michael’s Cave and the Apes den as well as take in the views all along the way.  If you do this, purchase a one way Cable Car ticket up and a Nature Reserve Pass.  This pass gets you into all sites on the upper rock including the Skywalk, St. Michael’s Cave, and more. All in all it took us about 1.5 hours to walk down from the top, including all of the stops.
  5. Bring your passports!  You are leaving Spain and entering Gibraltar and will need them to cross the border.

Read more!

Check out our one week itinerary for visiting the Andalucia region of Spain:  One Week in Spain’s Andalucia.  

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