I can’t believe that I hadn’t even heard of Gibraltar before the past year! Gibraltar is a Territory of the United Kingdom, located at the south-eastern tip of Spain. It’s joined to Spain (the nearest Spanish town is La Linea de la Concepcion) by a small isthmus, but is completely British through and through. It’s a very popular holiday destination for older Brits, as it is comfortably familiar to England but with much better weather. Cheap flights (I wanted to go “somewhere warm”) brought me here, and I’m so glad I visited!
The official language is English, but most people will speak both English and Spanish. The currency of Gibraltar is pounds (£GBP), although Gibraltar does have different coins. English coins and bills are accepted everywhere, as are Euros (although with a horrible exchange rate). There are the classic red telephone boxes, and everything from the post boxes to the police uniforms are identical to those in England. English pubs (with English beers) and English food (an overwhelming amount of fish and chips) are everywhere. Popular English chains (Costa Coffee, Marks & Spencer, Topshop, etc.) make it feel even more English.
Gibraltar is famous for its casinos and its tax-free shopping, aka most stores sell booze and cigarettes, or electronics. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS!!! A 1-liter bottle of Jameson was £10.70 at the airport. Aka about $15. You could buy a 4-liter bottle of whiskey in town for £40. IT IS DUTY-FREE-SHOPPING-NIRVANA!
Gibraltar also has one of the most extreme airports in the world. Besides the fact that the runway is fairly short (and surrounded by water, so if you screw it up you’re fucked), the airport runway crosses with the main road between Gibraltar and Spain. So, every time a flight lands or takes off, they have to shut off the road and traffic backs up. I can only imagine how annoying this would be if you worked in Gibraltar and lived in Spain.
In terms of getting around in Gibraltar, most things are walkable in the Main Street area. There are 9 bus routes in the territory that can take you all over, on both sides of the Rock, from the end point (Europa Point) to the other end (the Gibraltar Airport/Spanish border). There are tons of different taxi tours of the Rock, but walking the Rock is entirely doable.
Overall, it was a really weird feeling being in Gibraltar. It was a hybrid of English and Spanish—so warm and sunny (obviously the Spanish part), but still clearly English. It’s probably one of the most interesting places I’ve visited for this reason! And even though mid-March is still off-season, temps were in the high 60s to low 70s everyday.
Here are my highlights from my trip to Gibraltar:
The Rock of Gibraltar deserves its own blog post, since there’s so much to see and do up there. So check out this post about what to do on the Upper Rock Nature Reserve!
Europa Point is the end point of Gibraltar, and the views were INCREDIBLE! This was my first time seeing Africa with my own eyes, and it was completely amazing. The African continent (Morocco) is only 9 miles away, and was visible every day of my trip.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Europe is located close to Europa Point in a church. There is a small museum telling the history of the shrine—the statue itself is much smaller than I expected it to be!
The Mosque is a stunning reminder of Gibraltar’s Moorish heritage (the Catholic Spaniards captured Gibraltar from the Muslim Moors in 1462) and religious diversity. The mosque is located close to Europa Point—you can’t miss it.
The Gibraltar Museum is a small museum in the old governor’s house. The highlights are the 14th-century Moorish Baths (some of the best remaining in Europe), and the scale model of Gibraltar from 1865. There are lots of old pictures and artifacts, as well as small exhibits on the Siege of Gibraltar, archaeological digs in the 1990s, and natural history, focusing on the diverse species that used to inhabit the territory.
There are two main cathedrals in Gibraltar: the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned, and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity Gibraltar. The Cathedral of Saint Mary is Catholic, and was formerly a mosque. The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is Anglican.
Gibraltar is home to one of two 100 Ton Guns in the world (the other is in Malta). Although it has been far surpassed by newer technology, at its time it was a Victorian feat to be reckoned with. The 100 Ton Gun is included in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve ticket, so try to make it there the same day you do the Rock—otherwise it’s only £1 entry.
There are two different marinas, with restaurants, bars, and casinos. There are also several different beaches—I spent an afternoon on Catalan Bay (on the eastern side of the Rock), and even though it was too cold to swim, I loved it.
Gibraltar is definitely a holiday destination for older folks. So it’s not too surprising that there is only one hostel, and hotel prices are on the expensive side. I stayed at the Bristol Hotel, which I would definitely recommend. It doesn’t come cheap (to a budget traveler), but the room was lovely, the staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful, and they have an outdoor pool (although it’s not heated, so it was a bit too cold to swim). The location is superb: it was literally next door to the Anglican cathedral in the city center, and a 1-minute walk to the Main Street.
I can honestly saw that Gibraltar blew me away. I went in with no expectations, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the “cheap flights” and “somewhere warm” gamble paid off big time. Gibraltar kept me busy for the handful of days I was there, seeing the Rock (and the views of Africa!) was a huge highlight, and I definitely hope to return again in the future!
Have you ever visited Gibraltar or another overseas territory? Share your experiences in the comments below!