Gibraltar is one of those funny, tiny little countries (if you can call it a country!) that not everyone thinks of visiting. Or maybe they just pop there for 6 hours as part of a cruise. But I decided to spend an actual three-day holiday there this year. If you’re curious about whether the Rock is worth a visit, read on to find out…
Gibraltar is quite expensive
One of the first things to note about planning a trip to Gibraltar is that it’s not the cheapest destination on the Med. Pretty much anywhere else in Spain will probably be more affordable, at least when it comes to hotels and flights. Hotels in particular are very expensive, since there are very few of them and they’ve all set their prices to at least £75 or more. You won’t find hostels, budget hotels or Airbnbs, so your only two options are to bite the bullet and pay up, or stay over the border in Spain and just drive or take a bus down to the border. We decided to cough up for three nights in the Bristol Hotel, at a total cost of around £300, since we wanted to maximise the time we’d actually spend there and minimise hassle going back and forth over the border.
Other costs are not too outrageous though. Once you’ve got accommodation out of the way, food prices are similar to the UK.
I don’t really recommend flying in and out of Gib airport
We decided to ‘save time’ by flying to and from Gibraltar’s one and only tiny airport. There are daily flights to and from London and Manchester with BA and a few other airlines. They’re not budget priced, but I reckoned they’d work out cheaper and more convenient than flying to Malaga and taking a bus or train down. However I take those words back now. Our BA flight from London Gatwick to Gibraltar was only somewhat delayed, somewhere around 50 minutes behind schedule. Since we were headed off on holiday and not to a business meeting, we could just about handle that delay and get on with our trip.
However, disaster struck us hard on the way back. As we arrived at the airport I noticed it was a bit of a foggy day, and remarked that I hoped it wouldn’t affect the flight. Famous last words! Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11.05, but the pilot decided not to land at all due to the fog. But no one at the airport seemed to be bothered to inform the passengers of this fact until at least an hour later, when they decided we’d all have to get on coaches over to Malaga and take the flight from there. It was 14.00 before we eventually got on the bus and set off for Malaga, which is about 1 hour 30 away from Gibraltar. Needless to say, with at least a 5-hour delay, there was no way we were going to be able to make our connecting flights, so we ended up re-booking a completely new flight from Malaga to Wroclaw, Poland, instead of taking our planned flights from London to Kiev and Warsaw respectively. The staff at Gib airport told me these kinds of events are not uncommon, as fog can set in at any time due to the local geography. So book your flight there and back at your peril.
It’s just like England. But in Spain.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the weird culture shock that you’ll get when you first walk around Gibraltar. The climate is telling you you’re in Spain. Sun, sea air and palm trees. But everything else is telling you you’re in a UK town. Red phone boxes, double decker buses, signs in English, pubs selling fish and chips and full English breakfasts… Whilst many of the service staff in Gibraltar are Spanish, everyone must speak English, and so it’s a really great place to be if your foreign language skills are rusty. They even use Pounds as their currency, although beware that you may be given Gibraltar Pound notes or coins, which cannot be used back in the UK, so make sure you spend those before you leave.
What to do in Gibraltar
It’s a fairly small place (you can walk from one end to the other in about 1.5 hours), but there are a good few things to keep you busy for a 24 or 48-hour visit.
Go to the Top of the Rock
Of course, you can’t go to Gibraltar and not spend at least some of your time visiting its main attraction and geographical feature – the rock. To get up to the top, you have three options. Hiking (I have no idea how long that would take, but if it’s hot, I can’t say I fancy it too much), taking the cable car, or taking one of the minibus tours. The cable car, quite frankly, looks absolutely terrifying. I have a very extreme fear of heights, so going up the rock at all isn’t the most comfortable thing for me to do. But there was no way in hell that I was going to go up on that cable car. If you have a better head for heights than me, though, it will get you up to the top in just a few minutes.
Or you can do what we did and take a minibus tour. It was still a little scary at the top (there’s one point where there is a sheer drop on both sides!), but more bearable than the cable car. For £27 each, you can take the approx 1.5 hour tour, which takes you to see pretty much all the interesting things that there are to see up there. The views, the monkeys and St Michael’s Caves.
The views are amazing, of course. But the caves were the absolute highlight for me, and I was quite disappointed not to have longer to spend in there. If you’re a cave fiend, you might want to make your own way up and spend longer in the caves. But they’re included in the bus tour as well, so that’s another way to see them. Inside they are simply spectacular. They actually hold concerts in there, so the first part has tiered seating and a stage, but you can go further in and marvel at the geological features and enjoy the fresh temperature.
Up the top, you’ll meet Gibraltar’s most famous residents, the monkeys. Of course they’re not technically monkeys but Barbary apes. But there are plenty of them, you won’t need to go searching for them. Take the tour guides’ advice and make sure you don’t bring food or anything that looks like food, and keep your distance from the monkeys. They are not aggressive per se, but they will happily come and grab anything that you’re not holding tight enough. The monkeys are managed and fed by the local government so they are not in need of extra food at all, in fact foods such as bread are very bad for them, so just don’t do it.
I really recommend that tour if your time is limited and you want to pack in as many sights as possible.
The Botanical Gardens
Gibraltar’s botanical gardens are free to enter, so there’s no reason not to go and take a stroll. Depending on the time of the year they may be more or less beautiful. In late July Gibraltar is very hot, and the gardens are quite dry. But they’ve got plenty of African plants and cacti to stroll around. I’d definitely suggest going for an hour or so to take a look.
Stroll around Main Street and Casemates Square
This area is basically the city centre of Gibraltar, with a long high street full of shops and cafes, ending in a very Spanish style square with lots of restaurants with outdoor seating. The restaurants in Casemates Square are not shockingly overpriced, so it’s quite a good place to have dinner at least once. Also look out for the Moroccan guy selling authentic mint tea for just 50p a glass. Main Street has lots of typical British brands, local souvenirs and places to get ice cream and coffee.
Check out Marina Bay and the harbour area
Marina Bay was my favourite part of Gibraltar. It’s almost like a mini Montecarlo, packed full of fancy yachts. It’s definitely much cheaper though, and if you catch Happy Hour in one of the waterfront pubs you can actually get a pint for £1.50. Yes, you read that right. The bar staff had a good laugh at our faces when we realised that was for real. (For non-Brits, a pint in London starts from £4.50). Marina Bay is also home to the Sunborn, a huge mega yacht which doubles as a hotel and hosts several bars and restaurants. Surprisingly it wasn’t even terribly expensive. We had a nice bottle of Cava for £22 at the bar on the upper deck. They also do shisha if you’re there before 8pm.
Would I recommend visiting Gibraltar? Absolutely yes! It’s really perfect for a one or two night stay.
Have you been? Let me know if you have any other tips or info on stuff to do there!