I have always wanted to visit Gibraltar but never got there until April 2019. My initial interest stems from the military side as all the way back to being a child I had a fascination with war, I loved to play with my hundreds of plastic toy soldiers. As far as Gibraltar was concerned I was always curious about how the British held onto it. Anyone interested in military or naval history is going to find Gibraltar fascinating.
Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704. We actually had a lot of help from the Dutch and the Portuguese played their part on our side as well. In that same year we had failed to take Barcelona and two years previous we had failed to take Cadiz so Gibraltar was third time lucky.
Although we had captured Gibraltar in 1704 it wasn’t until 1713 that Gibraltar was ceded to the British in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This treaty was a very important treaty as it meant Gibraltar was British forever, with no fixed maturity date, unlike Hong Kong where we had a 99 lease from 1898.
Where we stayed to visit Gibraltar
We stayed in a car park on the Spanish side which cost us €12 for 24 hours. It gave us fabulous views of the rock from where we were. We could see and obviously hear the planes landing as the airport was close by, but we were told there were just 6 flights a day, so flight noise really wasn’t a bother.
Campsite details: Alcaidesa port RV parking
Location: Car park next to the marina, Spanish side
SatNav: See the pin on our maps page for the exact location and co-ordinates, under the paid section
Facilities: Hardstanding, well lit at night, designated camper parking area, convenient to visit Gibraltar, washing machines, toilets during the day, fresh water, grey and toilet disposal, bar/cafe on site, very quiet
Price: €12 for 24 hours
We stayed right by a beautiful marina with great views over the water and of lots of boats of all sizes.
Getting into Gibraltar
We used our moped so when there were queues we were able to sneak through the traffic. On the border, we had to show (wave) our British passports and then we had our first bit of excitement, we had to cross the runway.
We never knew we would have to cross the actual runway where the planes land and takeoff. With all the other cars and lots of motorbikes and loads of pedestrians, we all shot across the runway. It was obviously very flat and very open and there was quite a bit of wind. It felt so strange and yet exhilarating at the same time.
When a plane needs to land or takeoff, the runway is cleared and the traffic and pedestrians have to wait and queue until the plane is gone and the road into Gibraltar is open again.
Once we were into Gibraltar we had to park the moped. That really was quite difficult although we always just about found a place to squeeze in. Finding a place for a car as a visitor though looked a lot more difficult. Gibraltar is absolutely packed. Seriously, there is no more room.
Exploring the town
There’s lots to see in Gibraltar town. It didn’t take us long to find British stuff; it was everywhere. Gibraltar is just like being in Britain but with sunshine and heat. We found the local Post Office, quite a few red telephone boxes, loads of British pubs, UK brand shops everywhere and a few churches and chapels that wouldn’t look out of place in a historic town in the UK.
We visited King’s Chapel which was built in 1530 but became British in 1704. Over the years it was badly damaged quite a few times and from 1844 to 1990 it served as the principal church of the British Army in Gibraltar and since then it has been used by all three services of the British Armed Forces. It is full of memorials on the walls to British soldiers and their families most of which back in the 1700s and 1800s seem to have died of disease (mainly 2 yellow fever outbreaks) rather than military combat. This was quite typical of overseas deployment in those days.
We went into the local Marks & Spencer for a good look around and ended up buying some underwear each. You can’t beat M&S underwear. Now we won’t have to do our laundry quite so often too.
We visited the Irish Town part of Gibraltar where we had a very nice British pub lunch and a few pints of Speckled Hen at The Clipper pub. It was weird that the prices here (and everywhere on Gibraltar) were in Pounds. We didn’t actually have any pounds but we managed for the whole time we were there using our bank cards – no charges for using them ‘abroad’ either.
There were cannons absolutely everywhere around Gibraltar. This one was a very special one, designed in Gibraltar by Lt G.F.Koehler, which enabled the cannon to be fired at a steeply downward-facing angle. Again there were thick city walls everywhere and casements and forts at every turn.
We visited the very old cemetery (Trafalgar Cemetery) in the town and the headstone above really stood out because of the incredible writing. The cemetary contains the remains and headstones for many sailors lost in battles but many more who succumbed to disease while stationed in Gibraltar.
And what city walkabout wouldn’t include a beautiful park. This was the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens which spans 15 acres and was commissioned in 1816. On a tiny rock where space is definitely at a premium, it’s a large and pleasant area to stroll and relax.
It’s a good place to visit when the weather isn’t right for spending time exposed on the top of the rock, either in high winds or unrelenting sunshine.
It was fabulous and full of life with amazing walkways and water features, while the plants and trees were a combination of native species and others brought in from abroad. It was interesting to see which species of plants we might consider ‘tender’ or tropical in the UK were living quite happily in the warmer climate of Gibraltar.
Of course, there were more canons here too and this gave Nigel the opportunity to try one on for size.
Around the rock in 80 minutes
We decided to drive our moped on the main road, the only road in most parts, all the way around the rock. A complete circuit of the entire country. We had a great time and ended up doing it again on our last day there. We went through some narrow tunnels and some very long tunnels, and some tunnels that were as basic as you can imagine, very rustic. They were not nicely finished off with plaster like most tunnels you see around the world. The ceilings and walls were solid rock, the road surface was covered in dust and the lighting was pretty basic but all that made the experience much more exciting.
On the tour around the rock we stopped at various places to check out a beautiful waterfall, the Mosque in the far South by the lighthouse, the Sandy Bay beach resort and various other lookout points that had spectacular views.
On our second trip around we saw a submarine (above water) sailing by in the distance. Not sure if it was simply passing through the Strait of Gibraltar and out into the Atlantic or if it was coming into port at Gibraltar, but a cool thing to see.
Visiting the ROCK of Gibraltar
We kept the epic walking trip to our last day. The Rock itself is 426 metres high (1397 feet). That’s a lot of steps. So we did part of it the easy way, but of course much more expensive way, we went up in the cable car.
There was a long queue for the cable car when we went because for the past 2 days it wasn’t being used because the winds were too strong. Our queue was about 2 hours long but we worked out we could buy tickets online on the phone, and then jump the rest of the queue, and go straight to the front for the pre-booked section. It cost us a little more than we had planned as we were not able to book one-way tickets online, but it was worth it to avoid the long wait. We went up in the cable car and walked down. The tickets are expensive at £16 (return) or £14 one way.
The cable car was built in 1966, is open every day from 9.30 am to 7.15 pm, moves at about 5 meters a second and takes about 6 minutes to get to the top. From the base station, the cable car travels up the Ape’s Den midway up the Rock and then to the top of the Rock. Despite being called “top of the Rock”, it is actually the second highest peak of the Rock at 412 metres (1,352 ft) above sea level. It’s a long and tiring walk from one peak to the next, which we didn’t do. We still walked over 8 miles that day. In the winter, April still counts as winter, the cable car only makes one stop bypassing the midway stop and actually stopping at the top.
If you don’t want to take the cable car you can walk up the whole way (but it’s long and steep) or take one of the many tour mini buses which act like buses – when full they’ll be off. However, the tour buses are not at all cheap at £38.50 per person for a 90 minute tour of the rock and all the attractions. You’ll likely get 10 minutes at each stop. And amazingly even on an April day, there were big traffic jams up on parts of the hill all caused by the bloody tour buses. We are really glad we took the cable car and not the tour bus, but we had lots of time on our hands, are not lazy and enjoy walking. These people spent more time in traffic jams sitting on a bus than out and about enjoying the sights!
Besides paying for either the cable car or a tour bus there are also other fees to pay which did make the day an expensive one for us. If you just want to walk around up there, well, you’re in a nature reserve and that will cost you £5 just to be there.
However, there are lots of other interesting things to check out on the rock, so you can buy a multi-entry ticket for £13, including the £5 fee for the nature reserve, and most of the attractions.
The Monkeys of Gibraltar
You will find the monkeys roaming freely all over the rock and even down into the town in places. There are apparently five separate troops and that makes sense as there are a lot of monkeys up there, estimated at over 300 at the moment. As soon as we got out of the cable car we saw our first one within 30 seconds.
These are the only wild monkeys in Europe and they are Barbary Macaque monkeys. As they are a tail-less species they are also known locally as Barbary apes or rock apes. They are originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, no doubt stowed away on ships that docked in Gibraltar and unwittingly introduced them to the rock.
You may have seen videos in the past of monkeys grabbing things from tourists – hats, sunglasses, food etc, or even being aggressive. We didn’t see any of that sort of thing, other than one cheeky young monkey who tried to grab a bottle of water from one lady’s open purse. These days tourists are forbidden from feeding the monkeys and encouraged to keep their distance. Give the monkeys space and they won’t invade yours.
We made sure we were well away from any of the monkeys when we stopped in the woods to enjoy our packed lunch. If you are out on the rock for the day, make sure to take food and drink with you as you won’t find any en route down from the top.
Neither of us like heights
Did you know that you can catch acrophobia – a fear of heights. Although Nigel has always not enjoyed crossing bridges or standing too close to the edge, Deby never used to have a problem. But these days, her uneasiness with heights seems worse than mine. I think she caught it from me!
Fear of heights for both of us has got much worse over the years so going up in a cable car, looking over shear edges of cliffs, stepping onto The Skywalk and crossing the Windsor suspension bridge all tested us to the limit. We did them all, but it has to be said, it took considerable effort for some of them.
The Skywalk opened in March 2018 by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) is 340 metres above sea level and is a viewpoint near the top you can walk over with 2-inch thick glass if you have balls of steel. Neither of us particularly enjoyed looking down through the glass to see we were standing in thin air, off the edge of a vertical cliff face.
The Windsor Suspension bridge is suspended over a 50-meter gorge although it looks like much more when you are on it. It’s 71 meters long (over 230 feet) and when we first saw it there was some nutter on there, on his own, bouncing up and down like a demented idiot. We waited for everyone to move off before we gave it a go. I must admit when I went over I did not hang around in case that big gorilla came back. Deby, however, crept across very slowly gripping on all the time with the bridge swinging in the breeze. That was why I was able to get the photo from the side with her still less than halfway across. It was not my finest hour leaving my wife to creep across on her own. [But I DID IT despite my legs shaking all the way across! – Deb]
Caves and tunnels; St Michael’s Cave
Saint Michael’s cave was amazing. It was part of the £13 entry fee and we were blown away. The first chamber that you walk into is the largest, named the Cathedral cave and it is massive, just like a Cathedral inside in terms of its height. This chamber has such amazing acoustics that the whole room currently serves as an auditorium. It is equipped with a concrete stage and has a seating capacity of over 100.
There are lots of other chambers to check out some of which have beautiful light shows. Presently the cave is one of Gibraltar’s top tourist attractionss and is open daily to the public receiving almost 1,000,000 visitors a year.
The cave was created by rainwater slowly seeping through the limestone rock, turning into a weak carbonic acid which gradually dissolved the rock. There is even a cross-section of one of the fallen stalactites which shows all the different periods of growth and all the shapes that were being formed.
I do think the colored lighting in the cave was a bit too much. Interesting lighting really can enhance the fascinating rock formations, but the lighting was so intense that the colors rather took over. The intricate formations inside the cave were already stunning enough without the color.
The Great Siege Tunnels inside the rock
We then moved onto see some of the Tunnels of Gibraltar. There are currently an incredible 34 miles of tunnels in a land area of just 2.6 square miles. The tunnels we went into, again part of the £13 block entry, were the original ones built in 1782 for the Great Siege Of Gibraltar. They were then extended in the 1880 to 1915 era, and some more works were carried out in the 1933 to 1938 era due to the rise of Nazi Germany and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. However, the most intensive phase of tunnelling in Gibraltar’s history came during the Second World War when the total length of the tunnels increased greatly from 7 miles to 25 miles.
There are various dioramas that depict events in the history of Gibraltar, and a lot of interesting information to read.
After that, we did a quick visit to the Moorish Castle (sorry no photos), again part of the £13 block entry, and then it was time to finish our walk down and back to the moped all the way to the other end of town at the cable car station.
We had a fabulous and fun day, albeit tiring having walked over 8 miles. On the way back to the van we popped into Morrison’s Supermarket and bought lots of British favourites to eat. You can’t beat scones and clotted cream after a hard day of rock climbing 🙂
We both absolutely loved Gibraltar and will not hesitate to go back. Thank you Gibraltar!