If you travel a good deal, you’ve probably seen plenty of beautiful and fascinating places. I know that I certainly have! One place, however, that has particularly stood out in my travels is none other than Gibraltar. Oh really, you ask? Yes, really! Gibraltar is not only beautiful, but it is probably also one of the most unique and interesting places you’ll ever visit.
I had to go to Seville for a work conference a couple years ago, and I went over a few days early with my sister so that we could travel throughout southern Spain a bit. Since Gibraltar is located alongside the southern tip of Spain and only about a two-hour drive from Seville, we decided it would be the perfect location for a day trip.
You’ve probably heard of the “Rock” of Gibraltar, and it is, in fact, mostly a rock! Gibraltar primarily consists of the “rock” itself (which stands at about 1,400 feet tall), as well as a small portion of lowlands along the coast (a bit of which is reclaimed land built on top of landfill.) The entire territory encompasses just under seven square miles!
To say Gibraltar is steeped in history would be an understatement. From what scientists and historians can tell, the Rock has been inhabited as far back as 55,000 years ago. There are prehistoric caves throughout the Rock and one in particular, Gorham’s Cave, is thought to have been the last known place of habitation of Neanderthals in Europe.
Way back in the day, the Romans (of course) had graced the Rock with their presence as well, and over time, control of Gibraltar passed through many, many hands. The Rock was under Moorish control for nearly seven centuries from the 700s to the 1400s before the Spanish took over for a few more centuries. Eventually, the Rock fell to the Brits in the early 1700s, and it remains a British territory to this day.
Part of the reason Gibraltar has been so coveted over the centuries is due to its location at the northern part of the Strait of Gibraltar, aka, the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea! Having control of who can come in and out of the Strait and then on to the Mediterranean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean is of great strategic importance, and many have fought to control this passageway throughout history.
Spain has tried for many years to gain dual sovereignty of Gibraltar, but Gibraltarians have voted against the referendums that would have made this happen. The most recent referendum was in 2002 and was defeated 99-1. So, with the UK Gibraltar will stay!
The day we visited Gibraltar, we were up bright and early to meet our tour guide who would drive us to Gibraltar. The countryside we traveled through was beautiful, and it was an easy drive to the border. Our destination was the airport, where all planes, cars, and pedestrians may enter into Gibraltar. When we arrived, we walked through a small office building where our passports were checked and when we passed through the other side, we were in Gibraltar!
And…standing on the runway. You know, the place where the planes land and take off? Yep, right there.
So, coming from the high-security country of the USA, this was utterly fascinating to us. There were a couple little gates that could be moved up or down to prevent you (I guess) from walking onto the runway when you’re not meant to, but otherwise, this was a pretty low-security situation they had going on here! We were laughing at how crazy it was to be walking across a runway, and it’s an experience we certainly won’t ever forget.
Europa Point and Trinity Lighthouse
We were met by another tour guide in Gibraltar, and we started our visit by driving through the city and along the coast in the lowlands of Gibraltar. Our first stop was the beautiful Trinity Lighthouse, which was built back in 1841 and is situated at the southernmost point of Gibraltar, Europa Point.
From here, you have an excellent view of the Strait and on a clear day, you can see Jebel Musa, a mountain at the northernmost point of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar. (Morocco is only about 15 miles away from Gibraltar, and there’s a ferry that can take you there in an hour. Or…if you’re looking for a bit more excitement in your life, try swimming across!)
Next, the real adventure began as we started to wind our way uphill towards the top of the Rock. The drive was crazy and the roads didn’t seem nearly wide enough for our big van. In fact, the curves were so tight in some places our driver had to make partial turns, back up a little, and then try the turn again. Eventually, the road became one-way because it was wide enough for only one vehicle to pass. I was on the cliff side during the drive, and there was just a tiny fence between us and a fall off the cliff. Eep!
St. Michael’s Cave
A little way up the rock we (thankfully) stopped at St. Michael’s Cave, which we were able to go into and have some time to explore. The cave’s many stalactites are lit up in a variety of colors, and you can wander through several trails inside the massive cave.
In its main chamber, seats and a stage were set up, and we learned that they use the cave for theater and dance performances (with a seating capacity of 600.) Talk about a unique performance space! (It was also intended to be used as a military hospital during WWII but ended up not being needed.)
If you have more time to explore, though, you might also want to check out the Lower St. Michael’s Cave, which was only just discovered in 1942. You can take their three-hour guided tour, which will deliver you to an underground lake that’s 40 yards long! We didn’t have time to do this ourselves, but if you DO want to try this tour, note that the website mentions that it requires some minor rock scrambling and rope climbing…
Once we came back up into the light, we continued driving up the Rock. Our next destination was to see the wild Barbary Macaques, which are the only wild monkeys known to exist in Europe. They’re not native to Europe, however, but instead come from the mountains of Morocco. It’s believed that they’ve been on Gibraltar at least since the 1600s (and most likely even earlier than this, though the exact origins are still uncertain.)
There were quite a few of the little guys and gals running around, and they were soooo cute! We even saw a couple mamas with their adorable babies. Despite humans visiting them frequently, they are still wild animals, so you should be careful around them if you ever decide to visit.
We saw some people with the macaques sitting on their shoulders (which you’re advised not to allow them to do) and they definitely weren’t shy about climbing on top of our van. One even tried to join us INSIDE our van! Getting to see the macaques was one of the highlights of our visit for sure, and I would highly recommend going to see them if you find yourself in Gibraltar.
Great Siege Tunnels
Next, we headed to the Great Siege Tunnels. In the early 1780s, France and Spain were both trying to oust the Brits from Gibraltar during what was called the Great Siege. The Brits needed to get guns and cannons to a high point on the Rock, which was no easy feat. So, it was decided that by tunneling through the Rock, they would be able to gain access to higher points of Gibraltar while being protected inside the Rock itself. The tunneling began in 1782, by hand, and by the end of 1790, 4,000 feet of tunnel had been carved out within the Rock.
More tunneling continued during WWII when another 30 miles of tunnel were added inside! The Brits wanted to be able to house 16,000 troops with all their food, supplies, and weapons inside the Rock, so the additional tunneling allowed them to expand their capacity greatly.
We had less than an hour to visit here during our tour, so, unfortunately, we were only able to barely scratch the surface of the tunnels. If you decide to visit, make sure to give yourself plenty of time. Not all sections of the tunnel are accessible, but there are guided tours and audio-guides and plenty of videos and placards to read to keep you busy for a while.
City of Gibraltar
After the tunnels, we were driven back down into town and dropped off to have lunch and shopping time on our own. We grabbed some fish and chips and a MASSIVE pitcher of sangria from the Angry Friar across the street from the Convent, which has been the Governor’s residence in Gibraltar since the 1720s. While working through all that sangria, we saw the changing of the guards outside at least twice before getting back on our way.
We wandered through town, walked out near the water to take in the lovely views, and then we eventually needed to start heading back to the airport to meet our tour guide. On the way, we were delayed at the runway because a plane was preparing for takeoff. The gates came down, just like at a railroad crossing, and we all just stood there next to the runway, waiting for the plane to leave so we could walk back into Spain. So bizarre!
Before long, we were packed into our tour van and heading back to Seville, but we will never forget our fantastic day here. Gibraltar is a highly worthwhile spot to visit, especially if you’re traveling in southern Spain. And if you’re in the area in the summertime, stick around for a few days to enjoy the gorgeous beaches!
For most people, Gibraltar probably hasn’t ever been on their radar as a place they’d like to see, but I hope by now you’ve learned some reasons why this is a place you definitely need to visit!
What do you think? Would you like to visit Gibraltar?
If you’ve already been, what were your impressions of the Rock?
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Gibraltar: The Rock of Gibraltar is located near the southernmost tip of Spain.
- You can access Gibraltar by land, air, or sea. There is no railroad in Gibraltar, but you can take the train to Spain and walk into Gibraltar from there.
When to Go
- Spring or fall are the best times to visit Gibraltar. Temperatures are more pleasant and prices are lower as well.
- If you want to hit the beach, summer is the time to go! Keep in mind that it will be HOT, and flights and lodging will be much pricier, too.
- Winter temperatures are fairly mild, but Gibraltar is known for getting heavier rains at this time of year.
Tips for Visiting
- If you’re crossing into Gibraltar via foot or car, you will need to cross the runway at the airport to get to the Rock. Due to the comings and goings of the planes, be prepared for some delays while awaiting takeoffs and landings. Car traffic seemed particularly dense the day we visited.
- Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom, which means the currency used is the British Pound (GBP) and not the Euro (EUR). Most places we visited still accepted Euros, but some returned our change in Pounds.
- A tour is a great way to see multiple attractions in one trip, but we felt that we could have used more time at each of the attractions we visited. Check with your tour operator about the length of time you’ll have to visit each spot because you may find that skipping a tour will give you more time and independence to see whatever you’d like.
- Most of the attractions we visited were inside the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. Once you purchase your ticket, you’ll have access to St. Michael’s Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels, the City Under Siege Exhibition, O’Hara’s Battery, the Skywalk, the Windsor Suspension Bridge, and footpaths including the Mediterranean Steps and the Moorish Castle.
- If you’re not taking a guided tour, you can access the Nature Reserve through the Gibraltar Cable Car!