Gibraltar is an ancient settlement near the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula in South Europe. In clear weather, African continent is visible both for the people and for monkeys who live on the “rock”. At this location, only a relatively narrow strait separates the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the impressive rock that dominates the town of Gibraltar, there are other good reasons to visit the popular British travel destination, but how to get there?
Gibraltar’s strategic location is the reason why it has been an important place almost as long as humans and their forefathers have moved around in Europe and North Africa. Neanderthals lived in caves in Gibraltar whereas today’s inhabitants claim more land from the sea and build living space towards the sky.
The steep mountain is the best place to start a visit. You will get a comprehensive view of the town and its surroundings from the top. In clear weather, North Africa is visible along with neighbor towns in Spain. The semi-wild monkeys that roam at the upper slopes of the rock are entertaining to follow. A selfie with a monkey is not easy, but doable (monkeys have to be left alone so don’t disturb them). A cable car takes visitors from the center of town to the top in few minutes.
Shopping is one of the key reasons to visit Gibraltar for many tourists. It is a renowned tax-haven for businesses and for wealthy individuals. Low tax rates benefit tourists as well. The primary road of Gibraltar, Main Street, features luxury product, jewelry, and branded product shops that can sell their ware for very low or without tax.
History lovers will find plenty of sights down in the town and along the slopes of the mountain. Ancient defensive walls and buildings are a common sight along the streets and among buildings. Some of them have become part of structures of the town. For instance, the popular restaurant center Grand Casemates Square – a beautiful place to meet people and have a meal in one of the many restaurants of the square – is surrounded by walls, structures, and even a castle above.
The restaurant and pub scene in Gibraltar is a lively, happy mix of British tradition and rich Spanish bar culture. The easiest way to start exploring is to roam the Main Street and the Casemates Square, and then venture elsewhere if more variety is required (which I doubt).
Gorham’s Caves is a Unesco World Heritage Site on the east side of the rock. Remnants of Neanderthals have been found in the caves along with bones of big and small animals. A limited number of visitors are allowed access to the caves annually, but there are two options for exploring the environment. Mediterranean Steps is a path that descends to the caves from the mountain (yes, you have the return the same way), and a boating company organizes sightseeing tours from the port to the caves.
A brief history of Gibraltar helps visitors understand why the unique town looks like it is and also about its relationships with the UK, Spain and European Union.
How to travel to Gibraltar
A compact airfield in Gibraltar is built partially on land and partially on a strip claimed from the sea. The runway crosses the main road that leads into the town from Spain. When an airplane lands or takes off, all traffic on the road is stopped. At the moment, the airport serves flights from the UK and Morocco. Malaga airport has more options, and a shuttle bus connection to Gibraltar.
Most visitors and residents arrive and leave Gibraltar along road. Cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and people who are walking to the town share the road that connects the town to the European Continent. If you are driving, consider leaving your car in La Linea, the Spanish border town. Especially, if you have a motorhome or campervan, finding parking space in Gibraltar is unlikely. Near the border in La Linea, it is easy find parking complexes. For motorhomes, a caravan park at the port is a good place to stay, and use as a basecamp for visiting Gibraltar. At the border in Gibraltar, taxis and buses are waiting to take you to the town center.
Gibraltar’s neighbor town on the coast is Algeciras. It is an important port on the south coast, and unfortunately, also a popular route for drugs that are smuggled from North Africa on speedboats. In any case, Algeciras is connected to the rest of the Spain by railway. From Algeciras it is a short bus or taxi ride to Gibraltar.
Ferry services are available between nearby North African ports and Spanish towns Algeciras and Tarifa. The availability of ferries between Gibraltar and Tangier should be verified before planning a trip via these two ports. Check the FRS web page for the timetable and all destinations.
One more thing: since Gibraltar is a British town, and the UK is not a member of European Union anymore, everyone needs a passport and possibly other travel documents to enter the town. Also when shopping in Gibraltar, it is important to remember that EU duty-free rules don’t apply, and customs officials are waiting at the Spanish side of the border.