Not Just A Day Trip: What To See And Do In Gibraltar

Gibraltar, Rock and ships
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The vast majority of visitors to Gibraltar come as day trippers, either on cruise ships or across the Spanish border. A quick tour around the sights, and perhaps a drink and a bit of duty free shopping before heading off back to the ship or the holiday resort. But there is lots to see and do in Gibraltar if you want to stay a little longer.

For me, it was a return visit. I was last here during my student days, when the border with Spain was still closed, and the Rock was dominated by British military personnel. This time I went in search of a bit of winter sun, and to see what had changed.

Upper Rock Nature Reserve

For most visitors the main attraction is the Rock and its famous colony of macaque monkeys. Take the cable car to the Top Station (the base station is beside the Alameda Gardens) and you will be rewarded with spectacular views across the rock and the Strait of Gibraltar. If you also use the cable car for the return trip you could complete the excursion in a couple of hours. However, there is much more to the Rock than this.

Monkey sitting beside a rock.
One of the famous barbary macaques on the Rock of Gibraltar

The whole of the Upper Rock is a nature reserve, covered in Mediterranean trees and plants, with an abundant bird population, and wild monkeys in their natural habitat. It is criss-crossed with hiking trails, and those with a head for heights can walk across a deep gorge on the (safe but slightly wobbly) Windsor Suspension Bridge. Not to be missed is St Michael’s Cave, a remarkable sequence of limestone caves close to the top of the Rock (read more about The Caves of Gibraltar).

Hiking path beside a rocky cliff covered with plants.
The Upper Rock is a nature reserve

Military History

If you’re interested in military history you could spend days exploring the sites of sieges and military operations from the earliest times. Gibraltar has always been of vital strategic importance and you’ll find batteries, cannons and military installations all over the Rock and the town. You can visit the Great Siege Tunnels, a massive defence system constructed in the 18th century and used again during World War II. And there are military cemeteries, most notably the Trafalgar Cemetery, the resting place of some of those who died at the Battle of Trafalgar.

As well as the underground tunnels the military defences (spanning the Moorish, Spanish and British periods) include the town walls and the Moorish Castle. Read more about Gibraltar’s walls and fortifications.

What Else Can You See And Do In Gibraltar?

Lots of visitors come to Gibraltar for duty free shopping, particularly drinks and cigarettes which are very cheap here. And there seem to be plenty of shops offering luxury goods such as electronics and perfume. Then there is Ocean Village, a modern complex with bars, restaurants and casinos.

But for me, one of best things to do in Gibraltar was walking down Main Street (a sort of cross between a Mediterranean town and Britain in the 1970s), and exploring the tangle of passages and stairways in the old town. And I enjoyed visiting the Town Museum, with exhibits including the 14th century baths (said to be one of the best preserved Moorish bath houses in Europe) and an exploration of Gibraltar’s Neolithic history.

Then there was the modern marina and the tiny hamlet of Catalan Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula. A particular highlight was the Alameda Botanic Gardens, full of exotic plants and home to the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park, a refuge for exotic animals that have been abandoned or confiscated. And in good weather you can take a boat trip to spot the dolphins.

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Day Trips From Gibraltar

You could also take a day trip from Gibraltar. One day we walked across the airport runway to the Spanish border and picked up a hire car. We went to explore some Roman sites, but there is lots more to see in this part of southern Spain. We could have driven up the coast to Cádiz, or in the opposite direction towards Marbella and Malaga.

It is theoretically also possible to take a guided tour to Tangier (but this one is subject to availability and the whims of the weather!).

Gibraltar: Some Practical Considerations

Gibraltar does have a few quirks that you need to know about. First there is the weather. Gibraltar is an exposed rock jutting out into the Mediterranean which means that it can be subject to fierce winds. Sometimes this can lead to things like the Cable Car and the Botanical Gardens being closed at short notice, and the occasional plane being diverted to Malaga in Spain. You also need to be aware that lots of things are closed at the weekend (in the low season at least), and that it is not always easy to find reliable information about opening times.

Buildings around a bay, with rough sea coming up almost to the edge of the houses.
Strong winds create a high tide in Catalan Bay

On a windy weekday you could visit the museum. Or you could buy a day ticket on the buses – very cheap at £6.00 – and ride around different parts of the peninsula. But if you are there on a wet windy Sunday afternoon (as we were), you may find yourself simply diving into the nearest bar!

Where To Stay And Eat In Gibraltar

I stayed in the Sunborn, a super-yacht moored on the edge of the marina area in Ocean Village. Although Ocean Village itself was a bit brash for my taste, I can recommend the Sunborn for its views of the sea and the marina (if you stay there make sure to request a sea view). And it has a great location, being easy walking distance from the town, the airport and the Spanish border. The Rock Hotel, a 1930s style hotel on the lower slopes of the Rock, looks more luxurious but might be less convenient for getting around. However, as I discovered, even if you don’t stay there the Rock Hotel is one of the best places for lunch or afternoon tea. For other accommodation ideas have a look at the suggestions on booking.com.

Chairs in front of tall windows looking out to plants and the sea.
Enjoying the view from the Lounge of the Rock Hotel

Where food is concerned, don’t believe the guidebooks when they say you’ll find tapas everywhere – you won’t! There are traditional British pubs, but they mostly seem to sell unimaginative British staples like fish and chips or burgers. There are lots of restaurants in Ocean Village, but they can be a bit crowded and noisy. However you will find Indian and Chinese, and some good fish restaurants, in the town centre. The best meal I had was at the excellent Mamela in Catalan Bay (bus or taxi from the main town), and I also enjoyed authentic and inexpensive Moroccan food at the Marrakech on Governor’s Parade.

So how long would I recommend you stay in Gibraltar? I stayed a week, and could have spent longer, but three or four days would be long enough to see most of the main attractions. If you’ve been to Gibraltar how long did you stay? Let me know in the comments below.

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11 thoughts on “Not Just A Day Trip: What To See And Do In Gibraltar”

  1. Doreen Pendgracs

    Thx for the great post, Karen. I didn’t know that Gibraltar has macaques. That in itself is reason enough for me to visit. 🙂

  2. Carolina Colborn

    We went on a tour of Tangier from Malaga and spotted the Rock on the bus to and fro. We weren’t even able to make that day trip after as we ran out of time. But I was interested in its famous colony of macaque monkeys and some duty-free shopping (as you accurately knew). I didn’t know there was a lot more!

  3. My favorite thing about Gibraltar was meeting the macaque monkeys up at the top. I also found getting there to be fascinating since it required driving over an airport runway (is that still the case?). I enjoyed seeing in your post some of the things I missed.

    1. Yes, you still need to cross the airport runway if you’re coming in from Spain. Staying on the Gibraltar side of the border, I walked across the runway to get to Spain!

  4. Interesting. I’ve not been to Gibraltar but everyone I know who has been has done it on a day trip. If I get a chance to visit, I might consider visiting for more than one day after reading this.

  5. We visited the rock whilst on a cruise but only had a few hours so saw and learnt very little, but at the same time I couldn’t get over how different it felt, in a nice way, to be there. So because of this we’re spending a few days there next March, covid permitting. just hope the weather will be as good as the first time round.

  6. We visited Gibraltar off the cruise ship. We are going to Spain for 3 months this fall and I hope we will visit it again.

  7. neet and angel apk

    Loved this post! Didn’t know half the things you mentioned and we’re actually planning a trip to Gibraltar soon. Can’t wait to explore the caves and watch the Barbary macaques, thanks for the tips!

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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