Gibraltar, a little piece of the UK clinging stalwartly to the bottom of Spain. The great Rock looks out over a narrow Straits of Gibraltar, where the north coast of Morocco lies only 14km away and well-visible on pretty much any day. This passageway is Pillars of Hercules; ancient gateway to worlds unknown.
Around the rock is a tight skirt buildings that form Gibraltar’s town. There’s not much room to breathe here, trapped between the Rock and the extensive port that brings in a great part of the area’s income. But this lack of space is what makes Gibraltar so incredibly fascinating, with thousands of years of history packed into every crevice.
How to Get There
You can fly, boat, or walk into Gibraltar, but I found driving to be the most hassle free – and sadly, I don’t have a boat. My travelling companions and I rented a car and drove down the coast from Malaga. The drive was simple and very manageable for a day trip. Driving into Gibraltar itself is not recommended, however – during week days the town runs mostly on mopeds and scooters for good reason. There are extensive parking lots just outside the border post which will make your life a whole lot easier.
Be prepared! Bring your passport or EU ID card – this is a full customs and security post. You are entering the United Kingdom. Along with this is a change of currency. Gibraltar may be small but it deals in pounds, not Euros. There are plenty of places to exchange money by the parking area and by the border station, and of course banks where you can withdraw cash.
You’ll flow through security with hundreds of workers going back and forth from Spain, then wait to cross the airstrip that divides Gibraltar from the mainland. Yes – you read that correctly. Planes landing and taking off from Gibraltar’s airport do so on this runway, meaning you can only cross at the controlled times in between.
From here you can walk, hop on a bus, or take one of the many taxis that are waiting there. The word taxi is a bit misleading actually – they’re more like a personal tour guide. I hate taxis, and I hate tours, so I was reluctant to climb into one. My travelling companions and I decided to take the bus over the airstrip and into town, where we hit up Casemates Square and enjoyed some fish and chips while we decided what to do next.
Then we got a taxi. I climbed in unwillingly, grumbling that the tour would be too restrictive. Never have I been so wrong. Here’s the deal: For one fixed rate these taxis take you to every hot spot on Gibraltar, including entry fees, and even up to the top of the Rock. Our driver had been doing these drives and tours for thirty years, and so had his father before him. He gave a personal touch to our visit that was simply priceless. If you’re only visiting for a day and want to go up the Rock, seriously consider one of these taxis. You can walk – we passed sweat-drenched hikers several times – but it will take several hours at least each way, and if you have health or mobility issues, it’s definitely not recommended.
So, onward in the taxi up nail-biting little roads on the edge of the world…
What To See
The Gates of Hercules – This monument is part way up the Rock, facing south. From here you can see Morocco, even though the day we went was a bit overcast and our view was not so clear. You also have a great view of the port, with a plethora of huge cargo ships moving in and out.
St. Michael’s Cave – This was one spot that I had not read about prior to the trip. It’s a fascinating labyrinth of caves and caverns twisting through the rock itself. One such cavern has been transformed into a music hall with multi-coloured lights and music, which I felt took away from the real majesty of the place. Further down several steep staircases one can escape from the modern influences and listen to nothing but the silence and the steady dripping of water. Just don’t be surprised if a monkey appears – the infamous monkeys of Gibraltar have been known to wander about in the caves too. Which leads to our next stop…
The Ape Den – This is where Gibraltar’s some 250 Barbary Macaques call home. While monkeys scrambled around us we climbed out of the taxi and up a small stone lookout. The view was fantastic to every side, the sun was high and the clouds from earlier had cleared. Meanwhile the monkeys screeched and fought each other, clambered about with their adorable babies or lay belly-up in the sun (just like your Dad does on the couch after the Christmas dinner).
The Great Siege Tunnels – These tunnels carved by the British to defend Gibraltar were the main reason I wanted to go to Gibraltar. Built in the late 18th century this network of fortifications was etched by hand out of the rock. Signs and various exhibitions along the way chronicle the tunnels’ history right up until the World Wars.
Just outside the tunnels there is a lookout that faces inland, out across the airport. We stood in the sun and watched several monkeys, perched on the rails, tend to their baby. Below, the planes landed and took off without disturbing the little family one bit.
Moorish Castle / The Tower of Homage – This was one stop that I very much wanted to make, but was apparently closed on the day we were there. Dating back to the 11th century the tower and network of fortifications have served the varied occupants of Gibraltar well, protecting the Moors, Spaniards, Englishmen, and eventually serving as a prison right up until 2010.
So, to sum things up, if you want to see Gibraltar in a day and still hit all those hard-to-reach spots, take a taxi! We only took a basic tour, but there are many other options to be had and other fantastic locations to see. But the real beauty of the taxi tour lies in your driver. They have a personal history and connection to the Rock, and a wealth of experience (not just in navigating gut-wrenching roads) that will add colour and depth to your visit.