Gibraltar has always intrigued me.
It’s like Britain, but hot – how confusing! As a Brit born and bred, I’m always looking for a chance to escape the cold, grey weather of my home country, so when my sister announced she was moving to La Línea de la Concepción, a small town in Spain just across the border from Gibraltar, I pencilled in a visit.
I was living in Wellington, New Zealand at the time and had travelled back to the UK for a wedding, so what better opportunity than to visit my sister in Spain too?
Gibraltar is very similar to England – except it’s much more sunny.
I flew into Gibraltar airport and was surprised to find that the runway seems to appear out of the sea at the very last minute… Thankfully we landed safely!
Naturally, I stayed with my sister in her apartment in La Línea whilst visiting. She worked as a conversation assistant for an English language programme aimed at Spanish students and was based at a hotel in La Linea. She was contracted to four days a week’s work, which included games and conversations with the students, plus a tour of Gibraltar once a week.
I thought Gibraltar would be tiny. However, considering it has an area of just 6.8km², over 30,000 people live there and it seems an attractive place for UK-born people to move to or retire. The population is also made up of a number of Spanish and Moroccan people, as well as other EU residents – and many people cross the Spanish border into Gibraltar every day to go to work or go shopping. You can just walk across the border from one country to another – you have to show your passport of course, and then you walk across the runway before reaching the city.
Key similarities and differences between the UK and Gibraltar:
- They drive on the right like in Europe, not on the left like at home – but changing lanes would cause all sorts of issues at the border!
- There are lots of typically British things, like red telephone boxes, hanging flower baskets, and there is even a road called “Winston Churchill Avenue”.
- There’s a Morrison’s supermarket, and the Spanish supermarket Eroski sells Waitrose products.
- The spoken language is English, though most people speak a bit of Spanish too.
- They use the pound sterling everywhere but the prices are a tad more expensive than back home. The only real difference is that the coins have different markings on them. You can also pay in Euros in most places, but the exchange rate is DIRE.
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GIBRALTAR
1. Wander through the town centre
The historical town centre is ever so quaint, with shutter-clad buildings and alfresco dining with cuisine from around the world as well as the typical British Fish n Chips. Casemates Square is a must for anyone looking for alfresco dining and evening entertainment. On the other end of the spectrum is the Ocean Village – this is an upmarket area full of hotels and bars, it’s much more swanky than charming.
2. Visit Gibraltar Rock
The Rock is the main attraction of Gibraltar and there’s lots to explore. The upper area is covered by a nature reserve which costs a couple of euros to enter as a pedestrian. You can visit the Moorish Castle, which was built in around 711AD. Part of this medieval fortification was used as a prison until 2010. The Moorish occupation lasted over 700 years in total – way back before Gibraltar became a British colony in 1704.
At the end of the 1700s, a labyrinth of tunnels were dug out by the British during the Great Siege, which was France and Spain’s attempt to capture Gibraltar during the American Revolutionary War. These tunnels were used again in World War Two and the Rock was strengthened as a fortress. You can visit these tunnels today, and a tour will cost £8.
How to get there:
- Taxi: A taxi from the main town centre costs over £20 per person. This includes transport up and down the Rock, plus the £10 entry fee (in a vehicle) to the park. All of the taxis are government-regulated and run by the same company, which guarantees you won’t get scammed but also means you can’t haggle. We struggled to find a taxi who would take us up to the top so that we could walk down.
- Cable Car: This costs £12.50 return and you can take it from Red Sands Road.
- Walk: It takes around an hour from the city centre to climb the Rock. It costs £2 to enter the park as a pedestrian. Remember to take lots of water and wear sun cream.
3. Visit the Ape’s Den
Around 300 Barbary Macaques live in the nature reserve on the top of Gibraltar Rock. They have become somewhat of a tourist attraction and roam freely around the top of the Rock.
Originally from Morocco, these monkeys apparently came to Gibraltar when the British colonised the state in the 1700s. This colony is the only wild monkey population on the European continent.
Be aware that the monkeys are wild animals – don’t feed them or aggravate them. Their teeth are sharp and they will bite if they feel threatened. Remember that many wild animals carry the rabies virus which can be life-threatening!
4. Go on a Dolphin Safari
I’m quite a hesitant person when it comes to tourism related to animals – I wholeheartedly disagree with elephant riding and selfies with drugged-up tigers – but I really enjoyed this safari.
We chose to take a Dolphin Safari with the Blue Boat, which offer three tours per day and a 99% chance of seeing the dolphins. There is a live commentary to tell you about the different species and other interesting facts about the wildlife in the Bay of Gibraltar.
You don’t get to feed the dolphins or swim with them or touch them. You can only watch them and take photos of them from the boat. The dolphins are left to do as they please – some won’t come near the boats, others will come right up to it, and might even jump out of the water. This is why a 99% rate is disclosed: dolphins are wild animals and you just might not be lucky enough to see them!
- Price: £20 per person
- Website: http://www.dolphinsafari.gi/
5. Visit La Línea de la Concepción
La Línea is a pleasant town that would make a good day trip from Gibraltar. It isn’t a particularly touristy town and I found it quite charming.
There is the typical European cafe culture and the town centre has a good few shopping options. Like any Spanish town, the buildings are pretty, the streets are picturesque, plus it’s by the beach.
A typical way to spend your time here is probably as I did: eating tapas and laying on the beach. On my final night in La Línea, it was the festival of San Juan – a fiesta at the church with a huge bonfire on the beach, and music until dawn.
Where to stay in Gibraltar
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Have you visited Gibraltar? What did you think of it?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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