Located off the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar remains a little piece of the United Kingdom basking in the Mediterranean sun.
But far from being the literal definition of ‘Little Britain’, Gibraltar oozes with its own charm and personality for people who visit this micro-British territory.
Despite, these days, having their own national football team, in many respects Gibraltar is not country in it’s own right – more an Overseas British Territory.
With a total landmass of just 6.7km2 (2.6 sq miles) its only land border is that of Spain to the north. And the vast majority of the landscape is dominated by Gibraltar’s premium landmark; the Rock of Gibraltar.
At the foot of the Rock is a densely populated town area, home to around 34,000 people. Here there visitors will find a great range of restaurants, bars, pubs and other activities to keep them occupied in the shadow of the Rock.
As with many places, Gibraltar’s history has been scared deeply by war. Dating back centuries, this small plot of land on the edge of Europe has been hugely desired.
With obvious close ties to Spanish rule it was in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, that Sir George Rooke captured Gibraltar for the British. In doing so, Spain formally ceding it to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Since then it has remained – somewhat controversially if you ask the Spanish – under British ownership.
And it’s played a massive part in British military successes over the years. During the Napoleonic Wars and World War Two it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar.
But with its turbulent history (hopefully) behind it, what is it about Gibraltar that keeps attracting visitors to it?
For Holly and I, it was simple. Curiosity. We’d never been to Gibraltar before. Top that off with Covid-19 still causing havoc for international travel planning, we decided to use some time we’d put aside for travelling – in early November – to sample this unusual bit of the UK.
So what were the key things we needed to know before heading to the Rock.
Well first of all lets look at the similarities it has with mainland UK.
The first thing is that the official language of Gibraltar is English. While I have a very basic grasp of some Spanish – which is used in some ways unsurprisingly given their affinity with their neighbours – it was pleasing to know that communication was not going to be an issue.
The same could be said for the currency. The local currency in Gibraltar is the Gibraltar Pound; which is exactly the same as the Great British Pound.
Bank of England issued notes and UK coins are accepted and circulated along with a healthy mixed of locally issued notes and coins of the same value in pounds and pence.
However, notes issued in Scotland or Northern Ireland are not usually accepted in Gibraltar, and Gibraltar issued notes and coins are not usually accepted in the UK. So just worth remembering when heading back home after a trip.
Finally, the power sockets in Gibraltar are the same as they are in the whole of the UK – so no need for plug converters.
In Gibraltar the power plugs and sockets are of type G. The standard voltage is 240 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Now for the differences.
First thing to mention – and while not technically a difference between the UK mainland and Gibraltar – is that you do still need a valid passport to enter Gibraltar (either by air or road). British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Gibraltar, but a passport is mandatory.
Don’t turn up at the airport in England hoping to travel to Gibraltar as you would Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast.
The main difference between the UK and Gibraltar is the climate.
Gibraltar has a Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers.
In November time – as was the case with our four nights on the Rock – the average high is around 19°C while the lows on average get to around 14°C.
On average there are around eight days of rainfall on the Rock in November so, depending on how lucky you get, you could get a bit wet.
During the height of summer temperatures regularly hit the 30°C mark so sunscreen is a must for any light skinned travellers like myself. Being just a couple of hours by ferry north of Morocco, it’s easy to understand how it can hit such temperatures.
It’s also worth noting that Gibraltar has a reputation for the cost of living being pretty high. With the territory being so small, Gibraltar has to import almost everything, and many goods are subject to import duty which can increase the end cost to the consumer.
Yet despite it not being the cheapest place you’ll ever visit, spending time on the Rock – as Holly and I found – had many advantages.
For such a small place, there really is a huge number of things to see and do.
It may be obvious, but I’m going to state it anyway. The best way to get to Gibraltar is by air!
Fortunately, despite Gibraltar International Airport’s size, England and Scotland are well serviced for flights with departures heading to the Rock from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton and Edinburgh.
In fact, the only flight from a non-UK airport to Gibraltar is from Malaga in Spain.
The airport in Gibraltar is an unusual one. Firstly, it sits right on the border of the territory literally acting as a crossing point from Gibraltar into Spain and visa-versa.
The second unusual thing about the airport is that its sole runway has a road running through the middle of it!
This unavoidable design feature means that when an aircraft is coming into land, barriers are lowered to stop cars and people crossing (like a level crossing for trains). This road is the one route in and out of the territory for land traffic.
Despite its limited size, Gibraltar International Airport manages to see a huge number of passengers arrive and depart its gates each year; with around 570,000 people – on average – using the airport per annum.
While this figure – in airport terms – may not seem impressive, it is worth remembering there are only around 34,000 people living there. This means the airports passengers, per year, are over 16 times the size of the territories population!
I’ll be honest, I was actually quite excited to arrive at Gibraltar International Airport before I got there. It’s not every day that you get to land at such a quirky place and having a road run through the runway was something I’d never experienced before.
We booked our flight with EasyJet for an early departure from London Gatwick. In total – for two adults making a return trip we spent £177.92. This price also included the much needed speedy boarding option ( not so much for getting on the aircraft quickly, more for the cabin luggage allowance). The flight was a smooth, no thrills, affair and takes around three hours from London. Just enough time for us to sit back and enjoy a couple of episodes of our favourite podcast!
Before we knew it, the wheels were touching down on the Gibraltar tarmac, as we gazed out of the window at the queueing traffic waiting to cross the runway along with the stunning backdrop of the Rock of Gibraltar eclipsing the surrounding scene in its majesty.
We could hardly wait to get off the plane and start our four nights on the Rock.
Where to stay
Despite Gibraltar’s small size, it has a surprisingly large number of accommodation options available to travellers.
Aside from a number of mid-range hotels located towards the north of the territory there is an every-increasing number of AirBnBs cropping up online throughout the whole of the area.
There are a few options to consider. The first being price.
When travelling to Gibraltar, it’s worth bearing in mind that costs are often of the same level of that of the mainland UK; if not a little higher. For goods and services, this is because everything has to be imported meaning that they are subject to extra tax. Yet even for accommodation, it can appear a little steep.
One option which can work is to stay over the border in Spain. This tends to costs less money and can be just a short walk, or drive, to get back into Gibraltar. The downside of this is that each time you enter you’ll need to pass through passport control which – depending on the time of day – can be fairly busy.
Therefore, if you, like me would rather pay a little extra and stay more centrally in Gibraltar, there are plenty of options available.
During our trip we settled on this small, yet charming, AirBnB located on Castle Street; just off the main street in Gibraltar and a mere 20 minute walk from the airport.
As one of the more affordable options in Gibraltar (costing us £397.60 for four nights – or £99.40 per night), this AirBnB consists of three main rooms.
Entering the apartment from a private courtyard, you come into the main living space which is fitted with basic kitchenware, a TV, sofa and chair.
Just off the room is the double bedroom with fitted wardrobes. While this room could be seen as a bit cramp due to its floorspace, there is ample storage space here for your clothes and other belongings.
Jutting off from the bedroom is the shower room which is a great space to get washed and cleaned off before and after a full day exploring the territory.
We also found the host of this apartment extremely helpful and well amenable as she even let us check in a little early so we could get rid of our luggage.
It’s worth pointing out that to get somewhere for under £100 a night (obviously depending on what time of year you travel) in the centre of Gibraltar is a hard thing to do, so to get such a find we took as a win.
While you can drive in Gibraltar – especially if you are entering from Spain – the best way to get around is on foot.
To walk from one end of the territory (Gibraltar International Airport) to the other (Europa Point Lighthouse) will take the average walker around an hour and a quarter to travel the 5.7km on foot.
Be warned, however, Gibraltar is not flat, so a fair chunk of that walk will be uphill.
Another reason that cars are not advisable is that the majority of streets are pretty small with parking spaces being at a premium. Even if you do drive easily to your destination their is no guarantee you’ll be able to park near it; so you may end up walking anyway!
The one exception to the walking rule is that of going up the Rock of Gibraltar itself.
While it is possible to climb the rock on foot (many people do) it is tiring and there are next to no options to stop for a drink or bite to eat except right at the top!
So while you don’t want to walk it, I’d also urge people to not use the tour guides or taxi services located in the town centre. They end up costing a lot of money and, while they drive you up and down the Rock, they don’t provide you with the option to explore the top of rock or the Nature Reserve in your own time.
However, for those who do want to do this, take note to not purchase the tours from those operating in Grand Casements Square as they tend to be a few pounds more expensive than those selling the exact same tour a few hundred metres away down Main Street.
My preferred option to explore the Rock is to go up and down it via that wonderful cable car.
The cable car base station is located near the town centre, on Red Sands Road and can take you to the mid-point of the Rock or to the very top.
There are few options with this too when it comes to costs. For just a return journey on the cable car it will cost £17 per adult and £8 per child. For just getting the cable car up to the top of the Rock and then gain entry to the Nature Reserve will cost £28 per adult and £18.50 per child, or – and what I believe is the best option – a return trip on the cable car plus entry to the Nature Reserve for £30 per adult and £18.50 per child.
The reason I say this is simple. You’ll need a ticket for the Nature Reserve anyway once you’re at the top as the main things to see are all within the Nature Reserve’s boundaries. So taking that into account it costs just £2 more per adult to give yourself the option to catch the cable car back down the Rock.
And while going down may seem like the easy part, we managed to spend over six hours walking around the top of the Rock which meant we were more than ready to take the easy route down when the time came.
The added benefit to using the cable car over the tour guide service is the stunning views you get as you go up.
The journey takes around six minutes from the foot of the Rock to the top so grab a space by the windows at the back when you enter to get stunning views of the surrounding territory.
Also, the mid-section of the cable car route only gets stopped at when passengers are waiting at it to travel back down the Rock. So don’t be surprised when the cable car just carries on past the platform on your way up.
There are a considerable number of things to see and do on the Rock.
And one website that is a must to visit, before and during any visit is Buytickets.gi.
On this website, you’ll be best placed to buy tickets for pretty much any activity you want to do while in Gibraltar. From going up the Rock itself, to scuba diving and watching a football match; it’s all here.
And it was from this website that Holly and I got all our tickets before we headed out to Gibraltar just to ensure we didn’t have any issues when we were there.
The website is easy to navigate and, while it doesn’t give you any discounts for shopping online ahead of your visit, it does make things easier when you are there as you’ll have your e-tickets on your electronic devices to show at the different activities.
Anyway, enough about the admin side of Gibraltar and on to what there actually is to see and do.
It should come as no major surprise that the main thing to see here is the Rock of Gibraltar itself.
As mentioned previously, the best way to get to the top of the Rock is by cable car and the ticket that gains entry to the Nature Reserve will cost £30 per adult.
The main ridge of the Rock has a sharp crest with peaks over 400m above sea level and formed by early Jurassic limestones and dolomites.
Nowadays, the top of the Rock showcases stunning views out across the Strait of Gibraltar and along the southern coastline of Spain on one side and to north Africa and Morocco – just nine miles away – on the other.
But aside from the stunning views from the top of the Rock – many of which can be enjoyed soon after stepping off the cable car at the top station – the main attraction here is the stunning nature reserve and its famous Barbary Macaque inhabitants.
The Nature Reserve and Apes’ Den spans much of the Rock and is covered in the cable car ticket mentioned earlier.
This green area of Gibraltar is home to many of its attractions and is therefore a main highlight for visitors with an interest in seeing the major attractions to marvel at the fantastic views, and for ramblers wanting to walk through its nature trails.
When Holly and I first arrived in the Nature Reserve, we went looking for the infamous furry residents and within minutes of being at the top of the Rock encountered our first Barbary Macaques.
These beautiful – if devilish – animals calmly sit around on the floor, on railings and atop boulders as people pass by. At present, there are around 230 of these amazing animals on the Rock and remains the only wild monkey population on the European continent.
What’s clear is that they hold no fear of humans whatsoever. None!
And this lack of fear means that they are extremely forward when it comes to taking things they want from unsuspecting visitors.
While stopping to look at the numerous Barbary Macaques – many of whom had young ones with them – a particularly bold larger male took it upon itself to sneak up behind Holly – who was wearing a backpack at the time – before leaping onto her head!
Understandably she was taken by shock at this (as was I to be fair) and didn’t quite know what to do as it used Holly’s upper body to manoeuvre itself into a better position to try and unzip her bag.
Fortunately, a very helpful worker was on hand to shoo the Barbary Macaque away (not before I got a few photos of the incident however).
The lesson learnt here was that if you’re carrying a bag on your back; don’t!
We were advised to wear the backpack back-to-front as the Barbary Macaques won’t try and steal items from people if they can see your face. Once we did this, there were no further incidents.
I’m told by Holly that the Barbary Macaques fur is very soft although I’d advise everyone to not attempt to touch them as they do have large teeth that could give a serious bite and strong arms and legs that could cause damage if they felt threatened.
If anything though, the experience with the Barbary Macaque just made the trip even more special and we saw numerous others getting up to no good (one got in someone’s taxi – while people were getting out – to set up camp in the back) during the six hours we spent walking the length of the top of the Rock.
There are a number of great places to see them. One is near the cable car station at the top of the Rock. Walking south along St Michael Road, visitors will find the feeding station area just before the impressive Skywalk Gibraltar (a glass floored platform that gives great views both out from the rock as well as down from it). It was here that we (well mainly Holly) had our Barbary Macaque encounter.
The other place that is worth a look is the Apes’ Den located lower down the Rock next to Prince Ferdinand’s Battery (one of numerous Batteries scattered across the Rock) on Old Queen’s Road.
Once Holly and I had, had our fill of the Barbary Macaques (although we still saw them across the Rock all day) we made our way to the stunning St Michael’s Cave.
Situated towards the southern tip of the Rock, St Michael’s Cave was long believed to be bottomless.
It was at one time thought that in 1704 Spanish troops spent a night in the cave after climbing the precipitous east face of the Rock. Another story about the cave recounts how a Colonel Mitchell and another officer were said to have descended into the cave at some unspecified date before 1840 and were never seen again. During World War II the cave was prepared as an emergency hospital, but was never used as such. Today, the cave is open to visitors and makes a unique auditorium for concerts, ballet and drama.
After seeing pictures of the cave we knew we had to visit it and this stunning cave network is not to be missed.
Forming part of the Nature Reserve ticket, visitors are treated to a huge cathedral of rock that has slowly been created over the centuries through time and patience.
Inside, we were both taken aback by just quite how vast the space was. I knew it was going to be big, but was blown away by just how big it ended up being.
Stalactites and stalagmites creep down from the ceilings and up from the depths below. These giant fingers of the rock are then illuminated in light as part of the spectacle.
One particularly impressive section sees a section of rock on the ceiling illuminated in a multitude of light; and in doing so, brings to life the shape of St Michael. Even without being religious in any way, it’s truly spectacular.
Towards the end of the cave, there’s a 600 seat theatre where a short, immersive light and sound installation highlights the layers of history fused inside the caves.
The next stop on our must see list is actually at the far northern end of the Rock. Here you’ll find The Great Siege Tunnels.
A quick bit of advice is to plan your time on the top of the Rock better than we did! By trying to do things on an ad-hoc basis we ended up walking backwards and forwards up and down the Rock far more than we needed to. And while it did wonders for our daily step count – it took all our energy levels; and that was on a relatively cool autumnal day!
To avoid this, try and plan your day to start at one end of the Rock and make your way towards the other.
Saying that, a trip to The Great Siege Tunnels should be on the to-do list. Set around 400m back off of Willis’s Road, this labyrinth of tunnels is perhaps one of the most impressive defence systems devised by man.
It was during the war of American Independence, when France and Spain made an all-out attempt to recapture the Rock from the British in Gibraltar’s 14th Siege (always called The Great Siege which lasted from July 1779 to February 1783) that the then Governor General Eliott (later called Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar) is said to have offered a reward to anyone who could tell him how to get guns on to a projection from the precipitous northern face of the Rock known as the Notch.
Sergeant Major Ince, a member of the Company of Military Artificers, forerunners of the Royal Engineers, suggested that this could be done by tunnelling. Permission was granted, and Sergeant Major Ince started work under the direction of Lieutenant J. Evelegh, a Royal Engineer, Aide De Camp to the Governor, on May 25, 1782.
At the end of the Great Siege in 1783, the defeated Commander of the French and Spanish troops, the Duc de Crillon, on being shown the fortifications that had led to the defeat of his troops, commented “These works are worthy of the Romans”.
His words perhaps don’t go far enough as the tunnels are massively impressive as they extend well into the Rock and come out at the top end.
Throughout the tunnels there are numerous offshoots that the were cut for cannon to sit and fire from if needed. Many of these holes look towards the land-border of Spain and offer impressive views of the surrounding area.
Again these tunnels form part of the Nature Reserve ticket so no further money is required here and they make for an enjoyable walk.
Scattered throughout the network of tunnels are a number of models of soldiers which, it’s fair to say, have seen better days. There are also many interesting boards with information about the things visitors can see and offer in-depth insight into the tunnels role in defending the Rock from invasion.
As a tip, watch out for the motion-detecting sensor which sets off a loud recording demanding to know “who goes there” from one of the model soldiers.
The last must-see on the Rock itself is the Windsor Suspension Bridge.
Again, covered by the Nature Reserve ticket entry fee, this wobbly bridge can be found just off Old Queen’s Road near the mid-section of the Rock.
This spectacular feat of engineering is 71m in length, across a 50m-deep gorge affording visitors magnificent views of across the strait, bay and city.
The bridge is visible from the foot of the rock and captured our attention as we stood at the cable car station in the morning waiting to go up.
While it is a solid construction, the bridge does wobble in the wind and as people walk on it; so perhaps not one for this with a nervous disposition or extreme fear of heights.
For those who don’t want to walk over the bridge itself, they can walk around the back edge and see the bridge in all its glory while friends, family and strangers brave this impressive feat of engineering.
Away from the Rock (well as away as anyone is from it during a stay in Gibraltar) fun can be had at the territory’s only escape room to date; Rock Escape Rooms.
This unassuming escape room is run by an extremely friendly man who clearly has a passion for what he’s doing and is proud of the rooms he has helped create.
Rock Escape Rooms are located on Halifax Road – just off Devil’s Tower Road – at the northern end of Gibraltar behind the cemetery and just south of the airport runway.
The rooms themselves are – not ironically – relatively well hidden. The road is an industrial one and the rooms are behind a small single door within the row of garage shopfronts that leads up to a second floor.
For just £23 per person (for a team of two) you can select any of five games to play – The Neanderthal, The Game Cube, Casino Heist, The Hacker or Murder Mystery 2: Jack the Ripper.
Given our love of escape rooms, Holly and I had pre-booked two rooms to do during our trip; The Neanderthal and The Game Cube. Both games had numerous interesting parts to them and offered a challenge to us even though we are pretty well versed in escape room trickery.
To make matters even better – and because we had done so well in the rooms – the host of the games then offered us a third game (Casino Heist) for free to see how we faired in that one.
I’m pleased to say that we got out of all three within the hour provided – although we left it extremely late in our third and final game to do so.
What we liked about these games was that they were logical. They didn’t make huge leaps between puzzles that you needed clues for just to progress – something some escape games fall into the mistake of doing.
They also offered good value for money. While the rooms were not the largest we have ever done – they offered some neat touches that made them feel well thought-out and playable.
For those not sure about escape rooms – or for those who have not played one before – I’d suggest trying The Neanderthal here first. It is probably the easiest game on offer and is a great introduction to escape rooms. For those looking at more of a challenge, go for The Game Cube or Casino Heist. And for those looking to really test themselves, try The Hacker or Murder Mystery 2: Jack the Ripper – neither of which we had time to play – as we are told they are the hardest games on Rock Escape Rooms has on offer currently.
Back to sightseeing, the next must see is at the further end of Gibraltar; Europa Point.
Given that it only takes around an hour and a quarter to walk from one end of Gibraltar to the other, it’s really not that far. However, remember that Gibraltar can be quite hilly, so getting to Europa Point – along Europa Road – can feel like an uphill walk.
Located at the southernmost point of Gibraltar the end of the territory is flat and occupied by a playing field and a few buildings including the Europa Point Lighthouse and The King Fahad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Mosque,
On a clear day, views of north Africa can be seen across the Strait of Gibraltar including Ceuta and the Rif Mountains of Morocco; as well as the Bay of Gibraltar and the Spanish towns along its shores.
The joy of this area is that it is free to visit and offers beautiful views. There are very few places within Europe that you can stand and look out over the water and see another continent, but this is one of them.
Grabbing an ice cream and a drink from the nearby cafe next to the playing field, Holly and I enjoyed sitting in the sun and watching the world go by.
One thing I wanted to do as soon as we had planned our trip to Gibrlatar was to watch a football match at the territories one and only football ground; the Victoria Stadium.
Fortunately, there was a match due to be played during our time in Gibraltar as local champions, Lincoln Red Imps faced off with Slovakian side Slovan Bratislava in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Getting tickets for Gibraltar football matches is easy to do. Using the website mentioned earlier, tickets become available (for around £15 per adult) for games a few days before they kick off. This is the case for Gibraltar Premier Division (the local national competition played by the ten teams located on Gibraltar) UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League as well as Gibraltar national team games.
I know that going to a game here was more my thing than Holly’s so was thankful when she agreed to come with me to the match on a Thursday evening.
The Victoria Stadium is a small football stadium with a capacity of around 5,000. However, for most games, you’re lucky if the attendance exceeds 1,000!
What makes this place special is the backdrop you get while watching the game.
To one side the impressive Rock of Gibraltar casts its eye over the proceedings while behind the stadium the runway for Gibraltar International Airport lets you see the occasional aircraft land and take-off.
The stadium staff are extremely welcoming and friendly. When we had taken our seats I had asked if there was anywhere we could get some food and drinks and the staff member I spoke to went away and found someone to open up the kiosk at the top of the stand where we were able to get a drink each and a packet of crisps.
The game itself, however, was not a memorable one for the 553-person strong crowd.
At the time Lincoln Red Imps were three defeats out of three into their Europa Conference League group and heading out of the competition.
Despite a strong start to the game, which could have seen the Gibraltar Premier Division champions take an early lead had it not been for a terrible miss from a few yards out, Slovan Bratislava – mainly through their English attacker Andre Green – took control and went into a two nil lead.
Then the moment we’d been waiting for actually happened. Just before half time the score was halved when Lincoln Red Imp’s (and the Gibraltar national team) captain, Roy Chipolina scored! There was a chance of an upset!
Despite this however, the second half didn’t go the Gibraltar team’s way and a further two goals were shipped culminating in a 4-1 defeat.
And while it wasn’t the result the home fans wanted – although maybe one they expected – I was pleased to have taken the opportunity to see some live European football on the Rock.
Whenever I’m planning a trip abroad, I always look to see if there are any scuba diving opportunities available. It came as not great surprise that around the shoreline of Gibraltar there are many great places to dive.
I contacted a couple of different dive companies in the territory before finally settling on diving with Dive Charters Gibraltar.
From the first time speaking to them over email and explaining what Holly and I were hoping to do (this would be our first dive together) they were extremely helpful, friendly and accommodating. It felt like a good company to trust our diving experience to.
And that would prove to be true.
We arrived at the Dive Charters Gibraltar dive shop – located on Admiral’s Walk
on Marina Bay near Ocean Village – and were welcomed in and fit with our scuba gear before getting our equipment boxes ready.
We had booked two dives – costing just £85 each which included all equipment – and although it had been many years since Holly had last dived they walked her through the set-up of equipment without any fuss which help settle her nerves.
During my emails to the company I explained we were both PADI Open Water certificate holders, although we were both pretty amateur when it comes to diving and they explained the dives that we’d be able to do with them and what we might be able to see during those dives.
The good thing about Gibraltar is that there are lots of sites that cater for all levels of diving. Given our status we were only being taken to some of the more shallow sites (around 14m underwater) but they did include going inside a couple of wreaks which excited us both.
To get to the dive site, we all (there were other divers joining us that day too) got inside the minibuses and were taken the short drive to Camp Bay – situated on the west coast of the Rock.
Here we got our equipment ready and then listened to our dive briefings before embarking on the first dive.
Our first dive took us to a dive site known as the Spanish Barges.
The Spanish Barges are a series of four individual wrecks, two of which are believed to have been dumped there in the 1950s during the refurbishment of the jetty. The other two wrecks, which lay further from the shore were sunk in the 1980s as part of Gibraltar’s artificial reef program.
Getting in the water at this time of year felt cold but once we got under the surface you barely noticed it.
This dive let us see the four barges and numerous fish that use them as their home. While the visibility wasn’t perfect it added something when you’re swimming along the bottom and then out of the gloom the looming hull of a sunken vessels is there to meet you.
Going inside the barges was especially interesting. The sea life has transformed them into artificial reefs although – and I’ll be testament to this – don’t make the mistake of thinking that the outer layer of these vessels will be smooth. The time these vessels have spent under the water has made them rough and sharp to the touch and it’s easy to cut your hands on them; so be careful.
After a short time on the surface and a fresh tank of air, we set about on our second dive; this time to a site called The 482M & Battys Barge dive site.
In August 1990 as part of Gibraltars ongoing artificial reef program, these Royal Navy cable – laying barges were deliberately sunk and are located no more than a five minutes swim from the shore of Camp Bay.
The 482M is situated in 16m of water and proudly sits upright on a flat sandy seabed. She is 30 meters long, seven meters wide and stands seven meters at her highest point. For the more adventurous this wreck can be explored from the inside too with several entry points and internal compartments.
Battys Barge is found nearby in 14m of water and also sits upright on a flat sandy seabed. She is 35 meters long, nine meters wide and stands six meters at her highest point.
These two wrecks rest nicely beside one another allowing them to both explored in the same dive.
Again this dive was a thrilling experience as we got to go into the larger vessel. Also – just nestled to the outside of the wreck – we spotted a rather large octopus that had buried itself into the seabed; another spectacular site to behold while surrounded by the sunken vessels and the scores of fish.
After the dives we dried ourselves off and got a lift back to the dive shop where we paid and filled out our log books – rounding off a great diving experience.
Where to avoid
From a safety point of view, there are no places I’d say that need to be avoided from my experience in Gibraltar.
As with everywhere, the normal rules apply here in terms of being aware of your personal affects and taking care if out late; however, incidents of crime are relatively low.
There are a few sites, however, for those pushed for time, that visitors may want to skip over.
The first is Moorish Castle.
This medieval fortification in Gibraltar comprises of various buildings, gates, and fortified walls, with the dominant features being the Tower of Homage and the Gate House. The Tower of Homage is clearly visible because of its dominant and strategic position.
However, going inside the Tower and up to its roof doesn’t really offer much in terms of insight into the building nor a better view than could be experienced elsewhere.
Located towards the lower portion of the northern section of the Rock of Gibraltar – along Willis’s Road – entry to the castle is included in a ticket to the Nature Reserve which is a plus point.
The small building is just a shell of its former self. Stone walls surround empty rooms while a small staircase takes visitors the few flights up to the top floor where panoramic views of the surrounding area can be seen.
While these views are pleasant enough, they are not worth trekking across the Rock for. For one thing, you are much lower here than you are from the top of the Rock and therefore the view is slightly less impressive.
Secondly, Moorish Castle is a fairly long walk away from the top to the Rock. Unless you plan to come down this way when you have visited the Rock of Gibraltar, it really isn’t worth the walk. However, if you are here (as it is near The Great Siege Tunnels and World War II Tunnels) then a quick 10 minute walk around the ruin may be worth doing.
Near the heart of the town – and just to the right of the lower cable car station – visitors can find the small Alameda Gibraltar Botanic Gardens.
The gardens – whose entrance is situated on Red Sands Road – have a variety of flora and fauna growing in them and make for a nice short walk if you’re waiting for the cable car to open up. A plus point is that they are free to enter!
In 1816 the gardens were commissioned by the British Governor of Gibraltar; General George Don. The gardens were resurrected in 1991 by an external company when it was realised that since the 1970s they had fallen into a poor state. Three years later the gardens had the addition of a zoo: the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park.
So while the gardens are free to enter, the zoo section of the gardens – home to a collection of both exotic and native species – costs £6 per adult to enter; which is a lot given that it is extremely small.
Because of this, Holly and I took a brisk walk around the gardens but avoided the zoo and made our way out to other parts of the local area.
For anyone visiting Gibraltar, it is impossible to fail to notice that the majority of activity takes place on the western portion of the territory. Much of this area is now developed into businesses, living space and other entertainment facilities.
What it does mean is that for this portion of the territory, there is no area that allows for sun-worshippers to get their daily fix of beach time.
For this, there are a couple of spots on the eastern side of the Rock; which is serviced by the single Sir Herbert Miles Road.
The most notable of these is Catalan Bay Beach.
Catalan Bay, known in Spanish as ‘La Caleta’, is a small bay and fishing village in Gibraltar on the eastern side of the Rock away from the main city.
This crescent-shaped stretch of sand is a pleasant stop but lacks a huge number of amenities that one may expect to find at a beach destination. Home to only a couple of small cafés and a single (as far as I could see) toilet block – this area could be quite crowded at busy times of year.
During our trip, Holly was keen to get on the beach – even just for a little bit – and so we made the 30 minute walk from the centre of Gibraltar, around the top of the Rock and down to Catalan Bay.
As it was quite late in the day, the beach was very quiet – except for a number of seagulls – but you could see how it could fill up to uncomfortable levels quite quickly.
If I’m honest, beaches are really not my thing. With such pale skin, I find any activity that sees me just cooking in the sun quite unpleasant, so I end up hiding in whatever shade I can find.
For those looking for a quick beach fix, then Catalan Bay is about as good as it gets on Gibraltar. Better options are across the border in Spain. But, for me, there are many better ways time can be spent on the Rock.
Great places to eat
Given its diminutive size, and lack of agricultural space, all products have to be imported into the territory.
So, it will come as little surprise that Gibraltar takes most of its culinary habits from either its neighbours (Spain or – just across the water – Morocco) or from the UK.
Along the main street, there are numerous bars and cafes all serving ‘traditional’ English food. Pie and mash, steak and chips, fish and chips are found in abundance and all at affordable prices, while other smaller cafes provide great options of breakfast snacks and pastries.
So while you’d find it hard pushed to find somewhere to eat that claims to be 100% Gibraltar-cuisine, there are a number of nice bars and restaurants to sample including the following two which became firm favourites of Holly and myself during our stay.
The first is Vinopolis Gastrobar.
This tapas-style restaurant has more than 40 Mediterranean dishes on offer and provides a wonderful taste of Spain.
Located centrally, in John Mackintosh Square, Vinopolis Gastrobar provides an intimate setting for a quiet meal while also having space to cater for larger groups.
Sitting down here, Holly and I were keen to sample as many of the dishes as we could.
For a table of two we were advised to pick between five and seven dishes depending on how hungry we were. Dishes range in price from around £4.50 for the smaller plates to around £15 for the larger.
Selecting a mixture of options we eagerly awaited the first dish’s arrival. In true tapas-style, all dishes are brought to your table when they are ready so as you are enjoying one dish another turns up ready for you to eat.
Sitting back and enjoying our food and drink, Holly and I enjoyed great evening at Vinopolis Gastrobar and spent around £80 in total for all the food (and a couple of cheeky desserts) along with two glasses of wine each.
Dishes that should not be missed here are the selection of mini-hamburgers (which arrive in different style buns, each with a different types of meat inside), the pork skewers and the black pudding, piquillo sauce and quails egg; a stunning dish packed full of flavour.
Our second restaurant of choice was one we went to on our final night in Gibraltar. But rather than another English or Spanish restaurant we opted for one that had good reviews and offered Asian food.
Located in the trendy Ocean Village at the north-end of Gibraltar, Thi Vietnamese is a haven of south-Asian cuisine.
Sitting down beside the window gave us a nice view out over the harbour. Despite being in the heart of one of the busiest and liveliest scenes in Gibraltar, the restaurant provides a nice quiet place to enjoy a meal.
The staff are also extremely attentive and eager to please. Menus, drinks and food are all served with a smile and service is quick throughout the meal.
They also offer very generous alcohol measures. Holly had ordered a vodka and Coke to have with her meal and ended up with a gin-glass almost full of vodka and a small can of Coke to mellow it out.
It was so much vodka in fact that we needed to order a second can of Coke just to make sure she wasn’t falling off her chair mid-meal.
The food is full of flavour and there are a wide range of options for all tastes.
The spring rolls are well worth trying as a starter and have a large meat content compared to others I’ve had before in other restaurants around the world.
Main courses are a good size and are filling while not being stodgy. It’s also great value as, for our three-course meal for two – including drinks – we paid around just £75!
It was a wonderful way to end our short stay in this small corner of the UK nestled in the heart of the Mediterranean.