They say nice things come in small parcels and that certainly applies to Gibraltar, which may be only 6.7 square kilometres in size but is packed full of interesting places to visit and things to do, making it an ideal place to spend a day, a weekend or a longer break. In fact, the fun begins as soon as you arrive: unless you are a boat owner you either walk or drive across the border to this British Overseas Territory from La Línea de la Concepción in neighbouring Spain, or fly in to Gibraltar airport, marvelling at the view of the famous Rock as your aircraft approaches. Either way, you will then have to cross the airport runway to reach the town, by car, bus or on foot, which is a unique and somewhat surreal experience in itself.
Fascinating, from top to bottom
The great thing about Gibraltar is that it is all fascinating. However, that leads to a question for first-time visitors: where to go first?The city centre is a good starting point, especially the iconic Casemates Square, where many events take place throughout the year. Lined with cafés and restaurants, it is an ideal place to sit and plan the day ahead.
Main Street, which is - rather unsurprisingly - the main street, is historic and charming with modern shops and facilities. By strolling along here you can take in two cathedrals, the King’s Chapel, the Convent (home to the Governor of Gibraltar), ‘No. 6’, which is Gibraltar’s equivalent of No. 10 Downing Street and, at the end of Main Street, the Trafalgar Cemetery, a key landmark in local history which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. If you carry on walking you will come to the lovely Alameda botanical gardens and the wildlife park, and en route you will see the cable car base station, in the car park.
One of the most rewarding and exciting experiences on Gibraltar is a trip to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, especially if you take the six-minute cable car trip. At the top the three terraces have spectacular views of two continents, two bodies of water and three countries. The cable car runs every ten to fifteen minutes from 9.30am to 7.15pm, and you can buy a ticket for the Nature Reserve attractions from the base station or the souvenir shop at the top station. That gives you entry to the Great Siege Tunnels, the City Under Siege exhibition, the Moorish castle and the 100 Ton Gun.
The Nature Reserve ticket also includes entry to the Apes Den. Everybody has heard of Gibraltar’s famous barbary macaques, and they are just as cute and furry as you expect. They are also extremely mischievous - hang on to hats, cameras, bags and any food you may have with you. These guys move fast! Despite them appearing to be bundles of fun and although they are used to people being around, it is important to remember that these apes are still wild animals. Treat them with respect, don’t crowd them, and be aware of the warning sign: if they feel intimidated they will raise their eyebrows and purse their lips into a round shape. It means they need a bit of space, so just step away so they realise you’re not a threat, and you’ll all get on harmoniously.
One of Gibraltar’s newest attractions, and probably the most thrilling, is the Skywalk, which was inaugurated last year by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill. Entry to the Skywalk is also included in the Nature Reserve ticket. What is it? Well, imagine a walkway 340 metres directly above sea level, which is higher than the tallest point of the Shard building in London, with the floor and balustrade made of four layers of laminated glass. Yep, glass. So it looks as if there is nothing beneath your feet except the drop.
The Skywalk is 2.5 metres wide and projects to a maximum of 6.7 metres. Despite its apparent fragility it is in fact extremely strong. It could bear the weight of five elephants, or 340 people, although no more than 50 people are allowed onto it at the same time. Not to be missed for those who want the sensational experience of floating on air, while looking at truly spectacular views.
If that isn’t enough for you and you want even more of an adrenalin rush, the Windsor Suspension Bridge at Royal Anglian Way will undoubtedly provide it. This is another new attraction in Gibraltar and is also included in the Nature Reserve ticket. It is only for the adventurous, stretching 71 metres across a 50-metre-deep gorge. Those who dare to keep their eyes open will be stunned by the views of the Strait, the bay and the city of Gibraltar.
If you don’t like heights and you prefer to go downwards instead, you will love Lower St Michael’s Cave, an incredibly beautiful natural cave with a lake. This must be booked well in advance, and is available for groups of between five and ten people. Quite fit people, we must add. The cave is fully illuminated, but the tour takes approximately three hours and there is some scrambling and minor climbing with ropes involved.
For those who love boats and the sea, Gibraltar in the summer will be a real treat. The modern marinas are atmospheric at any time of day (and check out the amazing Sunborn floating hotel in Ocean Village, while you’re there) and there are environmentally responsible boat trips to spot dolphins and whales. Trips are also occasionally organised to give a close-up view from the sea of the Gorham’s Cave complex, the last known home of the Neanderthals, which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
These are just a few of Gibraltar’s many attractions, so if you’re there for a few days and want to relax on a beach for a while you can do that too. This is Gibraltar, so even the beaches are unusual: Camp Bay, in the South District, was originally a quarry and is now a lido, while Little Bay has a small rocky beach under the cliffs. On the East side, Catalan Bay is a pretty Genoan-style village with a lovely cove, or you can choose the more secluded Sandy Bay or Eastern Beach, close to the airstrip, which is the largest in Gibraltar.
Whether you want to go up, down or around the Rock, hang out in the city centre or enjoy the view from the sea, Gibraltaltar is nothing short of awesome.