If you’ve been following me on Instagram, then you’ve likely noticed that I’m spending a lot of time in Gibraltar. If you aren’t (maybe you came here from Google or Pinterest), then you’ve been missing out on all the awesome things to do in Gibraltar that I’ve been posting about on my feed and showing on my stories. It’s currently half true that I live in Gibraltar now – I spent the entirety of the last month there as well as a week in November and a week in December 2019.
Spending so much time in Gibraltar has really enabled me to properly explore the territory, as well as venture further afield into Spain. Before I started dating my boyfriend (the reason I sorta/kinda live in Gibraltar now), I didn’t know much about this British Overseas Territory at all – I’d never visited before and I didn’t really know what the main sights were other than that big ass Rock everyone talks about.
In this article, I’m going to cover the top ten most awesome things you can do in Gibraltar. It’s a mix of sightseeing, cool things you can only do in Gibraltar and some food and drink recommendations. Keep an eye out for more articles on things to do in Gibraltar as well as Gibraltar itineraries in the near future!
Looking for even more content about Gibraltar? The blog I run with my boyfriend is all about Gibraltar and has information on the best places to eat and drink, sights to see and lots more. Check us out at Your Gibraltar!
Awesome Things to Do in Gibraltar (that isn’t just going up the Rock)
When most people hear about Gibraltar, they usually mention two things… the Rock of Gibraltar and the monkeys (Barbary Macaques). Gibraltar is best known for the massive limestone rock that takes up a decent chunk of the territory, but it’s not the only thing to visit! Gibraltar has lots more to offer in the way of beautiful architecture, views across to Africa, botanical gardens and more. The Rock of Gibraltar may be the most obvious thing but it’s definitely not the only thing!
Some of my favourite places in Gibraltar are indeed on the Rock (within the Rock Nature Reserve) but I also have favourite places in the town centre and in areas like Upper Town. There is a classic itinerary that most tours can take you on in Gibraltar and this is usually going up the Rock and visiting St Michael’s Cave, Ape’s Den, Great Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle. There is nothing wrong with this itinerary but I think it misses some awesome spots that should definitely be on any Gibraltar itinerary!
A spot that should be on every Gibraltar itinerary has to be Europa Point. There is so much to see at the southernmost point of Gibraltar (not the southernmost point of Europe – people often assume it is but that’s actually 25 miles away at Punta de Tarifa) and it’s also a beautiful place to see the sunset.
From Europa Point, you can see across to Africa (specifically northern Morocco) as well as over to Spain (the city of Algeciras). If you are doing a longer trip then Algeciras, or the city of Tarifa a little further on, is a great place to get the ferry across to Tangier. You can do a day trip that includes three countries in a day – Gibraltar (British Overseas Territory), Spain and Morocco!
The main points of interest at Europa Point are the Trinity House Lighthouse, Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, Shrine of Our Lady of Europe, an information point with facts all around the Rock and also a memorial to a Polish man called Władysław Sikorski. So, why should you visit each of these places?
The Trinity House Lighthouse is both a lovely photo opportunity as well as a unique thing in itself – Trinity House is a lighthouse agency that constructs lighthouses throughout the UK. The Trinity House Lighthouse (in Gibraltar’s hybrid language Llanito, ‘La Farola’) is the only lighthouse that can be found outside the UK, making it a pretty unique place.
My favourite place at Europa Point is easily the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque. I’m not sure why but I have always adored visiting religious buildings (even though I’m entirely not religious) and have a soft spot for mosques – they’re always so spectacular! The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque is the main mosque of Gibraltar and serves the Muslim population of the territory. Gibraltar is particularly interesting in respect to how many cultures and religions coexist in peace together in a small area – Christians (predominantly Catholics), Muslims (the majority of whom came over from Morocco in the 1960s and 70s), Jews (specifically Haketia Jews) and Sindis (a sect of Hinduism) all live in this territory of 30,000 or so people with minimal friction. It’s actually pretty inspiring, in all honesty.
The construction of the mosque was completed in 1997 and cost a huge total of £5 million! The mosque was donated to Gibraltar’s Muslim population by the late King Fahd al-Saul of Saudi Arabia; the mosque is, in fact, the southernmost mosque in Europe and also one of the largest mosques to be found in a non-Muslim majority country. You can visit the mosque during the day from 11am – 3pm, excluding prayer times (Dhuhur usually begins around 1:35pm). Even better, it’s completely free to visit!
Shrine of Our Lady of Europe
Gibraltar’s history is closely linked with the Moors, a Muslim people that eventually founded the country of Morocco. Before Morocco existed, however, the Kingdom of the Moors was a European power and ruled a lot of the Iberian peninsula. The majority of Andalusia was Moorish (Andalusia actually comes from the Arabic word ‘Al-Andalus’, the Moorish word for the region) from around the 8th to 14th centuries. Gibraltar was ruled by the Moors from the 8th century until the first conquest by Spain in 1309. The Moors then reconquered Gibraltar in 1333 and ruled until the Reconquista under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1462.
So, why am I telling you about the Moorish history of Gibraltar when this section is about a Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary? Well, the shrine (a Catholic church that has been recognised by the Pope for its cultural, historical and religious significance) dates back to the beginning of the 14th century but the existence of a religious building on this spot goes back much further.
The building that was turned into this Christian shrine during the first Spanish period (1309-1333) was actually a mosque, one of quite a few in Gibraltar (or Jebel Tariq, as the Moorish would have called it). Every time they conquered a place that had previously been Moorish, the Spanish forces would convert the mosques to churches or even demolish them entirely. They converted the small mosque at Europa Point into a small shrine, although when the Moors took Gibraltar back they pretty much immediately turned it back into a mosque. Take that, Spain.
When Spain reconquered (the ‘Reconquista’) Gibraltar in 1462, they once again turned the mosque into a Catholic shrine and dedicated it to Our Lady of Europe, a name for the Virgin Mary. They expanded the shrine over the years and eventually a large chapel was constructed. The shrine actually operated as Gibraltar’s original lighthouse, as a light was kept burning in the tower so mariners sailing past Europa Point would know where land was. Passing sailors would often stop at the shrine to leave offerings as well as to supply the shrine with oil, which kept the light in front of the icon (as well as in the tower) burning.
Near the shrine, you can also find the Nun’s Well, which has a variety of ghost stories surrounding it.
Pillars of Hercules
Have you ever heard of the Twelve Labours of Hercules? This legend is the origin of the term ‘the Pillars of Hercules’, and the Rock of Gibraltar is one of these two pillars.
According to legend, Hercules had to take cattle across the mountains as his tenth labour. Instead of trying to climb the huge mountain, Hercules decided to use his rather superhuman strength and break the mountain in half so he could simply go through the middle (as you do). When the mountain had separated into two parts, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean flowed in and connected, creating the Strait of Gibraltar.
While the northern pillar (Calpe Mons) is always considered to be the Rock of Gibraltar, there is some discussion as to which the southern pillar is. The majority refer to Jebel Musa as the southern pillar (Calpe Abila), the mountain in Morocco that you can see directly opposite when you are at Europa Point. The Moors originally called Gibraltar ‘Jebel Tariq’ (Mount Tariq), after the Moor who first visited/found/discovered Gibraltar. In fact, Jebel Tariq was then corrupted by the Spanish conquistadors and became ‘Gibraltar’.
The alternative southern pillar is Monte Hacho, located further west in Ceuta, which is a Spanish enclave (or autonomous city) on the coast of Morocco.
Information Point and the Memorial to Władysław Sikorski
As I mentioned previously, Europa Point is also a great spot for views out over Spain and Morocco and also has an information area and a memorial to a Polish military commander.
Władysław Sikorski was a Polish prime minister who was also prime minister and the commander-in-chief of the Polish forces in exile during World War II. Sikorski died when his plane crashed shortly after taking off from Gibraltar airport in 1943 and there remains controversy around the ‘accident’ to this day. Conspiracy theories suggest potential assassination (by Soviet, Nazi, British or Polish forces) due to the lack of evidence found around the cause of the crash, as well as the lack of witnesses to the crash. The only survivor was the pilot and some people who, according to the manifest, should have been on board (such as Sikorski’s daughter) were never found.
The information point is a great spot to read all about the geological formation of the Rock of Gibraltar, as well as about the fish and birds that can be found in the Strait and Bay of Gibraltar. You can learn more about the caves within the Rock, as well as the Neanderthal skulls that have been found in the caves, and also some information about the Anglo-Dutch takeover of the territory in 1704.
Getting to Europa Point:
Europa Point is easily accessible whether you have a car or not. Bus number 2 will take you to Europa Point from stops such as the market place (in front of Grand Casemates Gates), Cathedral Square (opposite the Holy Trinity Cathedral) and the Rock Hotel/Alameda Gardens. Generally, the bus runs at 15-minute intervals and runs from early morning until just after 9pm. Buses in Gibraltar don’t take card so make sure to have change on you for the ticket (£1.80 for a single or £2.50 for a day pass).
If you have a car then Europa Point is easy to drive to and has a good amount of parking as well. Another option is to take a taxi.
Great Siege Tunnels
Gibraltar’s Great Siege Tunnels are definitely one of the top attractions in Gibraltar. A ticket to the Great Siege Tunnels is included in a Nature Reserve pass, which can be bought with or without a cable car ticket (£13 for the ticket only and £29 for a cable car return and Nature Reserve ticket). The majority of sights on the Rock are accessible by walking up the Rock from town, walking down the Rock from the cable car, or by taking a taxi or a taxi tour. Some are easier to do by taking a tour, while others can be fun to walk to from the cable car stop.
If you take the cable car up then you can visit the Skywalk, followed by St Michael’s Cave, the Windsor Suspension Bridge, Apes’ Den, the Great Siege Tunnels and finally Princess Caroline’s Battery. From Princess Caroline’s Battery, it’s then only 25 minutes to walk back to town.
The Great Siege Tunnels date back from the 18th centuries and were dug out of the limestone Rock of Gibraltar using only dynamite and chisels. Part of the tunnels was then extended during the Second World War, which you can tell since they are much straighter and the walls are smoother.
The tunnels are a great way to learn more about the Siege and how the British prevented Spanish forces from invading the territory. You can visit parts of the tunnels where they kept the guns (The Notch is the main space filled with canons), where the military higher-ups would have been found and even where people would have slept (sleeping in the tunnels doesn’t sound fun, in all honesty).
St Michael’s Cave
St Michael’s Cave is probably the most accessible of the caves that have been found in the Rock of Gibraltar. There is also Lower St Michael’s Cave, which is great if you’re a bit adventurous! To visit that cave, you have to book a private tour as visiting the cave involves caving and some scrambling and climbing – the tour costs £25 per person.
When you first enter St Michael’s Cave, it’s a pretty impressive view. Stalactites hang from the ceiling and stalagmites reach up from the floor, creating this enormous cavern that has now been converted to a performance space! You can go exploring into parts of the cave (just stay on the walkways) and you can see how truly extensive the cave network is. St Michael’s Cave was also set up to be used as a military hospital during World War II but was luckily never required.
One of my favourite things in St Michael’s Cave is definitely the huge stalactite that had broken off so they polished it up and now you can see the cross-section of a stalactite! It’s really interesting to see and I’d never seen that before, and I’ve been to a decent few caves around the world. It’s intriguing to know that you can date a stalactite like you would a tree as you can see the rings where it has grown.
If you get the chance, go and see a performance in the cave! Events are held there and there are also musical performances held there, such as the Gibraltar Jazz Festival.
Princess Caroline’s Battery
One of my favourite views of Gibraltar is from Princess Caroline’s Battery. The battery provides beautiful views over the airport and the marina, as well as over La Línea, across to Algeciras and even up to the mountains to the northwest (Paraje Natural Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja).
It’s easily one of my favourite spots for photos in Gibraltar and also a pretty cool spot to watch planes land at the airport (which may not sound that exciting now, but wait until you read the section below about the airport and the runway).
The battery isn’t far from the Moorish Castle, but I definitely prefer the views from Princess Caroline’s Battery (plus it’s totally free to visit).
Windsor Suspension Bridge
Another of my favourite places for views over Gibraltar! Windsor Suspension Bridge was built in 2016 and is (shockingly) a suspension bridge in the Rock Nature Reserve. It is part of some of the Rock walking trails and is a short walk from Ape’s Den, a good spot if you want to see the Barbary Macaques (although they do get everywhere anyway, and you can usually find them hanging around outside St Michael’s Cave since there’s a cafe there…).
The 71m-long suspension bridge offers a unique way of seeing Gibraltar and is a great spot for photos too. It’s possibly not the best if you don’t have a head for heights (or get vertigo) as there is a pretty massive drop below. The bridge sways a decent amount if it’s a bit windy but there is an alternative route that stays on the Rock without crossing the bridge. This is a good alternative if you don’t like heights as you still get to see the bridge and the views but you don’t cross the suspension bridge itself!
A unique spot in Gibraltar is Referendum Steps, which are a set of steps that were painted to celebrate the 1967 referendum where Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain British and not be Spanish. Their original name is Devil’s Gap Steps or Devil’s Gap Road, but many will know them as Referendum Steps and a few as Union Jack Steps.
They are a starting point to some of the walking and hiking trails up the Rock and you can also walk up a little further to get some lovely views down over Gibraltar.
As a bit of an architecture lover-slash-nerd, I do really love Irish Town. This street (which is not particularly Irish, nor a town) dates back to before the 16th century. The street was called Calle de Santa Ana when under Spanish control and was home to a nun’s convent. When the British took over Gibraltar in the 18th century, the convent and many of the other buildings were converted into barracks and storehouses for the troops.
So, why is Irish Town called Irish Town if it’s not Irish nor a town? That’s a very good question… and, of course, I researched this to find the reason! In the 18th century, specifically 1727 and 1728, the troops stationed in Gibraltar were apparently getting bored and resorting to drink to amuse themselves. To help avoid this, the Royal Navy brought over two ships with Irish immigrant women to provide the troops with some ‘female company’. And yes, when you read ‘female company’ I do hope you read that as ‘definitely prostitutes’. An 18th-century visitor referred to Irish Town as a ‘street of ill repute’, very likely referring to these Irish ladies plying their trade.
Irish Town today is home to lots of cafes, restaurants and bars and is a great place to grab a bite to eat or something to drink. It’s also the perfect place for admiring some gorgeous architecture, such as the Victorian police station at number 120 (neo-Gothic style), the synagogue at number 91 (Ets Hayim Synagogue, nicknamed the ‘Small Synagogue’) and the pale pink-coloured 19th-century Merchant House at number 57, which is now the cafe Sacarello’s.
If you’re looking for somewhere for food or drink then I definitely recommend the following spots:
- Sacarello’s (great for coffee, breakfast, brunch and lunch)
- Hacienda Patagonica (amazing Argentinian restaurant serving delicious meat as well as other food. The montaditos make for a great lunch or snack, the Napolitana dish is delicious and the full meat platter is just amazing)
- Cork & Fork (good for coffee, cake and sandwiches – only open weekdays from 9am to 5pm)
- Vinopolis (just off Irish Town on John Mackintosh Square – great spot for Lavazza coffee as well as, of course, wine!)
One of my absolute favourite ‘hidden gems’ (hidden to most tourists but not to locals – it tends to not be on any Gibraltar itinerary for visitors but any local would know it) is beautiful Catalan Bay. Best known as a beach spot, yet it’s not the beach I’m recommending.
There is a small church in Catalan Bay Village and it is surrounded by colourfully painted buildings and backs up onto the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s a beautiful area to go for a wander and a perfect photo spot!
Catalan Bay (known in Spanish as ‘La Caleta’, hence why the hotel there is the Caleta Hotel) is a colourful bay and village on the eastern side of the Rock. The bay was originally populated by Genoese fishermen back in the 17th and 18th century and many of the houses and areas there are named after places in Italy, such as Little Genoa.
The beach does get very busy during summer but is a great spot to visit in the off-season and shoulder seasons.
The Convent & King’s Chapel
One of my other favourite things to do in Gibraltar is, of course, find the best architectural gems. The Convent and neighbouring King’s Chapel are definitely two of these. The Convent is where the Governor of Gibraltar lives (and has been since 1728) but was previously a Franciscan convent or friary. The friary dates back to 1531 and the King’s Chapel dates back to 1560.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Convent was heavily rebuilt with elements of Georgian and Victorian architecture. The church adjacent to the Convent was part of the original Franciscan complex but became a garrison church after the British capture of Gibraltar. The church was renamed the King’s Chapel by the newly installed British Governor, although was then renamed ‘Queen’s Chapel’ during Queen Victoria’s reign. When Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, she reverted it to the original name of King’s Chapel.
You can see the military guard outside The Convent, which is made up of soldiers of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. The Convent is only open to the public on certain days of the year but the King’s Chapel is open to the public and is free of charge.
Walk across the runway
Gibraltar is the only place in the world where you are able to walk, cycle and drive on the runway! Due to the location of the runway, you have to cross it to get in and out of Gibraltar (and to get to the airport from the city centre). This is probably one of the most unique things you can do in Gibraltar!
The airport is also considered one of the most extreme due to the short length of the runway and the winds that swell around the rock – don’t worry though, it’s perfectly safe and if there is a weather issue then you will find that your flight is simply diverted to Malaga instead.
However, even if you don’t fly in or out of Gibraltar then it’s definitely worth taking a wander across the runway. Traffic lights tell you whether the runway is open or closed (and yes, there are barriers!) and it’s also a good place to watch planes landing from pretty close up.
Gibraltar is definitely an underrated place in Europe and this British Overseas Territory should definitely be added to your travel bucket list. If you’ve been to Gibraltar, what awesome things to do would you suggest?
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