Gibraltar: Europe’s final frontier

When I say I’m from Gibraltar, I get a range of reactions. Some have no idea where it is, others pretend like they know and nod their heads in a confused manner, but there are also those who have actually visited the place and love sharing anecdotes.

Situated on the southernmost end of the Iberian Peninsula and sharing a border with Spain, Gibraltar is fairly small in size with an area of just 6.8km² but is a melange of British and Mediterranean culture that cannot be found anywhere else. Having been ruled by various authorities throughout its history it has officially been a British colony since 1713 when the Spanish ceded control indefinitely. However, over the years it has become a cause of tension between the British and Spanish; the latter want to claim it back because of its strategic importance and matters of pride, but their attempts have been thwarted countless times.

{{ quote Gibraltar is fairly small in size with an area of just 6.8 square kilometres, but is a melange of British and Mediterranean culture that cannot be found anywhere else }}

Regardless of its size, Gibraltar is definitely a place with lots to see, such as the Barbary apes that often stroll into the town centre, the beautiful beaches and the magnificent Rock.

As a tourist visiting for the first time, there are a range of things you can do to make the most of your trip, and there is always something to do enjoy regardless of whether you are the adventurous type, or just like to lay on the beach with a mojito.

The country is readily accessible from Spain by car or bus and from Morocco by ferry; from the UK, catching a plane is the best option with flights running from Manchester, London Luton, Gatwick and Heathrow Airports. Once you get there?, unlike most international airports, there are no long queues for immigration or baggage reclaim, mainly because the airport isn’t much bigger that the Copper Rooms put together.

Taxis are readily available from outside the airport but if you’re not too tired and fancy a walk across the runway, you can walk into the city. Yes you heard me right. The runway connects the airport with the rest of the town and as a result, both cars and people use it as a road until a plane is scheduled to land when traffic lights are used to clear cars off the runway and the aeroplane is allowed to land.

Much like the UK, accommodation in Gibraltar can be very expensive so if you’re searching for a budget option, the Emile Youth Hostel is your best bet. The average price per night is £20 and it’s a one minute walk from the main square commonly known as Casemates. But be warned, do not expect more than a place to sleep and shower. If you want to live more comfortably there are other hotels which go for around £90 a night but I don’t think any of our student loans would cover that.

One of the first things to do is explore the upper Rock. This is the location of the Apes’ Den, St. Michael’s cave and the Moorish castle. If you like a bit of adventure you can try and figure the place out on your own. A scenic and unique way of getting there is by taking the Cable Car which starts from the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens and finishes at the Apes’ Den which houses the Barbary Apes which are said to be one of Gibraltar’s biggest tourist attractions. In actual fact they are tailless monkeys that were brought to Gibraltar from Northern Africa by the Moors and have since roamed the Upper Rock area mostly unconstrained.

Unsurprisingly though, it is illegal to feed them but I would suggest that if you take food with you, DO NOT hold it in your hand or even in a plastic bag. Make sure it’s hidden in your rucksack or else they will snatch that packet of crisps or even that plastic bag out of your hands.

You can then move onto St. Michael’s Cave which, famous for its magnificent stalactites and stalagmites, is frequented by almost 1 million tourists a year. The tour can take up to 3 hours and requires a little bit of climbing but is definitely one of the most beautiful things to see in Gibraltar.

And the final stop on the sightseeing tour of the Upper Rock should be the Moorish castle. Constructed by the Moors between 1160 and 1330 AD it was initially a fortification built to withstand enemy attack until it was rebuilt in around 1333 to resemble its current state as a castle. There are guided tours that run daily allowing you to explore areas of the castle you may not be able to on your own, and once you’re done exploring the castle and its surroundings you can enjoy the spectacular views and watch the sunset.

Having done all that climbing and sightseeing there is a great deal you can do to relax. If you come during the summer, you can enjoy a lazy day on the beaches and try the local seafood. We’re fortunate enough to have 5 beaches but the best two are Eastern beach and Catalan Bay and can be found on the easternmost end of Gibraltar. Even though they can get crowded during the summer they’re still perfect for sampling the seafood and getting that tan you’ve always wanted. If lying on the beach isn’t your thing then there are a range of water sports you can enjoy including sailing, jet skiing, diving, windsurfing and fishing.

Having experienced the adventurous activities Gibraltar has to offer, the next place to explore is definitely the town centre. Because of its size, there is only one street that spans the whole town, very creatively named “Main Street” and it culminates at the main square known as Casemates, which is home to some of the best bars and restaurants in town. The street is lined with shops and cafes and is usually the prime meeting place for the locals where every 10 steps you’ll meet someone you know. Being stone-paved it’s very pedestrian-friendly since cars are no longer allowed in the area making it much easier to explore.

Since the currency in Gibraltar is the same as the UK, shopping and eating out can be almost as expensive, but you can get lunch on a budget of about £3.50 if you’re happy with a baguette and a drink. If you’re looking to spend an average of £15 to £20 pounds on dinner then you have a pick of very different cuisines and the best place to go is probably the Marina where you can look at the sea while you’re sampling the local food.

A personal favourite is a restaurant called Bianca’s. Serving mainly British food, the average price for a starter, main and desert is £20 but the quality of food, service and view of the marina means that the money spent is well worth it. Alternatively, the newly constructed Ocean Village promenade, located on the Western side of the marina, offers some of the best local dining with a choice of Indian, Italian and Mediterranean food and is a wonderful night out if you’re willing to spend a little bit more money.

Gibraltarians (colloquially known as Llanitos, pronounced janitos) are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet and also some of the best partygoers. Considering the legal age for drinking is 16 and that we’re exempt from paying VAT, alcohol is cheap and readily available. Friday night is the best night to be out with all the pubs and clubs keeping their doors open until at least 4am.

Finally, one of the most important stops on the tour should be a visit to the last shop in Europe! Located on the southernmost point of Gibraltar, it is advertised in such a way because it stands by the sea from where on a clear day you can see Northern Africa, making it the last stop in Europe. If nothing else, it’s worth just stopping by to take a picture to prove to your friends that you were there.

Gibraltar is a vibrant country with a lot to offer tourists looking for a little bit of adventure and a little bit of relaxation. Besides, where else can you find a 1400 foot tall piece of limestone rock?

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