Located on a rocky peninsular between Spain and Morocco, Gibraltar is a unique destination that should be high on your bucket list. It’s quote possible to spend one day in Gibraltar and see the best sights. It’s just a small nation, yet despite its size, its unique history, culture and landscape make it an essential day trip from Spain.
We’ll show you all of the sights in Gibraltar you must see, tell you how to organise a tour of the rock and explain what you should expect when entering Gibraltar.
HOW TO SEE GIBRALTAR IN ONE DAY
Why you should day trip and spend one day in Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a country steeped in history. It has British, Spanish and Moorish history, yet it has developed its own unique culture. You can most certainly fly into Gibraltar (and wow what a unique airport to fly to!) however we recommend spending one day in Gibraltar as part of a trip to southern Spain.
A day in Gibraltar is the perfect amount of time to see iconic sights such as The Rock, ride the Teleferique or walk across (yes that’s right, walk) one of the world’s most unique international runways. Gibraltar is just one of those bucket list destinations you need to see. Luckily in this case, you’ll just need on day in Gibraltar to see it all!
READ | Combining Gibraltar with a trip to Spain? Read our guide to Gaudi in Barcelona here.
What to expect when entering Gibraltar
The Rock looms so high that it is visible well before you near the border. With traffic rather hectic, and time at a premium, we parked on the Spanish side of the border and crossed by foot. Lesson 101 for Gibraltar is to make sure you bring your passport, or identity card if you are European.
It’s unlikely anyone will check it leaving the Spanish side, but you will be checked on entering Gibraltar. Alas, I did not get a stamp in my passport, which was slightly disappointing! Passport control are quite efficient, so it shouldn’t take too long.
On arrival across the border you are swamped by people offering you tours. Cleverly taxis are utilised as tour buses during the day and then take fares of an evening. Tours are offered in a multitude of languages, and before long I had an English speaking guide and was off.
Now, one of the coolest things about Gibraltar, and one I was hoping to experience, was to stop for a plane. Gibraltar has no ordinary runway. Because it is so small, its runway runs across the only road into town. Manned by two guards, marked by barriers similar to those at a train crossing and with tyre spikes laid, planes taxi and take off whilst the traffic waits. I was lucky enough to sit in the front of the van and witness this first hand. A travel goal well and truly ticked off!
Exploring the Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock consists of residential housing at the base and then becomes the Upper Rock National Park. You can either walk, catch the teleferique (cable car) or drive to the peak. Our first stop was the park entry where we got our park tickets and got our first glimpse of Africa. A short and very windy drive later we reached St Michael’s Cave where we had around 30 minutes to explore.
St Michael’s Cave
St Michael’s Cave is a network of limestone caves up to 300 metres in height at points. Although they are a natural phenomenon, the caves have been somewhat ‘pimped’ and feature colourful LED lighting and thematic music to add to the ‘vibe’. I am quite ok with the natural vibe of a cave (ok, somewhat lit is good!) and this was more like being inside of a cave night club or rave, but without the people. Despite the sound and lighting, the cave system was absolutely beautiful and enjoyable to explore.
Why you should visit the peak at the Rock of Gibraltar
Standing 426 metres high, the view from the top is spectacular. Luckily it was a clear day and the coastline of Morocco was clearly visible. It felt so close you could almost reach out and touch it. You do have to have your wits about you whilst exploring the top of the rock. The road is extremely narrow and very heavily populated with Barbary Macaques. Far from shy, these cheeky apes will catch a ride on top of taxis, get into taxis (if given the opportunity to), steal food and water from you and in the case of one woman, may run across you like a fence if you stand too close to the actual fence!
It is kind of obligatory at this point to take a selfie with one of the macaques (if you dare), to get a shot at the ‘peak’ of the rock and to also get a view of the horizon with Africa in the distance. I was lucky to take all three, although the ape in my selfie looked less than impressed!
What to see in the WW2 tunnels
Unlike St Michaels Cave, which is naturally occurring, The Rock also features miles of tunnels that were built to create a strong hold during the war. These World War 2 tunnels require a level of fitness as they are on a fair decline, so walking back up definitely is not as easy as going down. They feature interactive displays and information on their creation and also how they were used during the war. The tunnels cover around 52 kilometres in distance, so they are quite significant in size, however only a portion of them is open to the public.
The people of Gibraltar
I was lucky enough to have a talkative tour guide who was happy to answer my questions about the people of Gibraltar. Known as Gibraltarians, their ancestry lies with the Italian, British, Spanish and Maltese. As they are a British colony, all of their schooling and business is conducted in English, however due to their size, and proximity to Spain, everyone also speaks Spanish. This has lead to a mixed Spanish / English dialect being created where Spanish words are Anglicised and vice versa. When asking my guide about what kinds of foods he eats, he heartily replied that he gets to enjoy Italian and other mediterranean foods during the week, whilst getting a lovely traditional roast dinner on a Sunday. Their most popular dish is a sweet called Calentita. Each year the Calentita food festival is held in June where locals join together in a large street festival to eat, drink and be merry.
What to do and see in Gibraltar town
We had skipped the main town and headed directly to The Rock, so I hadn’t had a chance to get a glimpse before being dropped off at the end of the tour.
The town itself is quite small and is really only one main cobbled street. It was just like being back in the UK with all of the prices in pounds and familiar stores such as Next and Boots lining the street.
From what I hear the Morrisons (supermarket) in Gibraltar is one of their best trading stores, as Spaniards regularly cross the border to collect English foods and then head back to Spain.
For many visitors it is the opposite however, as Gibraltar’s tax free status means that liquor and other luxury items can be bought for much cheaper than Spain.I skipped the shopping and ended up having lunch in a British pub – feeling a little sad that I wasn’t eating lovely Spanish food but a baguette instead.
After a bit of a wander around, it was time to again meet with my driver for the trip back to Seville. Now I was quite excited about driving over the runway, but walking back to the border meant that I also got to walk across it.
Technically you’re meant to walk at a good pace and not stop, but a lot of people stop briefly to take photos (myself included). I mean where else do you get to do this at an airport of this scale?
Is a day really enough in Gibraltar?
Yes, a day is the perfect amount of time to spend in Gibraltar. Of course if you enjoy beautiful beaches and duty free shopping (Gibraltar has excellent duty free shops) then by all means book a longer vacation. If you just want to see the main things to do in Gibraltar however then a day is certainly enough.