Gibraltar - The Fascinating Rock in the Mediterranean

by Maritravel

As solid as the Rock of Gibraltar is an expression often heard. A visit to the place where the most famous inhabitants are Barbary Apes will help explain what the expression means

It’s like stepping into the 1950’s to set foot on Gibraltar, the outpost of Britain located in the sea off Spain’s south coast. You can experience three cultures in one day on the island, English tea on the famous Rock, tapas and turron across the bay in Spain, and snake charmers and Turkish coffee in Tangier just a short ferry ride away. It's exotic, sunny and warm, but it has English policemen, red pillar-boxes and chips with everything.

The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar Tourist Board

On the Rock, everything is quintessentially English especially if you choose to have a drink on the terrace of the best known hotel,The Rock, as the sun sets over the Bay.  From Gibraltar, a 90 minute ferry ride takes you to Morocco and Tangier with its snake-charmers, carpet shops, coffee and tea houses thronging the maze of alleyways in the 15th century casbah.  Take the road link to Spain and in just a few minutes you are in Algeciras or Estepona on the Spanish side where immediately you will sense a different culture.  Drive a little further and you can reach Granada or Seville.Red and Gold in the Sunlight

In and around Gibraltar there are bobbies on the beat (English policemen) and red telephone boxes - England at its most nostalgic served up with with a dollop of sunshine.  The look back at the past can sometimes also include the food, which can be a downside of the trip, as much of what is on offer has come straight out of the seventies, condensed milk in coffee, prawn cocktails, and chips with everything.  Of course remembering that this is a ‘squaddie town’ the chips with everything probably can’t be avoided.

Sailing off the Coast of Gibraltar
Sailing off the Coast of Gibraltar
Gibraltar Tourist Board
Gibraltar with its Mischievous Macaques
Gibraltar with its Mischievous Macaques

Shopping on Gibraltar

From Chain stores to Markets

Gibraltar’s history of traders dates back to the start of the 19th century when the Rock’s strategic location meant that it flourished as a trading port with an ethnic mix of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Jewish and Moorish communities making up the population.   Today, the descendants of those original traders are shopkeepers manning the tills in the busy shopping centre.

Perfume Shop on Gibraltar

Gibraltar welcomes millions of tourists every year and most of them will head for Main Street, the centre of Gibraltar’s commercial district and the scene of some of the best value shopping on the Mediterranean due to the country being Vat free.  Cheap spirits, alchohol, perfume and electronics attract visitors from the Spanish mainland and cruise ships make regular calls.  It is an ideal spot in which to replenish the drinks bag and buy some really good quality perfume at a fraction of the price you’d pay in airports.  

 With a plethora of international chains and high street brands that sit alongside handicraft and souvenir shops the choice is endless.  Shopping on Main StreetMain Street and Casemates Square are two of the most popular shopping areas and the  Gibraltar Public Market (1929) located just outside Casemates Square, is a traditional indoor market with a range of fish, fruit, vegetables and local delicacies.

St. Michael's Cave
St. Michael's Cave
Gibraltar Tourist Office

Things to See on Gibraltar

St. Michael’s Cave

One of the Rock’s top tourist attractions is St. Michael’s cave, a limestone grotto with stalactites and stalagmites which has attracted visitors since the days of the Romans.  In blasting an alternative entrance to the cave during World War II a series of descending chambers ending in a mini lake was discovered.  Special guided tours to this lower section can be arranged on contacting the Gibraltar Tourist Board.  The Cathedral Cave, a unique auditorium for concerts, ballet and drama with a seating capacity of 400, is open to visitors. 

 Gibraltar Museum

was officially opened on the 23rd July, 1930 because of its  well-preserved fourteenth century Moorish Baths in the basement of the building.  It is located within one minute's walking distance from the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Main Street and it covers all aspects of the Rock’s history plus its natural history.  It is a must for the visitor who wants to know about the famous Rock.

 The Apes of Gibraltar.

The unmissables are the famous Apes which are found on top of the Rock, a journey that affords truly breathtaking views.  From 426 feet up the African coastline is clearly visable as is the meeting of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and Spain’s Costa del Sol, quays, marinas and bays far below. 

Gibraltar's Apes Look out over the Med

The Apes’ Den is home to some of Gibraltar’s famous macaques, descended from North African populations of Barbary Apes, and the only free-to-roam primates in Europe. According to legend, if the Apes leave Gibraltar it will cease to be British.  Remember that these are still wild animals however, and as such are both mischievous and dangerous.  Do not annoy them in any way as they will bite if frightened or annoyed, and do not feed them or let them see you have any eatables on your person. 

 World War II Tunnels

In May 2005 the World War II Tunnels were opened to the general public to enable visitors to walk in the footsteps of Churchill and De Gaulle. In 1940, Britain was at war with Germany and Italy and it was believed that an attack on Gibraltar was on the cards.  In order to repel this, a massive network of tunnels was excavated during 1939-1944 by the Royal Engineers and Canadian Engineers – an extension of the Great Siege Tunnels from 1779-83.  This fortress inside a fortress is part of the 32 mile-long network of underground passages and a tour of these tunnels is highly recommended.  

Eastern Beach, Gibraltar
Eastern Beach, Gibraltar
Gibraltar Tourist Board

Beaches on Gibraltar

Despite its reputation as a shopping haven, Gibraltar has a surprising variety of attractions, not least 6 delightful beaches around its shorelines.  Four of these, Sandy Bay, Eastern Beach, the picturesque village of Catalan Bay, and Western Beach, are sandy.  Blessed with a delightful sub-tropical climate of pleasant winters, glorious springs and shining summers, the beaches and nearby waterfront restaurants are a popular attraction.  Swimming, sailing, kayaking, surfing are all available and there is even dolphin and whale watching.Whale

Cable Car to Top of the Rock

The Cable Car  to the "Top of the Rock" is a must for all visitors to Gibraltar.  Reaching 412 m above sea level in approximately 6 minutes it offers uninterrupted views westwards to the city of Gibraltar, southwards across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa, across the Bay to the Mediterranean and Algeciras in Spain, and the beaches and cities of the Costa del Sol to the east. There is a snack bar at the top of the Rock (but remember to watch out for those mischievous monkeys).  

Sailing off Gibraltar
Sailing off Gibraltar
Gibraltar Tourist Board

Further Afield into Spain and Morocco

Gibraltar is the perfect base from which to explain nearby Spain and Morocco even on a day trip.

In nearby Spain you can visit Jerez for a sherry-tasting experience, or Ronda, the beautiful old town of bull-fighting fame where Hemingway spent so much of his time, take a trip to old Seville or Cordoba, or stroll around Marbella to view the rich and famous at play on their yachts in the famous marina of Puerto Banus. The Spanish port of Algeciras is about 12km by road to the west of Gibraltar and from its rail terminal trains run regularly into the beautiful Andalucian countryside giving access to Ronda, Cordoba and Madrid.

Alternatively, a short ferry crossing will take you to Morocco to sip mint tea in a Tea House, buy spices and silks, and haggle over leather bags and camel skin foot stools in the souk.

All in all, Gibraltar is a great place for a holiday and a very attractive destination.

Further information: www.visitgibraltar.gi

 

And the Band Plays on ...........
And the Band Plays on ...........
Gibraltar Tourist Board
Updated: 11/13/2014, Maritravel
 
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WordChazer on 11/09/2014

I'll agree with that, Mari ;-) We had a coach to load with purchases if we had found some, although the expats on the trip just about did our shopping for us with two thirds of Morrisons going into the luggage hold of the coach. Try explaining a 10kg sack of spuds to the Customs staff...I kid you not. The Spanish have perfectly good spuds, but for some reason, one of our fellow travellers decided that a 10kg sack of generic spuds was a good thing to export from Gib. *grin*. I'd rather have taken advantage of the spirits, myself, but decided against trying to lug anything more back to the UK given that my suitcase was already rather full.

As Mira says, it's good to have whistle-stop tours of places like this, and we follow a similar rule when we're in the States, but on this occasion, there's nowhere there I'd like to go back to. There's no doubting Gibraltar's appeal to many people and some parts of Southern Spain are lovely, just not that part of it. I like proper Spanish Spain and proper Moroccan food, not faux-British tea and overpriced crumpets (see Jo's article on How the British Make Tea!).

ologsinquito on 11/09/2014

This is a great article. Gibraltar sounds like a magical place. I'd love to visit.

Maritravel on 11/09/2014

Thanks, Mira. It is a good place to hop off for a trip to Tangier and if one has a car and is driving in Spain it is an easy stop to pick up Vat free purchases.

Mira on 11/09/2014

I enjoyed your article. I think the combo Gibraltar, Spain, Morocco is appealing for a first visit, even though, according to Paula, neither headpost is the real thing. Still, for a first visit it sounds ok; it seems like a quick way for tourists to discover things that invite further travels.

WordChazer on 11/09/2014

Prices are UK prices though, Mari, not US. So where you would pay $80 for two pairs of Lauren chinos in the US outlet, in the UK one, it's £70 a pair (and twice that in the label's own stores, I just checked). I'd rather save up for the flights and have a holiday at the same time *grin*. Diets get put on hold for the US holidays too, as we do a lot of walking so need a fair amount of food to keep the energy going. Some of the trips we go on start with a 7.30 or 8am pickup and don't drop us back until 10pm. Lindt chocolate is lovely but I'd rather have a bag of Cadbury's misshapes any day.

We were hoping to be able to buy a lot more clothes than we managed to on that Spanish holiday, especially with the Algeciras-Gib day trip included for free thanks to mother-in-law's partner's connections. But, alas, it was not to be. Loved Spain, love Spanish and Moroccan food, love the weather, rave about the transport links compared to this area. Not so keen on Gib, personally. Perhaps it's a bit too much like home?

Maritravel on 11/09/2014

Shopping in the US is fun and cheap so good luck with that but I can't join you in your food preferences over there as they pile the plates too high! Incidentally, if you ring up the head office of some of the big names you mention you might find that they have an outlet in the UK, I think I saw Polo Ralph Lauren in Gunwharf Quays at Portsmouth where I know they have, a Timberland, a Coach House/Radley and lots of other big USA companies - and my favourite, a Lindt chocolate Outlet. Hey! Just right for Xmas. I can buy lots of chocolates for other people and then eat them before I can wrap 'em up

WordChazer on 11/09/2014

I just like to see something different. For instace, we would never eat at Burger King or McDonalds when we go to the States, we would choose Denny's, Taco Bell, Applebees or American Brasserie, because they're not available here in the UK. Similar fast food, yes, but a different vibe and taste. I want to eat 'American' food that isn't burger and fries, and drink Californian wine that isn't a mass prodiced brand. I think the problem with Algeciras and Gibraltar is that there are too many global brands there and not enough individuality. What's the point in going on holiday if I feel I haven't left home?

When I visit the US, I want to shop at Target, and the outlet stores for Ralph Lauren Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Maidenform, because those are shops/ranges we don't have here, or if we do, the prices are out of my range. My husband loves Polo chinos, but they are around £70 ($110) a pair here in the UK. In the US, they're about $40 a pair and the outlet store we visit often has deals on buy-one-get-one-half-price.

Gib to me was an uneasy place. Not one thing nor the other. A gaudy tourist town with some run down military housing to welcome visitors and an odd mix of Spanish, Brit and patois being spoken. It was like going back to the 50s, yes, but also like stepping into a reality TV show with a heap of unspoken tension in the air from the various nationalities crammed into a small space.

Maritravel on 11/09/2014

Shradda, I'd love to post the photograph my husband took of me running away from the apes which were trying to divest me of my skirt because I was stupidly holding on to some sweets they fancied, but it's rather indelicate. Lesson learned.

I know what you mean, Wordchaser, but a lot of people love Gib and even Algeciras - to each his own. I never spend more than a day or two in Gibraltar catching up with friends who live there permanently - and they love it. Globalization is something we can't fight against so we are going to see more and more chain stores opening in remote areas (maybe Bhutan will resist as they have stricter rules for even allowing tourists into their country). I visit Thailand every year and they have many Tesco outlets there. I never go but the locals love them as do the tourists. It hasn't changed the inherent nature of the country or the people. I count myelf lucky to have seen some countries before mass tourism became the norm, but newbies to these countries don't miss what they never knew.

WordChazer on 11/09/2014

Avoid the Morrisons supermarket in Gibraltar at all costs. That's a bastion of English expats wanting the things they can't get in Spain. I came back from Spain thinking that all would be right with these people if they could just export British 'culture' to a warmer climate. Irish bars, bad beer and chips with everything, Morrisons cafe food, the pound and everyone speaking English except in 80* instead of 55*. Yuck. When I go abroad I want to get away from what I know at home. That's why I go abroad. I want to try local food and drink and see the sights.

Algeciras has a shopping centre that is indistiguishable from the Metro Centre or Bluewater with a Bijou Brigitte, a massive Primark and a host of other English shops. Nothing to see there that I can't see at home. Yawn yawn. I was hoping to like Gibraltar, but unfortunately it seems to be everything that is bad about Britain, only in a warmer climate. One of these days I'll republish my article on the place and see what you think to my impressions - I didn't get to do any of the touristy things and I loathe cable cars so that was out.

WriterArtist on 11/09/2014

Gibraltar seems a fascinating place for vacation - a must to travel. The macaques appear to be friendly but I am afraid you should not mess with them. I remember monkeys surrounding me and not letting me go when they sniffed bananas in my basket that I carried with me in a visit to the woods.

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