The south of Spain is great for sun, sangria, and the beach, but when you’ve got a craving for fish and chips, or relaxing at a pub, crossing over to Gibraltar is a must. The UK territory that sits on a small spit of mountainous land into the Mediterranean off the southern tip of Spain feels like walking back in time to jolly old England while still enjoying the Mediterranean climate. Though small in area, there are a ton of great things to see and do with a quick day trip to Gibraltar from Spain.
Gibraltar is probably best known for its huge rock rising up over the sea and looking across to Africa. Used as a fortress over numerous wars and protecting British shipping in the sea, it’s also been a part of numerous movies and tv shows. From James Bond in a game of deadly paintball to the logo of Prudential Insurance, the Rock of Gibraltar is no doubt iconic.
These days, Gibraltar is mainly a tourist destination with a unique airport serving jets from England and across Europe and acts as a popular cruise ship stop. Beyond the rock are streets lined with shops, restaurants, and numerous pubs, perfect for stretching feet after a flight or cruise in to port. The kitsch factor is high, but it’s still the only place on the southern coast of Spain to grab a pint of British ale and some pub cuisine.
Getting to Gibraltar is simultaneously easy and tricky. Cruising in may be the most straightforward means of entry, but it does mean a full cruise around which may not be the best way to just see the town. The small airport serves several budget airline flights each day as well as larger British Air jets, but landing on the short runway which crosses the only road into town is apparently so tricky only ex-British air force pilots are allowed to land there.
The way we got into town was via car and foot. A large parking lot on the Spanish side of the border makes this fairly easy. Surprisingly, unlike the other border crossings within the EU, there is actually passport control on the way in. In order to enter the town, you can either walk or take one of the public or private busses, both of which require crossing over the runway when no planes are taking off or landing. While we crossed, we had to wait a few minutes while an Easy Jet plane landed what felt like feet above our heads.
What to do
Once in the country, the main attraction is the top of the Rock. A cable car ascends up the cliff in a few minutes and provides great views of the mountain and down into town. At the top, you’ll quickly discover Gibraltar’s surly inhabitants, the Barbary Apes that occupy the mountain. These apes are not at all afraid of people and can actually get quite aggressive. One even crawled into our stroller looking for food while our boys jumped out to look.
It’s also possible to take a taxi up the mountain roads for a tour, but walking is a nice way to see more of it up close. Potentially part of the reason the apes are so comfortable with people is the food the taxi drivers give them to lure them up onto car roofs and side mirrors.
Beyond the apes, there’s plenty of other natural beauty to see and explore. Several lookouts dot the crest of the mountain with views over the town, into Spain, and of course even over the sea and to the Atlas Mountains in Africa on clear days. Saint Michael’s Cave opens up into an expansive cavern large enough to host concerts now and store supplies while protecting the fortress in years past. The caves are fun to explore and add something unique and different to the mountain’s other scenery.
Where to eat
It’s a crime to visit Gibraltar and not eat some UK style pub food. Fish and chips lead the way as the menu item of choice. For the best in town, or so I was told, Roy’s fish and chips is the place to go. Located right in the heart of the square housing the old armory, it’s actually a picturesque spot to enjoy in the afternoon as well. The fish is a massive deep fried slab of tasty and flaky cod or haddock just like in the pubs of the mother country. Complete with some fries with vinegar and mushy peas, if it weren’t for the warm and humid weather, you might think you were in London.
Gibraltar is an interesting curiosity tucked onto the end of Spain. It makes no sense that a tiny part of land would belong to another country in the 21st century and maintain such a tie to the home country when so little about the natural environment is at all like the UK. Still, it works well with the combination of nature up on the Rock and traditional British culture down in town. Taking a trip up the mountain for the view over three countries is a great way to spend a day while in Spain, and even the apes can’t chase you away.