Gibraltar – Making the Most of a One-Day Visit

Visiting Gibraltar during our auto tour of Southern Spain was a fascinating experience. We had a great tour of Gibraltar that also allowed us some time to wander in the afternoon. From the town of Ronda in Andalucia, we drove south about 112 km (70 miles) to La Linea, through very hilly countryside that was quite beautiful. La Linea is the Spanish port city that borders the autonomous British territory of Gibraltar.

Location of Gibraltar relative to Morocco and Spain.

Our plan was to spend the day visiting Gibraltar and then return back to La Linea for the night, before continuing on our journey northeast along the Costa del Sol and then inland towards Granada. This plan worked out well!

A view of the city of Gibraltar, looking northwest. Many of the residents live in the high rise buildings in the foreground. Since La Linea is a port city of Spain, many oil tankers and other freighters occupy the harbor. The city in the distance is La Linea, Spain.

Once we parked our car, we walked to the border crossing. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since COVID was still a thing as of March 2022 and I couldn’t find much information online ahead of time as to any COVID restrictions. The crossing turned out to be very simple as tourists. We showed our passport once and went right through the whole border control process in a matter of a few minutes.

The border crossing into Gibraltar – hard to miss!

As a tourist in Gibraltar, there is a standard itinerary most tourists/tours follow (see our main stops below). My only question beforehand had been whether to arrange a tour prior to our visit or try to do everything on our own. As it turned out, right after walking through the border, there was a tour agency desk and they offered tours that covered everything we wanted to see in a few hours! The tour was less than €30/person (also payable in Gibraltar Pounds Sterling – same value as Bank of England notes) and worked out great. Our group of four happened to be the only tourists coming through the border at that particular time, so it ended up being a private tour! Our itinerary is shown below.

The red telephone booth – a sure sign you are in the U.K!

At the end of this post, I share some logistical information about visiting Gibraltar.

Mons Calpe

In addition to being the name of the local football (soccer) club, Mons Calpe is the ancient name of the Rock of Gibraltar and is one of “the pillars of Hercules”. After quick drive through part of the town, we stopped at this lookout point and could see the African continent (specifically Morocco and a small outpost of Spain, Ceuta) in the distance, about 9 miles away at the closest point.

St. Michael’s Cave

The Rock of Gibraltar is full of caves and tunnels. St. Michael’s Cave is the most famous and was fun to visit, with its spectacular lighting effects and our little Gibraltar ape friends showing the way. At the end of the visit, you gather in the huge natural amphitheater for a short show before leaving the cave.

Drive Up to the Rock’s Ridgeline

There is one little narrow road leading to the knife-edge ridge of Gibraltar. It is VERY narrow. You can also hike up here via a very steep stairway or take a tram up as well. There is no place to park, other than in the road, and hence only tours drive up here. This spot allows for magnificent views in all directions.


The Barbary Macaques (Apes or Monkeys?)

These little guys are considered apes locally since they do not have tails, but are part of the monkey family. They originated from Morocco, and arrived sometime before 1704, although no one seems to know exactly when or how they arrived, probably brought by the Moors as pets. They are monitored closely by the government of Gibraltar and are fed every day. Our tour guide said there are about 300 monkeys divided into 5 groups living on Gibraltar (each with their own territory). There is a saying that as long as the monkeys live on Gibraltar, the British will have control of the Rock, so they receive great care. Do NOT feed or touch the monkeys, there are some serious fines if you do. You also have to watch your backpacks carefully – they can run off with them!

Wartime Tunnels

There are about 34 miles of tunnels in the Rock. They were built over a 200 year period from the 18th to the 20th centuries, for protection against bombardment and to facilitate the movement of supplies and quick access to defensive positions (gun emplacements) in strategic spots along the length of the Rock. The battles and political struggles (mainly between Spain, France and Britain) over this Rock could fill volumes. As part of our tour, we visited “The Great Siege” Tunnels at the northern end of Gibraltar, which were constructed during the siege of Gibraltar by Spain and France around the time of the American Revolutionary War. What a lot of work it must have taken to blast and dig these tunnels! The tunnels in some cases are multiple levels deep, and you can explore them for hours. There are many exhibits along points in the tunnels explaining the history and showing the living quarters, storage areas and cannon emplacements.

Other Sights

The Moorish Castle in Gibraltar, dates from the 8th century. This tiny territory has been defended for centuries! We did not take the time to visit the Castle, but it would be worthing seeing if you can.

Casemates Square

At the completion of our tour, we were dropped off at Casemates Square, the center of Gibraltar’s restaurant and pub scene. Pedestrian streets extend south from here providing access to all kinds of shopping, other services, quaint churches and alleyways extending into residential neighborhoods. After a late lunch, we spent some time wandering the streets and checking out the various shops. I was hoping to find a good quality “Gibraltar” sweatshirt, but didn’t have any luck – there’s lots of the typical tourist items available and many shops with high-end brands as well.

Logistics:

We decided there was no sense in taking our rental car into Gibraltar–the territory is tiny, and walking over the border saves the hassle of crossing with a vehicle, finding parking, etc. We were able to find a car park within walking distance of the border (there are several). While La Linea is a pretty good-sized city, the traffic was light and we found our way from the main highway south to the border crossing area quite easily. Our hotel (an AC Hotel/Marriott in La Linea) was just a couple kilometers away, making the logistics of our visit very easy.

Making Your Way Across the Border

While we had a tour van take us into Gibraltar, we walked back over to Spain at the end of the day, which was a fun experience.

The Gibraltar Airport runway is in the middle of the photo. Beyond the runway is the border with Spain. (Photo taken from the Great Siege Tunnels referenced above).
If you’re walking from Spain to Gibraltar or vice-versa, you patiently wait to cross between arriving and departing planes and then walk across the runway when allowed! Many Spaniards work in Gibraltar and this is part of their commute. Cars and trucks crossing the border use the same access point.

A few other comments about Gibraltar: The whole territory (2.6 square miles) is mainly just a huge rock mountain, with precious little arable land. It’s really interesting to see this unique geologic feature – while the surrounding land is hilly, this huge granite rock at the end of a small peninsula really stands out.

This image, taken from the coast just east of Gibraltar gives an idea how much the Rock stands out as part of the landscape.

Although tiny in terms of geography, its strategic importance cannot be overstated and throughout the centuries, there have been countless battles over this Rock, with evidence of those struggles still remaining today. In fact, Britain and Spain continue to argue over the sovereignty of Gibraltar and its citizens have voted recently to continue remaining part of the UK.