Gibraltar sits at the Southern end of Spain on the Iberian Peninsular, and cruise ships docking for a short stopover give travellers the opportunity to explore the attractions of a British colony with a Spanish temperament. The town centre is a short, five minute taxi ride from the port, or a 15 to 20 minute walk, and it is here that the adventure of discovering Gibraltar starts. Good walking shoes are recommended as although Gibraltar may appear small compared with other ports of call, don’t be fooled by the 2.53 square mile territory that is essentially Gibraltar. There is much to discover. With the currency being the Gibraltar Pound, the only notable difference between that and British Sterling is that many of the bank notes are exclusive to Gibraltar and portray images of the Rock of Gibraltar and its history. These notes are not valid currency in the UK, although sterling is accepted in Gibraltar.
Main Street is the commercial centre of Gibraltar, and offers a wealth of duty free shops as well as local bazaars, offering leather goods, jewellery and giftware. A busy thoroughfare, Main Street takes around an hour to explore and houses the Tourist Information Office, where brochures are available on all local sites of interest, which can be mulled over in the central Piazza outdoor cafe. Taxi and cafe tipping is normal in Gibraltar and an acceptable level is around 10 per cent. Taxis are inexpensive due to the smallness of the Rock itself, with all attractions in close proximity.
The Gibraltar Taxi Association run the official Rock Tour from various pick up points around the town. This a great way to seeing a lot of territory within a short space of time. (See ‘Must Sees’ for more info) They follow an official itinerary, but if you are the only passengers, you can negotiate the number of stops. Local bus services run during the week at twenty minute intervals with the Route 4 being the closest to the Port, and taking a main route through the centre of town and to the Sandy Bay area of Gibraltar. It is worth checking for tourist buses at the Tourist office, and just to the left of the tourist office, a central taxi stand can be located.
Unlike neighbouring Spain, shops keep British hours and are open between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. In gift shops and bazaars, bartering forms part of the experience and is expected. The colourful array of goods which grace the front entrances of the bazaars is reminiscent of nearby Tangiers with a quintessential mixture of colour, texture and decoration. Since English is the main language of Gibraltar, bartering is relatively easy, though phrases which can be included out of courtesy are please and thank you in Spanish. (Por favor and gracias respectively). To order white coffee in Spanish, one would ask for café con leche, while a cool beer would be asked for as una cerveza. Duty free shops are in abundance offering electrical and electronic equipment, perfumes, cigarettes and jewellery at duty free prices though HM Customs restrictions should be respected.
Gibraltar is a British territory, and although cut off from mainland Spain for many years by a barrier between the two countries, now has open borders with neighbouring Spain. Ruled internally by the Governor of Gibraltar, the Head of State is currently Queen Elizabeth II. An interesting mix of Spanish language and British culture can be enjoyed by the visitor, as is evidenced by the Changing of the Guard, when the Royal Gibraltar Regiment display this tradition outside of the Official Residence of the Governor, a former 16th Century Franciscan Priory, at several times of the day on weekdays. Information can be obtained at the Tourist Information Office in Main Street, which is located next to the Piazza in the centre of the town.
In a time zone one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time the overall ambiance of Gibraltar is more relaxed than its UK counterpart, due to the influence of Spanish temperament and temperature. It is not unusual to see a local policeman in British uniform – still wearing the old ‘Bobbies helmet’ or a traditional red British postbox or telephone box, as nostalgic reminders that Gibraltar is indeed still British. Gibraltar is famous for it’s duty free shopping – but this extends to the many commercial ships and boats in the harbour who come to fill up with cheap fuel and to stock up on fresh water and food.
Visitors are well advised to note emergency numbers available for both cell phone and telephone. Since calls within Gibraltar are free, locals will not object to being asked to use telephones in the case of an emergency. The number for normal telephones is 199 while for mobiles is 112. The language spoken is English.
The mainly Catholic population of Gibraltar speak Gibraltarian within the family unit or with friends, though most do speak English, since the education within the country has been founded on the British three tier style of education for generations. Gibraltar is a densely populated country with over 30,000 inhabitants, though due to the natural form of the Rock itself, the most populated areas lie at the base of the rock. There is a British armed forces presence in Gibraltar, so it is not uncommon for cruise ships to be docked near Naval vessels, although it should be noted that the naval vessels are given priority.
January is generally the wettest month in Gibraltar, and the local climate is a temperate, averaging 18.4 °C (65 °F), the hottest period being in July and August. During the months of May to October, the climate and wind from the Mediterranean cause a cloud formation called Le Levante, and tourists are asked to ensure that adequate sun protection is worn.
Afternoon tea was a British tradition worldwide, where one dressed suitably and celebrated the afternoon with tea and cakes. This is still offered on Gibraltar in many locations, with the Rock Hotel offering luxury surroundings overlooking The Bay of Gibraltar and the Moroccan Rif mountains, as well as mainland Spain, while the Caleta Palace Hotel in Catelan Bay offers afternoon tea overlooking the sea in a less formal environment. Elliott Hotel within the center of Gibraltar also offers afternoon tea.
Lunch time tapas can be found in many of the bars in Gibraltar, and these delicacies are worth the indulgence, often comprising fresh seafood such as squid, served cut in rings and fried in a delicious batter and known locally as calamares.
Key Attractions & Must Sees
Taking a taxi toward Alemeda Gibraltar Botanical Gardens, the visitor is charmed by the shaded ambiance afforded. This area was originally developed as a resting place for residents of Gibraltar and came into existence in 1816 as a gift to the people of Gibraltar instigated by the then Governor, General George Don. Now an established sanctuary for butterflies, the Gardens boast a collection of plants that flower in each season of the year. With a vast collection of succulents, the gardens were taken over by an environmental team in 1991, who are working toward the restoration of the gardens to their former glory. Offering shady walkways and an ambiance of calm, the gardens are located conveniently so that the visitor from a cruise ship can encounter them before reaching the Main Street area of Gibraltar, within an easy walk from the gardens.
The city walls and fortifications date back to Moorish times and official walks, which take in the architecture and history, are run by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust, details of which can be obtained at the Tourist Information Office in Main Street. It is wise to check the setting off times of official walks, to fit in with a limited stay in the port and to fit in other activities around them.
The Upper Rock Nature reserve is where most of the sites and attractions are found. This can be accessed by cable car, taxi or by hiking.
The Cable Car is operated from a centrally located car park with easy taxi reach, and takes you the 412 meters to the top of the Rock. This option will involve quite a lot of walking in order to see the main sites, but if you’ve been starved of exercise on the ship – this may be for you! Queues can be long, so watch the time to ensure you get back in time.
An alternative is to take a taxi tour – the drivers are your guides, the tour is an official one with a fixed price & the cars take 8 passengers. You’ll visit Europa Point, the apes, St Michael’s Caves and the Moorish Castle.
Worthwhile from a panoramic point of view, the cable car reaches the summit and offers spectacular photo opportunities, as well as an opportunity to encounter the Barbary Apes, who have lived on Gibraltar for thousands of years. They are approachable though caution should be exercised when the apes are nursing or protecting their young. Notorious for pinching handbags and loose objects left carelessly by visitors, the tourist should be aware of the safety of their possessions when visiting this area. Take a stroll from the upper station and visit St. Michael’s caves. Naturally evolved through water seepage into the limestone rock, the caves are accessed by a series of walkways and are often the venue for concerts, due to their acoustic amplification value, amid the stalagmites and stalactites. The auditorium holds an audience of 100. Lit up and magnificently presented, St. Michael’s Caves present a step back in time. Tickets can be bought on site which offer discounted prices for other attractions on the Rock, including the Moorish Castle.
The diverse history of Gibraltar encompasses Moorish occupation of Gibraltar for a period of 710 years, and although historians know little about the history of the Moorish Castle on Gibraltar, it is claimed that the building of the Castle was completed as early as 742, by Tarik ibn Ziyad, one of the leaders of the Moorish conquest. The historical significance of the building of the castle is that it was the first of its type to be built on European soil. Rebuilt to the castle that visitors can see today, during the 14th century, the Moorish influence remains faithful to the original building.
The Gibraltar Museum in Bomb House Lane is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It is here that visitors can discover the historical changing of the Gibraltar coastline through a series of images and maps over the last three centuries.
The Alameda Wildlife Park is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and offers a glimpse of wildlife up close, with the walk-through aviary, reptile and bat cave and Short Clawed Otter exhibition. Located near the base of the cable car, in the Alameda Gardens complex, the centre celebrates the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. Visitors can tour the centre with guides and see the animals brought there in an effort to preserve threatened species.
The upper area of the rock is now a designated wildlife reserve for the migrating birds including the Blue Rock Thrush, Barbary Partridge, Buzzards, Owls and Peregrine falcons, all taking refuge on their voyage toward Africa for the winter months.
Dolphin excursions take to the waters from Marina Bay and the duration of trips is estimated at one and a half hours. This offers the visitor an opportunity to view flying fish, dolphins, whales and turtles that are commonly seen in the Straits of Gibraltar. Arrangements should be booked by telephone upon arrival in Gibraltar or from the cruise ship in advance, parties being catered for rather than the individual. Telephone 00350 20071914 for information.
For exquisite crystal glass creations, the Gibraltar Crystal Glass Factory uses methods established more than 2000 years ago and members of the public are encouraged to take part in glass blowing. This is an ideal spot to purchase exclusive gifts at reasonable prices. Also worthy of note are the Art Galleries of Gibraltar, the easiest to locate being the John Mackintosh Hall in Main Street, which stays open all day until 9 in the evening. The House of Sacarello in the Irish town also hosts exhibitions of the work of local artists.
The Ocean Village offers the visitor shopping and leisure facilities, international cuisine and cafes and is a short taxi ride from the city centre. Other attractions include a taxi ride to Catalan Bay, which is a small fishing village nestled against the rock, offering local restaurants and cafes. Although small in nature, this is one of the most typical of Spanish influence and for taking in local ambiance. Looking out to sea over a rocky coastline, Catalan Bay offers terraced cafe/restaurant facilities for visitors. A short bus ride takes visitors around the rock past Sandy Bay to see the water catchment area, and back via Europa Point, where a lighthouse protects ships passing Gibraltar and offering multiple photo opportunities.
It is said that if the Barbary Apes of Gibraltar ever leave, Gibraltar will cease to be British.
The Rock of Gibraltar is known as one of the Pillars of Hercules, thought to have used the rock and the mountain Jbel Musa in neighbouring Morocco as handgrips to split the nations of Spain and Africa.
Gibraltar is thought to have derived its name from Jbel which means Mountain, and Tarik (from Tariq ibn Ziyad), a Muslim Governor of Tangier, who was responsible for the launch of the Islamic invasion of 711.
The official language of Gibraltar is Gibraltarian, a colloquial version of Spanish.
The National colours chosen by Gibraltar are red, representing strength and bravery and white, representing peace, colours depicted on Gibraltar’s National flag.
Author: Rachelle de Bretagne