Looking for things to do at the Rock of Gibraltar? Read on because we loved this little slice of Britain located in the southwestern tip of Europe just south of Spain. Its strategic location as the gateway to the Mediterranean connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea has made Gibraltar a strategic location for centuries.
Gibraltar was never really on our travel radar, but when we found ourselves in Marbella, Spain just 1 hour north of this tiny overseas British Territory, we had to make the trip. We expected to take a quick look around, and then be on our way back to the beaches of Spain, but instead, we stuck around to experience all the amazing things to do in Gibraltar. Including the beaches!
Things to do at the Rock of Gibraltar
If you are planning a trip to Gibraltar, read on to see all the things to do at the Rock of Gibraltar and beyond. With beaches, pubs, history, a nature reserve, and plenty of apes, Gibraltar will surprise you. So step out of the Mediterranean vibe of Spain, and jump into a little bit of Britain. To see car rental comparisons from Spain check out RentalCars.com
Where is Gibraltar
Gibraltar is located just south of Spain’s Costa Del Sol on the Iberian Peninsula close to the southwestern tip of Europe. It is separated from Spain by a small 1-mile wide strip of land that has been turned into an airport runway. We stayed at a hotel in Spain just minutes from Gibraltar and walked from the Spanish city of La Línea de la Concepción and arrived at The Rock of Gibraltar within 30 minutes.
Gibraltar is just north of the Strait of Gibraltar and is just 13km (8.1 miles) from Morocco. It is small, but it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Gibraltar is only 5 km long (3 miles) and 1.2 km wide (and 0.75 miles) but has a population of 35,000.
As a British overseas territory, Gibraltar is technically a part of Britain and certain jurisdictions are under British rule the UN has officially listed Gibraltar as a Non-Self-Governing Territory similar to The Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
The official language is English, making it a nice break from struggling with our broken Spanish. Although almost everyone in Gibraltar speaks Spanish. The official currency is The British Pound, but Euro is accepted as well.
What is the Rock of Gibraltar
I must admit, I didn’t really know what the Rock of Gibraltar was before visiting Gibraltar. I know there was a rock, but I didn’t realize that it was an enormous dominant landmark of the entire southern tip of the Peninsula. You can see it for miles!
Also known as The Rock, The Rock of Gibraltar reaches 426 meters (1396 feet) into the air and is surrounded by nothing but sand and beaches, (albeit highrise condos are under construction as we speak).
Made of limestone, The Rock of Gibraltar has been a strategic military base for the British since 1704 when it was captured during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was a major line of defense for the British and its allies during WWII and there are military bunkers and tunnels scattered within and throughout the Rock making for a fascinating day tour of the Rock of Gibraltar.
Cable Car and Nature Reserve Tickets
We bought tickets online for all-inclusive access to the Cable Car and Nature Reserve on the Rock of Gibraltar. Purchasing in advance allowed us to skip the lines and go straight to boarding the cable car so we could see as much as possible on the Rock in a day. You can buy tickets in advance here.
Tickets cost £34.00 and a return cable car ticket includes access to St Michael’s Cave, Skywalk, Windsor Suspension Bridge, Great Siege Tunnels, World War II & City Under Siege Exhibition, Moorish Castle, 100 Ton Gun, and the Nature Reserve.
Make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds as the cable car was smaller than expected. Plus, it gets busy on the viewing platforms, so arriving in time for the first cable car up, let us stay ahead of the crowds most of the day. You can also book a guided tour by minibus that includes entry tickets. See Europa Point lighthouse, St Michael’s Cave, and downtown Gibraltar: See details here
How to Get to the Rock of Gibraltar
There is an airport at the Rock of Gibraltar. It was made from the tunnels built during World War II. Soldiers used the rock and dirt from the tunnels to help build RAF Gibraltar and Gibraltar International Airport. The airport landing strip is located at the border and runs between Spain and Gibraltar.
We stayed on the Spanish Side of Gibraltar in La Linia at O’htels Campo de Gibraltar and walked across the border. It was a 30-minute walk to the Rock of Gibraltar from our hotel in Spain. The cable car opened at 09:30 am and we left at 08:30 am to give time to cross the border and have a cushion should a plane cross the runway. On the way back we had to wait for a plane to land and it added 30 minutes to our walking time.
One cool surprise is that we got a stamp on our passports. It’s a rare thing these days when traveling Europe, so it was cool to fill in another page.
Things to do at the Rock of Gibraltar
After a short 6-minute cable car ride up to Top Station, we exited and began our tour of The Rock of Gibraltar. If you didn’t have breakfast before getting to the top, there is a restaurant at Top Station that opens at 10:30 am.
We loved the views from Top Station. The minute we got out of the cable car we saw Gibraltar Apes eating oranges. We knew we’d see a lot of apes throughout the day, so we went straight to the viewing platform. The Top Station of Gibraltar looks over the Rock of Gibraltar and definitely has the best view of the actual Rock.
The views are quite incredible being able to see up the coast of Costa del Sol and its beaches, the city of Gibraltar, and Morocco in Northern Africa. We spent a good 30 minutes here taking in all the views and by arriving first thing in the morning, we had unobstructed views with very few crowds.
We mentioned the Gibraltar Apes that we saw at the Top Station, and you will see these monkeys everywhere on the Rock of Gibraltar. They are actually Barbary Macaques from Morocco and are the only wild monkey population on the European continent. The monkeys have been on the Rock of Gibraltar long before British rule but they were so important to the British empire after the war when they were nearly wiped out, they were placed under the army’s protection and Winston Churchill ordered more monkeys to be imported from Morocco.
There are some 300 monkeys aka Gibraltar Apes on The Rock you can see them in many places but the best place to spot them is at the Ape’s Den at Queen’s Gate. They are quite used to humans, so keep your distance, we saw two people bitten by the monkeys during our day there. It was the human’s fault for getting too close so give these wild animals the respect they deserve and watch them from a safe distance keeping your food and valuables close.
After Top Station, we walked directly to the Skywalk. This glass floor dangles 340 meters (1115 feet) above sea level and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area including The Rock of Gibraltar, The Strait of Gibraltar, and Africa. It is the newest attraction on the Rock of Gibraltar opening in 2018 with none other than Luke Skywalker himself marking the opening ceremony. Entry is included with your Gibraltar & Nature Reserve Pass.
Gibraltar Nature & Reserve
Our full-day pass included every attraction within the Gibraltar Nature Reserve so after marveling at the glass floor of The Skywalk we continued by foot exploring The Upper Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock’s upper area is quite green and filled with plants, trees, birdlife, and plenty of walking trails.
You can bike, take a taxi, or bus tours around the Rock of Gibraltar, but we chose to walk. I wish the tour buses were not allowed save for people who need accessibility because they really took away from the experience. We were constantly needing to step out of the way of taxis and traffic. It’s not a difficult walk so if you can, it is a great experience to walk along the paths.
St. Michaels Cave
St. Michael’s Cave is not to be missed when visiting Gibraltar. Dave and I expected a short and cheesy trip into the cave, but St. Michael’s Cave is spectacular. It is the largest cave in Gibraltar and has been used for thousands of years. It is one of the most popular attractions in Gibraltar and can be reached by car or walking.
The cave is lit up with colorful lights of purples, pinks, yellows, and blues. While that may seem like a tourist trap, it actually is quite impressive. The colors help to highlight the formations with a formation that actually looks like an angel with wings. The Angel was only recently discovered during the creation of this multimedia display called The Awakening. It was brought to light during the light show, but even when the lights went down, the outline of the angel’s wings was as clear as can be.
It truly is a beautiful cave that has been an important place since Roman times when it was believed to be one of the pillars of Hercules. Entry is included with your Gibraltar & Nature Reserve Pass.
O’Hara’s Battery was a surprise attraction on the Rock of Gibraltar. After visiting the Skywalk, we followed our way up a stone path not really knowing where we were going. But upon arrival, we were happy we went. O’Hara’s Battery offers another incredible view from the top of the Rock. Standing tall at 421 meters it is the highest accessible point on the Rock of Gibraltar.
Here you will find a long tunnel leading from strategic warm rooms at Lord Airey’s Battery and Spur Battery. The tunnel comes out at a massive cannon and when you emerge you will not only see spectacular views but a very large Mark X BL Gun that was capable of shooting artillery all the way across the Strait of Gibraltar. It was decommissioned in 1976 and tourists can go inside to see all its components.
If you like walking across suspension bridges, make sure to go to Windsor Bridge. The Windsor suspension bridge is a 71-meter-long (233 feet) bridge dangling 50 meters (165 feet) over a deep gorge. It’s located between two batteries along the Royal Anglian Way but don’t worry, if you don’t want to cross the bridge, you can take the path along the mountain if you have a fear of heights.
We took this way from St. Michael’s Cave en route to the Ape’s Den. The signs are not well marked from the road, but when walking toward the bridge make sure to follow the path that veers left from the road.
One of the interesting sights on the Rock of Gibraltar was the site of the Great Siege. It tells the story of the four-year-long battle lasting from 1779 – 1783 when Spain tried to recapture Gibraltar from the British. You can walk through a recreation of a fort showcasing what life was like during one of the toughest battles in British history.
The Great Siege Tunnels
There are tunnels from the Great Siege that you can explore near. The tunnels were made during the Great Siege to get guns onto the northern face of The Rock. In five weeks, 18 cut a tunnel 82 feet long (25m) into the Rock. By the time the siege ended four years later, the tunnels reached 370 feet (113m) long and had four guns pointing out of its walls. Entry to the tunnels is included in your Gibraltar Cable Car & Nature Reserve Pass.
The Morrish Castle stands out on the cliffs of Gibraltar. Gibraltar has long been a strategic location and this castle was founded way back in 1160 as a fortification for defense. Throughout the centuries it has been seen in various sieges, used as a prison, and a place to seek refuge during Turkish pirate raids. Entry to the castle is included in your Gibraltar Cable Car & Nature Reserve Pass.
World War II Tunnels
Walking down from the Moorish Castle, we came across the World War II Tunnels. We weren’t going to go in as we had visited quite a few caves on the Rock of Gibraltar, but I am glad that we did. During World War II Winston Churchill knew how important it was to hang onto Gibraltar to keep the Germans and Italians from moving into Europe through Spain.
There are a whopping 52 kilometers (34 miles) of tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar which is quite astounding considering the entire country of Gibraltar is only 6.8 square km.
The tunnels were made to store food, ammunition, and supplies for the British army and as a safe area to sleep and escape air raids. There was an entire community underground containing hospitals, bakeries, food and drinks, and accommodations. There is also a Canadian connection, Canadian engineers and the Canadian army helped to excavate the World War II tunnels. Entry is included with your Gibraltar & Nature Reserve Pass.
Jews Gate Cemetery
Jews Gate Cemetery is the final resting place of Jews who inhabited Gibraltar as far back as 1746. The cemetery is a protected site on Gibraltar and is a serene location with a raised metal platform weaving through the hundreds of headstones laid throughout the site. The cemetery was closed to burials in 1848 and it wasn’t until 2015 that it was opened to the public after extensive excavations.
The Mediterranean Steps hiking trail begins at Jews Gate and ends at O’Hara’s Battery. It is a challenging hike that takes you up steep steps from 180 meters (590 feet) to 420 meters (1377 feet) above sea level. It takes you through thick vegetation on the eastern side of the rock offering unique views of the landscape.
We didn’t have time to hike the Mediterranean Steps, but we did some detours whenever we came upon them crossing our path. They look like a lot of fun as the narrow trail winds along the high rocky cliffs.
An airstrip may be a strange tourist attraction to mention, but this is one of the more unique things to see in Gibraltar. The Gibraltar International Airport is run by the British Ministry of Defence for use by the Royal Air Force as RAF Gibraltar. What makes it unique is that it runs directly through the border of Spain and Gibraltar.
Whether you are arriving by car, bicycle, motorcycle, or walking, you will have to cross the landing strip of the airport. The main road of Gibraltar, Winston Churchill Boulevard runs right through the middle of the airport.
While walking back to Spain from Gibraltar, we had the unique opportunity to watch an airplane take off from mere meters away. The Gibraltar Airport is ranked as the 5th most extreme airport in the world and one of the world’s scariest airports due to the fact that the airstrip leads directly out to the sea.
What surprised us most about Gibraltar were the beaches. There are six beaches in Gibraltar. With Gibraltar being so small, it’s easy to stumble upon one of the six beaches. They are easy to find with a quick Google search. Just type in Catalan Bay, Eastern Beach, Western Beach, Camp Bay, Little Bay, and Sandy Bay.
The beaches on the east side of Gibraltar are sandier and it is on this side that you’ll find the incredible long sandy beaches of Costa del Sol, Spain. We spent our time on the beach in Spain here strolling along Playa de Santa Barbara and Playa de Castillo. The beaches run all the way up the Mediterranean Sea and there are beach umbrellas, beach huts and restaurants with plenty of water sports.
Where to Stay in Gibraltar
We recommend staying on the Spanish Side of Gibraltar and walking across the border. Parking can be difficult in Gibraltar proper and driving across the border can have long delays. However, if you are flying in from you UK, you may want to stay directly in Gibraltar. Here are a few selected places to stay in Gibraltar to get you started.
O’htels Campos Gibraltar is where we stayed when visiting Gibraltar. It was quite reasonable and an easy walk to Gibraltar. It’s located on the West side of town away from the beaches across from the Marina. There is a swimming pool, restaurant, and bar. We had a great view of the Rock of Gibraltar as well from our balcony. Check it out on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
The Rock Hotel Gibraltar is a landmark Gibraltar hotel dating back to 1932. It may be historic but it has been updated with contemporary amenities. Being the first, it definitely has the best location in Gibraltar and has attracted dignitaries and movie stars to its elegant location. Check it out on TripAdvisor / Booking.com
Something tells me John Lennon and Yogo Ono stayed here when they were married in 1969.
Sunborn Gibraltar is a floating yacht hotel. The Sunborn Yacht is a five-star luxury superyacht that is permanently docked in the harbour. Located at Ocean Village Promenade, you will be in the heart of the action with the seclusion of being on a ship. There’s a casino on board, dining, and a swimming pool. It’s a unique luxurious choice when looking for places to stay in Gibraltar. See it on Expedia / TripAdvisor
How to Get to Gibraltar
We rented a car in Marbella, Spain and drove to Gibraltar. It is a beautiful scenic drive along the coast and only took us a little over an hour to La Linea, which is located on the border. The border crossing is just a five-minute walk from the bus stop.
Our hotel had parking included so we could safely store our car as we drove around. We also found it handy when visiting the beaches of the east coast. It was only about 10 minutes to walk to the border from our hotel and then about 20 minutes to the cable car station of the Rock of Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is a popular cruise ship destination and there were two ships in port during our stay.
When visiting the South of Spain, we highly recommend taking a road trip to Gibraltar. It is fun to get another stamp on your passport and to include another country on your bucket list of places. It is filled with historic sights, beautiful scenery, outdoor attractions, and cute wildlife. If you are looking to visit somewhere different, The Rock of Gibraltar is a great choice straddling the tip of two continents.