• Gibraltar
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  • Gibraltar
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Gibraltar

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
In Ancient history, Gibraltar marked the western border of the known world. Fought over bitterly for centuries by kingdoms and empires, today the Rock peacefully maintains it vigil over the narrow Strait.

Travel guide

English flavour

British territory on Spanish soil, this tiny little rock - perched conveniently on the border of Europe and Africa - whiles away its days watching the passage of hundreds of ships crossing between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Wander from fish-and-chip pubs to elegant tea rooms, take on the heights of the Upper Rock and delight in the country's collection of macaque monkeys - all under the beaming Mediterranean sun.

The Rock

It's indisputably Gibraltar's main attraction, with spectacular drops on the northern and eastern faces and a nature reserve adorning its upper half. You'll find that it's the best place on the island for watching migratory birds flying between Europe and Africa, as well as for spying a fair few Barbary macaques, which tend to 'hang out' around the Rock's cable car. Along with its animals, the Upper Rock Nature Reserve is home to over 600 plant species and plenty of attractions.

Underground exploration

Amongst one of the reserve's most spectacular attractions, St Michael's Cave is a natural cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The fantastic acoustics lend themselves well to the many concerts and plays held in its depths, always worth searching out before you depart. The underground fun continues in the rock's endless tunnels and galleries, some dating from WWII when they were used to plot the Allied invasion of North Africa.

European history remembered

Back down in the town itself, you'll find an excellent museum to walk you through the island's fascinating history as one of the most strategically important pieces of land in the world. Its labyrinthine passages have collections of prehistoric artefacts, remnants from the Great Siege (1779-83) Islamic baths from the 14th century and even an Egyptian mummy which was discovered in the bay in the 1800s.

Moorish influence

Wandering around the rest of the town, you'll also find important vestiges from its distant past. Take a quick walk up to the Moorish Castle, dating back to the 11th century and standing as the last remaining part of the extensive castle which has been the site of sieges, fierce battles between muslims and Christians and, eventually, the raising of the British flag in 1704 by Admiral Rooke and which still flies today.

Watery adventures

Gibraltar's fun doesn't stop at the beach and with a Mediterranean climate to enjoy all year round, its waters play constant host to dolphins, blue whales, turtles and tropical fish. Take one of the many boats out from the bay for the best chances of seeing these majestic creatures in their natural environment, surrounded by the clear waters of the Med.

VAT-free

Gibraltar's Main Street is an absolute haven for shopping aficionados. Its long history as a trading port remains today in the many boutiques and traditional handicraft shops which line its busy streets. You'll find high street brands and designer labels, perfume sellers and traditional glass blowers, all selling their wares at reduced prices.

Our Editorial team's advice

Many of the island's visitors choose to make a day trip from the Spanish mainland, often proposed by hotels on the Costa del Sol and Andalusia. If you pass from Spain, you'll often find long queues at the border, especially during the summer months and periods of tension between the Spanish government, who would like the Rock back in their possession, and the British government, who don't want to give it back.

Those dedicating an entire trip to the island can find direct flights from the UK and a fantastic range of accommodation on Gibraltar itself, ranging from guesthouses and B&Bs to great hotels.

Due to its tax exemption, the island is a great place to stock up on spirits, tobacco, perfume and hi-tech equipment for lower prices than you'll find at home. However, certain limits have been imposed on the amount of cigarettes and alcohol you can import back into Spain (200 cigarettes and 1 litre of spirits). Spanish customs will often check cars returning to the mainland so make sure you stick to the regulations.

Apart from summer clothes and a great swimsuit, you'll need a sturdy pair of walking shoes to tackle the Rock. Steep hills and underground passages mean that your legs will get a top workout, especially during the summer when temperatures can soar and regular water breaks are required by all.

pros

  • +As a British enclave on the Iberian peninsula, Gibraltar is an interesting cultural spot.
  • +Thanks to its Rock, fans of the outdoors are well-catered for.

cons

  • -The tourist sites are limited due to its size.
  • -Those passing from the Spanish border may hit long queues.

Traditions

You'll find an incredible mix of cultures crammed onto this tiny island. Gibraltarians have ancestors ranging from English, Spanish and Portuguese, to Italian, Jewish and Moorish. Though you'll find a territory with a distinct taste for the 'British', the island has its own local dialect, Yanito, which mixes English, Spanish, Italian and even a bit of Maltese!

And you won't just find a mix of languages on the island, it's also home to a religious melting pot of Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Indian Hindus, whose various places of worship populate the island's sole town.

September 10 marks Gibraltar's national holiday, when the island celebrates the pro-British referendum from 1967 and its status as a British colony.

Food

It's not all Full English Breakfasts and Fish and Chips. Of course, you'll find plenty of pubs serving traditional English fodder but go one better and try out the island's own specialities. Calentita is a local dish made with chickpea flour, whilst Pinchitos combine spiced lamb or chicken in a kebab wrap and Tortas de Acelgas (spinach tart) are a must-try.

Fish and seafood is also one of the island's specialities. Restaurants specialising in Mediterranean and fish dishes are easy to find and equally tasty.

Each spring, the Rock holds the Calentita food festival in its Casemates Square. Here, you'll get the opportunity to try all the local dishes, plus a sample of flavours from India, Germany, Sicily, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Morocco.

Traditional coffee houses still line the city's main square and surrounding streets, with plenty of lively bars and restaurants once night has fallen and the party animals come out to play.

Souvenirs

Duty free shops are located on Main Street. Alcohol, perfumes, and hi-fi equipment are sold at good prices. Go and take a look at the Indian shops, near Irish Town Street. Do not forget to stop by the Post office on Main Street to bring back stamps from Gibraltar. Shops are open from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm.