The Rock of Gibraltar: Beaches, Bunkers and Birding
GoNOMAD Destination Mini Guide: Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar: Beaches, Bunkers and Birding
By Tristan Cano
Located at the southern extreme of the Iberian Peninsular, the Rock of Gibraltar, famed gatekeeper of the Mediterranean, is one of the legendary Pillars of Hercules which, in AD 711, was the stepping-stone for the Muslim invasion of Europe.
Given its location, a mere 14 miles from the North African mainland and on the doorstep of Spain’s Andalucia region (close to the cities of Granada, Seville and Cadiz) it is no surprise that this tiny British overseas territory attracts over eight million visitors each year.
What is perhaps slightly harder to believe is that such a famous location measures only 2.5 square miles with a population of fewer than 30,000 Gibraltarians.
With 300 days of sunshine a year and an almost uninterrupted coastline, you would be forgiven for thinking that Gibraltar was nothing more than a sun-soaked Mediterranean retreat. However Gibraltar is perhaps just as famous for its turbulent history as it is for its present.
Walking through Gibraltar’s streets, you will soon encounter remnants of Gibraltar’s Moorish, Spanish and British past including a medieval castle, a multitude of derelict walls and bastions and abandoned military hardware dating up to World War II.
At first sight Main Street, Gibraltar’s main thoroughfare, may appear to mirror the style of many traditional British pedestrian walkways and shopping avenues. In fact, the many Georgian constructions along its length do little to allay this contention, nor do the typically British red post boxes or British-style Bobbies who patrol its length with their truncheons and pointed helmets.
However if you look above street level, elaborate wrought-iron balconies and tiled façades paint a vastly different picture, as do the wooden shutters which adorn almost every window. The Upper Town area is even more fascinating with its many colonial-style properties intermingled in a labyrinthine maze of ramps and alleyways.
WHEN TO GO
Gibraltar’s climate is typically Mediterranean with mild winters and warm summers making it a great place to visit at all times of year. The official summer bathing season runs approximately from June to mid-September and it is during this time that the beaches are best maintained and manned by lifeguards.
The first week in September is generally Gibraltar’s fair week which culminates in Gibraltar’s National Day, a bank-holiday celebrated on 10 September each year.
Generally, a valid EU passport is required to gain entry into Gibraltar although entry is also possible without a visa from countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada.
Gibraltar’s airport receives daily British Airways flights from London Gatwick. Low-cost carriers Monarch Airlines and Easyjet also regularly fly into Gibraltar from London Luton / Manchester and London Gatwick airports respectively.
In addition the Spanish airline Andalus runs a daily service to Madrid Barajas Airport.
The Spanish airports in Malaga and Jerez are both just over an hour’s drive from Gibraltar and offer a far wider list of alternative destinations.
When travelling towards Gibraltar on the AP-7 toll road from Malaga, continue as the road becomes the E-15 and follow signs for Alcaidesa / La Linea. When you get off the slip road, turn left under the motorway and follow the signs for Gibraltar, it is hard to miss the rock of Gibraltar in the distance beyond the town of La Linea.
The frontier which separates Gibraltar from Spain can get extremely busy, especially during ‘peak’ times or during the summer months when thousands of tourists visit the Rock each day.
There is no science to it, but generally the queue into Gibraltar tends quiet down on weekday evenings. Queues to exit Gibraltar are worst during the hours of 4-8 p.m. on weekdays. It is generally recommended that visitors to the Rock park their car in La Linea and walk across the border on foot.
By Bus or Train
There are no bus or train routes into Gibraltar from Spain. Nevertheless Spanish Bus company Automoviles Portillo operates routes to most major Spanish cities from the Bus station in La Linea de la Concepcion, which is located about 100 metres from the border. There is a rail station in nearby Estación de San Roque about 15 minutes drive from the border.
Gibraltar is best negotiated on foot and its compact city center with narrow streets and regular stand-still traffic means that you will not regret leaving you car on the Spanish side of the border. However, if you must drive, note that you should have a valid driving licence, vehicle insurance and your vehicle’s certificate of registration (log-book).
Driving in Gibraltar is on the right hand side, there is a maximum speed limit of 50 kmph and seat belts should be worn in the front and rear at all times.
Although there is plenty of road-side parking, free spaces are hard to find, so aim for the paid-for car parks on Bayside Road and at the International Commercial Centre (ICC) which will usually set you back about £3-4 for half a day’s parking.
Gibraltar also has a new and efficient bus service and taxis are inexpensive and often at hand. If you are rushed for time, the Official Taxi Tour gives visitors a brief look at many of Gibraltar’s sites including Catalan Bay, Europa Point and the Lighthouse as well as various stops in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.
The Upper Rock nature reserve is undoubtedly Gibraltar’s most important tourist attraction representing about 40% of Gibraltar’s land area. It is world-renowned as an important bird-watching location and a perfect spot for viewing the many thousands of birds that cross the Strait to and from Africa either side of winter.
It is also home to the famous Barbary Macaques, the only population of wild apes in Europe, as well as many other attractions including the Great Siege Tunnels, the natural grotto which is St Michael’s Cave and the Moorish Castle.
The series of batteries which comprise Parsons Lodge, standing 30 meters above Rosia Bay on a shelf of limestone rock are also a must-see attraction, particularly for military enthusiasts. This site, originally developed during the Muslim occupation of the Rock contains a multitude of underground tunnels and gun emplacements providing an excellent reminder of what this once mighty battery would have looked like during times of conflict.
Also worthy of note is The Gibraltar Museum on Bomb House Lane which houses some of the most important objects relating to Gibraltar’s history ranging from Palaeolithic and Bronze Age artifacts to 20th-century prints and photographs.
A complex of medieval baths situated in the basement of the building are the most complete examples of baths of this type that can be found in Europe today.