Tourism between the UK and the British overseas territory is experiencing the beginning of a boom, says Florence Derrick
The tiny Mediterranean peninsula of just six square km is enjoying a moment in the sun, as it’s been added to the UK’s green list for travel. Here are 10 reasons to go there this summer.
In fact, Gibraltar has a confusing 115 per cent vaccination rate, as several thousand of its cross-border workers from Spain got vaccinated there, too. After a winter of high coronavirus cases, the country’s vaccination rollout began in March, and has been a resounding success – its hospital’s Covid ward has only seen two cases since March 14. With the exception of mandatory mask-wearing indoors, normal life has all but resumed in Gibraltar – a welcome relief for British travellers still reeling from the harsh, recent restrictions of the UK’s third lockdown.
You don’t have to travel to New Zealand to see wild pods of dolphins surfing the waves. Dolphin safari boats take tourists from the coast of Gibraltar several times a day, with some companies offering a 99 per cent success rate of seeing dolphins. Uncrowded boats, sea air and some of nature’s friendliest inhabitants? Don’t mind if we do.
In the shadow of the famous Rock of Gibraltar, Grand Casemates Square is Gibraltar’s largest main plaza, with row after row of open-air cafe terraces basking in the lunchtime sun. Now the gateway to tourism and nightlife in Gibraltar, Casemates wasn’t always so much fun. Dating back to the city’s original foundations in 1160, the square was infamous for being the main location for public executions under British rule, until the practise was stopped in 1864.
The idea of a fly-and-flop might conjure up images of Marbella and Málaga. But Gibraltar can hold its own when it comes to sea and sand. There’s Eastern Beach, the country’s largest stretch of sand, with calm, shallow waters and all-day sunshine. Catalan Bay (known as ‘La Caleta’) is a locals’ favourite, lined with the colourful houses of the local fishing village, and Sandy Bay is golden with sand imported from the Sahara Desert.
No trip to Gibraltar would be complete without a trip up its famous Rock. In the protected Gibraltar Nature Reserve, you can travel up on a guided bus tour or taxi from the town centre, or on the cable car. Get up there early to take in the views of North Africa to one side – Morocco is just across the water – and Europe on the other. Then, make the most of being on the Rock by exploring one of the four trail networks that have been developed there: the ‘Nature Lover’, the ‘History Buff’, the ‘Thrill Seeker’ or the ‘Monkey Trail’.
The Strait of Gibraltar is a graveyard of 35 shipwrecks, and home to a huge diversity of marine life milling around Roman anchors, Napoleonic ships and ancient military artefacts. It’s a first-rate scuba diving spot for exploring the underwater flora and fauna – from schools of boxfish and damselfish to cuttlefish, octopus and electric, Atlantic torpedo rays.
Cycling to the top of the Rock in midsummer heat sounds a bit exhausting. One of the latest, popular ways to explore the nature reserve and its majestic viewpoints is by e-bike – an eco-friendly and hamstring-saving alternative to a taxi or walking. Options include a guided tour of the Rock itself, ascending 400m with minimal effort, as well as a day tour of the whole of Gibraltar or private rental.
How could we mention Gibraltar without talking about the monkeys? The Rock’s most famous residents are the pack of macaques that live among, and cause minor havoc for, the local residents and tourists. Europe’s only wild monkey population, the monkeys originally came from Morocco, just across the Strait. Many of the macaques hang out at the appropriately named Apes Den, an open space located at the cable car’s middle station. The monkeys here are unusually tame and inquisitive, but beware, they’ll take any opportunity to swipe your bag or your snacks right out of your hands, and wild animals can always bite or scratch. Keep your distance as much as you can, while enjoying the view and their mischievous antics.
One of Gibraltar’s must-visit spots is St Michael’s Cave: a series of limestone caves in the upper rock, 300m above sea level in the Rock of Gibraltar. While you can visit anytime to check out the impressive stalactites and stalagmites of the caverns – with dissolved rock dripping down like candle wax – you should keep an eye out for concerts, which are often held in an auditorium in the cave’s largest chamber, known as Cathedral Cave. It has hosted beauty pageants, ballet performances, light shows and rock bands.
Got a head for heights? You’ll need it on Gibraltar’s Skywalk. The steel-and-glass walkway on the upper rock sits at 340m above sea level (that’s higher than the top of The Shard), made of enough thick glass to cover four tennis courts. It might have a see-through base, but the walkway is strong enough to withstand the weight of five Indian elephants, or 340 people – and only 50 are allowed on at a time. If that’s not enough of a thrill, the Windsor Suspension Bridge is part of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, too. It takes guts to cross the 71m-long bridge, suspended over a 50m-deep gorge.