Okay, so the title of this post is a bit misleading. I didn’t actually climb the Rock of Gibraltar. Instead, I took the cable car up, and walked down. But ‘Cable Car the Rock of Gibraltar’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
I was in Gibraltar in late May for a quick stay before embarking on a sailing holiday with Trafalgar Sailing. After arriving to Gibraltar on Easyjet around 11AM, I dropped my bag off to a boat. I then started to walk through the town.
Gibraltar is, suffice to say, a little bit random. The city of 35 thousand people is based around a giant granite rock, complete with interior siege tunnels. On a good day, you can see the African continent from the summit of the rock, which is only 15 kilometers away. You can see why Britain has held onto this strategic outpost at the southern reaches of Spain. While the Spanish are entirely unhappy about the British remaining in continental Europe, 99% of the residents of Gibraltar voted to remain a British territory in 2002. The Spanish hypocrisy over Gibraltar and its own African enclaves is a story for another day.
In Greek mythology Gibraltar was Calpe, one of the Pillars of Hercules, which marked the edge of the Mediterranean and the known world. In 711 Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Muslim governor of Tangier, landed at Gibraltar to launch the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. The Rock took his name, Jabal Tariq (Mountain of Tariq), which eventually became Gibraltar.
As it held great importance for international shipping, Gibraltar was ceded to the United Kingdom by Spain in 1713. It was eventually declared a British colony in 1830. Most of Gibraltar’s income comes from customs duties, offshore finance, internet gaming, tourism and the shipping industry. Someone mentioned, during my trip, that deep inside the rock sits huge computer data centers, processing all the online gambling that is directed through the tax haven.
Walking through the town feels like you are visiting a British town in 1974. Or at least, this is what I would imagine it to be like. Being 30 years old, this is well before my time. However, there is a creaking-relic feel to the town. I arrived on a Sunday, and nothing was open. Most locals were in church, and British tourists were already getting tipsy in the local bars. Wandering up the main street – and there really isn’t much more to the town – took about 45 minutes. I was then at the cable car station.
A handy hint – the line for the cable car was long. I waited nearly 30 minutes. I’m not sure why the people waiting in line didn’t decide what they wanted to do before reaching the counter. Don’t be one of them. Buy your ticket online, and you can skip right to the front. There are a few ticket choices for visiting the Rock of Gibraltar, and the board on the wall doesn’t make it entirely obvious what they are. I’ve tried my best to outline them below (prices are for single adults).
- One way cable car ticket and nature reserve ticket – £25 (121AED). This lets you go to the top, wander round, and visit the key attractions of the Rock of Gibraltar. You walk down whilst looking at the attractions of the nature reserve.
- Return cable car ticket – this is if you just want to go to the top, look at the monkeys and come back down again. £15.50 (75AED).
- One way cable car ticket and walkers ticket. This is similar to the first option, but doesn’t allow you to visit the nature reserve attractions. You can, however, wander down the rock without entering them. £18.50 (90AED).
- Walkers ticket. If you want to walk into the Nature Reserve, you just need to buy this. Doesn’t include any attractions. £5 (25AED).
Being the wally that I am, I lost my nature reserve ticket. This meant I paid £25 and effectively got to experience the £18.50 option. Never mind. The attractions included in the Nature Reserve are outlined below:
St Michael’s Cave, Great Siege Tunnels, City Under Siege Exhibition, Moorish Castle, Skywalk, O’Hara’s battery, the Windsor Suspension Bridge, Apes Den, 100 Ton Gun and various Footpaths within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve
The walkers ticket includes the following:
Skywalk, O’Hara’s battery, the Windsor Suspension Bridge, Apes Den and the various Footpaths located within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve
Okay, with that out of the way, we can move to those most curious inhabitants of the Rock – the Barbary Apes.
Technically, Barbary Macaques. British soldiers apparently brought the apes, natives of north Africa, to Gibraltar in the mid-18th century as target practice (!). Other stories claim that a small number of monkeys were bought over by Arab settlers much earlier. In 1915 the Government provided funds for the army to feed the monkeys and reduce the roaming and “marauding” that resulted when they ventured into town for snacks. Responsibility for the monkeys has since reverted back to the Government of Gibraltar. There are about 160 monkeys living in Gibraltar, and you will not hesitate to see some if you visit the rock.
Monkeys are scary. Even keeping a reasonable distance, a monkey tried to swipe my camera within about two minutes of leaving the cable car. These guys are crafty. Don’t take any food in your backpack, or plastic bags – they will assume it’s full of tasty treats. Don’t feed them. It’s illegal. The lower paths have less monkeys hanging around on them, but you will at some stage have to pass through a gang. Walk with confidence! By mid-afternoon, most of the monkeys were just opening a weary eye at me whilst they bathed in the sun.
When you are at the top of the cable car station, don’t hesitate to make your way up to the cafe, and the highest point accessible on this part of the rock. If you do, you will get an amazing view of the entire area. If there is a crafty monkey blocking the staircase, you can always sneak around the back using the workers passage to escape them. I may have done just that.
After I walked around the top, I started heading down the rock past the Skywalk. Having lost my ticket, I skipped this. The walk took me past about 40 monkeys, and a heated monkey argument over a discarded bag of nuts. A Japanese family were caught in the middle of this debacle and were not enjoying it. Further along is St Michaels Cave. I can’t comment much on this natural grotto, which apparently features beautiful rock formations. It surely looks better from the inside than the outside!
By this stage, I’d spent about 30 minutes walking down the rock. The whole walk from the top to the bottom (near the Moorish Castle) took about 2 and 1/2 hours, with lots of stops for photographs. I was really lucky to visit on a day when visibility was perfect, even if it meant descending in the boiling hot sun.
My walk down the rock took me past the Suspension Bridge, St. Catherines Battery and various houses and homes perched on the side of the rock. If you do decide to take the larger paths, keep an eye out for tourist vans. They’ll speed past you very quickly. Stick to the side of the road closest to the hill – not the open side! Along the path, there is also a good looking City Under Siege Museum. You can alsopay extra to access the World War Two Tunnels.
Finally, I came to the Moorish Castle. All that remains is the Tower of Homage, and I decided not to pay extra to visit. I managed to find a small set of steps – aptly named the Castle Steps – leading back down to the main street. This offered a pleasant connection to the ‘city’. In about 10 minutes, I was back in Casemates Square.
Casemates Square is really the only other main attraction to speak of in Gibraltar. It is named after the British-built Grand Casemates, a barracks completed in 1817. The square is the central focal point of the town and has numerous pubs, bars and restaurants. It was apparently also once the site of public executions. As nothing much was open on the day that I visited, I sat in the middle of the square and promptly fell asleep. I had had two mornings of 5am and 4am starts. Once I woke up, I started walking around again, lest I be arrested as a drunken tourist.
The only other area of Gibraltar I’d recommend exploring is Marina Bay and Ocean Village. This area is very modern. What is lacks in character, it makes up in amenities and dining options. We ate here most nights when our yacht was moored up alongside. I’ve included some recommendations in the dining options below.
Get in: You can walk over the border from Spain with your passport, and this is recommended over taking a car (which takes a lot longer). Easyjet and British Airways operate regular flights from the UK. Buses go from La Linea in Spain, or Marbella, taking about 3 hours.
Eat: Biancas Restaurant, Marina Bay Square, Gibraltar GX11 1AA. Wagamama, Unit 19, Ocean Village Promenade, Ocean , Village, GX11 1AA. Charlies, 4/5 Britannia House, Marina Bay, Gibraltar GX11 1AA.
Tips: Alcohol is VERY cheap in Gibraltar! Visit Morrisons Supermarket and be amazed at what you can get for £10 (50AED).
If you are only in Gibraltar for the day, make sure you don’t get your change in Gibraltar pounds. Therefore, you can request British pounds instead. Gibraltar pounds are the modern equivalent of Disney Dollars, and only redeemable in the tiny city state.
Staying in Gibraltar is very expensive. If you want to save your money, you can stay over the border in La Linea for about 20 – 50 Euros (90-200AED) less per night.