Would a Gibraltar holiday tick the boxes?
Gibraltar – the place that I currently call home – has of late found itself thrust onto the world stage. Nestled among other essentially giant nations tipped as frontrunners for foreign travel, small and unassuming Gibraltar with its 2.6 square miles is Covid free at the time of writing this, and is looking promising as a ‘green list’ country. But what is it actually like as a holiday destination?
My family and I moved here permanently in September, having spent six years in its neighbouring Spain prior. My husband has worked in Gibraltar for many years (as did I for a year in 2013), but we have had fun getting to know Gibraltar as residents over the last seven months, albeit during unprecedented times.
As a resident here, I always get slightly irritated by its reference to being ‘Britain in the sun,’ with suggestions that this tiny nation houses little beyond its red telephone boxes and fish and chip shops. Gibraltar has a proud, rich cultural identity; visitors just need to make the time to discover this for themselves. Go wander the quiet cobbled Upper Town streets… eat churros and watch life go by in Casemates square… do the 10km circular walk around the rock. As a holiday destination, Gibraltar delivers. It’s just not ‘packaged.’
Whilst there are no giant holiday resorts here, a Gibraltar holiday could have everything that they provide: you just have to do a bit of ground work, particularly if you are on a budget. Accommodation is at a premium, so finding suitable lodgings is your main priority. We live in a great area called Ocean Village, a marina side development with a cosmopolitan feel, that is home to a good selection of popular bars and restaurants. Ocean Village does host private holiday lets through Booking.com and Airbnb, which would be my first port of call, particularly if you wish to stay for longer than a weekend. Check beforehand that this will include access to the pool complex – this in itself would provide days of fun and relaxation for adults and children alike looking for a bit of down time under the Mediterranean sun. And if a sunny balcony is what you are craving, properties south or west of the rock will provide you with maximum sunbathing hours.
Whilst I have not stayed in any of the hotels, The Sunborn Hotel Gibraltar would be my top pick. Not only does this yacht hotel have excellent facilities including a roof top pool, but it is right in the heart of the action. In the middle of the aforementioned Ocean Village; it is also only steps from Casemates, the gateway to Gibraltar’s main shopping street. I still lament the fact that my husband won a lovely romantic stay here in a raffle a few years ago, but ended up using it as a solo drunken stopover after a work do as we could not find any babysitters at the time!
The Rock Hotel is also a widely recommended choice, with it’s colonial feel and quieter location, located close to the cable car station in the south. Furthermore, The Caleta Hotel is another option, located east of the Rock, directly on the beach and a fifteen minute bus ride from Main Street. Whilst they are pricier options, you are able to relax by their pools, which is essentially a cheaper option than having to consistently fill your days with paid activities.
There are also a range of mid-priced (mid-priced in Gibraltar is around £100 per night) hotels and guest houses. They are all perfectly fine and well located; you would compromise on the balcony and pool within this price bracket, however, there is a large public outdoor pool at Camp Bay, and ample places to sit outdoors with a coffee or beer.
Things to do in Gibraltar
I am not going to reinvent the wheel in terms of ‘things to do’ as there are a multitude of blog posts and recommendations that do this. Going up the rock is a must for any visitor. For me, the easiest way to do that is through one of the many private taxi tours available.
We used Rock Tours Gibraltar. This guy is known as ‘the monkey whisperer:’ I will never forget the look on my mum’s face when she involuntarily adopted ‘brace position’ as a monkey ran loose around the inside of the taxi! The prices do feel expensive, but don’t forget that they include the £13 entrance fee to the nature reserve, which is your ticket to all of its main attractions. You can pretty much cover everything in a couple of hours by taxi, which alleviates the walking that you would have to do from one site to another. Don’t forget that these are high, narrow roads without pavements and that it can get extremely hot in the summer. Conversely, the whole rock can be climbed (via A LOT of steps) and traversed by foot, but I really would only recommend this for fit and able adults (the army use the terrain for training exercises) outside of the main summer months.
My other personal recommendations would be a boat trip to see the dolphins, a visit to Catalan Bay, paddle boarding at Sandy Bay, strolling around Alameda Gardens, and taking afternoon tea at Queensway Quay.
Insider Tips for your Gibraltar Holiday
Some of my insider tips to maximise your holiday time in Gibraltar:
- Use the buses; they are cheap (an adult day pass is £2.50) and reliable and have their own real time bus tracker app.
- If you have rented accommodation and somewhere to enjoy your meal, food delivery options are an excellent alternative to eating out. The three main delivery companies are Hungry Monkey, Rock Hero and NomNoms, and I find them more efficient than when I have used Uber Eats. The latter two also deliver groceries, which is extremely handy.
- Be aware that taxis are hard to source late at night and that buses stop at 21:10, so ensure that you can walk home (don’t worry, it is extremely safe here) or have pre-arranged transport.
- Don’t be afraid of chatting to the shop assistants. They are friendly and knowledgeable and generally not pushy at all; with English being the main language, you have no excuse not to be sociable! I had a lovely guy recently help me to find sunglasses “for my husband who has a big head.” On another occasion, when asking for a foundation recommendation, the lady directed me to a game changer of a liquid foundation, for the princely cost of £11 (Gosh Foundation Drops in case you were wondering!). The independent shops may also be open to a little bartering, particularly with electronics.
- Shopping is duty free (approximately £7 for a litre of Smirnoff), so splash out and drink Grey Goose with your coke and Hendrix with your tonic! There is also a great selection of perfumes and cosmetics for reasonable prices; hair and beauty treatments are also plentiful and of good value.
- Book your restaurant tables in advance, particularly for Friday evenings and Sunday lunch times. Whilst not exhaustive, iReserve is another up and coming app that can help to facilitate this. Note that you can also book tables for drinks, which I would also recommend for peak times and happy hours.
- Read up about Gibraltar’s history before you arrive. You will have a far greater appreciation of this nation, for example, did you know that inside the rock, there are 52 kilometres of tunnels used as part of its strategic position in World War 2?
- Be aware that the beauty of Gibraltar is found beyond the immediate vicinity of the airport. Yes, there are lots of high rise buildings that greet you from across the runway (that you have to walk across!), but beyond these are many beautiful photo opportunities.
I really enjoy living here, and believe that it is so much more than a cruise stop, or a day trip from the Costa del Sol. Gibraltar has a lot to offer if you are looking beyond the package holiday and are prepared to find it’s hidden gems (which does include those lovely alfresco bars with a view and £2 pints….)
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