One of the unique experiences to be enjoyed in Gibraltar is visiting its famous Barbary macaques – the only wild monkeys living in Europe. Most of the 230-odd strong population live at the top of the 400-metre (1,312-foot) Rock and can be reached by cable car, but these cheeky and curious residents have been seen all over the upper parts of the territory and occasionally even in hotel rooms. Though they are harmless, it’s recommended that you keep important possessions close to you, as some of them are expert pickpockets. It is said that when the macaques die out or migrate elsewhere, Britain will lose control of this intriguing territory.
The Rock of Gibraltar houses miles of underground tunnels, the earliest of which were dug during the 1779–83 Great Siege of Gibraltar. Their construction began towards the end of the siege on the orders of then-Governor of the territory, General Eliot, who built them as a means of installing guns into the inhospitable terrain of the Rock. As you wander around this attraction, ducking and squeezing as you go, it’s amazing to think that most of these subterranean pathways were dug by sledgehammer within the space of a few weeks, contributing to the Rock’s eventual defeat of its French and Spanish assailants.
Great Siege Tunnels, Gibraltar +350 20074950
One of the most curious, even surreal, parts of Gibraltar is its old town, which occupies the northwestern corner of the territory and is only a 15-minute walk from the airport. A network of narrow lanes surrounding the central thoroughfare of Main Street, it is a slice of England in the sun: high-street stores such as Debenhams and traditional British pubs tell you that you’re in the UK, yet the curious blend of architecture and the spotless blue skies remind you that you that you’re in the Mediterranean. Casemates Square is the neighbourhood’s principal outside space and has plenty of sunny terraces on which to enjoy a pint or a meal.
The geographical feature from which Gibraltar takes its full name is a 400-metre (1,312-foot) cliff, from the top of which you can take in spectacular views of three countries (Gibraltar itself, Spain and Morocco) and two continents (Europe and Africa). It is reached by taking the cable car up from the base station on the southern edge of the old town, and when you disembark on the top you’ll receive a warm welcome from the territory’s famous Barbary macaques. Bear in mind that on days when the wind is particularly strong, the cable car doesn’t run, as it would sway dangerously on the way up.
Though fairly unlovely in itself, Europa Point occupies the most southerly tip of Gibraltar and offers humbling views of the north coast of Morocco, which lies just 21 kilometres (13 miles) away across the Straits. From the viewing platform here you can also make out, on a clear day, the hazy outlines of the Rif mountain range, home to the Jebel Musa peak. Legend has it that the Musa was once one with the Rock before Hercules crashed through them and created the Two Pillars of Hercules. It’s an epic uphill walk to Europa Point from the town centre, so you’re best off jumping on the number two bus, which runs about every 10 minutes in both directions.
Ocean Village is a cool neighbourhood located in and around the trendy marina of the same name, in which most of the residents live on boats. It feels a little like a scaled-down version of Marbella, with its slick waterfront bars and restaurants, an enormous luxury yacht hotel and exclusive private vessels bobbing up and down on the quayside, replete with G&T terraces on which to see and be seen. This is also where most of Gibraltar’s nightlife plays out, with Bruno’s bar a popular local hangout, and the Casino Sunborn opposite one of the few places that serves food after about 11pm.
The largest section of the Rock of Gibraltar’s underground tunnels was built during World War II, when a further 13 kilometres (18 miles) were added to the existing seven (the latter of which were excavated during the 1779–83 Great Siege of Gibraltar). Their main purpose was to house a 16,000-strong garrison and all of its supplies, and to connect a new military headquarters at the territory’s southeast corner with those on the western side. In addition, workers from the Royal Engineers and Canadian Army carved out two main subterranean thoroughfares – Fosse Way and the Great North Road – which run almost the entire length of the Rock.
If the cable car isn’t running to the top of the Rock because of high winds, and if you’re feeling fit, you can walk almost to the top using the Mediterranean Steps. Originally used by the British military to access their various bases, this demanding pathway starts at the Jew’s Gate at the southern end of the Nature Reserve and climbs up a winding stone staircase. Many locals use it as a means of getting super-fit, and time their ascents. Although walkers with an aversion to heights might find some sections a little hairy, from the viewing platform at the top the north coast of Africa is clearly visible across the Straits. Allow a good two hours for ascending and descending.
One of Gibraltar’s liveliest streets (and not neighbourhoods, as the name might suggest) is the smart Irish Town, which runs parallel to Main Street and takes its name from the Irish women who arrived here in the late 1720s to keep members of the British garrison company. Throughout the remainder of that century, the street’s location close to the port made it a thriving commercial centre, but all of its buildings were destroyed in the 1779–1783 Great Siege. Many of the elegant buildings on Irish Town that we see today date from the extensive rebuilding carried out in the early 19th century, since which time it has established itself as one of the most fashionable parts of Gibraltar.
The main defensive tower of Gibraltar’s 8th-century Moorish fort is the highest remaining from southern Spain’s time under Moorish rule. Its scarred and battered exteriors tell of the many battles this formidable structure has seen; indeed, it required extensive rebuilding in the mid-14th century, as it was heavily damaged during the Moorish recapture of the territory from Christians (Gibraltar was under Moorish rule between 711 and 1309, and again from 1350 to 1462). Perched high up on the rugged terrain of the Rock’s western flank, it is one of the first things you notice when walking over the border to Gibraltar from Spain.
As its name suggests, this mighty structure was once one of the Moorish castle’s principal entrances. From its turrets you can take in some jaw-dropping views of three countries and two continents – a perspective that enables you to fully understand why this fortress was so impregnable during Gibraltar’s two Moorish epochs. The grounds of the castle it protected once extended all the way down the hillside to what is now Casemates Square in the old town, meaning they would have rivalled the gardens of Granada’s great Alhambra in size.
The waters off Gibraltar – particularly in the Bay of Algeciras – are rich with marine wildlife, including whales, blue-fin tuna and a large population of dolphins. One of the most moving sights afforded by a trip here is seeing the dolphins cruising and leaping through the clear blue waters, often with their young by their sides, as the sun sets over the Bay of Algeciras (a time when they are particularly active). They have been known to jump straight over the bows of smaller boats, giving visitors some wonderful photo opportunities. Regular tours are run by Dolphin Adventure and Dolphin Safari.