From monolithic limestone promontories to some of the continent’s finest tunnel networks, Gibraltar is the curious gift that keeps on giving. These are your must-visit spots in Britain’s long-lost European outpost, covering nature, history, and what lies on and in a massive rock.
The Rock dominates Gibraltar, although it does sadden us to point out that we’re not talking about Dwayne Johnson. This humongous mass of limestone will be your first image of Gibraltar and probably your last, although it is what lies in and on the Rock that is of the most interest. The Rock stretches 1,398ft into the sky and offers some quite magnificent views of the coast and the town, creating a sight so stunning that it was deemed one of the two Pillars of Hercules, the other being Mons Abyla above Ceuta. The sheer face of the Rock is its most iconic spot, although it goes without saying that this is best seen from afar. The Cable Car takes visitors to the top of the Rock from 09:30 through to 19:15 everyday, with the last car down leaving the station at 19:45. Don’t get stuck on top of the Rock, as you will likely have to become a macaque in order to survive. The Rock is full of sights and attractions, but it is difficult to look beyond the Rock itself as the main event.
Arguably the most important of Gibraltar’s tunnels, the Great Siege Tunnels (also known as the Upper Galleries) came about during the siege that took place between 1779 and 1783. The Gibraltarians needed to get their guns up high in order to repel the Spanish, so one clever local came up with the idea of boring a tunnel through the Rock, allowing artillery to be moved. The tunnels were thus dug by hand (by which we mean without machinery), although the slow and laborious work meant the siege was done before the tunnels were completed. The tunnels are a major historical tourist attraction in Gibraltar today, and we’re unashamedly fond of the wax figures and statues that give an insight into the hard work of the siege.
Also known as the King Fahad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Mosque (or the Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Mosques, but we’re sticking with the easier name), the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque is the southernmost in Europe and one of the largest found in a non-muslim country. It sits just in front of Europa Point at the far end of the Keighley Tunnel and was a gift from Saudi Arabia, opened in 1997 for the muslims of Gibraltar. The combination of elegant minaret and the imposing mass of the Rock make for one of our favourite visuals in Gibraltar.
Built in 1841, the Europa Point Lighthouse is in many way’s the very end of Europe. That all depends on your direction of view of course, but we enjoy sitting by this iconic cylindrical tower and believing that we have made it to the end of the famous continent. The lighthouse sits at the opening of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, making it a strategically vital piece of architecture, although the construction of a new football stadium nearby has put its future under threat. Visit the end of Europe while you can.
There are more than 150 caves found in the Rock of Gibraltar, but only one gets to take home the ‘most-visited’ prize. St. Michael’s Cave gets that honour, in no small part because of its awe-inspiring collection of stalactites and stalagmites. All of the formations are lit up in a variety of vibrant colours in order to accentuate the majesty of it all, creating magnificent photo opportunities for more than a million visitors every year. The cave was initially supposed to be an emergency hospital during World War II but never functioned as one, instead developing naturally into the wonder we see today. The splendid acoustics aren’t wasted either, with the occasional concert or gig held in this stunning spot.
All that remains of the imposing medieval Moorish Castle is its square tower, now with a Union Jack flying high from its centre. The scars of history are visible all around, as Gibraltar’s violent history scratches away at its seemingly docile present state. Gibraltar’s prison was once located here although it was moved back in 2010, allowing tourism to flourish where penance once did.
A surprisingly peaceful plot of land just outside the centre of town, the Trafalgar Cemetery holds the final remains of those killed in the many battles for Gibraltar over the centuries. A memorial to the Battle of Trafalgar is found in the middle, but it is the tranquility and serenity of the setting that really appeals. It has long since stopped functioning as a cemetery, making it more of a park with a history. It flourishes for this very reason.
The official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since 1728, The Convent is an Early Georgian piece of magic found on Gibraltar’s main pedestrian thoroughfare. It might not look like the picture of opulence from the outside, but find your way into the dining room and you’ll find the most extensive display of heraldry in the entire Commonwealth of Nations. The large gardens out the back are particularly impressive. The official Changing of the Guard takes place a few times a year on anniversaries and special occasions.
The Great Siege Tunnels came first, but the World War II Tunnels are the real main event of Gibraltar’s tunnels. The introduction of machinery obviously helped, but the urgency of fascism’s onslaught added an extra layer of chaos to the construction of this network. Work took place day and night and day again, creating a quite incredible underground city that contained power stations to keep soldiers going, barracks, hospitals and all the rest. These tunnels allowed trucks and ambulances to drive straight into the Rock, which blows our mind every single time. North Africa and Rommel were invaded by here, and the tunnels went from a strategic necessity to an eventual tourist attraction, 24 miles of magic that feels like a different world to that on the other side of the Rock.