10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Gibraltar
Long famous as the "key to the Mediterranean," Gibraltar has been a British Overseas Territory since 1713 after being seized during the War of Spanish Succession. Near the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula and overlooking one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, the "Rock of Gibraltar," as it's still often known, rises out of the sea on the east side of Algeciras Bay and is linked with mainland Spain by a narrow isthmus. The town of Gibraltar itself lies on the west side of the Rock. Given its proximity to Spain - one could almost toss a stone from the island to the mainland - Gibraltar's sovereignty remains a bone of contention, and the Spanish government has, on occasion, been known to close the border. However, the island is generally easily accessible by bus or even on foot from the mainland, and the port serves as a busy terminus for cruise ships. For such a small country - it's only four square kilometers - Gibraltar certainly has more than its fair share of tourist attractions.
See also: Where to Stay in Gibraltar
1 Europa Point
At the southern tip of Gibraltar's peninsula is Europa Point, well worth a visit for its historic 19th-century lighthouse, the old chapel of Nuestra Señora de Europa (the Shrine of our Lady of Europe) and the impressive Mosque of The Custodian of the Holy Mosques. The subject of a great deal of redevelopment in recent years, the area is also where you'll find the impressive Harding Battery, a restored fortification built in 1859, and Nun's Well, an ancient underground water reservoir. Recently added attractions include the island's only cricket ground and the Sikorski Memorial, a monument to one of Poland's leading generals of WWII who died here in a plane crash in 1943. You'll also be rewarded with excellent views across Algeciras Bay and the African coast.
2 The Apes of Gibraltar
Gibraltar is famous for its Barbary macaques, the only monkeys living wild in Europe. Legend has it that if the apes ever leave Gibraltar, so too will the British, but with more than 300 of the animals thriving on the island, this eventuality seems remote. The best place to see them is in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve in the Upper Rock area of the island. Here, you'll find the Apes' Den, where you can get up close without fear of being harassed. (Visitors beware: as cute as these apes are, they're wild and do bite. Also, from time-to-time they venture into the town, so watch your belongings. Feeding is strictly prohibited.)
3 Highest Point and O'Hara's Battery
Gibraltar's Highest Point is some 425 meters high and is well worth exploring. It's here, you'll find O'Hara's Battery, an artillery fortification built in 1890 that soon earned the nickname "O'Hara's Folly" as militarily, it proved next to useless. Now open to the public, it's worth a visit to see how these large artillery pieces worked, as well as for the superb views from the top of the Rock. Access to the Highest Point is via a hard slog up the wonderful Mediterranean Steps - a steep staircase that literally takes you from the top to the bottom of the island - or aboard the Gibraltar cable car.
4 The Gibraltar Nature Reserve
Not only does the Gibraltar Nature Reserve offer great views, it's also a good place to see some of the millions of birds who stop over while migrating between Africa and Europe. Encompassing more than 40% of the island, the reserve includes many of Gibraltar's most important attractions. In addition to St. Michael's Cave, it's here you'll find Forbes' Quarry where one of the world's first female Neanderthal skulls was found in 1848. In addition to its unique flora and fauna, the reserve holds numerous reminders of the island's military importance, including the 100-ton gun at Magdala Battery, as well as informative displays relating to the island's history in the Heritage Centre at Princess Caroline's Battery.
5 St. Michael's Cave
No visit to Gibraltar would be complete without seeing St. Michael's Cave. The largest of the island's more than 150 caves, St. Michael's Cave lies at least 274 meters above sea level and is crammed full of spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. First recorded in AD 45, the cave has many legends associated with it, including one suggesting the island is secretly connected to Africa via a 24-kilometer-long tunnel. The reality, however, is equally impressive. The largest area of the cave, the Upper Hall, is connected via five passages to a smaller hall where you'll see spectacular drops of between 12 and 45 meters. A number of smaller chambers, some reaching depths of 76 meters, are accessible via a series of small holes. During excavation work in WWII, the Lower St. Michael's Cave was discovered, containing many more equally breathtaking chambers, as well as a small underground lake. For a truly unforgettable experience, take in a concert in the fabulous Cathedral Cave, a natural underground concert hall seating 400 people for performances of music, ballet, and drama. A variety of tour options are available.
6 The Moorish Castle
Perched high above the old town of Gibraltar and overlooking Casemates Square is the old Moorish Castle. Originally built in the eighth century and rebuilt in the 14th century, much of the castle has been destroyed over time, although the parts that do remain - including a tower, a massive gatehouse, and a few fragments of masonry - suggest the building's former glory (in places, battle scars from the island's many sieges can still be seen). The Tower of Homage is in fact the highest such Islamic structure left standing in the Iberian Peninsula, while the walled Kasbah, where local dignitaries would reside, is one of the largest in the area.
7 Main Street and Casemates Square
At the northern end of Main Street, Casemates Square is the largest public space in the old city center and is a popular gathering place due to its numerous restaurants, cafés, and shops. Although completed in 1817, evidence of settlements dating back to the Moors of the 10th century has been found. While for centuries it served as a place of trade (and also execution), these days, the square is where you'll find numerous fun cultural events including open-air concerts, National Day celebrations, and the increasingly popular Calentita Food Festival. Other landmarks along Main Street include the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned (a former mosque rebuilt in Gothic style in 1502). In Cathedral Square stands the Moorish-style Anglican Cathedral (1821), while near the south end of Main Street is the Governor's Residence, originally a Franciscan convent built in 1531.
8 Gibraltar Museum
With a focus on the cultural and natural history of Gibraltar, including the Strait of Gibraltar, the Gibraltar Museum was established in 1930 and is located in Bomb House, the former residence of the Principal Artillery Officer. Highlights of this excellent (though small) museum are the well-preserved 14th-century Moorish Baths and the huge model of the Rock as it would have looked in 1865. Other galleries deal with the island's geological origins from the Jurassic Period to the present day, a collection of rare Roman anchors, and an exhibit detailing the Great Siege of Gibraltar from 1779-1783.
Address: 18-20 Bomb House Lane, Gibraltar
9 The Great Siege Tunnels
Perhaps the most significant military installation in the Mediterranean, the Great Siege Tunnels of Gibraltar are an engineering marvel. Carved out of the sheer face of the "Notch," the northern face of the Rock, using nothing but manual labor, this labyrinth of tunnels was built by the British in just six weeks as a defense against a combined force from France and Spain when they tried to recapture the Rock from the British. The 14th of many sieges the island has endured over the centuries, the Great Siege lasted from 1779 to 1783 and, thanks to the tunnels, resulted in Britain's victory in what would, without the cannons that were able to be mounted here, have undoubtedly ended in defeat. Additional tunnels were added in WWII, bringing the total length of the tunnel network to an impressive 51 kilometers. Guided tours of both sets of tunnels are available.
10 Gibraltar Botanic Gardens
The beautiful Gibraltar Botanic Gardens - also known as La Alameda Gardens - is a great place to spend time away from the often-busy attractions elsewhere on the island. At the end of Main Street near the Southport Gates, this public garden with its luxuriant subtropical vegetation was commissioned in 1816 for the enjoyment of soldiers stationed here. Visitors can also take in the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park, a small zoo set up to house animals rescued by customs or police, which can't be returned to the wild, as well as an open-air theater hosting many excellent cultural and musical events.
Address: The Alameda, Red Sands Road, Gibraltar
Where to Stay in Gibraltar for Sightseeing
We recommend these unique hotels in Gibraltar with easy access to the top sights:
- Sunborn Gibraltar: luxury super-yacht hotel, sleek decor, marble bathrooms, outdoor pool, full-service spa.
- Rock Hotel Gibraltar: mid-range pricing, hilltop location, sea views, friendly staff, wisteria-draped terrace, seasonal outdoor pool.
- Caleta Hotel: affordable rates, Catalan Bay views, suites and apartments, piano lounge, wellness area.
- Con Dios: budget-friendly boat hotel, friendly hosts, sun deck, marina bathrooms.