12 facts you don’t need to know about Gibraltar

Gibraltar can be a little confusing. So here’s some information to help you understand it better: the important facts… and the interesting ones!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

Facts about Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a confusing place – especially if you have never been yourself.

What is it exactly, this strange little piece of land at the end of Spain that isn’t Spanish?

It’s British, you’ve heard, but how could it be with such nice weather?

What do the people in Gibraltar look like, what language do they speak, what currency do they use?

Facts about Gibraltar

So many questions. Here are the short answers to the basic ones.

  • Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory which means it is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom but is not technically a part of it. (There are 14 British Overseas Territories in the world including Bermuda and the Falkland Islands.)
  • Gibraltar is also part of the European Union because of its connection to the UK but is outside several of the economic associations (such as the customs union, the VAT area, and the Schengen Area).
  • Gibraltar is just 6.8km2 in size and, with a population of about 30,000 people, has the 5th highest density of any country or territory in the world.
  • English is the official language of Gibraltar but many people also speak Spanish and the local language, which is called Llanito and has a mix of Mediterranean words in it.
  • The official currency of Gibraltar is the pound and you can spend notes and coins from the UK in the territory – but you can’t use the locally-produced notes or coins back in the UK.
  • Gibraltar has its own political system that makes many decisions within the territory but issues like defence and foreign affairs are determined by the UK Government in London.
  • Gibraltar uses the same timezone as Spain (not the UK) and the people drive on the right like in continental Europe (but not in the UK).
Facts about Gibraltar

But all of those facts are pretty boring – although important. Gibraltar is much more interesting than politics, linguistics and currency.

I’m sure you would much prefer some non-important but kind of cool things about Gibraltar, right?

Well, during my short visit to the territory, I learned some pretty weird things about Gibraltar.

It’s always been the kind of place that is not completely normal – but that’s probably understandable seeing as it’s so small and has been under the constant threat (or reality) of invasion for more than a thousand years.

Facts about Gibraltar

So, here goes. 12 facts you don’t need to know about Gibraltar (but I think are interesting nonetheless).

Fact Number 1

The road into Gibraltar gets closed down every time a plane lands at the territory’s airport. Why? Well because the road into town is also the runway!

The runway basically runs the whole width of Gibraltar alongside the border with Spain and you can walk right across it when there are no planes coming or going.

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 2

Speaking of crossing the border, can you believe that it can sometimes take up to 8 hours to get through immigration control? That’s an extreme case but it is not unusual to have to wait a couple of hours.

There are a few reasons – one is because Gibraltar has different customs rules so the Spanish authorities want to check people aren’t smuggling goods into their country.

But there’s also a theory that it is for political reasons and the Spanish often just slow things down to annoy the British!

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 3

There is basically no tax on goods in Gibraltar. I know, pretty fantastic, right? You should see the number of people buying cigarettes and booze at the shops on the way out of the country.

A packet of 20 cigarettes in the UK will cost you about £10 but in Gibraltar it is about £2. A large bottle of good gin might cost £25 in the UK but will cost about £10 in Gibraltar.

It’s almost worth the airfare to stock up on alcohol! In fact, you can even do this tour from Spain, which just comes for the shopping!

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 4

Gibraltar has applied to be a part of the Olympics but so far hasn’t been accepted (and probably never will under the current rules).

It has, however, competed at 15 Commonwealth Games but is yet to win a single medal.

It is also trying to become a full member of FIFA but, for the moment, has to settle to be a part of UEFA, in which it was granted membership in 2013 (although Spain opposed it).

Out of the 12 UEFA matches that Gibraltar has played, it has only won one (against Malta 1-0).

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 5

Just like in the UK, the phone boxes and the post boxes in Gibraltar are painted red. Not much more to be said about that. But they look cool!

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 6

What is really interesting is that there are more than 50 kilometres of tunnels dug into the Rock of Gibraltar and there’s a rumour that they are protected from radiation or the effects of a nuclear bomb. I can’t find any evidence of this but more than one local person told me this.

Along with this rumour is a theory that the UK would use the tunnels in the rock as a secure bunker for important British identities (the government and the royal family) in the case of a nuclear attack.

You can do this really interesting tour that will explain all this history of the rock.

Facts about Gibraltar

Anyway, the rumour is probably not true but it does make the place seems a bit more mysterious. Who knows what secret bunkers have been built in the tunnels?

Fact Number 7

Speaking of rumours, there is also a legend that there is a secret natural tunnel from Gibraltar to Morocco and it’s accessible from deep inside St Michael’s Cave.

Who knows if this is true but there are all sorts of stories of people going missing down in the caves and never being seen again.

One of the versions of the legend says that the apes in Gibraltar came from Africa and must have come through a tunnel. While it’s true they probably came from Africa, it’s much more likely they came on boats with some early explorers.

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 8

The apes bring me to the next fact about Gibraltar.

Firstly, it should be noted that they are actually macaques, even though they are usually referred to as Barbary apes. Although they are an iconic part of the territory, they came very close to being wiped out.

During the Second World War there were just 7 of them left but the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, ordered that new ones be brought across from North Africa to replenish the colony.

Now there are about 300 of them wandering around the rock, stealing food from unsuspecting tourists.

Facts about Gibraltar

There are some great tours that will take you to the monkeys and also show you all around the rock and some of the other important sights in Gibraltar. I would recommend one of these options:

 

Fact Number 9

The national dish of Gibraltar is considered to be the ‘calentita’. It is a rather plain food that looks like a baked pancake. It is made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Although there’s nothing special about it, the calentita represents Gibraltar’s history well. The territory really doesn’t have any agricultural land so the food that people survived on for a long time was simple, filling and cheap.

The annual food festival in Gibraltar is now called Calentita and you can read my story about it here!

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 10

Although about 78% of the population in Catholic, Gibraltar has a significant population of Muslims, Jews and Hindus.

The churches, synagogues and mosques all fit together into the small city in the territory with a level of religious tolerance that is very impressive.

Interestingly, the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque at the very tip of Gibraltar is the southernmost mosque in mainland Europe and one of the most beautiful buildings in the territory.

It is one of the largest mosques in a non-Muslim country and cost about £5 million pounds to build (it was a gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia). It opened in 1997.

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 11

Anyone can get married in Gibraltar with just a day’s notice – and it will be recognised worldwide.

That’s right, if you decide suddenly that you want to elope then Gibraltar could be the place for you. If you fly in one day and lodge your papers, you can get married the next day.

For this reason it has been popular with celebrities over the years. Sean Connery has been married in Gibraltar (twice) and this is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono tied the knot as well.

This is becoming so popular with tourists, the local authorities are now letting you get married outside the registry office for something special in the botanical gardens, for instance.

Facts about Gibraltar

Fact Number 12

There are six beaches along the coastline of Gibraltar (which is great if you’re a tourist in summer!). The odd thing, though, is that Gibraltar didn’t always have all these beaches.

The Sandy Bay beach, for instance was ‘built’ in just 2014 by importing about 50,000 tons of sand to create a new recreational area for residents and visitors of the territory. Oh well, I guess you’ve got to do something with all that coast!

Facts about Gibraltar

So, these are the things you discover when you spend a bit of time in Gibraltar. If you’re doing a quick visit, you may like to have a local show you all the highlights and explain what life is like here.

I would recommend one of these tours:

 

It is certainly an odd place – probably not quite like anywhere you have been before.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN GIBRALTAR

There aren’t many options for accommodation in Gibraltar and none of them are particularly affordable – but here are my top tips.

BACKPACKER

You won’t find many backpacker options, but Emile Hostel has decent dorm beds.

BUDGET

Probably the cheapest hotel you’ll find that is still clean and comfortable is Bristol Hotel.

BOUTIQUE

For something a bit more upmarket The Rock Hotel is one of the most popular options.

LUXURY

And the best luxury option is actually on a permanently-moored cruise ship at the Sunborn Gibraltar.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by the Gibraltar Tourist Board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

59 thoughts on “12 facts you don’t need to know about Gibraltar”

  1. A very interesting article, as always, but I do have one question. How can Gibraltar not be likely to be accepted into the Olympics when fellow British Overseas Territories like Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands are full IOC members?

    Reply
    • Great question! The short answer is that the IOC changed the rules about dependent territories at one point but didn’t apply it retrospectively. So those that had already been included in the Olympics are allowed to keep competing, but new ones can’t join.

      Reply
  2. I like your article in general but have a couple of observations. Sandy Bay always existed but was the victim of man made structures like marinas and beach breakers further north mostly in Spain which altered the tide and wave flows. Various attempts were made before 2014 to replenish the sand only for it to be washed away the following winter. In 2014 a breaker was built to protect the newly imported sand.

    Please stop referring to us as a territory. A territory conjures a piece of land without life and a people. Gibraltar has a thriving, multi-cultural and economically independent population. We are passionate about our Britishness and our special links with Britain. Perhaps you could mention that our education system is the British one and once students complete their A Levels a large proportion of them go on to study in UK universities sponsored by our Government.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment. I understand the point you’re making about the connotations of the word ‘territory’ but I’m not sure what a better word to use would be. I can’t say ‘country’ and ‘place’ is a bit simple. So territory kind of ends up being the only way to describe it, doesn’t it?

      Reply
  3. Sandy Bay has always been there, but due to various factors, the beach was beginning to disappear. The Govt imported the sand to replenish the beach and built breakwaters to help keep the beach protected from inclement weather.

    Reply
  4. Hi,

    Nice article, but just to clarify a point. Sandy Bay beach has always existed. However, during land reclamations in the early 1990s on the western side of the rock for the expansion of the territory in order to build more housing, sand was dredged and collected from the eastern side of the rock where Sandy Bay is. The knock-on effect was that nature took its course and the sand from the coastal areas was sucked in back to the areas off-shore that had been dredged in order to fill in the voids let in the ocean floor. Therefore this caused eastern side beaches to suffer the consequences. This is why sand had to be imported and deposited to increase the size of the beaches. Through the years this problem has gradually balanced itself out and we have our beaches more or less back to normal. In the case of Sandy Bay, due to its exposed location, rocky groins have been built on both extremes of the beach partly encircling it, in order to avoid the currents and the ‘levant’ phenomenon ( a strong easterly wind that causes tidal surges and washes the beaches clean of sand ) from taking the sand away. Thousands of tons of sand have been added to it and it is now looking great and is well protected.

    Reply
    • I appreciate all the details, Roger! I was really impressed with Sandy Bay beach and it looks like a great place to hang out. It was really busy on the Sunday afternoon when I was there. Interesting to hear all the background about how it was ‘created’.

      Reply
  5. Very good, short and to the point report. Beautiful photos. Reference religions on the Rock, yes the majority are Roman Catholics but we also have many other religious entities. We have A Roman Catholic Cathedral with a number of Catholic churches, there is an Anglican Cathedral, four Synagogues, a Hindu Temple, two Mosques, a Wesley Church, a Presbyterian Church of Scotland and a host of other well known religious groups. We take great pride in our Religious and Racial co-existence. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • I could tell that there was a lot of religious tolerance in Gibraltar. There’s something really nice about that (considering how much conflict is caused by faith). It’s probably no surprise that there are a lot of religious buildings here, though, considering all the cultures who have come through over the years.

      Reply
  6. Write your message here… AM FROM NIGERIA IN AFRICA and am soooo happy to read about your article of GILBRATER ITS sooo sooo enticing thanks for your good work, i never know a country is named gilbrater, that country is a lovely and wonderful place to be with what you have said! Love you!

    Reply
  7. Hi
    Very good article on a facinating little venue. I would be interested to learn about hotel prices, tourist venues and generally flights from East Midlands to Gibraltar. Although a limited area to explore can guides or operaters provide days out to Spain and North Africa?

    Reply
  8. How can one from an non eu country get residence or permanent permit of stay?
    Secondly how is the work force for a fresh resider to get a job immediately as you come in so as to be able to integrate instanly..

    Reply
  9. Your comment about territory etc.
    I am Gibraltarian and in common with my COUNTRYfolk I feel great NATIONAL pride, as a French person might feel about France for instance. Why cannot I feel NATIONAL pride? Why is that emotion denied me? So, I have NATIONAL pride for my NATION even if you don’t think of it as one. We are oppressed enough by Spain wanting to take out homeland against our will without every free-minded individual in the world being sucked into their rhetoric!
    Excellent piece, super snaps! Come again!

    Reply
  10. We visit Gibraltar at least four times a year. Love it! We were married there 31 years ago in what is now the courthouse. The Horse~shoe bar, aka ‘The Donkeys Flip Flop’ is the same now as in 1961 when I first visited when serving on HMS ‘Plymouth’. We used to drive down for the day but as age creeps up that option is too much, so we usually stay two nights at either The Eliot or The Rock. Both superb hotels with friendly staff. Thanks for your info.

    Reply
    • If you buy a small apartment on Gibraltar and have no mortgage , how much do you still need to live there pay bills and food, also as a British citizen do I get cancer treatment free really need to know

      Reply
  11. Hi !
    This is one of the best narration I have read! An article with a lot of facts ! You made me to dream about Gibralter!
    It’s too from my home country Sri Lanka but nothing is impossible
    Thanks Michael
    Regards
    Faizer

    Reply
  12. Thank you for these interesting facts about Gibralter. We’ve been a few time’s, mainly whilst on a cruise. We’ll as be there in late March and we’d like to go to a beach as we’ve done a lot of the tourist attractions and wonder how we go about it please?

    Reply
  13. Well never been might go for noisy. Looks nice probably hard for drugs to come in good things I think I will stay in hotel. 7 days. Maybe longer. Gibraltar.

    Reply
  14. Well I liked your article and can’t believe how much nit picking there is over it!!! Thank you for the insight on Gibraltar, now how to convince Hastings Direct I am needed at the Advantage office……. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Lovely article, sums up a visitors experience of Gibraltar nicely. Although I would suggest a ride on the buses, great fun. There is another accommodation provider for visitors on a budget Herald Travel Limited, they have self catering apartments in the heart of town with a seasonal swimming pool

    Reply
  16. Great read !
    Just come back from Gibraltar (about our 8th visit )
    So easy !
    Stepped off the plane, walked through the airport, then walked to our hotel the (Sunborn Yacht)
    Great place, great country and would move there tomorrow if it was possible .
    Plenty of nightlife, bars, restaurants,
    Dolphins are always worth a trip to see from Ocean Village

    Reply
  17. You missed an important fact about the monkeys. It was said that when the monkeys leave the rock, Gibralter will go back to Spain. Therefore more monkeys were brought over to ensure that Gibralter stays British.

    Reply
  18. My father was born in Gibraltar. He emigrated to the US when he was nine, along with his mother, sisters, grandmother and aunt. (Around 1920) He returned for a visit in the early 70’s. And even revisited the house he was born in. (He still had some relatives living there.) He said he got a kick of how many residents will speak both English and Spanish, switching from one language to another mid-sentence. He also brought back a suitcase full of fallen rocks to give to family and friends in the states, one of which I still treasure.

    Reply
  19. Great article!! We just returned from Gibraltar, unfortunately could only spend the day there.We did walk across the Airfield Runway to the Cable car(Tram) shuttlebus and ascended to the top of The Rock.We were greeted by the Macaques,who climbed on board the Tram as we came to a stop at the top .Quite fascinating creatures.We saw one launch itself onto a Woman’s back with a backpack and it promptly reached into it and grabbed her Makeup bag and took off. We expected,but never saw a Macaque with lipstick …We ate at the Restaurant at the Top with incredible views of the surrounding straits..Excellent Food.We then hiked down to the bottom and caught a City bus back to the Frontier (Spanish Border)..A most interesting trip and would have loved to see more,but out time was limited.

    Reply
  20. If you buy a small apartment on Gibraltar and have no mortgage , how much do you still need to live there pay bills and food, also as a British citizen do I get cancer treatment free really need to know

    Reply

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