The rock of Gibraltar

You really can’t avoid the rock when you visit Gibraltar – it literally looms over everything you do. So here are the best ways to explore the rock itself.

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.

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Best things on the Rock of Gibraltar

There are lots of things to see and do when you're exploring the Rock of Gibraltar. Here are my tips to make the most of a visit.

The rock defines Gibraltar.

The shape of it, instantly recognisable as you arrive by air, dictates the layout of the community that has formed in this British enclave at the tip of Spain.

The city clusters around the western edge of the territory where the land is relatively flat. On the edge of it, the sudden and steep incline of the rock itself is visible from almost every vantage point. It dominates the landscape.

It’s not inert, this rock. It is not a useless physical obstacle that Gibraltar merely works around.

It has been integrated into the history, into the culture. It holds some of the territory’s greatest natural treasures and has been a natural defence to hold it from attackers.

Mediterranean Steps, Rock of Gibraltar

If not for the rock, Gibraltar would not be what it is today. It has stopped countless attempted invasions that would have led to another administration, another influence, another course of history.

For the visitors today who don’t have to fight their way in, the rock offers many of the highlights of a trip to Gibraltar. The rock is welcoming and generous to those it sees as friends.

Rock of Gibraltar

While the city itself and the coastline are also important parts of a visit to Gibraltar, I would like to concentrate on the rock and tell you more about the opportunities it presents.

I would recommend setting aside an entire day to explore it and see the different sides to its character.

Rock of Gibraltar

If you have your own vehicle, you can drive around most of it. Gibraltar’s taxi drivers will more than happily take you on a tour (it’s not like they’re doing particularly long trips otherwise).

There is this good guided tour that will focus on the Rock of Gibraltar, or there’s a full day tour of Gibraltar’s sights that will also includes all of the rock.

There is a cable car that goes to the top but there’s often a long line to use it. You may want to save some time by buying a ticket in advance here.

Or you can even walk up and across the rock. That’s the way I decided to approach it – although I would only recommend this if you’re reasonably fit because there’s a lot of uphill.

Rock of Gibraltar

You can do a loop in either direction that takes you to all of the most important sites. The views and the natural landscapes you’ll get throughout it all.

To go up the rock (to the area officially known as the ‘Upper Rock Nature Reserve’), you’ll need to pay an entry fee of £10. This will give you access to all these sites (unless specified in my descriptions below).

Mediterranean Steps, Rock of Gibraltar

Moorish castle

This large brick construction on the lower part of the rock was built in 1333AD (over the top of an older castle) by the Moors who controlled much of the Iberian Peninsular at this point in history.

It formed part of the defences that these Arab conquerors had constructed to protect themselves from the attacks of Western European forces.

Moorish castle, Rock of Gibraltar

The Moorish castle would have been much larger than the area that can be seen today because of damage over the centuries since it was built.

The best preserved section is the Tower of Homage which you can go inside and climb to the top of. It has great views across the city.

Moorish castle, Rock of Gibraltar

Entrance to the Moorish Castle is included in the ticket required to get into the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

WWII tunnels

It’s hard to imagine when you look at it from the outside but the Rock of Gibraltar actually has more than 50 kilometres of tunnels inside of it.

Most of these were created during the Second World War using hand tools.

In the early stages of the war, the British were worried that Germany would attack this strategic territory and the plan was to accommodate tens of thousands of troops in the tunnels in preparation.

Although this never came to pass, the tunnels were used for other purposes like a hospital.

World War II Tunnels, Rock of Gibraltar

You can’t see the majority of the tunnels but you are able to take a guided tour for about an hour and see some of the highlights.

It’s quite an incredible sight to see where people lived deep in the rocks for months on end. There is an extra £8 charge for admission but it is definitely worth it.

World War II Tunnels, Rock of Gibraltar

City Under Siege

This small museum just up the hill from the WWII tunnels is in one of the first buildings the British constructed in Gibraltar at the start of the 18th century. The museum is free to enter and has no staff on hand.

There is just a small exhibition showing what life was like for the residents of the territory during the long siege in the 1700s by the French and Spanish forces.

City Under Siege, Rock of Gibraltar

While it is interesting and shows a good insight into this period in the history of Gibraltar, the museum is relatively simple and not worth the effort on its own. It does complement the Great Siege Tunnels and gives a broader understanding.

Entrance to the City Under Siege Museum is included in the ticket required to get into the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

City Under Siege, Rock of Gibraltar

Great Siege Tunnels

Two centuries before the British built the WWII tunnels as a defence of Gibraltar, they built a much smaller networks of tunnels which are now known as the ‘Great Siege Tunnels’.

The Great Siege lasted from 1779 to 1783 as French and Spanish troops blockaded Gibraltar in an attempt to claim it for themselves.

The tunnels were built into the rock so that holes could be made in the cliffs to mount guns. In the end, it was a decisive element in the victory for the British.

The Great Siege Tunnels, Rock of Gibraltar

The Great Siege Tunnels are much more polished for tourists than the WWII Tunnels, which are still quite raw. The experience here is simple and can be done without a guide. The length of the main tunnels has small exhibitions and displays explaining the history and different features.

Entrance to the Great Siege Tunnels is included in the ticket required to get into the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

The Great Siege Tunnels, Rock of Gibraltar

Apes’ Den

The ‘apes’ (they’re actually macaques) are hard to avoid when you visit the rock and are the most iconic of the animal species that live here. Howeber, I’m still not quite sure why there is a particular spot on the rock that has been designated as their home, seeing as they roam freely all over the area.

Apes' Den, Rock of Gibraltar

They can be cheeky and even aggressive and you do need to take heed of the warnings not to carry food near them. I saw one of the macaques jump onto the back of a woman and pull a sandwich out of her hand.

It’s not necessary to visit the Apes’ Den and you’ll probably see them at one of the other sights – especially around St Michael’s Cave.

Apes' Den, Rock of Gibraltar

St Michael’s Cave

St Michael’s Cave is a true natural wonder and is definitely worth the visit. The main hall of the cave is enormous and has actually been converted into an auditorium for performances with a capacity of about 400 people.

From this section, there are stairs and pathways which allow you to explore other parts of the cave complex. It clearly stretches much further than you can visit and there is even a theory that it connects to a tunnel that you can use to reach Morocco.

St Michael's Cave, Rock of Gibraltar

Although it only takes 20 minutes or so to walk through the cave complex you could spend much longer to look at all the different sections in detail. A light display continually changes the colours in the main hall area.

Entrance to St Michael’s Cave is included in the ticket required to get into the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

St Michael's Cave, Rock of Gibraltar

Mediterranean Steps

The Mediterranean Steps are a hidden gem on the rock and not visited by the majority of tourists. This is partly because you need a moderate level of fitness to explore them properly.

Essentially, this site is a path that has been constructed along the southern and eastern edges of the reserve.

It is a rough path and requires climbing up some very steep steps in parts – but the views are definitely worth it. As well as some wonderful angles of the cliffs, you can get up close with some of the flora and fauna of the territory.

Mediterranean Steps, Rock of Gibraltar
Mediterranean Steps, Rock of Gibraltar

The path starts at the Jews Gate and takes about 2 hours to do a return journey. Entrance to the Mediterranean Steps is included in the ticket required to get into the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

There’s lots to see and lots to learn. If you would like a guided tour to get the most out of your time exploring the Rock of Gibraltar, there are some great options here:

Or, remember, if you want to go independently but use the cable car to get to the top, I would suggest getting a ticket in advance here to save yourself some time.

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.

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6 thoughts on “The rock of Gibraltar”

  1. I have a real love affair with Gibraltar. So I know you had a great time there last year. From your few pictures, it looks a lot more populated than when I was there almost 20 years ago!!
    First of all, my Dad, now deceased this year, was a WWII Navy Veteran and he served on the USS Shenandoah, guarding not only The Rock, but also all the bordering countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
    My second connection ….. I worked for Delta Air Lines (in IT), finally got to visit Spain and Portugal now almost years ago, and was determined to also take in The Rock. Was supposed to go with my girlfriend, but she couldn’t go at the last minute, so her nephew (who had just been in Spain two weeks prior on a family trip) came along with me as he wanted to meet my friend, Dr. Luis Martin. also from all he had heard about him from his aunt.
    Thirdly, my dear, dear friend, Dr. Luis Martin, was born and grew up in Seville, Spain, but eventually moved to the U.S., where he taught 30 yrs at SMU, then as Professor Emeritus taught classes at UT & other universities. He was a panelist on the National Endowment for the Humanities and was named to the Royal Order of Civic Merit by King Juan Carlos of Spain. I lovingly and admirably called him ‘Sir Dr. Martin’. Twice a year he and his wife brought groups of his college students over to tour Spain (from a native’s point of view …. it was AWESOME!!) and I had been promising him for years I would tag along on one of these excursions … and I finally did!
    And last, but not least, our tour of Gibraltar was, to say the least, exciting, unusual and fun!! Our sightseeing with Dr. Martin’s group took a lot longer than expected that day I also planned to go to Gibraltar, so didn’t arrive on The Rock until mid- to late afternoon. Didn’t get to see much of the town as went straight up the rail car to the top. This nephew hadn’t been there either, so went with me. I got to the little shack on the very summit and called my Dad back in the States (collect) to tell him I had made it!! I remember all the caves, artillery, huge cannons, the monkeys everywhere who wanted to scavenger food from us, the odd trees and flowers, the very few houses on it … it was so wonderful!! By the time we finished exploring over this great Rock, it was like 9-10 pm, so we went to the rail car, but it was closed and locked!! So we walked … and we walked …. down the entire rock ….. only to find that the huge wrought iron, 18-20 ft. high Gate into town was also CLOSED and LOCKED. We had to climb upt the gate to throw our backpacks over, then climbed on over it ourselves … what an adventure … but well worth it!!! I have tons of pictures of those 4 days in Spain, Portugal and The Rock in an album filled with many fond memories.

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  2. Your article is great but I’ll not lie to you. the pictures here are even amazing. every picture seems to be so wonderful that it feels like they are trying to tell you a story. the mountains, Grass, Cave, Statues. everything is so beautiful. Thank You so much for writing this.

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  3. Hi Michael,
    I see the Rock CABLE CAR is closed during my stay at the Rock Hotel. do you suggest taxi to top and walk down?
    purchase Upper Rock Nature preserve ticket ahead of time
    at hotel GBP 10.00 ? 5 adults, including two women fit but not climbers. how many hours to see the main sights with above plan would you allow? must drive to Tarifia and get rental car before 5pm at airport same day -Sunday 12JAN20 . sorry , the cable car closure jammed up a simple day! best,
    Patrick

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