However you arrive into Gibraltar, by air, foot, car or sea, you will very soon experience its intricate layers of history all around you.
An immediate talking point is the runway, constructed during the Second World War and one of the shortest in the world. As it crosses the main road into the city, visitors remain incredulous as traffic and pedestrians are stopped to allow aircraft to take off and land.
The best way to familiarise yourself with Gibraltar’s diverse heritage, as well as witnessing some of its natural beauty, is to take an official Rock Tour to the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, Upper Rock. A tour can be experienced in a number of ways, by official taxi, pre-arranged with a coach tour company, on foot or alternatively, you can take the Cable Car from Grand Parade. Alternatively, rent an e-bike or take an e-bike tour.
A basic tour lasts around an hour and a half and takes in thousands of years of Rock evolution, including the famous Apes’ Den, habitat to Europe’s only free roaming primates, and St Michael’s Cave with its stunning stalagmites and stalactites. The Upper and Middle galleries form part of the honeycombed interior of the limestone Rock, and illustrate the defence of Gibraltar during the Great Siege of 1779 – 1783 and World War II, when the forerunners to the Royal Engineers dug out tunnel systems to position guns to fight off the enemy. Other highlights may include a stop at Europa Point, one of the southernmost tip of Europe with its breath-taking views across the Strait to North Africa.
Gibraltar’s town centre is largely protected by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust and is undergoing a continual restoration programme. Its original city walls and fortifications, such as Casemates Gates, Charles V Wall and King’s Bastion, date back centuries.
Walk through the town area to witness some of Gibraltar’s unique architecture reflecting its blend of Genoese, Portuguese, Spanish, Moorish and British Regency style buildings.
The Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned in the centre of Main Street, was built on the original site of the chief mosque but was demolished during the Great Siege. It was later rebuilt as a Cathedral. Some of the early structures can still be seen.
Gibraltar’s National Museum situated on the original site of a Moorish bath house is a short walk from Main Street and relates Gibraltar’s diverse history from Neanderthal Man and our World Heritage Site to more modern history, a great way to get to know Gibraltar’s colourful past.
The city centre’s Main Street and surrounding area, such as Irish Town, are recognised today as Gibraltar’s main commercial and shopping district. After a morning of looking around its intricate lanes and streets you may now be tempted to stop and look at some of the VAT free bargains to be had. Gibraltar offers exceptional value-added shopping. Popular purchases include, cosmetics, perfumery, tobacco, spirits, porcelains, locally made arts and crafts, electronic goods and jewellery. It is the perfect pre-Christmas weekend shoppers’ destination with everything in close proximity.
Feeling peckish now? Head towards Chatham Counterguard, in which the old magazines have been converted into historically quirky string of restaurants, or perhaps visit one of Gibraltar’s stylish marinas, Queensway Quay or Ocean Village. Enjoy a meal at the water’s edge beside a number of luxury yachts - a stunning location, taking a break before the afternoon’s activities.
It is a little known fact that the Bay of Gibraltar is home to several species of dolphin. Visitors are able to go out into the Bay in one of the many dolphin watching tour boats to watch pods of dolphin at play. The tour takes approximately an hour and a half.
Casemates Square at the end of Main Street was once the centre of public executions. Today it is the thriving hub of Gibraltar’s café lifestyle, alongside Chatham Counterguard and Ocean Village Marina, filled with numerous lively bars and cafes that stay open into the early hours. There is a wide selection of places to eat to suit all palates.
Alternatively, take dinner on the east side of the Rock at Catalan Bay, originally a fishing village whose original inhabitants came from Italy. Dine at al unassuming local fish restaurant and enjoy a vibrant atmosphere in this historic community.
After dinner, stop off at any one of the trendy bars, some offering live music, for a late night drink. Alternatively, if you fancy a little more glamour and sophistication, head out of town to one of the two Casinos at Ocean Village for a flutter at the tables and take in the breath-taking evening views across the Bay of Gibraltar.
As you retire for the night, you’ll be delighted you have one day more, there’s still so much to explore.
Later take the public bus to Rosia Bay. Stop to visit the Victorian 100 Ton Gun and walk through Camp Bay, a beach area, which was formally a quarry and now a lido where divers discover Gibraltar’s wrecks and marine life.
Venture through one of Gibraltar’s tunnels and exit at Europa Point where a sea and an ocean and two continents meet. Gibraltar was recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status for the Gorham’s Cave Complex, which is now recognised as the last known home of Neanderthal man. This is a vital part of Gibraltar’s historical past and visitors can now visit the interpretation centre at nearby Europa Advance Road.
On your way back into town find time for a stroll and some peace and quiet in the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, designed in 1816 and linked to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Spectacular examples of rare flora, fauna and succulents enjoy a calming six hectares of serenity that also includes an open-air theatre and wildlife conservation park. Pop into the Animal Wildlife and Conservation Park located within the gardens, get informed on the excellent work they are doing for international wildlife.
Head into town and try some locally produced gin made with locally sourced botanicals at Gibraltar's only gin distillery.
Walk down to Irish Town for a bite of lunch. This sub-district of Main Street was named over two hundred years ago when Gibraltar was split into differing quarters. Enjoy lunch with a historical flavour at any of the historic coffee houses, restaurants or pubs.
Also try to make a stop at the recently opened Skywalk and enjoy the incredible views from a glass balcony at the top of the Rock.
You will discover several forms of wildlife in the upper area of the nature reserve while encountering spectacular bird sightings, particularly during the migration season.
Dinner this evening is at King’s Bastion, which also offers you an evening of entertainment too. Choose from the multiplex cinema, and bowling to accompany your dinner in the former military bastion that has been redeveloped as a family environment, offering food and activities for all ages.
After two days in Gibraltar you’ll have the feel for the place but you won’t have quite seen it all, so we hope you come back and visit us again soon.