Erin Southerland of Don’t Forget to Eat was kind of enough to put together some tips on traveling to Gibraltar. We haven’t made it there but it’s a destination we definitely would like to visit.
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Gibraltar is a tiny but confusing country at the south end of the Iberian peninsula. It is a British overseas territory so here you will find an intriguing mix of English and Spanish culture. You can eat a hearty English breakfast, stop for a jamon sandwich and red wine for lunch, and then chill out in a pub with beer and fish & chips for dinner, all while enjoying the sunshine for which Spain is known. At only 3 miles by 1 mile, you can cover much of the country on a day trip.
Crossing the Border
To reach Gibraltar overland from Spain, you must first stop in the run-down town of La Linea de la Concepcion. Search for bus tickets to La Linea, not Gibraltar. Spanish buses and trains do not cross into Gibraltar so you’ll need to get out and walk. Even if you drive, it’s easier to park your car in Spain and walk across the border as traffic tends to bottleneck.
The Tourist Information Center in La Linea de la Concepcion has a clean bathroom, information about connections elsewhere in Spain, and they can give you directions to the Tourist Information Center in Gibraltar. You won’t get tips for Gibraltar or be able to buy tickets for the Rock of Gibraltar in La Linea.
To reach the border, just walk towards the Rock of Gibraltar. You can’t miss it and you’ll definitely see the border if you follow this landmark. You’ll need your passport to go through customs. Customs at the Gibraltar border is generally very easy, just a few questions. If you collect passport stamps, be sure to ask for one. The Gibraltar stamp is top notch and the customs agents are quite used to people (especially Americans) asking for a stamp.
After you pass through Customs but before you leave the building, grab a free map. It’s a 30-minute walk to Casemates Square via Winston Churchill Avenue and then Smith Dorrien Avenue. Or you can take bus #5 to Market Square (near the Tourist Information center) or Cathedral Square (the center of town). You’ll need to change buses, walk, or take a taxi from there.
To cross from Spain into Gibraltar, you have to cross the Gibraltar Airport runway. So pay attention! Once you pass through the Customs building, you’ll find yourself in a pedestrian lane that crosses the runway. You’ll need to watch for cars crossing the border in the lane next to you and for incoming planes. There are signals similar to what you’ll encounter at railroad tracks. Lights will flash and a gate arm will come down.
Your feet and the bus are the most reliable forms of transportation in Gibraltar. While it’s easy to get a taxi from the border, it can be much more challenging to get from downtown to the border by taxi. They don’t pass by that frequently and are often times full.
The British pound sterling is the official currency. Most places will accept Euros but you’ll get an unfair exchange rate so it’s a total waste of money to do that. Plus you’ll probably get change back in pounds. And what are you going to do with a mix of pounds and Euros?
If you’re on a day trip and will be making few purchases (i.e. tickets to the Rock of Gibraltar cable car, one meal, and maybe a souvenir), just use your debit or credit card. If you’ll be staying longer or plan to do a bit of shopping, go to the ATM and withdraw pounds.
Locals generally speak English but you’ll encounter plenty who don’t speak English well at all. This can be very disorienting when you expect to be in a country surrounded by British culture and expect to hear English. So change your expectations in advance and don’t abandon your Spanish skills at the border.
If Gibraltar is a stopover day trip between two destinations in Spain, then you can check your bags at the Gibraltar Airport. Ask at the information desk in the departures hall. It costs 8 pounds per day.
Navigating The Rock Of Gibraltar
This is the main tourist attraction in Gibraltar and you shouldn’t visit this country without making a visit.
There are several ways to visit the Rock:
- Cable Car
Every 10 – 15 minutes, a cable car brings a batch of visitors up the Rock and another batch down. It costs 10.50 pounds roundtrip and is a quick and exhilarating trip. You can also purchase one-way tickets and hike the other direction. The cable car drops you at the viewing deck at the top near the gift shop, cafe, and restrooms.
- Taxi or Bus Tour
Minibuses, big buses, and taxis offer 1.5 hour tours from the border and various points around town. They’ll take you to a viewpoint on the Rock of the Gibraltar (but not the summit). Additional stops might include Trafalgar Cemetery, St. Michael’s Cave, or the Pillar of Hercules.
It’s a long hike up and down the Rock. Most will want to take the cable car up and then take the one and a half hour walk back down. But if you really want to get a sense of the massive size of the Rock and get in a hardcore hike, by all means hike both directions. Maps available at the TI will show you how to do it.
Overnight In Gibraltar
If you’re determined to stay overnight in Gibraltar, you’ll pay for the privilege. Budget rooms are hard to find and generally run-down if you do find them. If a night of luxury is what you’re after, there are plenty of nice hotels where you can enjoy that fabulous Gibraltar sun while poolside with a drink.
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