At the crossroads of Europe and Africa lies the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, whose awestriking and majestic charm draws an international audience
Writer: Jack Salter | Project Manager: Jordan Levey
Gibraltar is situated on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, where the iconic and impressive Rock of Gibraltar dominates the Mediterranean horizon.
A dramatic limestone outcrop, the Rock provides breathtaking views of Spain and the North African coast and has attracted visitors from far and wide to Gibraltar throughout its colourful history.
At 426 metres high, the Rock of Gibraltar is mazed with numerous caves and a labyrinthine network of tunnels constructed over the course of hundreds of years, housing some of the country’s biggest mysteries and secrets. Indeed, the tale of Gibraltar is a legendary one, the historical legacy of which lives on today.
The appeal of Gibraltar as a travel destination continues to grow as a result, and it is more than just a popular and vibrant tourist hotspot. At the foot of this magnificent monolith sits a densely populated town area, home to over 32,070 Gibraltarian citizens.
However, Gibraltar’s most famous residents are the Barbary Macaques, a species of tailless monkey and the only wild monkey population on the European continent.
The Barbary Macaques are one of the most important tourist attractions in Gibraltar, where activities are as diverse as they are plentiful, ranging from dolphin watching to exploring historical trails.
The country’s temperate climate, meanwhile, makes Gibraltar an attractive choice for visitors all year round, enhanced by local events and customs that offer an equally warm flavour of the country.
“Fortunately, we are one of the first countries in the world to have vaccinated our entire population, so we have been able to market Gibraltar as a safe destination for travel”
Gibraltar Tourist Board
The primary goal of the Gibraltar Tourist Board (GTB) is to market Gibraltar as a destination of choice, especially in the country’s main source markets of Spain and the UK. In light ofthe COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the number of visitors arriving in Gibraltar by land more than half in 2020, GTB has also focused on marketing the location as a safe place to travel. We speak to The Hon. Vijay Daryanani MP, Minister for Business, Tourism and The Port, to find out more.
Outlook Travel (OT): Can you talk me through the origins of the GTB, its initial vision and current goals?
The Hon. Vijay Daryanani MP, Minister for Business, Tourism and the Port (VD): The GTB originated as the Government Tourist Office before it became the GTB in 1996. Initially, the GTB’s role was to promote Gibraltar as a tourist destination and to run the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and beaches. Our current goal is solely to market Gibraltar as a tourist destination.
OT: How do you market Gibraltar as both a business and leisure travel destination?
VD: We attend travel shows such as World Travel Market (WTM) London, the Routes World Conference, and Seatrade Global Cruise. We also engage with the UK press as the UK is our main market source for overnight tourism.
Regarding business, we market Gibraltar through meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) within the industry. Social media has now also become extremely important, so we are present on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
OT: How is the GTB navigating the recovery of tourism from the COVID-19 pandemic? What marketing tactics are you leveraging to move forward with this?
VD: Like every other tourist destination, Gibraltar has suffered immensely from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, we are one of the first countries in the world to have vaccinated our entire population, so we have been able to market Gibraltar as a safe destination for travel.
At one point, we were the only European destination on the UK Green List for travel, which also allowed us to market Gibraltar to British holidaymakers as a “Staycation in the Mediterranean”.
OT: Do you have any ongoing projects that you would like to highlight?
VD: As the situation is ever changing due to the pandemic, our projects are more short term and dependent on travel restrictions and so on. We will keep on marketing the Gibraltar brand at every opportunity and at the best conferences and trade shows worldwide.
OT: Are you optimistic about the future of the tourism industry in Gibraltar, particularly with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic?
VD: I am extremely optimistic about the tourism industry. Gibraltar is working with the EU on a possible treaty to allow freedom of movement for people within the Schengen Zone, so we hope this will bring further tourism to our shores.
In terms of the pandemic, we continue to work harder than ever, but I certainly see light at the end of the tunnel. The success of the vaccine, the fact that the impact of the Omicron variant was not as bad as first predicted, the possibility of even better treatments and the introduction of antivirals will hopefully see an end to the pandemic.
For al fresco dining delights
Lined with numerous pubs, bars and restaurants, Casemates Square is strategically positioned in the heart of Gibraltar’s shopping district. It is the larger of the two main squares within the city centre of Gibraltar, and the site for several outdoor eating establishments. Casemates Square also acts as the gateway into Gibraltar’s city centre for many tourists.
For a sensorial treat
Grille53 is a must-visit for lovers of steak and seafood. Cosy, contemporary and unique, this Marina Bay restaurant brings something different to Gibraltar both aesthetically and on a culinary level, priding itself on great service and the high quality of its food. To find out more and make a reservation, visit grille53.com
For Neanderthal exploration
Discover Gorham’s Cave Complex, considered to be one of the last known habitations of the Neanderthals in Europe. Consisting of four caves situated on the eastern side of the Rock of Gibraltar, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is of major significance in understanding the global story of human evolution and adaption, as they contain archaeological and paleoethological deposits that provide evidence of Neanderthal occupation. Standard tours and specialised visits led by senior scientists can be booked here
For historical and cultural exhibits
The Gibraltar National Museum
houses a collection of the country’s original artefacts, old prints and photographs. With guided group tours available on request, fully immerse yourself in the museum’s array of displays portraying the Rock’s millennia-old history and the unique culture of its people. All tickets include access to galleries, 14th-century Moorish baths, archaeological excavations in the garden, all special exhibitions, a bookshop and giftshop.
For a five-star ‘floatel’ experience
Stay and dine in Sunborn Gibraltar, the world’s first five-star floating yacht hotel. Located in the luxury surroundings of the Ocean Village Marina, accommodation is elegantly spaced over seven floors. Staying aboard Sunborn Gibraltar is a persuasive proposition that presents visitors with the unique opportunity to enjoy the privacy and exclusivity of an ocean-going superyacht combined with the quality and comfort of a five-star hotel.
For breathtaking views before bed
With an enviable position on the quieter side of the Rock, Caleta Hotel offers spectacular sights of Spain and North Africa. The location and proximity to the beach and the clear blue Mediterranean Sea makes this hotel unique on the peninsular. To enjoy elegant surroundings with panoramic views of the Rock and beyond, book here: caletahotel.com
GIBRALTAR NATURE RESERVE, UPPER ROCK
The Rock of Gibraltar is a monolithic limestone promontory, the upper area of which is mostly covered by a protected nature reserve
Covered in lush vegetation and commanding impressive views of the Strait of Gibraltar, the Spanish mainland and the African coastline, it truly feels as if you are on top of the world on the Rock of Gibraltar.
The Gibraltar Nature Reserve is home to many of Gibraltar’s important historical sites, including St. Michael’s Cave, Moorish Castle and World War II tunnels, and is therefore a main highlight for visitors interested in both landmark attractions and marvelling at the fantastic views on offer.
As part of continued efforts to further protect the area’s biodiversity and natural habitats, the Gibraltar Nature Reserve was extended in 2013 to include new areas that would further help to protect important habitats and species.
Gibraltar is home to a wealth of plant life, from palms and jacaranda to lavender and jasmine, and is also a well-known and popular bird look out. As a key migration point, keen bird watchers return year after year in the hope of spotting the myriad of bird life that use the Strait of Gibraltar as their crossing point to and from the north of Africa.
It is the Gibraltar Nature Reserve’s natural beauty, stunning views and sites of historical interest, combined with its unique, meandering nature trails, that differ it from the more mainstream tours of the Rock.
Gibraltar by numbers:
Size: 6.8 square kilometres
GDP: £2.3 billion
Visitors per year: 10.5 million
The world-famous Barbary Macaques roam freely in their natural habitat of the Apes’ Den. It is unofficially known as the national animal of Gibraltar, and is the only wild monkey population in the whole of Europe, drawing thousands of tourists every month. Barbary Macaques are considered by visitors to be Gibraltar’s top attraction, and they certainly garner attention wherever they are seen.
St. Michael’s Cave
A world class visitor attraction, appreciate this breathtaking limestone cathedral cave situated at the entrance of a system of prehistoric caverns, dating back to the Neolithic era and giving rise to myths and folklore that transcend the generations. It is a beautiful natural grotto complete with stunning stalagmites and stalactites that has long since fascinated visitors, and today it is a unique auditorium.
Standing 340 metres directly above sea level, enjoy mesmerising 360-degree panoramic views as stunning as anywhere else in the world. This former military lookout has been transformed into a state-of-the-art glass platform and walkway, spanning two continents and three countries. The Skywalk also links to other sites within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, including the thrilling Windsor Suspension Bridge and the famous Apes’ Den.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Gibraltar is easily accessible by air, predominantly from the UK with direct scheduled services regularly flying from major cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. Outside of the UK, visitors can fly to Gibraltar from the Moroccan cities of Tangier and Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc.
Visitors will arrive at Gibraltar International Airport (GIA), a peculiar and intriguing facility in which a road spans across the runway. Landing here is not dangerous, however, as the road is closed well in advance of any aircraft landing or taking off. In the event of low visibility and crosswinds on approach, aircraft may be diverted to the neighbouring Malaga Airport, where from travellers will be readily transferred to GIA by coach.
By road, meanwhile, Gibraltar is accessible by car via Spain, as it is adjoined to the Spanish south coast at the western end of the Mediterranean.
In addition, there are a total of eight different bus routes in Gibraltar provided by Gibraltar Bus Company and Calypso Transport, transiting people to the territory’s most popular landmarks.
Gibraltar is also a popular destination for cruise ships, with tourists able to book excursions organised by ship operators, negotiate taxi tours, or even save some money by walking into the city. Indeed, at just under seven square kilometres in size, getting around Gibraltar and its town centre by foot is easy, with attractions and amenities all located in close proximity to each other.
One of the most rewarding ways of negotiating the heady heights of Gibraltar is to climb the Mediterranean Steps, a steep path that mainly runs along the eastern side of the Rock. The route is particularly appealing during the spring, when visitors are greeted by a beautiful array of flowers including the Gibraltar Candytuft, whose pale lilac petals grow nowhere else in Europe.
Alternatively, a cable car service carries about 30 passengers at a time on a trip of the summit of the Rock where, on arrival, awaits various terraces, souvenir shops, viewing and eating establishments over 407 metres above sea level.