Gibraltar is a British overseas territory situated at the far south of the Iberian Peninsula and facing the Strait of Gibraltar. The territory itself is just 2.53 square miles in area, with 7.5 miles of shoreline bookended by two coasts (the East Side and the West Side). The topography of Gibraltar is dominated by the Rock, being some 1,396 feet high, but the country is home to many beautiful natural sights and areas of cultural heritage.
Bordered with Spain but owned by Great Britain, the sovereignty issue has dominated and continues to dominate the history of the territory. Ceded in perpetuity by Spain in 1713 courtesy of the Treaty of Utrecht, which followed their defeat during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Spanish have made repeated overtures to Gibraltar regarding annexation. However, despite these persistent claims, the vast majority of Gibraltarians are vehemently opposed to any change in sovereignty. Indeed, Gibraltar’s National Day – a public holiday on September 10th – celebrates the territory’s rejection of annexation in 1967, and a later referendum in the 1980s saw a staggering 98.97% of the population re-iterate the stance.
As such, the British monarch is the chief of state on the Rock, represented on a day-to-day basis by the Governor of Gibraltar, elected on a 4-year term courtesy of the 15-man strong Gibraltar parliament. This connection to Britain is attested further in the list of key facts about Gibraltar:
- Population – 27,921 (2005 estimate)
- Language – English (although Spanish is commonly heard as well)
- Telephone – Country Code +00350
- Currency – Gibraltar Pound (UK currency is universally accepted, and the GP is equivalent to the pound sterling)
- Time – GMT +1 hour
Gibraltar enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with very warm, dry summers and decent but temperamental winters. The territory averages some 300 days of sunshine every year and rainfall is generally only early or late in the year. The following table represents the average quarterly temperatures:
Things to do and see
Climbing the Rock of Gibraltar is the obvious choice for tourists. The views from the Upper Rock are incredible, with Europe on one side and Africa on the other, and the journey is made easy by the cable car system in place.
Once on the Rock, you can also visit some of the other fantastic natural sights, such as St. Michaels Cave, filled with giant stalagmites and stalactites and forming a huge auditorium used for concerts by the local Philharmonic Society – a speciality is the Son-et-Lumiere show, held twice-weekly.
Try to make time for the Natural Reserve, which houses flora and fauna unique to Gibraltar. The Apes’ Den, in particular, is remarkable, being home to Gibraltar’s Barbary Apes, the only freely roaming ape species in Europe.
The sights don’t end with the Rock either. Examples of fine local architecture include the Moorish Castle, established in full by 1333 with foundations dating back to the 11th century and containing both the Gate House and the Tower of Homage, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe, which is connected to the Europe Day public holiday on 5th May and houses a 15th century statue of the Virgin and Child. The Convent of Gibraltar is also worth a glimpse, being the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since 1728, along with the Cradle of History monument, which houses the first discovered skull of the Neanderthal man.
On Bomb House Lane, you will find Gibraltar Museum – the chief cultural repository on the Rock. It contains collections of weapons, costumes and other treasures which help recreate the local history – most notably, a Moorish Bath House.
In terms of relaxation and recreation, Gibraltar has six beaches on the shoreline, the most popular being Catalan Bay and Camp Bay, and Little Bay. The nearby Marina Bay is a centre for local activities, particularly if you’re a dolphin lover, with tours such as Dolphin Adventure, Dolphin World and Dolphin Safari.
The food and drink on the Rock is also excellent, offering a diverse range of cuisine from Italian to French, Moroccan and, of course, Spanish. Main Street is the place to go for the best selection of eateries. Indeed, this thoroughfare is also the chief shopping location and, with all goods duty-free, Gibraltar is really a paradise for the shopaholic and perfect for provisions if you’re on a long backpacking voyage.
Due to the Spanish government’s relaxation of border controls in late 2006, Gibraltar can be reached on ground via mainland Spain. The quickest method if you’re travelling from outside Spain is to fly to Gibraltar Airport, which runs a very limited service but travels to Madrid courtesy of British Airways and Iberia Airlines and to London courtesy of British Airways and Monarch Airlines.
Once inside Gibraltar, the main form of transportation is the car, but there is an extensive bus service and taxis are available. It is important to remember that, although a British territory, driving is done on the right-hand side of the road and speed limit is 50 km/h. Caution should also be taken if driving, as the roads are narrow.
Other options include self-catering flats, of which there are three organisations available to meet your needs. However, the cheapest option – and the best one for backpackers – is the Emile Hostel, right in the heart of the town. A dormitory room will cost just £15 a night, and there is a 10% discount for groups.
Health care issues
As part of the AEU agreement which applies due to Gibraltar’s relationship with Britain, all you need to produce is a valid Form E111 to receive the same treatment as Gibraltarians should you fall ill. If you are a UK national, all you require is your passport.
The Primary Care Centre should be your first port of call unless it’s a serious medical emergency, as they provide free medical and dental treatment, and can also sort out prescriptions. However, if more thorough medical assistance is required, St. Bernard’s Hospital is the place to go.
Health-wise, travelling to Gibraltar is no problem, and no vaccinations are required.