Gibraltar may not be on your radar for a short break but its diminutive size, warm weather, variety of attractions and duty-free status make it an affordable option, writes Kathryn Liston
Looking for somewhere different for a short break, preferably somewhere warm and sunny, full of historical interest, possibly duty free and where you don’t have to bother changing British pounds into euros?
Just 2.5 hours after leaving Gatwick, I was basking in temperatures of 23C in October enjoying coffee for £1.50, beer and bottle of wine in Happy Hour for just £2.50 a pint and £6.95 respectively. I paid in sterling so I wasn’t affected by poor exchange rates caused by the weak pound.
For a short break, Gibraltar is hassle free. Everyone speaks English, it’s only three miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide so is easy to get around and there are far more things to do and see than I ever imagined. EasyJet flights are daily from Gatwick, three times a week from Manchester, and twice weekly from Bristol and Edinburgh – perfect for a short break. British Airways also flies from Heathrow.
Accessibility for people who have mobility issues is generally good with lifts and ramps plus mobile hoists and accessible toilets at selected beaches.
If you haven’t been to Gibraltar before, a Rock tour is a must especially the impressive World War II Tunnels, Great Siege Tunnels, St Michael’s Cave and cheeky macaque monkeys (see below). Plus we also managed to fit in a dolphin-watching trip, gin experience, self-guided art trail, Alameda gardens and lemur experience, Gorham’s Cave, Garrison Library, which houses rare books and early editions of The Times newspaper, and the National Art Gallery which highlights the work of six local artists.
I meet up with Peter Millhouse and Odette Benatar who are on a mission to highlight Gibraltar’s natural and military history to tourists.
Peter launched Spirit of the Rock, Gibraltar’s only micro gin distillery, in 2019 to promote a “lesser-known” and more upmarket Gibraltar often renowned for cheap booze. He and his wife, Stella, are using rare, endemic local flowers such as Campion and Candytuft to produce small-batch handcrafted gins at their distillery just off busy Main Street.
Peter is as effervescent as a hand-crafted G&T when he delivers a talk on the history of gin and tasting. It was the most informative gin experience I have done. Pick up a bottle, or handy lightweight pouch, in their shop or at the airport.
Meanwhile, Odette Benatar has opened a small cinema at the back of the Queens Picturehouse and Eatery in Casements Square. The Benatar family ran the 1,000-seater Queen’s cinema for over 50 years and you will find memorabilia, film reels, equipment and photographs from those days in the restaurant.
We settle into sumptuous velvet armchairs with a glass of fizz in the cosy cinema room to watch a short film about the history of Gibraltar and its northern defences – it’s fascinating. We adjourn to the restaurant for croquettes of plantain, Iberian ham and lobster, octopus and rosemary infused wild sea bass fillet with king prawns – delicious.
Afterwards we retire to the luxury Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Ocean Village, which is a five-minute ride from the airport – again, ideal for a short break.
Here are three attractions you shouldn’t miss.
UNESCO Gorham’s Cave Complex
Watch out, neanderthal crossing, says the witty road sign. Evidence of Neanderthal life 120,000 years ago has been unearthed here. Ancient chambers were discovered in Vanguard cave last year which Professor Clive Finlayson, who accompanies us, says was “like going into Tutankhamen’s tomb”. The work is so sensitive, only four people have been inside. In fact, only 120 people a year are allowed to visit Gorham’s so you need to book well in advance. You need to be agile enough to navigate the 345 steps and boulders to reach the cave. A 20-minute talk takes place 10am to 2pm daily on the viewing platform above the cave.
St Michael’s Cave
Sit back and be mesmerised by the sound and light show in the cathedral-like cavern, the bright colours creating innovative patterns on the vast stalagmites and stalactites. Catch a performance in the 600-seat auditorium. Comedians Sarah Millican and Jimmy Carr were there in 2022. The auditorium is accessible via a lift, otherwise accessibility for mobile impaired visitors is limited. Entry is included in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve ticket. If you’re wanting more excitement, go abseiling in the Lower Cave.
Upper Rock Nature Reserve
“Oi, get off”. A late shout from fellow travellers did nothing to deter the cheeky macaque who sprang from nowhere. A bit of a shock but no harm done. A taxi tour of the iconic Rock is must for first-time visitors. The reserve fee includes 16 attractions so it’s great value, the most impressive being the World War II Tunnels and The Great Siege Tunnels, which were painstakingly carved by hand with sledgehammer to protect the Rock from being captured by the Spanish and French (1779-1783). The Skywalk glass lookout, accessed by a panoramic lift and stairs, offers spectacular views at the top of the Rock.
Find out more
Our Silver Travel Advisors can book a short break to Gibraltar: call 0800 412 5678.