Gibraltar – Family holiday guide

Europe’s best known UK enclave sits on the Strait of Gibraltar, washed by the Mediterranean and Atlantic, looking towards the North African coast and within walking distance (literally) of Andalusia. From red pillar boxes to UK supermarkets, there’s no denying the nationality and ‘Gib’ is fiercely proud to be British.

But it also has sunny southern Spain’s weather, VAT free shopping and Gibraltarians can hop over to Tangiers or along to Cadiz any time they like. Works the family holiday angle best as a base with older kids and teens; younger children like the safe beaches and familiar atmosphere; and there’s no shortage of history, natural phenomena and wildlife to explore if you decide stay within the borders.


Why go on holiday in Gibraltar

  • Direct flights from the UK to Gibraltar all year round take exactly three hours.

     

  • 300 days of sunshine a year, a Mediterranean climate and temperatures of 25˚ and rising in July and August.

     

  • Sits on the Strait of Gibraltar at the confluence of the Mediterranean and North Atlantic: two hours by ferry from Tangiers and surrounded by Andalusia, the Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz.

     

  • Gibraltar’s British overseas territory, the first language is English and both sterling and euro are accepted currencies.

     

  • An easy day-out from south west Spain: visitors can walk across the border on the runway at Gibraltar Airport – don’t forget your passport.

     

  • The Rock of Gibraltar is home to Barbary Macaques making it the only place in Europe with a free-roaming colony of wild apes.

  • Gibraltar is only seven kilometres long and can easily be explored on foot. There are guided tours for everything from WWII Tunnels and Neanderthal Caves to shopping on Main Street and the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.



Where to go

Gibraltar’s a day-out from Andalusia and most families choose to see it that way. If you’re planning to stay, there isn’t a wide choice of hotels and the same illustrious names have been about since the 1930s when the Marquis of Bute first opened The Rock Hotel minutes from the town centre. Alternatives to this icon – which still has Winston Churchill’s name in the guest book – range from the five star Luxury Yacht Hotel and Hotel Caleta on Catalan Bay to smaller independent hotels, town centre guesthouses and a growing number of self-catering apartments.

Upper Rock Nature Reserve

The 426m high limestone ‘rock’ is Gibraltar’s most recognisable symbol and home to the famous Barbary Macaques. A climb to the top takes about two hours on the Mediterranean Steps but most visitors prefer to ascend in the mere six minutes it takes The Cable Car. Views from the top reveal everything from the coast of North Africa to Andalusia and along both the Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz.

Catalan Bay

This pretty cove on the east coast is Gibraltar’s most popular beach. Locals and visitors descend here in droves at the weekend, so go early if you want a sun lounger or a spot on the sand. Alternatively you could book rooms at four star Hotel Caleta, one of the few Gibraltarian hotels with a beachfront location.

Main Street

Most of Gibraltar lives on the west side, under the shadow of The Rock and nestled round the Bay of Gibraltar. The oldest area, Upper Town, is where you’ll find historic architecture, restaurants, cafés and Main Street running right through the centre. It’s the oldest street in Gibraltar and you can buy anything here from tourist tat to designer handbags.

Irish Town

More of a single, pedestrianised street than a ‘town’, this historic district takes its name from Irish women deployed here in the 18th century to ‘comfort’ local garrison troops. The title stuck, but days of ill-repute are long gone, leaving an interesting area to stroll around, with well-kept stores and pretty market stalls tucked in between some of Gibraltar’s grandest buildings.


What to do

  • Gibraltar to Tangiers day trip
    You can see the coast of North Africa from Gibraltar and regular ferry crossings to Tangiers take two hours.
  • Family Try Dive, Rosia Bay
    Gibraltar’s famous for wreck diving and Mediterranean marine life. This first time scuba day is fun for families and centred around legendary Rosia Bay where Nelson’s body was brought ashore after the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • Eastern Beach
    This long, golden beach is safe for swimming and the only one in Gibraltar not shadowed by the rock at any time during the day.
  • The Cable Car
    You can climb up The Rock, but it’s a lot more fun to zip up on The Cable Car. The entire journey takes six minutes and tickets include an app to explaining the view from the top.
  • Dolphin Adventures
    Gibraltar’s wild dolphins are almost as well known as the Macaques, daily catamaran cruises guided by marine biologists are great fun for kids and guarantee sightings of between 20 to 100 dolphins depending on the time of year.
  • Gorham Cave Complex
    Over the past 30 years, excavations in these UNESCO World Heritage caves beneath Gibraltar have resulted in remarkable findings about Neanderthal man. Sunday sailings to Gorham, led by the curator of Gibraltar Museum, reveal all.
  • The Mediterranean Steps
    The two hour climb from the Jew’s Gate in Upper Rock Nature Reserve to O’Hara’s Battery at 419m above sea level is quite hard going but worth it for the spectacular views from the top.
  • Windsor Bridge
    You need a head for heights and a spirit of adventure to brave the walk across 71m long Windsor Bridge spanning the 50m deep gorge at New Anglian Way.
  • The Convent
    One of the oldest and loveliest buildings in Gibraltar, The Convent even comes complete with its own ghost: the restless spirit of a nun walled up here in the 15th century.
  • Sandy Bay Stand-Up Paddleboard
    Sheltered and pretty Sandy Bay beach on the east coast of Gibraltar is good for water sports and the ideal spot to pick up SUP skills in summer.


Educational value for kids

  • Macaques are Gibraltar’s most famous residents and the only free-roaming primates in Europe. They are as thrilling for kids as you imagine, but they’re also wild, do bite and it’s illegal to feed them. Macaque Educational Encounters let children learn about The Rock’s stars and observe safely.
  • Take a guided walking tour through the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and kids can explore the Great Siege and WWII Tunnels, visit St. Michael’s Cave and see the Moorish Castle.
  • The Mario Finlayson National Art Gallery is almost solely dedicated to the work of local artists past and present.
  • Europa Point in the far south of Gibraltar has an interesting collection of buildings ranging from the Europa Point Trinity Lighthouse to the graceful Mosque of the Custodian of the Holy Mosques. On a sunny day, the coast of North Africa is clear.
  • 18th century Garrison Library contains over 45,000 books, mostly about Gibraltar, its history, conflicts and people. There are free guided tours every morning.
  • Camp Bay & Little Bay beach was the first in Europe to create an artificial coral reef. Now a favourite spot for novice divers and teeming with marine life.
  • Over 318 species of birds migrate through Gibraltar each year, avian tours are a good way to get kids interested.

 

Getting around with kids in Gibraltar

Gibraltar is only 7km long and about the same wide, so everywhere is walkable. Bottom to top, the rock is a bit of hike, but The Cable Car is a fun alternative with kids. And there’s a wide range of inexpensive taxi tours to all major sites and attractions. Daily ferry services run between Gibraltar and Tangiers. Or you could hire a car for a few days to explore Andalusia’s Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz: Estepona’s an hour’s drive east of Gibraltar and Cadiz is just over an hour west.



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