Top of the Rock
As we left our last stop in Portugal and headed across the border to Spain, we only had a rough idea of where to explore along the south coast. I wanted to go to Seville, but safe parking for the van was hard to find (there’s a lot of van break-ins in Spain), so on the drive we decided to head to Gibraltar for the day instead. We found a lovely little parkup at the Marina in the Spanish town of La Linea de la Concepcion for the night ready to explore Gibraltar the next day.
We walked across the border into Gibraltar, had our passports checked and off we went! The first thing we did was to take the bus to the Top of the Rock cable car station, because you can’t really visit Gibraltar without heading up the famous rock face! From the border, you can take the #10 bus which drops you off right at the cable car carpark and costs £2.20pp for a return ticket.
There’s also the Botanical Gardens located at the carpark, so if you want to explore the entire nature reserve on your trip to the Top of the Rock, then I recommend doing that first, because you come out at a totally different place. Also, if you do plan on doing that, just get the single bus ticket because again, you come out at a totally different place and we could not find a bus stop to take us back to the border and ended up having to walk!
The views from the top are amazing – you can see the town of La Linea de la Concepcion in Spain (we could even see our van parked up in the Marina haha), the runway which cuts across, and the main town which is just full to the brim with houses and apartment blocks. On the other side it’s a little quieter with a couple beaches and smaller towns.
Upper Rock Nature Reserve
To get to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve you can either hire a guided taxi tour which will drive you around it, or you can get a ticket for the Top of the Rock and walk through it yourself. We weren’t too sure whether or not to get the Nature Reserve ticket, but I’m so glad we did because there’s not a lot of the area you can explore at the top without it.
The cable car is open 7 days a week between 9.30am-7.15pm April-October and 9.30am-5.15pm November-March. There’s 3 options for tickets:
- A Cable Car only return (this literally lets you go to the top station and back down again), and costs £17pp (£8 for kids).
- Cable Car one way and Nature Reserve (you can go up to the top of the rock, and then walk back down into the town through the Nature Reserve) which costs £28pp (£18.50 for kids).
- A Cable Car return and Nature Reserve (you can go up and down the cable car and walk around the Nature Reserve) which costs £30 (£18.50 for kids).
We bought the cable car return and nature reserve ticket, but if you do the Nature Reserve the way they advise you at the desk, you can’t get the cable car back down, because you literally walk down the rock and end up back in the main town of Gibraltar, unless you skip half of the Nature Reserve and take the cable car down from the middle station (which is closed in the winter months anyway). You can find more info here.
Just be warned, the Nature Reserve is HILLY! My legs were so sore by the end of the day – you literally walk uphill, then downhill, then uphill, then back down again haha! There’s also a lot of steps, so it’s not the most accessible place to explore.
St Michael’s Cave
So within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, there’s actually quite a few things to see (other than the amazing views of course) and one of my favourites was St Michael’s Cave. There’s actually around 150 caves in the Rock of Gibraltar, and this is by far the largest and most visited with over 1million visits a year. The largest cave of the network known as St Michaels Cave, known as the cathedral cave, is now used as a theatre space, which has the capacity to seat 600 people for concerts, ballet shows and light shows.
The cave is lit up in amazing changing colours as you wander through it showing the amazing textures of the stalagmites that hang down from the ceiling as paths weave their way through. There’s little off-shoots of the main cave that you can explore too, and even a section of a stalagmite that fell from the ceiling thousands of years ago and shows the inside structure of them.
Back in the day, it was thought that the cave was bottomless, and then later on that the underground cave system was a secret passage that lead under the Strait of Gibraltar for 15 miles (24km) to Morocco, and that’s how the Barbary Apes arrived. It was also set up as an emergency hospital in WW2 but luckily was never needed to be used.
Other Things to See in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve
There are SO many things to see in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve that if you’re walking it (not taking a driven tour) then it will most likely take you the entire day to walk the whole way down and stop off at every point along the way.
There’s the skywalk, which lets you walk out over the edge of the cliff looking straight down hundreds of feet below. There’s the Windsor Suspension Bridge, O’Hara’s battery which has amazing viewpoints all the way back over to the main cable car station, and on a clear day, to the most southerly point of Gibraltar and the lighthouse and as you get further down the mountain, the Seige Tunnels and exhibition, and a few other things aswell of course all with plenty of views around Gibraltar as you walk down.
The only way to see these is obviously if you have the Nature Reserve ticket, but entry to these is all included in the price.
The Barbary Apes
One of the most amazing parts of the rock for me was seeing the wild Barbary Macaques roaming around. They were amazing to watch – grooming each other, playing, chasing and at some points even fighting with each other. There’s a few myths around how they got to be in Gibraltar as they’re known to have come from Morocco. The most likely cause is that they were imported from Morocco and finding the limestone cliffs a nice place to inhabit as it’s mostly out of the way of humans – or at least was back in the day.
Another myth is that they came through the tunnel of St Michaels Cave under the Strait of Gibraltar, and took up residency there. During the Second World War, their numbers plummeted, but more were imported in from Morocco to get their numbers back up and now they’re thriving again.
There are a few rules to be aware of though when visiting as they are wild animals and can get violent. It’s actually illegal to touch and feed them, and you need to give them plenty of space. They have grown to understand that bags usually carry food, so don’t open bags near them and do NOT get any food or drink out as they will fly at a thousand miles an hour and grab it from you (this didn’t happen to us, but we saw a guy get something out of his bag and within seconds, he was surrounded by about 4 apes and they were trying to steal his bag). They’re fast and very aggressive when they know food could be involved!
They’re literally everwhere, so no doubt you’ll get to see them while you’re up there.
Gibraltar to Spain
The easiest way to get to Gibraltar from Spain is to walk. We debated driving in with our campervan, but we struggled to find anywhere on our app to stay the night, and there were a lot of comments about the queues for security and passport control at the border so we decided to stay in La Linea de la Concepcion at the Marina and just walk across. There’s also a huge car park for cars and motorhomes if you don’t need a place to stay for the night right at the border. It took us about 5 minutes to walk through (about 20 minutes total from the Marina).
It’s not possible to get a taxi from Spain to Gibraltar or Gibraltar to Spain so they will drop you off at the border, but there’s plenty of public transport as soon as you cross each way. We got the bus to the cable car station, but you can walk into the main town centre which we did on the way back. We ended up getting lost when we left the Nature Reserve and couldn’t find any bus stops, so walked through the streets until we found the main area. It’s so strange as you actually walk across the runway for the main airport. Luckily, it’s not a busy airport, but it’s such a strange thing to do!
I wish we had an extra day there, as I’d have loved to have visited the Botanical Gardens, stopped by the lighthouse and visited the beaches that we saw from the top of the rock. It’s a very densly built place, but it was interesting to explore – especially seeing all the British shops (like Morrisons) and the cheap fuel, and obviously spending British Pounds rather than Euros!
Have you been to Gibraltar before?