Gibraltar isn’t really on the European backpacking circuit, but it is certainly worth a few days’ visit. I recently returned from this small British Overseas Territory, surprised at how little I had spent, despite everything being priced in the Gibraltar Pound which is on parity with the British Pound (Euros are also widely accepted due to Gibraltar’s small size and large number of tourists crossing the border from Spain – BUT be warned; you will pay slightly higher prices). My trip wasn’t particularly frugal, and I did let myself go a little at times, but it definitely didn’t break the bank.My breakdown of expenses was as follows:
|Flights||£98||Monarch (BIX – GIB) – £25-off promotion|
|Accommodation||£80||4 nights – hostel|
|Drinks & Snacks||£10|
|Sightseeing||£10.50||Cable Car, Gibraltar Museum|
I flew directly to Gibraltar with Monarch for less than £100, after grabbing a promotional £25 off return flights. School holidays being recently over and flying out at 6.30 am midweek at the start of the tourist season may have been a big factor in bringing the price down. A number of locals and regular visitors I spoke to were surprised it was cheaper for me to fly direct into Gib (which is only possible from the UK) than it was for a flight to nearby Malaga, which is usually the more budget-friendly option. In fact, a very large proportion of Gibraltar’s visitors are day trippers crossing the border from Spain.
My attempts at couchsurfing were unsuccessful – and were likely hindered by Gibraltar’s small population in comparison to the Spanish urban areas across the frontier, local demographics (younger people who are more likely to participate in CS tend to live with parents or move away due to the sky high cost of rent and property), and ultimately the spontaneity of my trip. If you do intend to Couchsurf, advance warning is probably advisable.
In the end I booked myself into Gibraltar’s only hostel for the first night, and when I couldn’t find a sympathetic billionaire to look after me, I decided to stay for the rest of the trip. Emile Hostel was by far the cheapest place to stay in Gibraltar, even if £20 per night initially seems a little pricey by the rest of Europe’s standards. Regardless, I was thoroughly happy with my stay and the hostel staff were really helpful and friendly. I certainly wouldn’t have any reservations about staying there again.
Food & Drink
Compared to the UK, Gibraltar is on a par or slightly cheaper as far as meal prices are concerned. This is partly to do with Gibraltar being a tax haven, so no VAT will be added to your bill. Spending under £5 on lunch and around £10 on dinner would not be impossible. Getting the best price for meals is down to knowing where to go. Even in the main tourist hub, Casemates Square and along Main Street the prices aren’t too bad, but for the cheapest meals head to the small side alleys off Main Street or to the end of Main Street further away from Casemates. Needless to say prices were reasonable enough that I didn’t worry too much about prices. The only place I would avoid is the Ocean Village area, unless you are splashing out – and in this case ask the locals where they recommend for good value for money. If in doubt, always ask the Gibraltarians – they all speak English so there’s no excuse not to!
Places I ate a good, reasonably priced meal were the Carpenter’s Arms in Gibraltar Methodist Church, a small Indian restaurant on King’s Street (a land just off Main Street), and the Seawave restaurant on the beach in Catalan Bay (which the locals say is the best place to eat in the bay).
As far as drinks were concerned, I found Gibraltar was noticeably cheaper than the UK, especially the likes of London and southern England. Upon visiting the old sailor’s bar, Charles’ Hole in the Wall (a true piece of Gibraltarian history) I bought a cider for £2.80 which is a good bit lower than the UK average. Again it all depends on where you go. The prices in Ocean Village were closer to what you would expect in a large UK city, although drinks deals can be found on certain days (such as 2-for-1 and £3 happy hour cocktails which I clearly took advantage of). As always, speak to the locals to find the best watering holes. (The low cost of alcohol might be attributed to the fact that Gibraltar has such a high concentration of pubs, if you laid them end to end, they would encircle the rock 4.5 times)
Gibraltar happens to be tiny – a mere 3 miles by 1 mile at its widest points. With that in mind, you may as well walk everywhere. That’s certainly what I did – from the airport to the hostel, all around town, up and over the Rock, and around to Catalan Bay on the Rock’s eastern side. I even went into Spain on foot; it was that close to town. Public buses are available but I found there was little need to use them. You will find that the vast majority of Gibraltarians walk everywhere too.
(Make sure you pick up an official tourist map at the hostel, hotel or tourist information etc – it has plenty of discounts)
With Gibraltar being so small and concentrated, there isn’t a huge wealth of tourist attractions, but certainly enough to keep you occupied for a few days. What’s more as it traditionally wasn’t primarily a tourist destination (it was a key British Naval base for centuries), the tourist attractions there are have not become tourist traps. I spent a grand total of £10.50 on sightseeing which can be attributed to a 1-way cable car ride to the top of the Rock (£8.50 one way, or £10.50 return – I went for the single and walked back down) and £2 adult entry into the Gibraltar Museum.
The cable car ride offers excellent views of town and the Bay of Gibraltar, and combi-tickets are also possible allowing you to combine your fare with the entry to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve attractions – namely the Moorish Castle, Siege Tunnels and St Michael’s Cave (Gibraltar’s main tourist attractions – I gave them a miss as I had seen them before as a child, but they are worth the reasonable entry fee). Alternatively you could skip the cable car altogether and walk up instead. Exploring the nature reserve on foot was pleasant (and easier on your wallet than the road tour), and offered me the chance to see the Mediterranean steps for the first time. These are probably best descended rather than ascended, unless you feel particularly energetic. While on the Rock I also visited Princess Caroline’s Battery, the City Under Siege exhibit and explored some of the ruined fortifications – all of which didn’t cost me a penny.
Gibraltar Museum was definitely worth shelling out a mere £2 and was crammed with fascinating historical artifacts from every era of Gibraltar’s history – did you know that fossilized Neanderthal remains were first discovered there, not the Neander Valley? I certainly didn’t! The museum also put Gibraltar’s current political situation in context for me, and was a worthwhile end to the afternoon. It is also located a short, pleasant walk from the (free) Alameda Gardens and the cable car station, amongst other points of interest.
Aside from that what would a visit to the sun be without a trip to the beach? Although small, Gibraltar has a few beaches on offer, the most picturesque being on the East Side, away from the city. During my trip I spent a quiet few hours on Catalan Bay beach which is popular during peak season, and also Eastern Beach which is currently undergoing some development and should soon become the “it” place to sip cocktails in the evening.
So those are a few suggestions of how to spend a few days enjoying Gibraltar cheaply. The suggestions for sightseeing are by no means exhaustive and there are many other possibilities to spend your time (and hopefully not too much of your money) in this interesting little corner of the world.