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Review: a British Airways day trip to Gibraltar

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This is our review of a British Airways day trip to Gibraltar.

There are very few places at the moment that have no entry restrictions on arrival (such as quarantine or a requirement to show a PCR test) or upon returning to the UK.

Gibraltar is one of them, and reader Matthias recently decided to go for a same-day break. Coupled with the unique Gibraltar airport experience we thought it would make an interesting piece.

Worlds best departure lounge Gibraltar

Over to Matthias:

“Desperate for a trip out of the UK but short on time, I’d been watching the UK ‘travel corridor’ list during lockdown, hoping for a lucky break.

None came (unfortunately my budget does not extend to private jets to Bhutan or Botswana!). The only destination left without the need for quarantine or test in either direction was the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.

I’d visited Gibraltar once, 20 years ago, and my memories weren’t the best – aggressive monkeys and run-down pubs seemingly the only thing I could remember.

Airport from Moorish Castle Gibraltar

I figured at the very minimum it would be a fun flying experience. Gibraltar Airport usually ranks high in a list of ‘exciting airports’ due to its unique characteristics:

  • The short runway has water at both ends
  • The main road into town actually crosses the runway so must be closed every time a plane lands or departs
  • You get great view of the Rock on either departure or landing, depending on prevailing wind conditions and a judicious choice of seat

Conveniently, British Airways runs double daily Heathrow – Gibraltar flights on certain days, allowing a long day trip with around 6.5 hours on the ground. I got a great deal at under £80 return booked a month out, although I did notice the prices were nearer to £500 just before departure.

(Wizz Air has also just launched flights from Luton if you want another option. They depart at 13.40 every Monday and Friday.)

Sadly the flight time is just too short for an 160 tier point Club Europe run. This meant I stayed in Euro Traveller despite BA’s best efforts to sell me an upgrade.

The morning flight is quite early at 7.10am but has the benefit of getting you to a pleasantly warm Gibraltar by 11.00.

The flight was packed but immigration was efficient as long as you showed the barcode proving your completion of the online health form.

Because Gibraltar is less than 7 square km or 3 square miles, the airport is literally next to town. You can walk to Casemates Square in around 15 minutes including, of course, the crossing of the runway!

Alternatively, there are taxis and buses, although these can be slow as traffic seemed to be generally quite terrible.

Top Of The Rock Gibraltar
The original Top of the Rock

Things to do & see in Gibraltar

Gibraltar is, of course, mainly known for the Rock. This is where all the main sights are, which I’d decided to visit first before ending back in town for a walk and pitstop.

You need to buy a Nature Reserve ticket to access the Rock, but as this included entry to all the sights it was a real bargain at £13 considering the variety and quality of the attractions. Even if you’re not interested in military history, reading about the Moors, Spaniards, Brits and others fighting for the Rock is thoroughly engrossing.

Suspension bridge with Gibraltar town in the background
The Windsor Suspension Bridge

I started off at the Moorish Castle (really only a tower, but a very old one and with a nice bonus view of the airport). I progressed to the Great Siege Tunnels (fascinating and superbly refurbished), the new Windsor Suspension Bridge (mildly scary) and the Mediterranean Steps up the steepest part of the Rock, but with great views along the way.

66 years ago in St Michaels Cave Gibraltar
Preceded by royalty at St Michael’s Cave

After my first encounter with the famous Barbary macaque monkeys – who truly have no fear and can be mildly intimidating – I made my way past O’Haras Battery to St Michael’s Cave, bigger than expected and beautifully showcased in son-et-lumiere.

After a fleeting visit to the new but unimpressive Skywalk, I finished at the top station of the rickety old Cable Car, which whisked me back into town in a couple of minutes.

Cable Car Gibraltar

Rather unhelpfully, seeing all the sights involves a fair bit of backtracking and ups and downs, so I ended up covering around 10km and 1,000m climb. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are keen on some serious exercise. I did it running, with a backpack. Everyone’s crazy in their own way.

For a more comfortable experience, you could either leave out the odd landmark, start with a taxi to the far end, rent e-bikes or hire a tour guide who will gladly ferry you around in a car or minibus.

The alternative is to split your visit over a couple of days – any more and you’ll be bored, unless you’re once again allowed to cross the nearby border into Spain without triggering quarantine.

From the bottom of the cable car station, it’s a short stroll into Gibraltar town, which after an ‘extensive beautification programme’ now boasts the wonderfully pedestrianised Main Street. You can amble this back to Casemates Square for an alfresco pint and some tapas.

Casemates Square Gibraltar

Soon enough it was time to walk back to the airport, making sure I crossed the runway before the inbound flight.

After gliding through security in the beautiful but rather over-specced airport building, I was pleased to hear that the business lounge had reopened. I was less pleased to hear that British Airways had stopped paying for access so that my Silver card was useless.

Instead of paying the (surprisingly reasonable) £13 access fee, I grabbed a beer from the main bar and sat on the balcony, watching my plane come in with the Rock as backdrop.

Worlds best departure lounge Gibraltar

As night fell, there was one last highlight to come. Due to the westerly winds, the plane would take off into the Bay of Algeciras and do a full circle around the Rock before heading back home.

The view from the left-hand side really was something else and almost made up for the absence of a G&T!

I’ll be honest that the flight back dragged on a bit, but when I arrived back home roughly 16 hours after I’d left, I concluded that it had definitely been worth it.”


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Comments (109)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Matarredondaaa says:

    Living near Seville as I do, in non Covid times, we make regular trips to Gib as love it although a bit biased as 6 years ago today, got married in the same registry office as John Lennon!
    An alternative to the HIX is the Caleta Hotel.
    Well worth a nights stay but as said, not much for teenage children to do.

  • Colin H says:

    Heres a tip if you want to go to the Top of the Rock without taxiing, driving or hiking. Just phone ahead and book a table in the restaurant there (reasonably priced for brunch). They will give you a confirmation number. Quote this at the cable car station and you will jump the queue and your rides up and down will be free!
    Best place to stay, and close to the bottom station and the botanical gardens, is the Rock Hotel.

  • Graeme says:

    That’s great Matthias, thank you. Looking at Gibraltar for a trip very soon so this is nice to read.

    Those who have been before – which area is best to stay in for a quick weekend?

    • Geoff says:

      Everywhere is close, perhaps except the Caleta – a bit more of a leisure hotel on the beach in Catalan Bay, but not so accessible for the town on foot as there is a big rock between in the way. The Rock Hotel used to be the best in town with great views of the sunset across Algeciras bay and there is a new Holiday Inn nearer the airport – both with easy access to anywhere in town.

  • Geoff says:

    The runway is short, but only the same length as BHD and INV – but the water at both ends concentrates the mind.

  • Alastair says:

    Fantastic article! – Gibraltar has been on my to-visit list for a long time, just might not be a day-trip with my current home being in Helsinki. Wonder if there are some interesting OW routings though…

    • The real John says:

      Well there is only one possible route unless you backtrack… LHR-GIB-Morocco or vice versa.

  • Wally1976 says:

    Thank you for this great article and the useful comments. My wife and I have been dumping the kids with grandparents and doing a short trip in February for the last few years. We loved Berlin this year but, whilst there we thought it might be nice to try somewhere a bit warmer and so booked Gibraltar for February 2021 flying out in CE with our last ever Lloyds upgrade voucher. Yes I know this isn’t the best use of the voucher but we haven’t flown long haul at all since having the kids. Also only ever flown economy apart from with these vouchers so it’s still a real treat for us. For the flight back it wasn’t worth using Avios as it was only 20 quid each (ET).

    We’re staying at the Holiday Inn Express for 3 nights on points.

    Very pleased to see that our flight has now been moved to terminal 3 and now just hoping against hope that GIB stays on the travel corridors list and hoping for some kind of normality with regards to airport lounges (loved the Cathay lounge when we flew to Budapest from T3 in 2017) and aeroplane food and drink. Really looking forward to it after missing out on a family foreign holiday the last two summers (although we have had a week in Cornwall each year which was great).

    I was unaware that we needed to fill in an online form before arriving so thank you for that information too.

    Also we would probably be unable to do foreign trips at all if it wasn’t for this site (and if we did they certainly wouldn’t involve CE or lounges) so thanks to Rob and team and all the commenters for enabling this for us.

  • RussellH says:

    Sorry, but the environmental issues notwithstanding, the thought of spending three hours in a cramped shorthaul seat twice in one day is far too much for me.

    • Matthias (author) says:

      The return flight was fairly empty so I got an exit row all to myself, which was very nice. I find that as long as the middle seat is free (which has happened a fair bit recently), it doesn’t feel too cramped.

  • Lashious says:

    I went alone on a day trip from vilamoura by coach once. It reminded me of Portsmouth in places (smelled of chips). We had a Gibraltarian drive us up the Rock at the speed of light, and the world war 2 stories and his obvious pride in his country was the most impressive thing. The cruise ships and the winds off Africa I could see/feel were a world away from Spain. I got some lovely Pandora charms for my daughter so cheaply. I also marvelled that so many companies are able to say they are based there when it is so tiny. A day trip is plenty. Most interesting the argy bargy about who owns it. And of they can keep it.

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