Review: The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar – does it live up to its reputation?
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This is our review of The Rock Hotel in Gibraltar.
We have covered Gibraltar several times in the past 18 months, in part because, as a British Overseas Territory, it was one of the few easier places to get to during covid.
In 2020 we published a review of a reader’s day trip and last year Rob went to check out the Sunborn Yacht Hotel (review here).
Rob had a drink in the iconic Rock Hotel when he visited but didn’t stay, which made it tricky to compare directly with his room at the Sunborn. As I needed a flight from Terminal 3 to undertake my lounge safari, and I had never visited Gibraltar, I thought it was worth popping down to take a look at The Rock.
A bit of history
The Rock is, by a huge margin, the most famous hotel in Gibraltar.
It opened in 1932 and retains its original art deco styling. You will find it mentioned in most articles about the territory and it occupies a similar cultural position to hotels such as Raffles in Singapore or Reid’s in Madeira. The website is here.
It remained open during World War 2, suffering minimal damage and accommodating military officials
For a long time, The Rock Hotel was the most luxurious hotel in Gibraltar. These days, it’s technically flagged as a 4-star, sitting slightly below the 5-star Sunborn Yacht Hotel. But what is it like?
Arriving at The Rock Hotel Gibraltar
There’s no denying that The Rock retains its original 1930s charm. The white facade, at some point extended northwards, sits at the southerly end of Gibraltar’s main street, up the hill and just under the rock of Gibraltar itself.
The aspect is both a blessing and a curse. The hotel sits on the steep and busy Europa Road and has no grounds of its own, although it does overlook the lovely Botanical Gardens. On the flip side, every room has commanding views out across the bay of Gibraltar and as far as north Africa, so you’re unlikely to get better views.
It is, admittedly, not the closest hotel to the airport. Walking it would take you around 45-60 minutes – but a taxi can get you there in 10 minutes for £10. Both the Sunborn and the Holiday Inn Express are much closer and are easily walkable from the airport if you only have hand baggage.
When you arrive you must first head up the a grand staircase or the lift to get to the check-in desks. Check in was quick and easy, and I was given a room on the fourth floor (there are five in total).
The grand staircase splits either side of the desks and you head up to the main floor of the hotel, which features the restaurant as well as lobby seating and two small lifts.
The public areas are lovely, still in the colonial style with lots of parlour palms etc.
Around the lifts is the hotel ‘hall of fame’ which features all the famous celebrities who have stayed here over the years, including Churchill, John Lennon, Prince Philip etc. I’ll let you decide if this is tacky or not:
Rooms at The Rock Hotel Gibraltar
I was in a twin balcony room in what turns out to be the newer (although still old) extension, right at the end of the corridor.
The rooms are slightly less impressive than the public spaces. I believe the last refurbishment was in 2014. The room is a good size:
Although, I never quite understand why hotels with twin beds feel the need to push these right next to each other. Presumably most people book twins because they don’t want to sleep together!
The room is clean and tidy, although you shouldn’t expect 5-star luxury. There is a telephone on the right of the bed, plus a small desk with TV and mini fridge:
A tea set and kettle is provided, although no coffee facilities.
Looking the other way is a wardrobe with sliding doors and safe:
Most (although not all) rooms come with a balcony with fantastic views:
Because of the way Gibraltar is shaped, most of the town doesn’t get much direct sunlight until the afternoon.
The bathroom is square, with a wall (though no door) dividing the toilet and shower. (There is a bathroom door, plus a second door to the room itself, as well.)
There is a rainfall and standard shower head:
Toiletries are by Gilchrist & Soames:
The pool at The Rock Hotel Gibraltar
There is, as previously mentioned, a pool. Apparently it is the largest in Gibraltar, although it is only open seasonally from early April until late October.
Whilst it was closed during my stay I did have a peek. It is located on the other side of Europa road, nestled into the top of the Botanic Gardens.
It is a nice pool, although I suspect it is noisy with road noise and is overlooked by the road:
Dinner and breakfast
The main restaurant is on the right hand side of the building. First up is the lounge and bar, which serves afternoon tea:
This part of the hotel is beautifully decorated and feels very luxurious – even if not staying here I would definitely consider coming for the afternoon. You’re unlikely to get better views except from the top of the Rock.
At the end is the dining room:
Although you can’t see it, both the lounge and the dining room have the same fantastic views as the rooms. There is also an outdoor terrace that I imagine is used during the summer – it gets a bit chilly on January evenings.
The dining room is quite formal, and the staff are wearing dinner jackets which adds to the atmosphere.
The menu features a range of Spanish, English and Moroccan dishes, with main courses priced between £18 and £27. You can see the menu here.
I had the seared scallops to start, whilst my friend Lawrence had the mushroom ravioli:
My scallops were great, although we did think that the ravioli had been microwaved due to uneven temperature, which was very disappointing. Not exactly what you expect from a £13 starter in such prestigious surroundings.
For the main I had the pan roasted duck breast:
This was good, although not quite as medium rare as I would’ve liked. The lamb tagine was delicious, although it came in two parts and was very attractively plated. I’m not sure the lamb was cooked to order necessarily, either.
On the whole, it felt like the food could and should have been better – the hotel positions it as a luxury restaurant but in reality it was fairly mediocre.
Breakfast was better, with a small but perfectly good buffet that actually exceeded my expectations:
A full English buffet was available, and you could also order scrambled, fried or poached eggs to go with it.
My gut feeling is that The Rock Hotel likes to think it is the most luxury hotel in Gibraltar but in reality it is a decent four-star that occasionally rests on its laurels a little too often.
It certainly commands a spectacular location in the town and you won’t get better views across the bay from any other hotel. The public areas are lovely too, with lovely light filled art deco lounge and dining rooms that hark back to the hotel’s history.
In other parts, the hotel needs a tweak, especially in the bathrooms.
As the hotel is not part of any chain, your best bet to get some rewards from your booking is via Hotels.com Rewards. The booking page is here. Do check the price against the official hotel web site in case there are any direct booking savings to be had, but I didn’t find any – I used Hotels.com.
What to see and do in Gibraltar
I was in Gibraltar for 24 hours and managed to see everything I wanted to see and do, although I think you would be in less of a rush with a two night stay.
My highlights included:
- Hiking the Mediterranean steps up to the top of the rock. From The Rock Hotel you can walk up to the starting point of the Steps at Jews Gate on the Eastern edge of the rock (about 20-30 mins depending on your fitness level) before purchasing your entry to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve (£13, including all the attractions at the top). The hike up the Mediterranean Steps is a fairly steep incline and with several hundred metres elevation. It winds its way around the southerly point of the rock and tops out at Lord Aire’s Battery. It is well worth doing, with beautiful views across to Africa, although its southerly aspect will make it very hot in the summer.
- St Michael’s Cave: included in your Nature Reserve ticket is entry to the various historical and military attractions on the rock, but by far my favourite was St Michael’s Cave, a natural cave with stalactites that now hosts a small auditorium in the largest of the caves. In 2021 a new immersive audiovisual experience was installed that depicts the cave’s geological history.
- Gibraltar Skywalk: a more recent addition to the visitor attractions on the rock is the Skywalk, a glass-floored view point. It doesn’t have quite the same commanding views as the Mediterranean Steps but still worth doing.
- Cheap booze: it would be remiss to visit Gibraltar without purchasing a few bottles from the many off-licence shops along Main Street. Alcohol costs are about half what you would pay in the UK – you can get a litre of Bombay Sapphire for around £12 for example (the cheapest brand-name gin I could find was 1l of Beefeater for around £8). The airside duty free shop in Gibraltar Airport is also a good spot to pick up some booze and prices are virtually identical to the shops on Main Street.
- The Gibraltar Botanic Gardens make for a lovely late afternoon stroll and lead down to the cable car and end of Main Street.
Whilst taxis and cable cars will get you up and around the rock, I really do recommend walking the entire thing. The paths are tarmaced and, once you are at the top, generally flat or slope down.
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