48 Hours in Gibraltar

The stunning sight of the Rock of Gibraltar rising 1,300ft from the Mediterranean has inspired travellers for centuries. Originally believed to be one of the Pillars of Hercules today the Rock is throwing off its military past and embracing a cosmopolitan future.
The town and dockyards occupy the north-western corner of the peninsular, looking west towards Spain and Algeciras. Africa lies just 13 miles to the south whilst the Mediterranean stretches out to the east.
The main focus of the town is Casemates Square, a large plaza flanked by cafes and relics of the fortifications that have guarded this outpost for centuries. Just to the western side of the square is the tourist office (00 350 74982; www.gibraltar.gi/tourism), which opens Monday to Friday 9am-5.30pm, Saturday 10am–3pm and Sunday 10am-1pm.
South from the square runs Main Street, which as its name suggests is the main shopping street lined with discount electrical and tabacco outlets as well as many well known UK high street names.
The town can easily be covered on foot, but buses run frequently, all the way from the Spanish border to Europa Point at the southern tip. The Upper Rock is a nature reserve on the outside and a complex network of caves and tunnels on the inside.

The cable car (£8 return) that climbs more than 1,300ft to the top station on the Rock is situated at the far end of Main Steet outside the Botanical Gardens. From here you can see three countries and two continents. (If you're feeling active, you can walk up using the road and the marked footpath.)
Gibraltar is home to Europe's only resident species of monkey: the Barbary apes. Legend maintains that should they ever die out, British rule over Gibraltar will end so their numbers are carefully monitored.
Today the primates are thriving, and you can see them near the upper cable car station and the Apes' Den, where they will readily jump on your shoulder and pose for photos. They may look cute, but beware, it is illegal to feed them and they have a nasty bite. And remember to hold onto your camera and other shiny belongings: some are expert pickpockets.

The walk south from the lower cable-car station to Europa Point takes you past much of the post-naval remains. Soon you reach the southern most extremity of the Rock, Europa Point. There's not much here other than the impressive Mosque and a lighthouse (and a giftshop offering "Much Cheapness", but the coast of North Africa is clearly visible. The mountain on the Moroccan side is Jebel Musa, the other Pillar of Hercules. The myth maintains that it and the Rock of Gibraltar were originally one, but Hercules smashed through its middle, splitting the mountain in two and linking the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

Casemates Square is an ideal location for lunch cafes and restaurants line the square and the tables spread across the cobbles provide and ideal vantage point to watch the visitors and locals go about their business. For a home-grown option try Gibraltar Confectionery at 228 Main Street sells mouth-watering cakes and pastries, including Calentita, a bread like dish made with chickpeas).

Main Street is home to many familiar names from the British high street. Neither sales tax nor VAT applies in Gibraltar, though this saving is mostly negated by higher import costs. "Sin" taxes are low – expect to pay about £9 for a litre of Scotch or £15 for 200 cigarettes. Strict customs limits apply when returning to the UK, or crossing into Spain: no more than 200 cigarettes and one litre of spirits.

The Gibraltar Museum at Bomb House Lane (00 350 74289; http://www.gibmuseum.gi/) charts the colony's natural history, as well as its more recent past and military traditions. A section is devoted to the Great Siege of the late 18th century, when Spain tried unsuccessfully to recapture the Rock. This experience was crucial in forging the distinct identity of Gibraltarians. In the basement are the preserved Moorish baths, dating back to the mid-14th century. The museum opens Monday to Friday 10am–6pm, Saturday 10am-2pm; admission is £2.

The Angry Friar is a traditional English pub with outside seating located two thirds of the way along Main Street serving traditional English ales and food. Whilst parallel to Main St runs Irish Town a less crowded but atmospheric street with many bars and cafes.

The Rock wasn't known in the past for its culinary delights, but things are changing. The new Marina is the place for dining. Casa Pepe, The Boatyard and The Waterfront all offer fish dishes and meat grills. Around Ocean Village established names such as Pizza Hut offer reasonably priced food with waterfront views; there are also numerous tasty kosher and Moroccan cafes if you explore the streets off Main Street.

Put on a sensible pair of shoes and take a walk on the Upper Rock. The grottoes of St Michael's Caves (9.30am-7.15pm) have been renovated using stunning lighting effects to highlight the backdrop of stalagmites and stalactites, with such amazing acoustics that regular concerts also take place here.
After this, walk about a mile and a half to the opposite end of the Rock to visit the Great Siege Tunnels (9.30am-7.15pm). In contrast to the naturally formed St Michael's Caves, these were dug by army engineers during the Great Siege – it was here that the British Army turned all its firepower on Spanish forces, and the well designed exhibition gives a flavour of the desperate conditions that once existed inside with animatronic figures and sound effects. The tunnels viewpoints have a bird's-eye view of the military cemetery, airport and the Spanish town of La Linea.
On the walk down, drop into the Military Heritage Centre (9.30am-7.15pm) for more on the Rock's historical defences. Finally, pass the imposing, 14th-century Moorish Castle, from which the Union Jack flies proudly. But only way to visit is at Her Majesty's pleasure, as it's now the local prison.

Gibraltar's diversity of places of worship reflects its status as a melting pot of English Protestants, Scottish Presbyterians, Maltese and Genoese Catholics, Jews and Muslims. At noon each Sunday, follow the soldiers marching from Bomb House Lane to Casemates Square, where they re-enact the Ceremony of the Keys when the British took control of Gibraltar more than 300 years ago. Their final destination is the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary, which is built on the site of a mosque. Two hundred yards away in Cathedral Square stands the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, while up on Engineers Lane is the Great Synagogue.

If you've been away for some time a Sunday Roast is always a welcome reminder of home and you'll be spoilt for choice in Gibraltar.

The waters around Gibraltar are home to whales and dolphins. Competing operators (including www.dolphinsafari.gi and www.dolphin.gi) based at the new Marina Bay development operate dolphin-watching tours for about £20.