I often get asked by many other parents (OK Mums mostly) what it’s like to holiday in Gibraltar. The answer trips off the tongue usually. As a Gibraltarian (albeit one living abroad for over twenty years) I can instantly reel off all the wonderful things the Rock has to offer visitors. Then I get the killer question: “what about facilities for families travelling with children?” I pause. I think again. For the last 8 years I’ve been visiting as a parent with my two young sons and I should have a list of things that trip off the tongue too. So here goes – the pros and cons are all in there:
- The big one is getting there: if you’re travelling from Spain, there’s no escaping the fact that the frequent delays imposed by Spanish border guards could make or break your whole experience of visiting Gibraltar. On a good day you could breeze through in a matter of minutes and on a bad day you could spend hours stuck in a slow-moving queue of cars or pedestrians. The queues are arbitrary and unpredictable. The good news is that if you fly to Gibraltar you’ll be fine!
- Once in Gibraltar you’ll find it’s child-friendly and your family is welcome everywhere; cafes, restaurants are accommodating at any time and you can expect to be served food up to 10pm in most places. Accommodation is at a premium but there is a choice of 5 hotels (from budget to 5-star luxury) and a growing number of holiday rental apartments to choose from. Any of the well-known holiday lettings websites will point you in the right direction.
- Baby-changing facilities and mother-and-baby rooms (if you prefer to breastfeed in private) are not as freely available as you might expect. Often you end up having to change and/or breastfeed your baby in a tiny toilet. One shining example was the ICC shopping centre on the ground floor – a nice big room in which to do both.
- Bus services are good and reasonably priced and it is perfectly possible to get by without a car in Gibraltar. However it is very hilly and if you are staying for any length of time it might be worth hiring a car to get around. (Don’t even think of walking to the Upper Rock with children in tow, especially in hot weather. Take a ride in the Cable Car instead.)
- If you do visit the Upper Rock, (and any trip to Gibraltar is not complete without seeing the famous Barbary Apes,) be aware that toilet/baby changing facilities are only found at St Michael’s Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels or in the café at the Top Station (this last one is reachable by Cable Car only.) Disabled access facilities are available in some areas but be aware that ramps are not widely incorporated around the Rock (NB pushchair users.) Ramps are mainly to be found at traffic lights and some of the more recently-built properties. A full list of disabled access facilities can be found on the Visit Gibraltar website.
- If you’re unlucky and it’s pouring with rain when you visit Gibraltar there is a lack of indoor soft play facilities as I found out to my cost during a rainy, February half-term a few years ago. At the time, my toddlers found a haven of soft-play fun in the tiny but perfectly formed McDonald’s on Europort Avenue Roundabout. Since then, they’ve built the King’s Bastion Leisure Centre where you can shelter on rainy days and enjoy family bowling, ice-skating, a cinema, amusement arcade and an excellent restaurant and café.
- Traffic is a problem and the streets are very narrow. If you are pushing a double buggy be mindful, particularly of the many motorbikes that zoom in and out of traffic as you are walking past. Parking is a nightmare in the town area and one of the beaches. There are reasonably priced car parks at either end of town: ICC at the north end of Main Street (entrance on Line Wall Road) and another just before Ragged Staff Gates at the southern end of Line Wall Road. There is also Grand Parade which is free (and busy) but a good spot if you’re going on the Cable Car or visiting the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens. There’s another multi-storey car park on Devil’s Tower Road just after crossing the runway into town (whether travelling overland from Spain or arriving by air you will have to cross the runway at some point!)
- Gibraltar has six lovely beaches: on the eastern side of the Rock there’s Sandy Bay, Catalan Bay, Eastern Beach; Western Beach – as its name suggests – is on the western side of the Rock (entrance near the airport) and on the southern side of the Rock there’s historic Rosia Bay, a natural harbour and beach area with two swimming pools and further along, Little Bay. During the official bathing season (9th June – 10th September in 2015) there are cafes, changing facilities and lifeguards. Parking is only really problematic at Sandy Bay where there are a handful of spaces. NB access to the beach is via a very steep hill. Get there early if you’re going during the summer months and don’t be put off, it is definitely worth the effort once you’re there.
- Gibraltar is lucky to have some great playground facilities for children and their families. The best ones are at Europa Point, near the Lighthouse and on Europort Avenue (behind Morrisons supermarket where you can park.) Both have breath-taking views, they’re large and well equipped. The playground at Europort Avenue has a small kiosk selling drinks, ice-creams and light snacks whereas Europa Point has a great café providing meals and refreshments including an outdoor area where you can keep an eye on your children while enjoying a drink and something to eat. The playground at the Alameda Gardens, for all its scenic beauty, is crying out for any facilities at all – at the time of writing there are none. There are other smaller playgrounds scattered throughout Gibraltar but do keep an eye out as the equipment is a bit “tired” and I’ve occasionally spotted litter and even broken glass on the floor in one of them.
- Commonwealth Park is a haven of peace and lush, green, open spaces along Queensway. It’s definitely worth a visit and a perfect break at any point during the day. Take a picnic basket and while away an afternoon. During the summer months there’s an outdoor cinema showing family films several times a week. Opposite the park you can find one of Gibraltar’s three marinas, Queensway Quay (the others are Ocean Village and Marina Bay.) Take a stroll along the marinas where you’ll find not just an array of yachts moored but a good variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops – a great way to start or end the day (the sunsets are picture-perfect!)
Thanks to John Bell-Young for the use of his (rather fantastic) photos