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You never forget that moment you ask your partner to marry you. For me, it was a mild January afternoon in Lisbon. We were strolling along the cobbles parallel to the Tagus. Questions of life and our future were being discussed, hand in hand. We reached the grassy area, from which the Ponte de Abril stretches boldly into the mist, reaching over to the Almada.
Doina and I had been traveling together for a year, non-stop. I’m one of those ‘overthinker-on-overdrive’ types. My obsession with perfection, and analyzing every outcome imaginable, often paralyzes me into not making a decision.
But not at that moment. At that moment, everything about asking her just felt right. Very, very few times in my life have I ever felt that way. She looked beautiful, with her blonde hair floating gently in the breeze, wrapped up snuggly in a cardigan.
It just happened. I got down on one knee, asked her politely (mon the British manners), and her smile beamed wide as she giddily said ‘yes.’
Beyond the laughs and smiles, this was our way of being completely committed to each other: committed, entirely, to building a life together.
But we both knew we didn’t want a wedding. We still had plans to continue traveling, well into the year. We were still figuring out what the next steps, career-wise, looked like for us. We were still living out of a suitcase, and neither of us had a place to call ‘home.’
I’d been to some truly beautiful weddings to date, and that summer I was set to be a best man at one of my close friend’s. For some, a colorful, gorgeous wedding beneath the summer sun is the best way to tie the knot. For Doina and I, with so much up in the air, and the nightmare logistics of where we could even host one, being from different countries, meant we needed our day to be simple, easily organized and intimate; just the two of us.
Doina, being the efficient miner of research that she is, got on the case, and in no time at all our attention was turned to a tiny British overseas territory in the south of Spain: Gibraltar.
Why get married in Gibraltar?
Gibraltar is a uniquely bizarre place. Captured by the Anglo-Dutch during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1703, it has been under British rule since 1714. Naturally, through the centuries, this has caused a lot of friction. Despite Gibraltar operating under UK law, Spain continues to asset the territory belongs to them.
This has made for an eccentric hodgepodge of Spanish architecture and British influence. The locals speak fluent Spanish, but with a strange British accent. Look north, and you see the dry, green mountain ranges; hallmarks of Spanish geography. Look south, and you see a high street with a Debenhams and a pub that makes a full English breakfast.
It’s also worth noting that half, yes half, of the world’s seaborne trade passes through the Strait of Gibraltar. With a gap of just 8.9 miles to the coast of Morocco, which you can see in all its glory on a clear day, many people have even swum across the strait over the years. Gibraltar was a crucially important base for the Royal Navy during WWII, and today continues to be strategically important for trade relationships globally.
This wondrous little town of just 30,000 has built its economy on tourism, gambling, banking, and ship refueling. And, for couples across the globe for decades, its been the place to host one of the most important days of their lives: tying the knot.
This is for three simple reasons:
- There are no residency restrictions, so you don’t have to live there in order to get married,
- You only have to stay overnight in Gibraltar to legally get married, and
- The marriage certificate is in English, which can prevent further complications down the road, which might require expensive official translations and apostilles to authenticate the documents.
For Doina and I, it was the perfect way for us to marry easily, efficiently, and, most importantly, on our terms.
That’s not to say, however, that we just showed up, sealed the deal and cracked open a bottle of bubbly. Eloping to Gibraltar still needs to be planned in advance. Fortunately, there is plenty of help out there.
How to get there
You can get to Gibraltar by flying into Gibraltar International Airport (GIB) or Malaga Airport (AGP) and from Malaga taking a 2-3 hour bus.
Option 1: Flying to Gibraltar International Airport
At the time of writing this, there are direct flight routes from the UK (London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Luton, Manchester, and Bristol) and Morocco (Tangier and Casablanca).
Option 2: Fly to Malaga Airport and take a bus
After flying into Malaga, you can take a bus. Depending on the route, it will take between 2 and 3 hours. From La Linea bus station you’d walk about 5 minutes to the border and cross it by foot. After crossing the border, you can take a bus into the center of Gibraltar.
To book a flight to Gibraltar or Malaga, check availability here.
Gibraltar is easily accessible via Spain since it adjoins the southern coast of Spain at the western end of the Mediterranean. You can get to Gibraltar by bus, by train, or by renting your own car.
We got to Gibraltar by renting a car in Lisbon and driving through Portugal and Spain. We wrote a post about our experience and tips on renting a car in Europe.
If you drive to Gibraltar, be aware that crossing the border in a car during peak times could take as much as 3 hours. We crossed pretty late at night (around 11pm), and it only took a couple minutes.
If you can’t avoid the peak times, you can park your car in the border town between Spain and Gibraltar, La Linea (there’s a big paid underground car park in Plaza de la Constitution), and then walk about ten minutes to the border where you can cross by foot. After that, you can take the bus into the center of Gibraltar.
Also keep in mind that parking is limited in Gibraltar. If you bring your car, check with the hotel ahead of time that they offer parking. The Rock Hotel where we stayed provided us with free parking during our stay.
By bus or train
There are multiple options for taking the bus and train. For the train, the closest station is Algeciras station, and from there you’d take a 30-minute bus to La Linea. When arriving at Algeciras station, cross the road to the bus terminal where buses leave every half hour to La Linea.
Requirements / What you need
Our prep started a couple of weeks before eloping (although we do recommend you give yourself more time).
You will need the following in order to get married in Gibraltar:
- Your passports or national identity cards
- Your birth certificates
- Proof that you will be staying in Gibraltar for at least one night before or one night after the marriage ceremony If you don’t have your birth certificate, order it before scheduling the appointment. If you’re from the UK, you will need the long-form certificate, not the short-term certificate.
If the documents are not in English or multi-language (including English), you must get them translated (check the specific rules here https://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/civil-status-registration-office/marriages-civil-partnerships).
You will need additional documents if special circumstances apply (as an example, if you’ve been married before or if you’ve changed your name).
If you’re staying at a hotel in Gibraltar, they’ll handle sending in the proof – just let them know. We stayed at the Rock Hotel, and they sent in the proof via email to the registrar office not even 30 minutes after we’d made the request.
Making an appointment
Making your booking is fairly easy! We used a wedding planner because it was short notice and we wanted to do everything right and quickly.
We initially tried calling the registrar, but they wouldn’t let us know what available times they had before sending them all our documents via email. But as we wouldn’t get our birth certificates until a few days before the wedding, waiting wasn’t an option. So we reached out to a wedding planner (Monica and Sara at Hour Weddings), and just a couple hours later we had a booking secured for our preferred date. The fee (£300) was well worth it for us, given the short planning time. The fee also included two marriage certificates, notary fees, two witnesses (required for the ceremony), and of course the planning. And we also booked our photographer through them.
If you’re planning your elopement with more advance notice than ours and you want to save money, you can plan it all yourself. If you’d rather save yourself some stress, go with a wedding planning agency!
The day before
You must do all the paperwork at the registry office the day before your ceremony (before 10:30 am at the latest!). You’ll need to present your original documents (passport, birth certificate, hotel/accommodation letter). This includes an affidavit you need to fill out and sign (stating you’re single and free to marry) before a notary. For us, the wedding planner organized everything. If you’re planning to do it yourself, make sure you book an appointment with a notary ahead of time and prepare the fee for their services (approx. £20- £30).
The day itself
On the day itself, you should show up a bit before your appointment time. You’ll also need two witnesses for the ceremony to attend and sign their names. You could also pay for witnesses from the registry office. For us, Sara and Monica from the wedding planning agency served as our witnesses.
If you’re going the DIY route, make sure to plan in advance. Since we got married in the winter, there weren’t too many couples there getting married on the same day that we could have asked to be our witnesses. But if you’re there in the summer, you shouldn’t have a problem finding some witnesses.
Our experience (start to finish)
For us, all-in-all, the elopement, start to finish, took four days. A day to travel from Lisbon to Gibraltar by car, pre-wedding day, the wedding day, and then another day to travel back.
Traveling by car from Lisbon takes around nine hours, non-stop. Naturally, we made stops in Albufera and the fringes of Seville, for breaks and to eat. We arrived in Gibraltar late at night and checked in to the Rock Hotel. Situated, obviously, at the base of the famous Rock of Gibraltar, the hotel prides itself on being the accommodation of choice for many, largely British, celebrities; some of whom also eloped with their partners. They have photos of all these people adorning the walls of their lobby, by the elevators.
Watching the lights glisten against the shimmering waters as the ships sailed on by from our hotel balcony, champagne in hand, was a moment I’ll never forget.
Want to truly know if you and your partner are destined to be together? Drive nine hours on the side of the road you’re not used to, accompanied by manic drivers, faltering GPS, and the ever-increasing worry you’re racking up huge fees flying through the poorly signed toll booths!
After a much needed good night’s sleep, we were up early the following morning. The day before the wedding, we had to meet our planner at their office, then go to the registry office, to confirm everything, verify our documents, and sign the necessary paperwork.
Our host, Sara, was wonderful and walked us through everything, step-by-step. Their office was a ten-minute walk from our hotel. We met them at 8.30am, and by 11 am, we had signed everything required of us, and were all set for the big day in 24 hours time.
Having the rest of the day to ourselves allowed us to be tourists for the whole afternoon. We were sure to spend some time at the harbor and visit some of the WWII-themed attractions, including the tunnels. Our wedding eve was spent at a delicious gastrobar, and once again enjoying the view from the balcony, Prosecco in hand.
On the day of the wedding, you’ll have an assigned time to go to the registry office for. Our wedding was scheduled in for noon, so we had the morning to relax and get ready.
We ventured into the town for breakfast, and low and behold, overheard another couple discussing wedding photographer options at one of the English pubs. She, British, and he, German, were getting married the following day, and we gladly recommended the list of photographers sent to us by the company.
After breakfast, I donned my suit and Doina her dress. Happiness radiated from our faces, and naturally, a few butterflies circled the stomach, as we, hand-in-hand, made our way down the steep street and to the registry office for noon.
The ceremony, altogether, takes around twenty minutes. It’s very intimate, and was conducted is one of the private rooms of the office. Sara and Monica from the wedding planning agency were our two witnesses.
We sat at a grand oak desk, and the minister conducted the ceremony. After brief introductions, and the minister’s speech, we stood, exchanged rings, exchanged vows, kissed, and, finally, signed the marriage license.
All the while, Ana was taking photos. In all, we booked her to photograph the ceremony, and then for an hour afterward, in and around the gardens and various other spots.
I cannot stress how relieved we were to book a professional photographer, once the photos landed in my inbox (and within five days!). Initially, we planned to take our own photographs. In hindsight, even an hour was enough to get over 200 beautiful shots. This is your special day, and particularly as none of our family were present, only in hindsight do I realize how important it is to capture the day, properly.
Most photographers will charge by the hour. Some you can also book for a full day, and they’ll document everything from getting dressed through to champagne on the balcony under the stars.
By 3pm, we were finished. Our marriage certificate was in the mail, and we were the latest pair of lovestruck newlyweds to canter the cobbles of Gibraltar!
To celebrate, and I kid you not, we headed to the Vinopolis Gastrobar, in full wedding ensemble, and enjoyed a platter with drinks. The waiter was even kind enough to bring us over a complimentary bottle of Prosecco!
It was perfect. There was just one thing left to do: tell our families. But more on that, a little later.
If you are looking for something a little more adventurous than the registry office, various companies can offer the ceremony in a number of places, from hotel patios overlooking the Rock of Gibraltar, through to the gorgeous botanical gardens.
Whilst you are permitted to have your ceremony on an outside location, you may do so only at one of the venues approved by the registrar. These are the current venues as of the date of the post (listed below):
- The Caleta Hotel
- The Rock Hotel
- The Alameda Botanical Gardens
- Latino’s Restaurant
- Mons Calpe Suite – Top of the Rock
- Sunborn Yacht Hotel Ocean Village
- The Landings
- La Sala Ocean
- Waterfront Restaurant Queensway
- St Michaels’ Cave
- Garrison Library
- Rendezvous Chargrill Restaurant
- Bistro Point University of Gibraltar
- The Lounge Restaurant
Make sure to read the fine print carefully as there are various rules that apply. For example, among others, ceremonies at the Alameda Botanical Gardens will only take place from April to October, and no ceremonies will be held during the pre-Christmas week.
Check for any updates to this list in the official documentation from the Gibraltar civil marriage and civil partnership office. https://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/civil-status-registration-office/marriages-civil-partnerships
If you plan to have your wedding at an outside location, you can get a quote by reaching out directly to them or hiring a wedding planner.
As a fun fact, know that you may also have your ceremony onboard a passenger ship registered in Gibraltar of over 100 gross tonnes and carrying more than twelve passengers. So that might be a fun & unique route to try!
Things to do in Gibraltar
Once the ceremony is over, and your photographer has taken their final snaps, that is that! You are officially married, and you have the rest of your time in Gibraltar to do as you please. Here are some of the big hitters, along with a few more adventurous ideas, if you have the time.
Rock of Gibraltar (Top of the Rock)
Undoubtedly Gibraltar’s defining feature, the views from the top of the bay, the Moroccan coast, and the south of Spain, are quite something.
Those of your feeling like stretching your legs, you can walk to the top via two ways: Either the Charles V Wall, the easier walk, or the Mediterranean steps, the more challenging route.
If you’re keen on something a little less strenuous…
Gibraltar Cable Car
Undoubtedly the most iconic way to reach the top, the cable car runs every 10-15 minutes, and shuttle buses to the base run all day, from various pick-ups in the city. All-in-all, a singular journey from top to bottom, or vice versa, takes 6 minutes.
Very much the most break taking option, if you’re willing to spend a little extra on the experience. A standard adult return will cost £16, and at the kiosk, they have various family, and extra experience, ticket combinations.
Gibraltar Nature Reserve in the Upper Rock
One of the ticket combinations includes a Nature Reserve visit, which will cost £29. The Nature Reserve, covering 40% of Gibraltar, is a beautiful place to wander and unwind after your wedding ceremony.
It is here where you can see monkeys in the famous Apes’ Den area.
St. Michael’s Cave
While you’re in the Nature Reserve, exploring the depths of St. Michael’s Cave is a more than a worthwhile experience. The natural rock formations of the limestone caves, dowsed in blankets of artificial moody blue and green lighting, truly are a sight to behold.
Great Siege Tunnels
Inside the northern end of the rock, you can wander through this series of tunnels, dug by the British during the siege of Gibraltar in the 18th century.
Historians and the curious alike will enjoy reading about the history of one of the most impressive defense systems ever devised by man. Entry is covered as part of the entry fee to the Nature Reserve.
The Alameda Gibraltar Botanical Gardens
The gardens are a very relaxing slice of nature, covering 6 hectares. We took some of our wedding photos here, and for a place to simply wander and enjoy nature, it’s worth a visit.
If you enjoy strolling, walking the length of Gibraltar is actually a lot of fun. When you reach the southernmost point, Europa Point, you’ll have a magnificent view of the bay, the ships rolling past and the Moroccan coast across the Strait. Trinity House Lighthouse is also worth visiting if you enjoy such architecture.
Watch the Dolphins
Just to clarify: this is watching the dolphins, not swimming with them. Many tour operators and boats will take you out into the bay for several hours to see these majestic mammals.
Unlike with shark diving and whale watching, where the probabilities of sightings are low, seeing dolphins in the Strait comes with an incredibly high probability. And when their pods come through, there are often hundreds of them, all swimming together!
If you’re staying longer than a few days, and over the weekend, there is a ferry that leaves Gibraltar for Tangier on Friday and returns on Sunday.
Several tour companies operate out of the harbor and will combine various activities over the course of a weekend. You could also rent a car, travel across on the ferry, and explore some of the beautiful Moroccan coastlines at your own pace.
If you’re willing to drive, the south of Spain has some truly beautiful coastline and countryside to enjoy. If you follow the coast to the north, you’ll hit Malaga within two hours. If you head north, back inland, you’ll arrive at Seville within two and a half hours.
Buses also operate these routes, although you’ll cover ground much slower, due to the number of stops.
Our favorite place was the Vinopolis Gastrobar. They had numerous small dishes of Mediterranean cuisine with a modern twist throughout.
For breakfast, we liked Jury’s Cafe & Wine Bar (no, we didn’t have wine for breakfast, and yes, they serve a lovely full English breakfast) and Pancake Factory.
Where to stay in Gibraltar
We loved staying at the Rock Hotel. It has a lovely hilltop location, and our room had a lovely balcony with sea views. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from the registry office (keep in mind the hill when coming back ;)).
Some other of our recommendations:
For budget-friendly, check out (what I think is the only hostel in Gibraltar), Emile Hostel.
For us, eloping was the perfect way to tie the knot. However, you don’t need me to remind you that such a decision can be a difficult point of contention for other members of your family.
Before we left for Gibraltar, we debated back and forth as to whether to tell our families before the date, or afterward, once we were married.
Several hours of reading others’ stories on Reddit, accompanied by our own experience, have categorically put us in the ‘afterward’ camp.
Fortunately, both our families were very supportive of our decision. Obviously, some members were disappointed, but everyone was very respectful and understood our reasoning. However, some peoples’ accounts we read on Reddit were quite something, to say the least.
Only you know your own family and how they would react to such a sensitive subject. If you tell them afterward, there is nothing they can do about it. Sure, they may be upset, angry, disappointed: but the decision is out of their hands because you are already married. Once the dust settles, they will accept your decision, even if this takes years, and any ill-feeling will, eventually, heal in time.
You could also ease the shock of the announcement by stating you intend to have a party, gathering, or renewal of vows, further down the line. That way, people can still have a big day to look forward to, even if there’s no concrete date set.
If you tell your family beforehand, and someone, in particular, is vehemently opposed to your decision, you’ve suddenly given them a window of opportunity, no matter how small, to take action. Doina and I had the perfect wedding. It was intimate, simple, and didn’t put either of us as the center of attention.
Ultimately, it was ‘so us,’ as we often eloquently put it.
And that, at the core of it, is what all this is about. It’s about the two of you, on your big day, doing what you want to do.
Always remember that, and thanks for reading.
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