Living in one of the Top Five places in the world

I was surprised the first time I chanced upon that fact, and while thinking perhaps it wasn’t so surprising given the small space we live in, I promptly forgot about it again.

Until J asked the question yesterday on my ‘Your questions about Gib’ page.

I was curious, given that Gib is one of the most densely populated places in the world, do you feel as though you’re constantly on top of each other there, are shops/supermarkets/govt buildings always packed to the brim, do you have to shove your way around streets etc?

Let’s have a look at the figures first.

Just searching on the internet for densely populated countries won’t give you Gibraltar. You need a list that includes overseas territories. And this actually changes the top ten figures significantly.

Looking at the top five in the list of countries, you get:

  • Monaco
  • Singapore
  • Vatican City
  • Bahrain
  • Malta

But adding overseas territories to the list, you get:

  • Macau (China)
  • Monaco
  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Gibraltar (UK)

Wow! That puts us in the Top Five in world rankings for a crowded place to live. What with that and winning Miss World a few years ago, Gibraltar is really going places.

In fact looking at the top 20 most densely populated places, virtually half are overseas territories, and another three of those are UK ones – Bermuda, Jersey and Guernsey. And obviously Hong Kong was a UK one some years ago.

The population density figures are measured per person per square kilometre or square mile. I’ve given both figures, so choose which is most meaningful for you.

At the top of the list Macao, at 18,534/48,003 and Monaco, at 16,923/43,830 are seriously big hitters. I’ve not been to either, so I can’t compare.

Next in the list is Singapore, with 7,148/18,513, a significant drop – but still a fair amount of people in a small space. I have been there and it did seem rather busy, but nothing overly crowded.

In fact, the next one on the list seemed much more crowded when I visited, especially on those amazing ferries. Hong Kong’s figures are, 6,349/16,444.

And that brings us to Gibraltar, with 4,559 people per square kilometre, or 11,808 per square mile. Those figures are based on a population of 31,000, an area of 6.8 square kilometres, or 2.6 square miles. For some reason, the area of Gibraltar seems to be constantly changing. Ah! that could be land reclamation as well as poor maths.

Our nearest competitor for the Top Five is the Vatican City with a measly 1,877/4,861 people per square kilometre/mile. Pah! They are living in spacious luxury. I don’t think we will lose our top five ranking just yet.

And if you want to compare that with some bigger countries:

World ranking on the left, followed by country and then number of people per square kilometre/mile.
(I’ve tried to include those countries where my main readership is from as well as a few others out of interest).

    33 India 368/953

    53 UK 255/660
    (Note, in 2008, England became the second most densely populated country in the European Union after Malta, no comparative stats for England, but Malta is 1,322/3,424. Less than a third of the Gib population density.)

    80 China 140/363
    (Exactly the same as the Isle of Man, would you believe? – and what a great trivia question.
    Q – What do the Isle of Man and China have in common?
    A – Population density!)

    112 Spain 91/236
    (Our next door neighbour)

    133 Morocco 73/189
    (Our neighbour across the water)

    179 USA 32/83

    224 Russia 8.3/21

    231 Canada 3.5/9.1

    236 Australia 3/7.8

Onto some qualitative stuff now, having entertained you all with the riveting figures.

Gibraltar is a city. Cities tend to be more crowded than the open countryside. You didn’t need me to tell you that. A lot of people in cities tend to live in flats. There isn’t the space for houses where space is at a premium, and none of us could afford them anyway. Apart from millionaires and such like of which Gib has a few.

People who live within the city walls in houses tend to have inherited them, like our neighbours in the street.

But clearly when you get a population which is mainly flat-dwellers the population density increases significantly.

Most of the building in Gib is on the west side facing the Bahia de Algeciras, in the old town, south of the city walls, and outside the city walls (west) on reclaimed land.

Two shots taken from the Moorish Castle/Tower of Homage looking in opposite directions over the city area.

Looking over the town and south towards Morocco
Looking north towards the runway and Spain

A huge amount of building has been carried out not just in the last 20 or so years but particularly in the last five years, with many new blocks built at Rosia, south district, Waterport, Mid Harbour estate and King’s Wharf – some of these are private, and some are government.

It doesn’t make much sense to build up on the side of the Rock, and given that it is a nature reserve and part of the attraction of Gibraltar, covering it with tat housing wouldn’t be the smartest move ever. Not that smart moves were anything to do with the last government who gave permission for the disgusting Clifton Heights jutting out below the Pillars of Hercules (if I can find a pic later I will add it).

So here we are, all 30,000 or so of us, living in a particularly confined part of that already small space.

Some years ago we were living in a small coastal town in the UK, and then moved to a city. I went first, and Partner joined me a few months later. One evening we went into town for late night shopping and something to eat. I thought he was going to pass out. He was horrified at the amount of people milling around all over the place. Cities are busy places with lots of people.

So does Gib feel like that? No.

The only time it is really crowded in the streets is when three cruise liners all discharge their passengers at once for the obligatory walk up Main Street to either a) find a taxi to go up the Rock or b) avoid the hard-sell taxi drivers and take the cable car.

And you can avoid the hordes in Main Street by using Governors Street or Irish Town which run parallel to it.

The (one big) supermarket is like any other. It is busy at peak times. If you want to go when it is quiet, turn up at 8am when it opens. No 24 hour opening here. Yet. If you turn up at lunchtime during the week or Saturday morning, it will be busy. Easy really.

I tend to use the supermarket for things I can’t get elsewhere or that are significantly cheaper. I buy fresh veg from the local shops and the market, all of which have queues that seem perfectly normal to me. Lunchtime, or just before, is never the best time to go shopping as a lot of Gibraltarian families take a long lunch break, similar to Spain, so lunch is a main meal.

Changing money on a Friday when all the construction workers have just been paid isn’t the smartest idea either, but during the week, they are all quiet. And on Friday mornings too.

Government offices, banks, the post office, etc are like others elsewhere. Sometimes they are busy, sometimes they aren’t. Luck of the draw. Based on my queuing experience, I would say that Spain easily beats Gib for queueing (ie you wait much longer in Spain) – but again, if you hit it right even there, you can walk straight in and out. Moreso these days, when people are short of money.

A lot of Gibraltarians have places in Spain too, or their families do. So, on Friday, there is a mad rush for the frontier (not the best time to cross). Not only are cross-border workers going home, Gibbos are going to Spain for a weekend, maybe with more space inside and outside. It’s their chance to ‘escape’ if they choose. When Partner first got a job here, he never left Gib for six months. Lots of people don’t.

If you stay in Gib for the weekend, it is amazingly calm and so quiet. I love the weekends in Gib for that reason. Few vehicles, few people, few shops open. So peaceful.

About ten years ago we were camping in Chullera (near Puerta Duquesa). Great site on the beach with lovely views of Gib. Site has since closed but there is a new one opening up the road just in case anyone is interested. It was also pretty friendly with the exception of the snotty Brit caravanners behind us.

One day we were talking to a young woman next to us, who had lived in Gib for a few years. Yes, it was nice, but she found it too small, and she didn’t like the fact that everyone knew her business.

But don’t people know your own business in a small village? In your street? In your workplace? There is always gossip wherever you live. Sure some people in Gib know a bit about us – but not 30,000 people. Not even a hundred.

Truth is, if you want to find living in a small place with a lot of people oppressive, then you will. If you appreciate the open spaces, the tranquility at weekends, avoid the cruising holidaymakers, and look for the good things, like me you will only remember Gib is in the Top Five when someone asks you what it’s like to live in such a crowded place.


31 comments on “Living in one of the Top Five places in the world

  1. There are some really interesting statistics there, but I guess you have to look at the whole picture, Australia for instance has vast areas that are uninhabitable, so although it doesn’t look crowded on paper, the cities won’t be much different to any other.
    I never realised Gib was so populated, but as with anywhere you can always find your own peaceful place, even the hills I love to visit can be crowded on a sunny day.
    I’ve had a claustrophobic feel amongst crowds ever since I got stuck in a crush at a football match in my teens, so hate crowded areas with a passion.


    • I do tend to be a bit like a kid on Christmas Day when I find some stats :D

      Australia is a great example, certainly for me having lived there. In fact, Sydney (where I lived mostly) reminds me of Gib. From one of the least populated places to the most. And yet, with so much space and beautiful scenery around is, it doesn’t feel crowded. It would be interesting to compare cities actually, but I figured this post was long enough!

      Now, crowds are different to pop’n density. Crowding is a bit of slangy term that I shouldn’t have used to be strictly accurate. I think the last time I was somewhere in a crowd was for Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebration in Málaga at night. That was crowded. I only went once. Parades were late too.


    • Thanks A. I suppose I have always used them (history, journalism) but probably really only got into them when I took on performance management at work. Bit difficult not to use them for that.

      Sometimes the interpretation seems so glaringly obvious, it seems trite to point it out. And yet, what fascinates me, is that there is so much behind the figures that tells a different story, or adds so much extra. Statistics are just that. They still need questioning and interpreting.


  2. Your posts are revealing about a place I just considered would be a large Naval docks, a military fort and a few houses. I know I’m naive. However, I know discover Gilby was successful in the beauty pageant business, that’s a whole new spin. Thought you wouldn’t have mentioned it really. Ever heard of Jake Thackeray? He wrote quite an amusing song about the competition and the hard work of the intellectual giants who judge it. :)


  3. I agree with the others, very interesting Stats. If I were your professor You would gt an A+++..
    While 30,000 people might sound like alot of people in a small space, it really isn’t.. Looking at your aerial photos, it looks like many cities I have visited.

    I find all of this so fascinating from 1/2 a world away..:-)


    • Thank you for the grading :) Does that mean if I was at work I would get band 1 Performance Related Pay too?

      I think that’s right. 30,000 isn’t a lot, even in a small space – I do think it is offset by the beautiful surroundings too.


  4. Wonderful post, thanks for going into so much depth on this issue with both the hard statistical comparisons and your own experience included.

    It’s also extra nice that pretty much everything you said was music to my ears, especially the weekend bit, I wouldn’t have expected that, I guess this particular aspect of Gib is going firmly onto the “Pros” side of the list!


    • Thank you for the inspiration. I thought it was an interesting question, as I had heard about its high population density before, and then, as said above totally forgot about it. I think originally it was in relation to Europe, so was second behind Monaco.

      I realise you didn’t ask for the stats – but I thought it set it all in context. And I like stats!!

      One thing to remember about Gib, is that the population is actually quite fluid. So more than 30,000 during the week with the cross-border workers, but less at the weekend without some of the locals.


  5. Great post as ever K.
    Once planned a holiday on the ‘Rock’ – but my ex-girly friends prefered Lanzerotte!
    They went I didn’t!
    I never was one for city/density living but guess Oxford is like Gib, you love your bit, you take on life there, doing your own thing, enjoy the benifits that suit you.


      • Thanks D.

        Lanzarote was actually one of my fave holidays, loved it. Lots to see and do there, plus (when I went) no ghastly high rise due to the influence of local architect César Manrique.

        But yes, important to make the most of wherever you are.

        Like the look of the new blog, and pleased you are giving it a try. Shame I’m not on commission really. Any ?s about WP ask away, as a relative newcome here too, always happy to help others. There are a few queries from others on here, don’t know if they would come up in a search though.


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