St Andrews is a classy town. Best known as 'The Home of Golf' St Andrews, in the north of Fife, is where the game was invented and if it's golf you are coming for there are an amazing 10 courses to play on, including the famous Old Course. St Andrews also has the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. There is so many things to do in St Andrews that I highly recommend spending at least 2 days here although if you only have one you can still get a feeling for the town and get the chance to explore. It's a town which is culturally rich, with a diverse population and unique attractions. It's really a town like no other and it would be a shame to miss it off your Scotland Itinerary.
Find out about all the amazing things to do in St Andrews, how to get there, the best time to visit, and the best places to stay, eat and shop.
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St Andrews Cathedral
This stunning cathedral is one of the top things to do in St Andrews. This ancient ruin sits at the end of South Street and is the remains of what was once Scotland’s largest and most magnificent Church. Once home to the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews it was the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. If you are looking for things to do in St Andrews and only have a limited amount of time this Cathedral is really one you should squeeze in. Now looked after by Historic Scotland it is spectacular. St Rule’s Tower offers stunning views if you're willing to climb the 156 steps, up a tight metal spiral staircase. A tip here is to listen out for anyone heading down before you commence, a meeting on your trip up can be awkward at best! The views from the top though (33m high) are outstanding. The whole of St Andrews is laid out before you, including the golf course and harbour. You can also see a lot more, including, on a clear day, all the way to Arbroath! The gravestones themselves are fascinating, with the most important now undercover in the museum, including the famous golfer, Mr Tom Morris. There is a great little visitor centre where you can see some of the stones which have been recovered and are being kept safe indoors and there is also a lovely gift shop. Tickets cost £5 per adult and £3 for children (5-15).
St Andrews Castle
In St Andrews things to do tend to revolve around the stunning ancient buildings and St Andrews Castle is one of the most remarkable. Also closely linked to the bishops of St Andrews, St Andrews Castle became their main residence. There isn't much left of the original castle which was destroyed during the Scottish Wars of Independence and the castle you see today was built in the 1400's. With steep cliffs covering three sides and what was once a moat on the other this castle was built to last. You can still see today, as you walk through the main tower and out into the square, the towers in each corner which were used to house the bishops and their household. One unique feature is the bottleneck dungeon which tells a few horrific tales, and if you are brave enough you can tackle the underground mine and countermine, but it's not for the fainthearted. There is a fantastic visitor Centre here where you can find out all about the history of the town and castle. Run by Historic Scotland tickets cost £6 per adult, £3.60 for children (5-15).
You can buy a combined Castle and Cathedral ticket for £9 per adult and £5.50 for children (5-15).
Historic Scotland properties
Check opening times and dates in advance if you plan to visit Historic Scotland (and National Trust for Scotland) properties. Hours are almost always reduced during the winter and some close altogether.
You can buy passes in advance which will greatly reduce the cost. Plan how many you want to visit and work out if it's cheaper to buy a yearly pass or any other type of pass. You can read out the different passes here
Things to do in St Andrews at night
There are so many unexpected things to see in St Andrews and this quirky ruins is not something you would expect to see on the busy main shopping street. Blackfriars Chapel is the ruin of the Dominican Friary of St Mary, used by Friars in the 1500’s in the later half of the Middle Ages. The Friars worked in the community, helping locals and supporting local people and were themselves supported by a religious order in the town. What remains now is a small picturesque ruin in the heart of the town, out of place among the bustling streets, shops and restaurants.
The New Picture House
One of the most fun things to do in St Andrews in the evening is visit The New Picture House. It's a small independent cinema on North Street. There are three screens showing films daily and you can buy tickets at the door or online. This quaint old cinema was built in the 1930's and while it certainly isn't modern that's what makes it special. Step back in time to how cinemas used to be, without the big flashy lights and modern seating. Grab a chair in the balcony of cinema 1 or a leather reclining seat in the upper circle. It's wonderfully nostalgic and a great addition which not many towns have anymore.
117 North Street,
Things to do in St Andrews when it's raining
This grand city gate is one of the last remaining in Scotland. Having been originally built in 1587 it was extensively refurbished in 1843, meaning it’s also one of the best preserved. The decorated central arch is original, modelled on the Netherbow Port in Edinburgh. The side arches were added during the refurbishment. The gate sits at the foot of South Street and welcomes visitors into the medieval town centre.
170 South Street,
West Sands Beach
If you visit St Andrews and want a breather after all the shopping this beach is a must. West Sands beach is a two mile stretch of coast, with fine white sand backed by dunes and the world famous Old Course. The south side was used in the opening scenes of the film “Chariots of Fire” and is perfect for a swim in the summer. The north side is famous for kite-surfing, and also looks onto the Eden Estuary with its array of birds and seals. The beach is a quick ten minute walk from the centre of town and has ample parking (not so much during the Open though) Locals love to walk this beach and it’s also very popular with visitors who picnic and BBQ along the dunes. The scrumptious Cheesy Toast Shack, who began with an extremely popular shack in Kingsbarns, have recently opened here too and serve toasties to die for! The beach is popular with joggers and horse riders and looks over to the town giving an excellent opportunity for pretty photos at sunrise and sunset.
If you want to get out the town centre and stretch your legs you might as well do it somewhere gorgeous and Tentsmuir Forest is perfect; Tall pine trees, windswept sands and dunes and the chance to spot some of Scotland's wildlife such as red squirrels and seals. There are miles of trails to discover and a cute little Crepe Shack for a snack afterwards. The forest is 1 1/2 miles from the B945 between Leuchars and Tayport, and is signposted Kinshaldy Beach. The car park costs £2 so make sure you bring coins.
St Andrews Harbour
Tucked below the cliffs and the ruins of the Cathedral, the harbour is a lovely place to sit and relax, watching the colourful little fishing boats bobbing in the water. The original stone piers were built in the 16th century and what was once the lifeblood of the town is now filled with leisure boats and fishing boats bring in shellfish to be sold locally and internationally.
If all the golf talk makes you want to join in you can have a go at the massively popular Himalayas putting green. Sitting alongside the famous Old Course but open to anyone and everyone this is tricky but great fun. Named because of the crazy hills and slopes, even the professionals have a go. You are provided with a putter and a ball and off you go, 18 holes for a measly £3! There is also a 9 hole course for beginners and younger players. It’s open daily from April to September, and certain days in March and October depending on the weather.
The Swilken Bridge
The famous Swilken Bridge, between the 1st and 18th hole of the St Andrews Links Golf Course, is a must if you are a golf fan. You can get your photo taken where the likes of Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Morris have stood. The bridge itself is tiny and spans the Swilken Burn. It's a functioning bridge and if you want a photo while your playing there are a few tips to help you get the right pic, have your camera ready so you don't waste time and annoy the other golfers and ask whoever is taking the photo to stand behind the bridge on the left so you get that beautiful S Andrews skyline in the background. If you aren't playing golf the course is open on Sundays for a stroll and you can get the perfect shot then.
St Andrews Aquarium
Children love the aquarium where they are transported to a underwater oasis of discovery. They can meet sharks, spiders, lobsters, frogs, piranhas and the adorable seals and meerkats. There are also penguin, seal and meerkat feeding sessions which you can book, reptile handling and talks. Open 7 days a week except over Christmas and New Year it costs £11 per adult and £8.50 for children over 2.
Things to do in St Andrews with a dog
Forgan's weekly Ceilidh
If you want to experience a Ceilidh while you are in Scotland Forgan's, on Market Street, is the place to head to on a Saturday night. Every Saturday, at 10.30pm they host a traditional Scottish Ceilidh, or if you'd prefer a more modern take on the Ceilidh go Friday instead, again at 10.30pm. Have a meal beforehand and try out their delicious Duck Shepherd's Pie. If you are in a group of more than 8 you can hire one of their fantastic wood-lined bothies for some privacy.
110 Market Street,
A Ghost and Vampire Tour
Explore the old Quarter of St Andrews with guide, author and historian Richard Falconer and find out why St Andrews is one of the most haunted places in the world. Lasting for 90 minutes these entertaining tours are a great way to explore the town and hear stories from a man who has wrote three books about the paranormal, and maybe even get a few wee frights! You can book a tour here.
British Golf Museum
Another way to soak up the golfing atmosphere is to visit the newly renovated and now state of the art Golf Museum. Situated across the road from the R+A building the museum looks fantastic. See how golf started, how the first clubs were made, how golf balls changed designs over time. Hear tales about famous golfers such as Tom Morris and Willie Park. Learn about the history of women’s golf and how fashion has changed. The decor of the museum is slick and modern and the interactive screens, indoor putting area and dress up area for the kids meaning the whole family can enjoy a couple of hours learning about golf, in the home of golf! Afterwards you can have a cuppa and bite to eat in the roof top cafe which has panoramic views, views of the first tee and West sands beach and serves locally sourced Scottish dishes. Tickets cost £8.50 per adult for a two day ticket and free guide book, and children under 15 are free which is a fantastic deal. Also keep an eye on their website here as there is often a 2-4-1 offer on. Bargain.
Set in 18 acres of land this hidden gem is perfect to escape to when you fancy a bit of quiet time. With over 8000 plants, some from Scotland but most grown in the wild around the world, in the summer it’s a treat for the eyes. With glasshouses, a herb garden, a 17th century garden and the recent addition of a veg garden you could easily wile away a few hours here. The Rock Garden with it's unusual alpine plants is gorgeous and the Peace Garden, which was built to commemorate the founding of the United Nations is beautiful in the winter and smells fantastic. The Tropical House and The Mediterranean House are both warm, colourful and fun to explore. Entry costs £6 per adult and under 18's are free.
St Salvator's Chapel
This absolutely stunning Gothic chapel was built in 1450. Designed to not only serve the college but also the public the chapel, uncharacteristically, has its main doors facing the street. While it is beautiful now, it will have been even more beautiful in its hayday, before the Protestant Reformers smashed up the statues and stained glass windows. Provost Skene, in the 1680's, raised a large amount to refurbish with great success and there have been any additions over the years.
There are plenty of things to do in St Andrews but whatever you choose to do make sure you begin or end it with a stop off at Jannettas who have been creating the most delicious ice cream for over 100 years. Ever since Bennett Janetta landed on our shores from the tiny village of Atina in Italy the family have been serving locals and tourists alike with their amazing homemade ice cream, ice cream cakes and Gelato pops from their shop and cafe on South Street. Decorated in retro pastel pink and blues the cafe is cute as a button. The family serve over 50 flavours on a regular basis including Scottish tablet, sea salt chocolate, creamy caramel fudge and Irn Bru.
31 South Street,
St Andrews Museum
There are a few museums in St Andrews and they all offer something different. To discover more about the heritage of this medieval town you can visit St Andrews Museum, set in a stunning Victorian mansion in Kilburn Park. There are lots of temporary exhibitions, talks and concerts and a fab gift shop selling local art work.
There are now a few whisky distilleries in Fife but Kingsbarns Distillery was the first one for many years. It's located 6 miles outside St Andrews. This new distillery and visitor centre is in the ideal location for all the golf fans wanting a dram after the game. The building, the cafe and the areas of the tour are all brilliantly designed and this is a must do for any whisky lovers visiting St Andrews. Dreamt up by local golf caddie Douglas Clement, he teamed up the Wemyss Family and set about creating Fife's first whisky distillery. Now, three years down the line, the long-awaited whisky is ready. Darnley's Gin Distillery is the Wemyss family's newest venture and is situated just behind the whisky distillery. There are three whisky tours to chose from and two gin tours.
Fisher and Donaldson
Fisher and Donaldson is an institution in St Andrews, famous for their sweet treats and in particular their fudge doughnuts. They now have 7 stores in Scotland, including one in Cupar where you can watch them make their delicious chocolates. The St Andrews store was the first, opening in 1919, and is now in its fifth generation of family, who bake almost 400 different types of Scottish and continental treats. Their fudge doughnut is award winning and the recipe is a highly guarded secret, so much so that it is split in two and hidden in five different locations! This bakery also has the Royal seal of approval – apparently Will and Kate are big fans.
13 Church Street,
Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery
Eden Mill sits in the outskirts of St Andrews in Guardbridge. They usually offer tours where you can learn about the history and making processes of their unashamedly small but perfectly formed brewery and distillery where they use local ingredients to make craft beers and ales and limited edition whiskies and gins, but they are in the process of moving to a bigger site next door. You can have a Gin tour at the moment though, and most of their products are for sale in the beautiful Rusacks Hotel where you can also have a gin blending experience.
The Bell Pettigrew Museum
Situated in the Bute medical building in the university is a zoological treasure trove where you can examine fossil fish, a dodo, a Tasmanian wolf, a St Kilda mouse and Narwhal tusks, once thought to be the horns of unicorns! Most of the exhibits were collected during the Victorian age and the building still contains the original cases and mosaic floor. It's only open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 2-5pm but if you happen to be in the town during those times then this is a pretty unique way to spend some time.
Bute Medical Buildings,
School of Biology,
The St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum
Another unique little museum, this time in the centre of town, in an old 17th century house. This is where you can find out about the history of St Andrews and its people. With a mixture of permanent displays feature long gone shops and regularly changing temporary displays upstairs this museum is a fascinating wee find but it's only open from 2-5pm daily so time it right and head along after lunch.
12 North Street,
The Byre Theatre
The Byre Theatre is a a hub of activity all year round, there is always something on, whether it be a play, a live screening, live music, exhibitions, poetry or a Panto. Designed by award winning architects Nicoll Russell Studios the building itself is stunning, a modern glass-fronted theatre slotted between the historic buildings. There is a cafe bar serving meals and drinks and it's a great way to spend the evening.
Hamish the ginger cat became quite the celebrity in the town and was often found sleeping in the doorways of local businesses, or getting his hair brushed in the hairdressers. Even though he had an owner he was often fed and watered by business owners who looked forward to his daily visit. The local bookshop now has a 'Hamish recommends" section filled with books about fish dishes and fictional cat stories. He was loved by locals and tourist alike and when he died a bronze statue was erected as a memorial, which you can find in Logie's Lane, next to the Holy Trinity Church. A book was also written about Hamish, called 'Hamish McHamish of St Andrews : Cool Cat about Town', which you can find in the town's bookshops.
How to get to St Andrews
St Andrews is situated in the Kingdom of Fife in the east of Scotland. You can get a bus directly to St Andrews from many of the nearby cities and towns. Leuchars is the nearest train station, about 6 miles away from the town. From Leuchars you can catch a bus or taxi into St Andrews.
Edinburgh Airport offers shuttle services directly to St Andrews and transfers into Edinburgh city centre where you can get a bus or train.
Glasgow Airport offers bus routes into Glasgow city centre where you can get a bus or train.
Driving from Edinburgh takes around 1 hour 20 minutes and from Glasgow it's around 1 hour 45 minutes. The town is signposted from both cities. Dundee is about 30 minutes away.
You can hire a car from any of Scotland's main airports and also from the main towns and cities.
Parking is limited in the town centre and spaces fill up quick. It is mostly on-street parking and is metered so bring coins for the machines. There are a few larger car parks, including near both East and West Sands beaches. It's often far easier to park here or you will no doubt have to join in with the 'let's just drive round and round until someone leaves' scenario.
Best time to visit St Andrews
St Andrews experiences much the same weather as the rest of the country, cold in winter and warmer during the summer months, often wet and windy. I find the weather doesn't matter much when it comes to visiting cities, much of what you will be doing is indoors so if the rain is heavy you can escape into a museum or coffee shop until it passes and when the sun appears you can use the opportunity to take some pretty photos or have a stroll along the beach.
In St Andrews the thing you need to remember is that it is both a university town and a tourist town. During the university's summer break the students return home and the tourists flock to the town. The accommodation fills up fast and the streets and shops are busy. There is a better chance of the weather being nice though. Unless you are planning to attend the Open I would definitely avoid visiting while it's on, the town is full to the brim. Also when you are choosing dates check online to see if there are any other events on which would cause the town to fill up.
St Andrews Accommodation
Accommodation in St Andrews can, unfortunately, be expensive. There are many luxury hotels if you want to splash out, such as The Fairmont, The Old Course Hotel, Hotel Du Vin and Rufflets. For cheaper options try Airbnb for a cute apartment. You could stay somewhere else in Fife if you don't mind travelling into St Andrews, the prices are a lot more reasonable.
Places to eat in St Andrews
After all the exploring you will most likely be wanting to fill your bellies so these are my recommendations for places to eat in St Andrews
Shopping in St Andrews
You won't find many chain stores in St Andrews, but if you prefer small independant businesses with a unique range of gifts that you are unlikely to find anywhere else then you will love shopping in St Andrews. There is a wonderful range of shops and you could spend hours just browsing. The main shopping streets are South Street and Market Street, along with the lanes and roads which connect them.
If you get the chance to visit St Andrews I hope you love it just as much as I do. It's a beautiful town and the people are as friendly as they come. Let me know how you get on ?
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