Pittenweem is a charming village in Fife on the east coast of Scotland. The name comes from a combination of the Gaelic and Pictish words for 'place of the cave'. This pretty village is one of several along the Fife coast, collectively known as the East Neuk. There are many things to do in Pittenweem and the surrounding area so it really is an ideal place to stay for a short break, a relaxing weekend away or a wee romantic getaway. In this guide I'll show you what you can do here, how to get here, what the weather is like, where you can stay and where you can eat.
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A wee bit of history
Pittenweem was created as a fishing village in the days of early Christianity. It was made a Royal Burgh by King James V in 1541 and remained so until 1975. The beaches and small bays to the west of the village were perfect for boats to be brought out of the water. Eventually the breakwaters were built which meant boats could then be anchored safely in the sheltered water instead of hauling them onto shore. The village was visited often, by boats from Belgium and the Netherlands who brought with them red pantiles to trade for fish. Locals used these tiles to roof their houses which you can still see today.
The local parish church was built in the 16th century. In the ground you can see what remains of the priory. This was originally built on the Isle of May but was moved to Pittenweem to avoid its destruction by sea pirates.
Many witch trials took place in the village, the most infamous being the Pittenweem witch trails. In 1705 Patrick Morton, a young 16 year old boy, told crazy stories about some of his neighbours and as a result they were murdered in a pretty horrific way. To find out more about witches in Scotland you can read my blog here.
Pittenweem has the only working harbour left in the East Neuk, there is a bustling fish market on the harbour where the fisherman sell their fish to local restaurants and businesses, having brought them in fresh that morning. Little lanes wind up to Market Square where you'll find pretty shops and cafes. There is a lovely, relaxed vibe and it's definitely one of my favourite places for a relaxing break. I love walking the streets and lanes around Pittenweem, and also exploring the nearby villages of Anstruther, Crail, Elie and St Monans. Creative and quirky touches can be found in gardens and on walls and windows and what I really love is the recycled bikes, painted in beautiful colours and filled with flowers which can be seen all over the village.
Things to do in Pittenweem
Hunt for unique finds at the Pop In
The Pop In is a quirky aladdin’s cave filled with one-off pieces of furniture, wall art and homeware. It’s an eclectic range and you could easily spend an hour in here browsing. I have drove past this shop so many times and said I really must go in and I finally did on my last visit. I’m so glad I did, I found so many interesting things. There is also a resident artist up the stairs.
Delve below ground at St Fillans Cave
Named after St FIllan, an Irish missionary who lived in the caves as he wrote christian sermons. He did great deeds and when he found the cave too dark to write he asked god to solve the problem and god gave him a glowing left arm, or so the story goes. Since then the cave has been used as a smugglers den, as a storage place for fishermen's nets and as a prison during the witch trials.
The cave is on Cove Wynd, a pretty pedestrian lane which leads down to the water. You enter the cave through a 17th century iron gate with a large cross. You can pick up the key to the gate at the nearby Pittenweem Chocolate Company, it's a £5 deposit which you get back when you return the key and a £1 donation towards the upkeep of the cave. Once inside you'll notice the cave is shaped like a Y. There is a holy well, which was once thought to hold healing water and was used to treat the mentally ill, which St Fillan was the patron of. You'll also spot a small stone alter and flat ridges, thought to have been used as beds.
Shop for pretty gifts and art at Funky Scottish
This is a beautiful gem of a shop in Market Square. Owner Karen creates much of the paintings and ceramics herself and she is extremely talented, I love her 'funky' colourful style. She also displays art, gifts, ceramics and jewellery from other Scottish artists. The shop opened in 2005 and is a popular stop for visitors and tourists, especially now they have opened a cafe inside too!
Watch the fishermen bring in the fish at the Pittenweem harbour
If you get down to the harbour early enough you can watch the fishermen return from sea with their catch, unload it, and sell it at the fish market. If it’s not something you are used to seeing it’s fascinating insight into the lives of these men and of village life. It's lovely watching the brightly coloured boats arriving into the harbour, just mind your heads - the seagulls love it too. This poem by John Watt is from the heyday of the fishing industry in Pittenweem at the end of the 19th century.
I’m goin’ wi’ a lassie fae Pittenweem,
She’s every fisher laddie’s dream,
She guts the herrin’ doon by the quay,
And saves her kisses just for me
The port is now a shellfish port and the boats bring in mainly prawns, but also lobster and clams. Refrigerated lorries will buy from the fish market and ship the shellfish over to Spain, France and Holland.
Walk a section of the Fife Coastal Path
The Fife Coastal Path passes along the harbour and carries on, all the way to the Tay Bridge. You can choose to walk east towards the next village, Anstruther where you can reward yourself with a fish supper at the famous Anstruther Fish Bar, or you can walk west towards the village of St Monans. The path is 117 miles long and you can walk as far or as little as you like, you can catch a bus back from any of the towns and villages (check bus times beforehand here).
Take part in a pub quiz at Larachmhor Tavern
This is the kind of pub I love, a traditional local pub which is up for a laugh, has friendly and helpful staff and a good programme of entertainment including live music, pub quizzes, sports games on the TV and a pool table.
Meet Keny Drew, the talented creator behind East Neuk Glass
Key Drew runs East Neuk Glass from his studio just outside Pittenweem. He creates masterpieces using glass, photography and screen printing and offers courses including night classes.
Visit during the fantastic Pittenweem Arts Festival
Pittenweem is a creative place with several artists and creatives living in the village. The Pittenweem Arts Festival gives them the opportunity to throw open their doors and welcome visitors into their studios and show off their work. It isn't just locals either, over 100 artists descend on the East Neuk village, setting up shop in pub gardens, living rooms and empty sheds. The adapted spaces are filled with colourful paintings, beautifully and careful laid out and the bonus of this? The artists are in the studio so you can meet them, have a chat and listen to their story. Find out more about this amazing festival here
Get spooked with a Weems Witch Tour
Local Leonard Low runs the very popular Weem Witches tours around Pittenweem, entertaining guests with the horrid tales of the Pittenweem witches, a subject he is fascinated with.
How to get to Pittenweem
From Edinburgh there are several options for your journey to Pittenweem. The X60 will take you directly to Pittenweem which leave roughly every hour. The X59 will take you to St Andrews where you can change buses to the X60 and head to Pittenweem. There isn't a train line serving the East Neuk but you could get the train to Kirkcaldy, the bus station is only a 5 minute walk from the train station here where you can get the bus. If you are driving the journey will take around 1 hour from Edinburgh.
From Glasgow take the X27 from Buchanan Bus Station to Kirkcaldy then change to the X58 or X60 to Pittenweem. You can also get the train from Glasgow Queen Street to Haymarket, change trains to Kirkcaldy then get the X60 or X58 bus to Pittenweem. If you are driving the journey will take roughly 1hr 30 mins.
You can check bus times and prices at Stagecoach and train times at Scotrail.
There is rarely extreme weather in this corner of Fife, although it is likely to rain on and off pretty often. As it is so close to the coast it very rarely sees any snow but if it does it will likely to be between December and February. Spring and Autumn are mild with an average temperature of 9-12°C, winter averages around 4-6°C and in the summer between 14-16°C. It does get windy here, again because it is on the coast, but in spring and summer it's a lovely breeze. You can check the weather on the Met Office website
Pittenweem Restaurants and Cafes
There isn't a huge selection of places to eat in Pittenweem but there is more than enough and every one I've visited I would go again, they have been lovely. One of my favourites is the Pittenweem Chocolate Company and Cocoa Tree Cafe, owner Sophie hand makes her own range of amazing chocolates, 'Handmade in Pittenweem', as well as sourcing the best quality speciality chocolates from across the world. Behind the chocolate counter is a cosy, inviting cafe serving amazing coffees, teas and meals, my go-to dish is the mixed bean soup made with cocoa, with a little tabasco on the side, delicious! A little further along the road from Market Square is the Pittenweem Fish and Chip Bar, a traditional 'chippy' where you can take away, among other things, a Scottish favourite, a fish supper. I love taking it back to where I am staying and enjoying it in front of the fire. One place the fisherman sell their fish to is The Larachmhor Tavern which is just across the road from the fish market on the harbour. They serve lovely meals during the day and there is a great atmosphere at night in this traditional fisherman's pub. They play regular live music, pub quizzes and hold fun community events, it's a proper local boozer and one you really must visit. Funky Scottish is a fantastic cafe and gallery back in Market Square, the cafe itself serves soups, rolls and homemade cake and a pretty mean cup of coffee. The West End Bar has recently got a new chef and now serves food which is getting great reviews so I can't wait to try it the next time I visit. Another place getting rave reviews but that I've not tried yet is The Dory Bistro and Gallery, this restaurant seems like it would be the ideal place to go for an evening meal.
I've stayed in two properties in Pittenweem and both have been amazing. Seaglass Cottage is right in the heart of the village and has a subtle nautical theme with a beautiful cosy living room and a games room! Seaview Cottage is a 10 minute walk from the village and has outstanding views out over the Firth of Forth. It is beautifully decorated and right on the Fife Coastal Path. There aren't any hotels in Pittenweem although there is in neighbouring Anstruther and Elie, but there are lots of lovely holiday homes and apartments such as The White House (for prices, availability and to book click here), Sunny Nook (check it out here) and the Sea Whisperer (see more here). If you don't mind staying outside the village these wigwams in Fife are perfect for a quirky budget stay, or these luxury safari tents at Catchpenny are amazing. Morton of Pitmilly isn't too far away if you fancy staying in their luxury boutique houses and cottages.
If you plan to visit Fife, or the east coast in general then a stay in the East Neuk is a fantastic option. It's not busy and the viaages are picturesque and right in the coast. It's peaceful and relaxing and you won't regret it.