Picturesque coastal villages with colourful chocolate-box cottages, historic harbours bustling with colourful fishing boats, and ancient geology framing endless stretches of golden sands – that, in a nutshell, is what awaits you in the East Neuk of Fife! But this charming coastal region has a lot more to offer, from the delightful flavours of local food and drink to surprising beach-side activities: Plan an epic adventure to the East Neuk of Fife with these wonderful ideas for things to do between Elie and Kingsbarns.
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The spectacular coastline of the East Neuk of Fife is dotted with charming fishing villages, golden beaches and endless opportunities for culinary adventures. Wherever you turn, there’s a photo to be snapped, exciting local produce to be tasted or surprising histories to be uncovered.
The East Neuk of Fife stretches from Elie on the southeastern tip of Fife north towards St Andrews. The villages along this stretch of coast are Elie and Earlsferry, St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther and Cellardyke, Crail and Kingsbarns. They are connected by road, of course, but also by the scenic Fife Coastal Path which makes for endless opportunities to explore the East Neuk of Fife by road and on foot, on land and by water.
In summer, the beaches of Fife are bustling with families building sand castles, boats head out to the scenic Isle of May and the cobbled streets of the coastal villages are echoing with the footsteps of avid explorers. In winter, only the bravest adventurers dare to immerse themselves in the cold wet of the sea, but, as the days grow shorter, the East Neuk of Fife is blessed with some of the most beautiful sunsets in all of Scotland.
The East Neuk of Fife is a year-round destination super close to Edinburgh – it takes just over an hour to travel from Edinburgh to the East Neuk. There are so many different things to do in the East Neuk of Fife and you never waste too much time on getting from A to B. It’s the perfect getaway, not only for those who are short on time, but also for anyone who is longing for a taste of everything Scotland has to offer.
This travel guide for the East Neuk of Fife contains everything you need to know about this beautiful part of Scotland:
- Practical travel information for a trip to the East Neuk of Fife,
- Lots of ideas for places to stay, eat and drink, and
- Even more ideas for things to do in the East Neuk of Fife.
Let’s travel to Fife!
Table of Contents
East Neuk of Fife Map
East Neuk of Fife: Practical Travel Guide
Getting to the East Neuk of Fife
You can of course drive to the East Neuk – it takes about one hour from Edinburgh to Elie.
However, like the rest of Fife, the East Neuk is extremely well-connected and easy to access by public transport. You can get the Scotrail train to Leuchars near St Andrews or to Kirkcaldy and continue by bus. The new Levenmouth Rail Link opens in Spring 2024 and will extend the railway network to Leven – making access to east Fife even easier.
Getting around the East Neuk
Stagecoach operates a busy bus network all over Fife and there are routes through all the East Neuk villages from Elie to Kingsbarns. You can get individual tickets or DayRider passes from the driver on the bus, and pay in cash or by contactless card.
You can reach all the locations mentioned in this post by bus, however, you have to carefully plan your activities to match the bus itineraries. There are a handful of activities listed below that are only possible at low tide, so keep that in mind.
The alternative is, of course, to drive!
Where to stay on the East Neuk of Fife
If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in Fife, look no further than Cambo House. The beautiful estate lies just on the edge of Kingsbarns village and is a great starting point for your adventures around the East Neuk of Fife.
The house has been owned by the Erskine family for hundreds of years. Today, it is run via a Trust to spread the responsibility of the estate across the adult kids of the family. During the summer months, Cambo House is primarily a wedding venue, but their suites and self-catering apartments are also available for non-wedding-related stays.
Although “apartment” doesn’t quite cut it… Instead, each self-catering unit features several bedrooms with beautiful antique furnishings, a spacious kitchen and lounge area. You’ll enjoy views of the gardens and you’re within walking distance of the beach, the walled garden and the Stables cafe.
Another lovely option is The Crusoe in Lower Largo, a village near Elie on the other end of the East Neuk of Fife. The Crusoe is an intimate hotel with just seven rooms – all with sea views – and an outstanding restaurant.
17 Things to do on the East Neuk of Fife
Visit the Jewel of the East Neuk: Crail
Crail might just be the most charming out of all the fishing villages in the East Neuk of Fife. The historic harbour is bustling with sail yachts and creel boats, and lobster pots line the piers. Enjoy magnificent views of the harbour from the tall sea wall, and spot the Isle of May in the distance.
Crail also has a short High Street with cafes and shops, including the quirky and well-curated Beehive, a crafts and gift shop with a cafe.
Enjoy a Beach Day in Elie and Earlsferry
Elie and neighbouring Earlsferry are two of Fife’s most popular holiday spots – and once you’ve seen the beaches, you know why!
Start on the long golden sands of Earlsferry Beach and make your way across the bay to Elie Beach. There, indulge your senses in a session at Elie Seaside Sauna.
Continue to Ruby Bay for another wonderful sandy beach, framed by a headland with two outstanding features. The first is the castellated, white Elie Ness lighthouse; the other is the ruined Lady’s Tower.
The Lady’s Tower was built in 1770 for Lady Janet Anstruther. She would swim in the sea below the tower, and then retreat inside to rest and enjoy the sea views. Sounds idyllic!
There is another beach on the other side of the headland. As you can see, there is no shortage of beaches to choose from!
Sweat at Wild Scottish Sauna
Let’s start with my favourite experience on the East Neuk of Fife – maybe even one of my favourite things to do in Scotland: Wild Scottish Sauna on Kingsbarns Beach.
Wild Scottish Sauna is a wood-fired sauna cabin on the beach. A few local sauna enthusiasts came up with the idea, and with approval from the Fife Coast & Countryside Trust they were able to set up a small sauna cabin overlooking the golden sands of Kingsbarns.
Someone will greet you at the sauna, so you don’t have to worry about keeping the fire going. As you sweat, watch the wild ocean roll onto the beach from the large picture window in the sauna.
The sauna seats 10-12 people if you book it for a private session – great to bring the family or a group of friends. However, you can also join a shared session with up to 8 people for just £15 per person.
There is a small changing area in the cabin, a large open shelter nearby if you need more space, and public toilets at the beach.
Don’t forget to warm up with a toastie from the Cheesy Toast Shack.
Listen to ‘Icons of the Kingdom‘ – my travel podcast about Fife, including this sauna experience!
Swim in a Tidal Pool
A tidal pool is a natural area where the receding tide leaves behind a pool of water. Sometimes these tidal pools are large enough to swim in and with a few human-made additions, like concrete walls or stepping ladders, they become incredible outdoor swimming pools.
There are three tidal pools in the East Neuk of Fife: Cellardyke, St Monans and Pittenweem. Here, you get the chance to swim in the sea, without having to think about currents or waves. These pools provide a safe environment to try sea swimming!
Note that it’s best to swim in the tidal pools from two hours after high tide and up until two hours before high tide. At high tide, the pools are engulfed by the sea.
Try gin & whisky at Kingsbarns Distillery
The Lowlands whisky region has not always been the most exciting place to try whisky. But more and more young distilleries are challenging this view! One of them is Kingsbarns Distillery.
Located in an old farmstead on the edge of Cambo Estate, Kingsbarns produces a range of single malt whisky as well as Darnley’s Gin. They offer gin and whisky tours, a gin school where you can pick your own botanicals from their garden, tasting rooms and a cafe.
Special offer: Kingsbarns Distillery is currently offering a ‘Pay What You Like Tour‘ until the end of February 2024.
Hunt for snowdrops at Cambo Gardens
The woodlands of Cambo Gardens are one of the best places to visit during the annual Scottish Snowdrop Festival (late January to early March). The gardens are home to a specialist snowdrop collection with over 200 varieties, many of which grow naturally around the woodlands that stretch across the estate towards the sea.
But Cambo Gardens is a delightful place to visit all year round. The Walled Garden dates back to the 1800s and contains countless heavenly-scented flowers, glasshouses filled to the brim with seedlings and tropical plants and special plant collections like the unique prairie garden.
The Stables Visitor Centre tells the story of the historic garden and sells a selection of locally made crafts – some produced by the garden team themselves, dried flowers from the garden and gardening supplies.
Don’t forget to drop by the Stables Cafe too for a delicious meal or a hot drink after a walk around the garden.
Shop Local Produce at Ardross Farm Shop
Fife is the larder of Scotland, a fertile rag rug of farmland and a rich coastline full of nature’s delights.
There is no shortage of exciting and innovative food producers in the East Neuk of Fife. From the sweet delights of the Pittenweem Chocolate Company to the salty North Sea flakes produced by East Neuk Salt Co. Read this article in Travel & Leisure if you don’t believe me!
A great place to fill your basket with local delicacies is Ardross Farm Shop between St Monans and Elie. The farm shop started in 2005 as a way for the family to sell their beef and produce directly to consumers. Since then, the business has grown from one freezer box in a shed, to a well-stocked shop that can rival any supermarket.
The shelves are filled with their own produce and meat, and delicious treats from local producers from Fife and beyond. Every brand is hand-picked, so you know you’re supporting fantastic small businesses with every purchase. They even sell home-cooked, ready-made meals from their own commercial kitchen.
Meet the producers at Bowhouse Market
If you’d like to meet the producers of Fife themselves, check out the monthly market at Bowhouse near St Monans. Bowhouse connects small growers and producers from Fife with restaurants and shoppers who want access to locally-produced food and drinks.
Each month, the market has a theme and hosts workshops and talks. You’ll find Bowhouse’s resident producers like East Neuk Market Garden, Futtle or Scotland The Bread, and visiting traders that change every month. There are also hot food stalls, cooking demonstrations and more.
Hike the Fife Coastal Path Elie to Anstruther
The Fife Coastal Path runs 187 kilometres (116 mi) along the entire length of the Fife coast from Kincardine to Newburgh. Many people walk the Fife Coastal Path in sections, which is made easy by great bus connections all along the trail.
One of my favourite sections of the Fife Coastal Path is the walk from Elie to Anstruther. Start at Ruby Bay in Elie and stop by the lighthouse and Lady Anstruther’s Tower near the bay.
Walk past Ardross and Newark Castle until you reach St Monans. There, learn about the historic saltworks by the windmill. Make your way to picturesque Pittenweem and finally reach the fishing village of Anstruther. The Anstruther Fish Bar is a must-stop by the harbour!
The walk from Elie to Anstruther is approximately 6 miles (10.5 km) and takes around 2-3 hours to complete. Read my full description of this scenic hike here.
Listen to my podcast story about hiking from Elie to Anstruther on Wild for Scotland!
Visit the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther
The East Neuk of Fife was once primarily a fishing region – the picturesque harbours of St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail kind of give it away!
You can learn about the history of fishing at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. The museum takes up several historic buildings around the harbour and tells the story of the fishing industry and the role it played within the coastal communities of Fife.
Visit the St Monans Windmill & Saltworks
In the 18th century, Scottish sea salt was exported around the world and contributed massively to the Scottish economy. On the East Neuk of Fife, you can still see the remains of the old saltworks near the St Monans Windmill.
The windmill was used to pump seawater into the evaporation pans along the shore. Coal fires were then lit to boil the water until only the previous sea salt flakes remained.
But in the 19th century, the Scottish salt industry collapsed when sun-evaporated salt from Spain took over as it was much cheaper to produce. The St Monans salt works closed in the 1820s, but the beautiful windmill still stands proudly and towers over this stretch of the Fife coast.
Visit Kellie Castle
Set back just slightly from the seaside, Kellie Castle combines medieval stonework with Victorian charm. The earliest records of this castle go back to 1150, but the oldest parts of today’s castle are from the 14th century. The interior was revamped 500 years later by the renowned Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer.
It is best known for its gorgeous library, a garden from the skilful Arts & Crafts period and a sculpture exhibition.
Visit St Fillan’s Cave in Pittenweem
Visiting St Fillan’s Cave in Pittenweem is maybe one of the more unique things to do in the East Neuk of Fife.
There is a small cave in Pittenweem that was once the home of a pious Irish missionary named Fillan. He complained to God that he couldn’t read the scripture or write his sermon in the dark cave, so God gave him a magical glowing left arm. It is said that he could read and write in the darkness of the cave, while his left arm lit up the pages.
Luckily, today there are electric lights fitted in the cave, so you can visit – glowing arm or not. Pick up the key for a small deposit from The Cocoa Tree Shop around the corner.
Join the Pittenweem Arts Festival
If you visit the East Neuk of Fife in early August, stop by the Pittenweem Arts Festival. Well over 100 local artists and makers open their studios, galleries and homes to showcase their art in garages, halls, sheds and literally anywhere with space to hang artwork.
As a visitor, you get the chance to meet the artists themselves and experience a great buzz around the little seaside village. The festival programme also features workshops, talks and special events.
The next Pittenweem Arts Festival takes place from 3-10 August 2024.
Walk the Elie Chainwalk
The Elie Chainwalk is a scrambling route to the west of Elie. It consists of a series of eight steel chains built into the cliffside. There are footholds for easier climbing, although the volcanic rock itself is pretty sticky.
Please note that the Elie chainwalk is only accessible during low tide. During high tide, it is submerged in the sea, so it’s essential to check the tide times. Don’t get caught out on the cliffs!
Check out this handy guide with lots of tips for the Elie chainwalk.
Discover Ardross Castle & Newark Castle
There are two castles on the coast of the East Neuk of Fife: Ardross Castle and Newark Castle between Elie and St Monans. Both of them lie in ruins.
It’s easy to miss the ruins of Ardross Castle. The walls have tumbled down and much of it is overgrown – but it’s easy to imagine how majestic it must have been when it was built in the 14th century.
A little further along the coast lies Newark Castle which was built in the 15th century. It sits dramatically on the edge of a small headland. In the late 19th century, the wealthy art collector Sir William Burrell proposed to buy and restore the castle, but the owner refused to sell it, leaving the castle in ruins until this day.
Isle of May Boat Trip
You can see the Isle of May from all over the East Neuk of Fife. The island is home to one of the largest puffin colonies in the UK. They come here in late April/early May to nest in their burrows and rear their chicks. They leave again at the start of August and spend the rest of the year out at sea. Isle of May boat trips leave from Anstruther throughout the summer season. The best experience is a landing trip, with 2.5 to 3 hours on land to explore the island.
Whether you visit to see the puffins at the height of summer or enjoy a hot beach sauna session on a cold winter’s day, the East Neuk of Fife is a feast for the senses.
Are you ready to plan your trip to the East Neuk of Fife?