The birthplace of golf, home to Scotland’s oldest university and centuries of history to discover – St Andrews is a great place to add to your Scotland itinerary for a variety of reasons. This travel guide lists 10 awesome things to do in St Andrews including a few ideas for scenic trips in the nearby area.
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St Andrews is the most famous town in the region of Fife and draws students, golfers, history buffs and nature lovers alike.
Looking back at centuries of rich history, St Andrews has a lot to offer and is a place I visit regularly – there is always something new to discover.
Read on for an inspiring travel guide for St Andrews, including:
- 10 awesome things to do in St Andrews,
- Including highlights in town and a few ideas for trips outside the city limits,
- Travel Info: How to get to St Andrews & local transport,
- Where to stay in St Andrews,
- And my favourite restaurants and bars in St Andrews.
Ready to plan a trip to St Andrews?
10 Things to do in St Andrews
There is no shortage of things to do in St Andrew. Most of the attractions below are within easy walking distance of each other, or just a quick drive away – making St Andrews the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
St Andrews Cathedral
The ruins of what was once one of Scotland’s largest medieval cathedrals lie at the town centre by the sea.
The cathedral was built in the 12th century when St Andrews was the religious centre of the Roman Catholic Church of Scotland. After Catholic practice was outlawed in the 16th century, the cathedral fell into ruins.
Walking among the remaining arches, walls and towers it is hard to imagine how it was even possible to build such a massive structure over 800 years ago.
St Rule’s Tower
One of the highlights on the grounds of the cathedral is St Rule’s Tower, which dates back to the 11th century. Despite its age, it is in much better condition than the Cathedral.
You can climb the stairs to the top for spectacular views of St Andrews. Entrance is included in Cathedral admission.
Note, that the steps are steep and narrow.
St Andrews Castle
The ruined St Andrews Castle (£9, FREE for Historic Environment Scotland members & Explorer Pass holders) is slightly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of St Andrews’ town centre and the waterfront near the Cathedral.
Before heading down to the ruins, castle visitors learn about the historic context of the times and about various sieges, religious conspiracies and political crises that went on in St Andrews back in the day.
The castle itself has several preserved structures to explore and you can clearly make out the different layers that have been added for its protection over time.
The most impressive parts of the castle site are certainly the mine and countermine. These are two connected tunnel systems that were carved into the rock underlying the castle from two different directions during a siege – one to get out and one to get in.
St Andrews Golfing Experience
St Andrews is the birthplace of golf.
The British Golf Museum (£10, Bruce Embankment) is a good place to start learning about the history of the sport and the significance of golf in Scotland.
To play a round of golf yourself, there are 10 golf courses in St Andrews to choose from. You can even play the historic Old Course – Green fees start at £95 in low season and rise to £195 in high season [2020 prices].
For golf lessons and courses, check out the St Andrews Links Golf Academy.
The Academy also offers guided walks on the Old Course (£12.50), including a stop at the iconic Swilcan Bridge.
St Andrews Botanical Garden
Located in the heart of St Andrews, the Botanic Garden is a treasure trove of plants from around the world. There are glasshouses with desert plants and orchids, a tropical butterfly house and sprawling grounds with outdoor plants.
There is a lovely cafe and a plant nursery where you can pick up plants or seeds for your home garden (note import/export rules).
St Andrews Beaches: East Sands and West Sands
St Andrews is surrounded by sprawling sandy beaches.
East Sands at the foot of the Cathedral is just a few minute’s walk from the town centre. It is a popular beach among locals and visitors, home to the sailing club and a great location for water activities.
West Sands expands further west form the Old Course along a series of other golf courses.
Both beaches are great for a picnic in the sun, people and puppy watching and a refreshing dip in the sea.
Book a Walking Tour
It is fairly easy to visit St Andrews independently and tour the highlights within a day – but booking a tour with a local tour guide adds context, history and hidden gems to your experience.
The St Andrews Walking Tour includes visits to attractions such as the Cathedral, the Castle and the Old Course, but also the University of St Andrews campus and other local favourites.
Foodies will love to hear that there is also a food tour in St Andrews! Eat Walk St Andrews is a walking tour visiting local restaurants, bars and shops to taste the larder of Fife.
It gives visitors the chance to meet local producers and speak to people who are passionate about the food they prepare from local ingredients. Between stops, the tour guide also explains some of the local history and takes in the highlights of St Andrews.
St Andrews is surrounded by beautiful scenery and lies in a prime location to explore beyond the city limits. It would be a shame to limit yourself to things to do in St Andrews – make some time to discover further afield!
Walk the Fife Coastal Path towards Kingsbarns
The Fife Coastal Path is a 9-day long-distance trail that follows the entire coastline of Fife from Kincardine to Newburgh. It runs right through St Andrews.
From East Sands, you can follow the Fife Coastal Path all the way to Kingsbarns (8.5 miles / 13.5 km, walking time: 3-4 hours).
The path closely hugs the coastline and climbs up and down the sides of the cliffs. Highlights along the way are the volcanic rock formations Buddo Rock and the Rock and Spindle, which are particularly impressive at low tide.
The St Andrews Bay Golf Course lies about halfway and the Fairmont’s St Andrews Bar & Grill at the golf course makes for a perfect lunch break location.
From Kingsbarns, you can catch the bus back to St Andrews (Stagecoach bus 95).
This leisurely hike is one of my favourite things to do in St Andrews.
Visit a Distillery
There are two distilleries near St Andrews producing all kinds of spirits and drinks.
Eden Mill produces gin, whisky and craft beers which are widely available throughout Scotland. The distillery and brewery are located just 5 miles west of St Andrews – a 10-minute drive or easy bus ride (services 94 and 99).
Tastings and tours are usually available, however, the distillery is currently closed due to constructions [2020 Update].
Kingsbarns Distillery lies 7 miles east of St Andrews and offers three different kinds of distillery tours (from £12).
There is a gin distillery on-site – Darnley’s Distillery – which is open for tours as well (£10).
Road Trip to the East Neuk Fishing Villages
St Andrews is very close to the picturesque fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife.
On just 10 miles of coastline, you can enjoy a series of five quaint villages with colourful waterfronts and bustling harbours.
From Crail to Elie, each of the villages has something slightly different to offer.
Crail: Possibly the most photographed village on the East Neuk of Fife with cobbled streets and a tiny harbour.
Anstruther: A bustling village with world-famous fish & chip shops (try the Anstruther Fish Bar) and boat trips to the Isle of May to see puffins.
Pittenweem: A lovely village with a narrow footpath on the waterfront and a sweet shop that sells Jannetta’s ice cream.
St Monans: Home of the beautiful St Monans Windmill and a quirky welly-flower garden by the harbour.
Elie: A busy village surrounded by sandy beaches – a highlight is the Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower by Ruby Bay.
St Andrews Travel Guide
How to get to St Andrews
By car: The drive from Edinburgh to St Andrews takes just under 1.5 hours – distance: 52 miles.
By public transport: Take the train from Edinburgh to Leuchars (LNER) and a bus from there to St Andrews (Stagecoach 99, 94, 92 or 42). Buses leave frequently. The whole journey takes around 1.5 hours.
By car: The drive from Glasgow to St Andrews takes just over 1.5 hours – distance: 75 miles.
By public transport: Stagecoach bus X24 takes you straight from Glasgow to St Andrews (3 hours). You could also take a bus (Megabus) to or train to Dundee (Scotrail) and then Stagecoach bus 99 to St Andrews from there. This takes around 2.5 hours.
Where to Stay in St Andrews
There are many hotels and bed & breakfasts in St Andrews that cater to different budgets and tastes.
For upscale golf hotels, consider the Old Course Hotel in the centre of St Andrews with access to multiple golf courses, or the Fairmont, which is slightly south of the town, but directly at the beautiful St Andrews Bay Golf Course.
I usually stay at the St Andrews Holiday Park – a caravan park at East Sands beach. Caravans are available for a minimum of 3 nights. They usually have 2-3 bedrooms and are a great solution if you travel in a group or want self-catering facilities.
During the summer, you can also book budget-friendly accommodation at St Andrews University student halls.
Note, that St Andrews also makes for a great day trip from Edinburgh, so it is not necessary to book a place to stay!
Food & Drink in St Andrews
St Andrews is a foodie’s paradise, although the vegan offering is still growing and it is important to research or call ahead to check if vegan options are available. Here are some of my favourite restaurants and pubs in St Andrews.
Dolls House (3 Church Square) behind the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity serves modern French cuisine with a Scottish twist. They have several vegan options on the menu. The food is absolutely gorgeous!
Zizzi, an Italian franchise restaurant (87 South St), has a separate vegan menu with options ranging from pizza and pasta dishes to desserts. It’s a good backup option to have up your sleeve.
St Andrew’s Brewing Company (119 North Street or 177 South Street) serves burgers, Scottish classics and comfort food and has a few vegan options on the menu – as well as tasty craft beers.
Cafe Gorgeous (7 Bell St) is a beautiful vintage tearoom with light snacks, cakes and hot drinks. I’m not sure how regularly they have vegan options.
Forgan’s (110 Market St) has a separate vegan menu that looks fantastic too! They serve contemporary Scottish cuisine and source their produce as locally as possible.
If you are a sweet tooth like me – guilty as charged – you will be delighted to hear that St Andrews has some treats for you!
Fisher & Donaldson (13 Church St) is an iconic bakery. Their fudge doughnuts are out of this world (but sadly not vegan).
Jannetta’s Gelateria (31 South St) is a famous family-run ice-cream shop. They make all their ice cream in house and have a few non-dairy options too.
Bars & Pubs
St Andrews might be small, but it is still a student town, has a thriving local community and attracts many tourists throughout the year – it comes as no surprise that there are various pubs and bars to choose from in the evenings.
The Keys Bar (87 Market St) has an incredible selection of whiskies to choose from and knowledgable staff who can help you choose the perfect dram for you. The pub is not a secret, but still popular among locals.
The Cellar Bar (32 Bell St) is a great bar to go for live music. They have bands ranging from jazz to blues and folk playing at least 3 nights a week.
I hope this list of things to do in St Andrews has convinced you to plan a trip to this beautiful town on the Scottish east coast and spend a few days exploring the area.
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.