Have you ever visited somewhere that is equally everything and nothing like you expected? Somewhere that feels comfortably familiar yet shiny and new all at once? Those were my first impressions as we drove into St Andrews.
I have lived in Scotland my whole life and I like to think that I have travelled a lot of this country, I have immense love and pride for my Scottish roots as most of us do, yet I know deep down that I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I even lived and studied in Edinburgh for several years, yet, visiting St Andrews, this seaside town on the northeast of Edinburgh, Fifes fourth-largest settlement area, simply never entered my mind to visit as I felt I knew it all already.
World-renowned for its golf courses, the infamous cathedral ruins and it’s Royal connections to St Andrews University, where Prince William and Kate Middleton met as students, I don’t know how I managed to avoid visiting for so long.
The remains of St Andrews Cathedral are one of Scotlands most recognised ruins.
The medieval church was built in 1158 and although no longer intact, the now ruins of the Cathedral of St Andrew is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable sights of St Andrews and are still highly visible from the sea.
The cathedral played an important part in Scottish religion as headquarters of the medieval Scottish Church until 1560 but whether religious or not, I think that St Andrews Cathedral is a sight to see and can be appreciated for the sheer size and grandeur that it still holds to this day.
Although it is now the site of ruins, it is still a graveyard in which it is said that Saint Andrews partial remains still lie in the cemetery surrounding the cathedral and you can take the time to wander the grounds as well as climbing to the top of St Rules Tower which is 33m tall and provides incredible views over St Andrews and Fife.
Considered to be one of the oldest golf courses in the world, the Old Course is possibly the holy grail of courses for any golfer to get to play.
It was also the home to the very first Open competition back in 1873 and has been played here a number of times since with the most recent being in 2015 at the time of writing this post.
It’s a location that draws thousands of golf fans from around the world every year to play or even just to visit the course when visiting one of the nearby cities on holiday.
Even when we visited there were still countless crowds of people walking around the edges of the course and taking in the sights from the Swilcan Bridge which links the first and the eighteenth fairways.
Playing St Andrews Links
St Andrews isn’t just home to the Old Course. There are actually seven different playable golf courses in the town with varying green fee costs for each.
Prices start at £8 for a round at the Balgrove Course which is a small 9-hole course that caters for families right up to £195 for a round on the Old Course during peak season which runs between the 20th of April and the 18th of October.
So if you’re looking to play a round of golf at St Andrews Links, then save yourself a bit of money and book during the low season and you could shave off £100 from your green fee.
British Golf Museum
Now the home of golf isn’t going to do its best to showcase the history of golf as much as it can and that’s where the British Golf Museum comes in.
Introducing you to the history of golf as well as holding the largest collection of golfing memorabilia in Europe, this is a golfing fans perfect place to visit, other than the Old Course.
Inside the museum you’ll find interactive displays, hands on activities and much more.
You’ll also be able to take a look around the museum shop and relax in the cafe with views over the 1st tee and the stunning West Sands Beach.
The perfect place to wind away a few hours with a coffee.
St Andrews Castle
The ruins of St Andrews castle lie on a rocky edge overlooking the North Sea and a small beach called Castle Sands.
St Andrews Castle changed hands between the Scots and the English many times during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
This was also used as a prison with a bottle dungeon in which many prominent figures of the time were imprisoned.
The castle hold displays with information on the history along with a small shop.
St Andrews Botanic Garden
We took the time to explore the St Andrews Botanic Garden when visiting the town on a bright summers day as when better to enjoy and experience all the beautiful flowers outside and in full bloom than in glorious weather.
Although grand in size, the St Andrews Botanic Gardens are a national treasure in many ways and hold a wealth of botanical and horticultural information which they endeavour to use to help people live better lives and understand the importance of the plants that sustain our planet.
The gardens have many features to explore which are great for all the family such as the glasshouses, water features, butterfly house, woodland walks and trails along with rock gardens and flower exhibitions which are great to visit all year round.
There are also plenty of benches to encourage you to take your own picnic to enjoy in the gardens should you wish. Alternatively, there is a tea room with indoor and outdoor seating serving teas, coffees and light snacks.
Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted in the gardens.
St Andrews Museum
If you are looking for free things to do in St Andrews then the St Andrews Museum might be one to add to the list.
This Victorian mansion is hidden in the grounds of Kinburn Park and has a number of exhibitions relating to the history of St Andrews from the 12th century to the current day.
There is a permanent collection of historical objects which relate to the town along with temporary exhibitions showing images and items relating to the culture of life in St Andrews.
The St Andrews Museum is free admission including free WiFi. There is also the Cafe In The Park which offers light meals and refreshments during the museum opening hours.
St Andrews Aquarium
With views overlooking the West Sands, St Andrews Aquarium is nestled on the cliffs and hosts a large number of beautiful aquatic (and some not) animals.
With animals such as marmosets, dwarf crocodiles, meerkats, penguins, sharks, rays, seals, frogs, arachnids, octopus and of course, fish, the St Andrews Aquarium shows a fascinating insight into another world.
You will learn about the lifestyles of these wonderful animals, you can attend interactive demonstrations, animal talks and feeding sessions.
Backed onto the Old Course and made famous for its use in the opening scenes of the Oscar-winning film ‘Chariots Of Fire’, the West Sands are a 2-mile long stretch of sandy beach and dunes which are a popular attraction for those looking for an invigorating walk along the Fife coast.
In the warmer and drier months, this is a favoured destination for many people and is especially popular among kitesurfers, those who enjoy land sailing, running and even swimming. There are lifeguards at peak season for the safety of those who bravely enter the water.
This beach does hold some restrictions for areas where dogs and sand yachts can be permitted.
The West Sands are also nearby the Eden Estuary Nature Reserve which is a great location for activities such as wildfowling (permit required), walking, seal watching, bird watching and horse-riding.
West Sands is an approximately 15-minute walk from the town centre, there is a car park should this be required along with plenty of signs with regards to the zoning for activities.
St Salvator's Chapel
The University of St Andrews has two chapels, St Salvators Chapel and the much smaller St Leonards Chapel.
St Salvators Chapel is an incredible and rare example of Gothic architecture which has a mixture of old and new features from repairs throughout the ages. It is still popular and used by both students and staff of the University, along with events such as weddings, this grand chapel is simply beautiful to see.
The main entrance to the chapel faces the street and not into the college courtyard as the church was to be used by the whole community and not just students.
The cobbles beneath the bell tower show the initials ‘PH’ which are set into the cobbles and marks the site where 24-year-old Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake for his Protestant beliefs.
Make sure to keep an eye out as local tradition also hints that the face carved into the stonework of the college tower high above the gateway is that of Patrick Hamilton. Spooky!
St Salvators chapel seats around 320 people and is open to all visitors.
Fun Things To Do In St Andrews
St Andrews Spy Mission Treasure Trail
If you are looking for something fun things to do in St Andrews with kids or just as a group activity then maybe the Treasure Trails are for you.
In particular, I’m thinking the St Andrews Murder Mystery Treasure Trail. For a cost of £9.99, you receive a booklet (which can be printed, downloaded or personalised) which takes you on a self-guided walking tour of St Andrews.
The trail is recommended for those aged 6+, takes approximately 2 hours to complete and covers around 2-mile loop of the town but this can be done at your own pace and in your own time.
You will have the chance to visit many of the town’s attractions while finding and solving clues as you eliminate people and crack the code in this whodunit? You will spend time looking for signs and codes on many of the town’s monuments while also learning more about the area.
This trail is accessible to those with prams and wheelchairs.
One booklet is enough for a group of 4-5 people.
St Andrews Ghost Tours
The St Andrews Ghost Tours is an award-winning and extensively researched walk around some of the most popular historic locations.
St Andrews has one of the highest records of paranormal activity and this tour which covers over 5 decades worth of investigation provides a factual, educational and historical insight into the town.
There are no costumed actors or theatrics to be found, this is a real ghost tour. So whether you are interested in history, learning something new or on the hunt for some ghosts, this informative tour is a great way to explore and hear some long lost or forgotten tales.
Tours last approximately 90 minutes and must be booked up to one hour in advance.
Tours run 7 days a week from January – December at allocated times through the afternoon into the evening.
The St Andrews Ghost Tours generall have an average group of 10 but can accommodate anything between 1-50 people at a time.
It is stated as being mobility friendly although there is mention of inclines which is perhaps something to bear in mind. The walk is approximately 1 mile long.
The Byre Theatre
The Byre is a 216 seat auditorium and a 100 seat studio theatre which offers year-round entertainment in the way of events, shows, conferences, music, learning and entertainment for all the family.
With a rich history dating back to 1933, The Byre is referred to as ‘a vibrant hub of cultural activity in St Andrews and is a focal point for the Arts in North East Fife’.
The Byre Theatre has a cafe bar which serves soups and sandwiches along with home-baked goods and hot/cold drinks during the day and there is a bar prior to the start of performances.
There is also the possibility of hiring The Byre for private events such as weddings.
Craigtoun Country Park
Just outside of St Andrews, Craigtoun Country Park is a fantastic option for families to visit. With 47 acres of grounds, this park is free to visit all year round where families can enjoy free activities such as the 30ft zip wire, parks and fairy glen.
There are also paid attractions between the months of April-October and tickets can be purchased for activities such as tractor rides, putting, Rio Grande Miniature railway, bouncy castles, pedal cars and the boating lake.
With ample grounds for picnics and barbecues, dogs are also welcome, Craigtoun Country Park is a popular destination for sunny days. There is also a cafe on the grounds.
Shopping in St Andrews
Shopping in St Andrews is an enjoyable experience but as you would expect, cannot be compared to city shopping.
You will find many of the popular high street stores in the town centre but I consider the shops selling locally made products to be more popular and more enchanting to visit.