The beautiful seaside town of St Andrews is located on Scotland’s East coast in the county of Fife. It makes for a perfect day trip from Edinburgh as it’s 1.5hrs in the car or 2 hrs on the X59 bus. Or if you have the time, spend a weekend here – there is loads to do, great places to stay and excellent restaurants.
The historic town was once the capital of Scotland and an important centre of power for the Catholic church until the Scottish Reformation. It’s of course also the birthplace of the world-famous Scottish flag, the Saltire (St Andrews Cross). These days, it’s more famous for being the “Home of Golf”, where Prince William attended University and for having fabulous beaches.
Check out the oldest University in Scotland
Despite being small, the town boasts the 2nd best university in the UK. It was founded back in 1413 before America was even discovered, making it the oldest University in Scotland. There is a real buzz about the place if you happen to visit during term time with students making the most of their time here.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the student calendar is “Raisin Weekend” when freshers are dressed up in crazy costumes and then covered in shaving foam in the University’s St Salvator’s Quadrangle.
Observe the Sunday Pier Walk
Another top university tradition is the Sunday Pier walk. It’s an impressive sight as hundreds of students dressed in bright red gowns parade along the historic harbour wall, near East Sands. The spectacle takes place every Sunday morning after chapel.
Mix with students at St Salvator’s Quad
To get a feel for just how old this university is, I recommend visiting St Salvator’s Quad – the heart of everything St Andrews. It’s a beautifully kept green space with neat grass, colourful flower beds and a collection of ancient buildings including the ornate St Salvator’s chapel.
Avoid the ‘PH’ in the pavement
Just below the archway as you enter St Salvator’s Quad (also known as ‘the Quad’), you might notice the initials PH visible in the pavement’s cobble stones. This is where Patrick Hamilton, an early Protestant reformer, was brutally burnt at the stake in 1528. Legend has it that it’s bad luck for students to walk on and that the outline of Hamilton’s face is burnt into the stonework of the nearby church tower of St Salvator’s.
Explore St Andrews Cathedral
A mighty symbol of Catholic church, the once massive cathedral now lies in ruins, however, it’s still a fantastic place to explore. The cathedral overlooks the harbour area and you can often hear the waves crashing into the pier wall below.
Conveniently, it’s free to wander around most of the area including the fascinating graveyard that contains the memorials of Saint Andrew and golfer Tom Morris. The first landmark that you are likely to recognise is the Cathedral’s massive East Tower, whose gothic architecture dominates the skyline. Continue through the ancient stone archway and the sheer scale of the original structure reveals itself. If you are tempted to find out more about the history of the Cathedral, then the small museum is definitely worth a visit and entry also includes a token to access St Rules Tower.
Climb St Rules Tower
The 33m high tower dates from the 12th century, but the best part is the internal spiral staircase that leads to the most amazing viewing platform. Here you will experience some of the finest views of St Andrews.
Click here to download the fun and educational quiz from the cathedral website.
Visit St Andrews Castle
The castle is built on top of a rocky sea cliff, with a sandy beach on one side and a sheer drop into the sea on the other. Once you have bought your tickets in the gift shop, follow the route through the entertaining little museum, travelling back in time with the help of interactive displays. Learn about how the 450-year-old castle was used as a palace, prison and fortress.
History suggests Protestants were imprisoned in the dark, damp rat-infested hole to punish them for their beliefs. Although perhaps the most shocking story is that of Cardinal Beaton. He was brutally murdered and his body then dumped in the dungeon to rot. Not surprisingly this wasn’t a popular move with people outside of the castle. So, in 1546 a siege began that saw both sides dig underground tunnels in the foundation rock. These tunnels are known as the mine and the counter mine.
Click here to download the fun and educational quiz from the castle website.
St Andrews Aquarium
The aquarium is perfectly situated close to the stunning West Sands beach, in the beautiful bay of St Andrews. The closest parking is on the Scores or at the west sands beach car park. All ages will love exploring the fascinating world beneath the waves, find out more about lobsters, seals, piranhas, turtles, clown fish and the octopus.
There is also a gift shop and a great little café which serves home bakes along, with a good selection of drinks. Its open 7 days a week from 10am to 6pm.
Play a round of the golf at the Home of Golf
Perhaps for some people St Andrews is only associated with the game of golf and it’s not surprising as the little town has the largest public golf complex in Europe! There are seven excellent courses including the world-famous Old Course, oh and golf is supposed to have been invented here. Indeed, the town is a Mecca for the golfing community while the Old Course is nothing less than the Holy Grail.
While a round on the Old Course might be a little out of your reach, there are plenty of other great courses to play on. Find out more and book a tee time by visiting St Andrews Links Trust website.
Pitch & Putt at the Himalayas
While my wife and I were at St Andrews University, we spent a fair amount of time playing with friends at the Himalayas putting green and even spotted Sir Sean Connery playing here in the past. It’s inexpensive to rent the equipment and the little course is challenging and fun. The St Andrews driving range is another relatively budget friendly activity for golfers of all ages.
Selfie on the Swilcan Bridge
Even if you are not a golfer, it’s obligatory to take a selfie in front of the world famous Swilcan bridge with a view of the club house in the background.
Visit the British Golf Museum
You don’t have to be a serious golfer to enjoy a visit the British Golf Museum where impressive interactive displays take you on a 500-year journey, through the history of golf. It’s a family friendly place to visit with plenty of hands on activities, plus kids are a free.
High tea at the Old Course
If all this talk of sport is giving you an appetite, then I recommend taking high tea at the world-famous Old Course hotel set right in the middle of the legendary course. It’s a decadent suggestion (£32 with champers) but the experience is sublime. For a more down to earth option, a pint at the adjoining Jigger Inn is equally special and there is also a superb lunch menu.
Blow Away the Cobwebs at The Beaches
There are two main beaches in St Andrews which can become busy in the summer months, especially on a sunny summer’s day. There is also the small Castle Sands beach just below the castle, which at low tide reveals the old sea water filled swimming pool.
West Sands Beach
The beach most popular with tourists is the enormous West Sands, that stretches for almost 2 miles and is famous for featuring in the movie Chariots of Fire during the opening sequence. As the name suggests it’s a sandy beach with extensive sand dunes that border the Old Course golf course.
It takes 15 minutes to reach from the town centre on foot, but there is also plenty of parking should you choose to drive. It’s not uncommon to see surfers enjoying the waves and runners exercising along the massive expanse of sand. And more recently land yachts have become a common sight. If you fancy a shot then contact Blown Away, who will rent you the equipment and give you the appropriate training.
The beach is quite wild and there are no shops, so come prepared and buy a picnic in the town to enjoy on a rug to complete that very British tradition. The nearest place for a coffee is the Links Club house.
East Sands Beach
The second beach, which is our family’s favourite, is close to the small fishing harbour and is called East Sands. This beach is smaller where you’ll find many locals out for a wander, kids building and castles or having a paddle in the sea. There is plenty of parking near the harbour and the leisure centre.
You also have the pier, the working fishing harbour and a little marina nearby, which adds a bit of interest. I recommend the brilliant little seafood shack come café at the harbour that sells a selection of non-fussy snacks, ice creams and drinks.
The St Andrews sailing club has their headquarters at East Sands and it’s a lovely sight seeing the little boats darting about on a Sunday morning. The usually calm waters here also make it a perfect spot for sea kayaking.
Walk the Fife Coastal Path
If you walk along the beach towards the clifftop caravan sight, it’s possible to join the attractive Fife coastal path that takes in the remains on an extinct volcano known as the Rock and Spindle.
Food & Drink in St Andrews
Firstly, this is both a student town and a golfing town so there is no shortage of quality bars and restaurants! Here is a small selection of our favourites.
Bars & Pubs in St Andrews
The Central Bar – 77-79 Market Street, St Andrews, KY16 9NU
Located in a prominent position near the fountain on Market Street, this bar has been established for many years. Inside, there is a distinctive central square shaped bar with brass beer taps that are a work of art in themselves.
There is a great range of beers, wines, spirts and cocktails. The bar menu is also excellent and includes a range of traditional pies while sticky toffee pudding is a must.
The Saint Bar and Kitchen – 170 South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9EG
On a summer’s afternoon, there is no better place to relax than in the lovely walled beer garden amongst the colourful flowers and the chickens. Yes chickens! Tilly and Hen Solo are our favourites.
If you get bored watching the chooks then try the giant garden board games, it’s the perfect environment for kids. The interior is modern, comfortable and stylish while the kitchen produces a range of wholesome dishes that use locally sourced ingredients.
St Andrews Brewing Company – 177 South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9EE
Wow, what a dream of a place this is for beer lovers! The selection of craft beers is amazing ranging from IPA to Lager (18 in total). The brewery was established in 2012 and has been brewing locally on a small scale in the town ever since.
I loved the beer aged in old whisky barrels from the Glenturret distillery near Crieff. Food is also served – the delicious menu includes a selection of soups, sandwiches and larger hot dishes. The BrewCo burger is awesome. Vegan and vegetarian options are available too.
Restaurants in St Andrews
£££££ Cromars Fish and Chip Shop – 1 Union Street, St Andrews, KY16 9PQ
If you’re on a budget and fancy experiencing some classic British seaside food, then look no further than Cromars fish and chip shop. Since being established in 2013, it’s become a legend in St Andrews dishing out delicious battered fresh fish and perfectly fried potato chips.
In 2016 and 2018, Cromars was awarded best fish and chip shop in Scotland. There is a choice of takeaway or sit in, the restaurant area is classy and cheapest fish supper will set you back £10.25. Last time we visited it was a sunny day, so we were able to eat outside on the small street terrace. The menu also includes soups, pasta, salads with vegetarian options. I recommend finishing off the experience with a tub of Arran ice cream, hmm tasty….
£££££ Jannetta’s Gelateria – 31 South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9QR
Although this isn’t strictly a restaurant, I have to include the St Andrews institution that is Jannetta’s. I still remember visiting this shop 20 years ago and being blown away by the range and quality of ice cream.
It actually turns out that Jannetta’s has existed for over 100 years, so with 4 generations focusing on iced perfection, it’s not surprising that the end product is just so damn good. Go crazy and try a few scoops, how about Scottish tablet, or chilli chocolate, or Turkish delight? Just choose wisely, you might not be back for a while.
£££££ The Russell Hotel Restaurant – 26 The Scores, St Andrews, KY16 9AS
For 25 years this restaurant has been associated with great food and service… it does not disappoint! The restaurant is located in a lovely historic sandstone building with a view of St Andrews bay, perfect for a walk on West Sands afterwards. The menu is traditional and Scottish and the chef insists on using local suppliers and produces. All this means that the final product is mouth-watering.
Expect a perfect balance of surf and turf, with oysters, lobsters and heavenly Scottish fillet steak. The chef’s menu of the week is 3 courses and costs £25. For more relaxed dining, there is a great value bar menu with classics such as fish and chips (£13.50).
£££££ The Adamson – 127 South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9UH
This buzzing design restaurant is uber trendy and popular with the younger crowd. The award-winning chef produces food that looks like a work of art on a plate.
The refined menu pumps out taste bud treats such rock oysters, saffron scallops and unbelievably tasty chateaubriand fillet steak. On a Sunday, there’s a good value roast and the kid’s menu is £6.95.
£££££ The Seafood Ristorante – Bruce Embankment, St Andrews, KY16 9AB
Everything about this restaurant is amazing. To start with the cool modern building, with its huge panoramic windows, gives you a fabulous view of the sea and West Sands beyond. Then there is the food – only the best locally sourced ingredients are used including lobsters from Anstruther, scallops from Orkney and sea trout from Loch Etive.
All with an Italian twist, the result is simply out of this world. The only downside is that it doesn’t come cheap… although the good news is that there are some affordable lunch options starting from £25.
Where to Stay in St Andrews
St Andrews is an ideal daytrip destination, but to explore everything that it has to offer, a day is not really enough. So, you may wish to consider an overnight stay, check out this post for a few top suggestions covering various budgets.