Living in Scotland my whole life, unbelievably, St Andrews was somewhere I had never visited before.
To remedy this, I made the short journey from Edinburgh across the Forth Bridge to the Kingdom of Fife to discover the famous town for myself and see what all the fuss is about!
Located in the East Neuk of Fife (“neuk” is the Scots word for corner), St Andrews has cobbled streets, beautiful sandy beaches, a world-famous golf course, and a dark and fascinating history around every corner. Here are my top 5 reasons to visit for yourself …
In the 9th century, Vikings raided up and down the west coast of Scotland – attacking monasteries, murdering monks, and plundering treasure. St Columba’s relics were removed from the western island of Iona and brought to the safer east coast – with them, much of Iona’s religious influence shifted to St Andrews. Over the following centuries St Andrews Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage for Scotland’s Catholics.
The Cathedral played a starring role in the 16th century Scottish Reformation when fiery preacher John Knox led sermons in the town. As Scotland descended into civil war between Catholics and Protestants, the Cathedral was attacked and partly ruined.
Top tip: purchase a ticket for the Cathedral’s museum which also gives you access to 16th century St Rule’s Tower. Conquering the long winding staircase up the tower is a bit of a mission, but is VERY worth it for the amazing panoramic views (pictured below)!
Despite the title of this blog, it would be remiss to mention St Andrews without mentioning its most famous connection! The sport has been incredibly popular in Scotland since the Middle Ages, and King James II even banned it in 1457 because he felt that young men were playing too much golf instead of practising their archery!
The Old Course is where the sport was first played in the 15th century, and remains the Mecca to which every golfer aspires to make a pilgrimage to at least once in a lifetime. Despite its hallowed reputation, the links here are public golf courses and open to all – although to attain a tee time you need to have a suitable handicap of 24 for men and 36 for women.
Top tip: Even if you’re not playing the Old Course, it’s relatively easy in the morning to walk onto the iconic Swilcan Bridge (pictured below) to pose for a photo on the 18th hole.
From the 13th century the Castle was adopted as the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews. It became another victim of Scotland’s religious turmoil when it was attacked by a French Catholic fleet in 1547 who bombarded the Protestant-held fortress, reducing the castle to ruins and capturing John Knox in the process.
To the modern visitor, St Andrews Castle shows the scars of the centuries of decay since its abandonment, but it’s still possible to get a sense of grandeur here and imagine a once-mighty fortress while enjoying incredible panoramic views out to sea.
Top tip: make sure to explore the ‘bottle dungeon’ – one of the most infamous castle prisons in medieval Britain.
Follow in Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s footsteps at the 3rd oldest university in the English-speaking world. The university – only ranked behind Oxford and Cambridge in Britain – dominates the centre of town with its 10,000 students making up over half of the entire population of St Andrews!
The elegant, ivy-clad buildings and delightful quadrangles and gardens evoke a sense of grandeur and learning. Take a stroll through the picture-perfect grounds and get a sense of life as a student here since the university was founded in 1410.
With almost 2 miles of uninterrupted, golden sands backed with sand dunes and the world-renowned golf course – the West Sands are a special place to wander, whatever the Scottish weather throws at you!
The beach gained fame in 1981 when it featured in the opening sequence of the movie Chariots of Fire (click here to watch the clip).
With so many wonderful attractions packed into a compact, walkable and extremely beautiful small town – St Andrews is an amazing place to visit, and I can’t wait to go back!
P.S. If this has inspired you to visit St Andrews for yourself, why not walk there on the beautiful Fife Coastal Path? If you’d prefer to visit as part of a self-drive tour – St Andrews forms part of our Historic Scotland and Scotland on Screen itineraries, but we’d be delighted to incorporate it into any of our tailor-made packages.