Visit St Andrews in Fife, Scotland
History, an ancient University, and Golf
When visiting St Andrews, you could be surprised at what a small town it is, but this little place on the edge of Fife packs centuries of history into its compact area!
Once an important place of pilgrimage with its mighty cathedral, and one of Britain's earliest seats of learning, St Andrews also witnessed turbulent religious battles in later centuries.
As if this wasn't enough, St Andrews is of course also the home of golf. St Andrews Links, with its world-famous Old Course, is the oldest golf course in the world. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is likewise one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of its kind.
The town sits among beautiful coastal scenery between two wide sandy beaches where surfers brave the cold North Sea and people walk or fly kites.
Getting To St Andrews
Fitting St Andrews into your itinerary
If you are touring Scotland, plan to visit St Andrews while you are in the Edinbugh area. You can reach St Andrews from Edinburgh in about 90 minutes by road or by rail.
The drive to St Andrews is straightforward and the roads are not busy in comparison to many countries. You will need to head north out of Edinburgh to cross the Forth Road Bridge (there used to be a toll but now it's free) and continue heading north on the M90 as far as the Dunfermline junction (2a). Here, turn off onto the A92, a dual carriageway which will take you up through Fife. Once you get close to Cupar, turn off onto the A91 to go through Cupar and then follow this road all the way to St Andrews.
Some tourists complain about the lack of parking, but if you can be there early there is (or certainly used to be) plenty of free parking as you reach the outskirts (near the golf course and the University's science bulidings). From here it is literally a 10 minute walk (uphill) to the center all the historic sights of St Andrews.
If you want to visit St Andrews by train, be aware that it doesn't have its own train station. You will need to catch a train going to Dundee or Aberdeen from Edinburgh, and alight at Leuchars (check first that it does stop at Leuchars). This is 5 miles from St Andrews and buses run frequently between the station and St Andrews, or alternatively you could take a taxi.
The nearest large airport to St Andrews is Edinburgh Airport. Dundee does have a small airport which may be useful if you are flying from London and not planning to visit Edinburgh.
Staying in St Andrews
Sleeping, Dining, Shopping
St Andrews is not very large, but it's packed with pretty little B&Bs (bed and breakfast) and self-catering accommodation. There are also hotels ranging from cozy and affordable to expensive elegance such as the luxury Fairmont St Andrews Resort which hosts top political summits (such as the G20 financial summit in November 2009) and of course The Old Course Hotel.
You'll find a restaurant or other eating place every 10 paces in central St Andrews! As a student town, there are plenty of affordable eateries and restaurant chains (Pizza Express, Littlejohns Bella Italia), but there is also a host of more elegant dining options including Continental and Asian cuisine. Closer to the golf course, you could visit the Old Course restaurant for lunch or dinner.
If you have self-catering facilities, you'll find the local supermarkets the easiest places to buy everything you need. There is a small town center supermarket (Tesco) - which gets very busy at lunchtimes but is within walking distance of most accommodation - and also a larger supermarket (Morrisons) further out of town.
Gifts and Souvenirs
While there are no department stores in the town, there are several little gift shops selling all manner of gifts, artwork and souvenirs - many with a Scottish or golf theme. Naturally, there are also a few golf shops! Larger stores can be found in Dundee or Edinburgh.
St Andrews Cathedral Ruins
St Andrews Cathedral and St Rules Tower
The cathedral was founded in 1158 on the site of an even older church, and subsequently became an important site for religious pilgrims. It took over a century to complete the cathedral, which was soon after badly storm-damaged and had to be partly rebuilt in the 1270s. The unlucky cathedral was then partly destroyed by fire in the 1300s and again had to undergo extensive repairs.
In the Scottish Reformation of 1560, when Scotland broke away from the Catholic Church in Rome, the celebration of Mass was forbidden and religious icons and altars were removed from the Cathedral in keeping with the Protestant style of worship. The Cathedral fell into ruin when its central tower collapsed at the end of the 1500s, but several of the ruins still stand today and are carefully maintained.
The ruins and graveyard are open to public access and have seating areas and pathways. There is a charge to go up the stone spiral staircase to the top of St Rule's tower, from which there are wonderful views of the town. (These are shown in the photo further up by flickr user Son of Groucho.)
Saint Rule is said to have brought relics of Saint Andrew to this place.
St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland.
St Andrew's day is Scotland's official national day, celebrated on 30 November.
St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle is another site of historic interest - and also a ruin.
The Castle is as old as the Cathedral and was home to the Bishops of St Andrews, as well as Scottish Kings (King James III of Scotland was born in the Castle).
However, the Castle has a darker side with its infamous Medieval prison - a pit below the tower where several notable men had the misfortune to end up.
The Reformation of the mid 1500s saw St Andrews become a scene of clashes between the new Scottish Protestants such as John Knox (pictured) and the existing Catholics. Protestant George Wishart was imprisoned in the Castle before being burnt at the stake in St Andrews.
Although the Castle, like the Cathedral, fell into ruin, the remaining structures (including the dungeon) can be visited today. There is an entrance charge.
The University of St Andrews
is 600 years old.
University of St Andrews
Thankfully, not all of St Andrews' ancient buildings are in ruins! The University of St Andrews, founded between 1410 and 1413 and about to begin its 600th anniversary celebrations, maintains many fine old buildings dating from several centuries of its history. The University has grown considerably over recent years and now has a modern science campus on the edge of town.
The oldest parts of the University are St Salvator's Chapel and St Mary's College, both of which are still in use today. Protestant Patick Hamilton was burnt at the stake outside the Chapel in 1528 and his initals mark the spot in the cobblestones. It is bad luck for a student to step on these initials, which is why you will see them side-step or leap as they pass!
Students at the University wear the traditional red gown and celebrate a number of old customs including the May Dip (plunging into the icy North Sea) and the Kate Kennedy Procession in which a fresh-faced male student will dress as Bishop Kennedy's niece 'Kate', to be paraded through the town streets on a daffodil covered coach led by St Andrew himself.
Prince William is the most famous of the University's more recent graduates.
West Sands Beach
St Andrews' beaches and 'Chariots of Fire'
St Andrews has 2 stretches of wide sandy beaches. The smaller East Sands can be found to the east of the cathedral ruins. The West Sands is a long stretch of beach running beside the St Andrews Links (golf course).
It was here that runner Eric Liddell would practise. He won the 400 metre race in the 1924 Olympics, and is commemorated in the movie Chariots of Fire. Although the East Sands reportedly appear in this movie as one of the filming locations for beach scenes, only Broadstairs beach (in England) is credited.
The Old Course
is believed to be the oldest golf course in the world.
Old Course, St Andrews
Golf at St Andrews
St Andrews and Golf are a famous combination! The oldest golf course in the world, the St Andrews Links, and one of the oldest and influential golf clubs in the world, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, make this a top destination for golfers and golf enthusiasts from all over the world.
The St Andrews Links has seven public golf courses, set in a beautiful location. The Old Course of St Andrews is over 600 years old.
If you come to St Andrews for golf, be aware that even in summer there can be a cool breeze from the North Sea. However, St Andrews is one of the sunniest towns in Scotland and you also have a good chance of bright sunshine. Winters can be cold and wet - wrap up warm.
The Open Championship is hosted at the Old Course of St Andrews approximately every 5 years in summer. The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship comes to St Andrews in October each year. Pros and amateurs (many of them celebrities) compete in this event (professional only participate in the final round).
Golf Lovers, Plan Your Trip to Scotland
Get the very best from your Scottish golf vacation with the help of Allan McAllister Ferguson. Packed with all the information you need to put together the perfect golfing trip, it includes an entire chapter on the courses of St Andrews.
Useful Links for Visitors - Planning a trip to St Andrews?
St Andrews Harbor and the Aquarium
Like many of the towns and villages in the area, particularly in the East Neuk of Fife, St Andrews has a harbor with working fishing boats.
The harbor is just beneath the Cathedral ruins, and from here you can walk along the West Sands, maybe enjoying an ice cream on a sunny day.
Wild seals can occasionally be spotted in this part of Fife. If you want to see them up close, you'll need to head back along The Scores (by the Castle) to the St Andrews Aquarium where you can see Laurel and Hardy the resident seals, alongside a host of other sealife!
© 2009 Indigo Janson