St. Andrews in Scotland is one of those picturesque old coastal towns – wind-swept beaches, ruins overlooking the bay, quaint city-centre and lots of tourists in the warm season.
Famous for its ‘Old Course’ – a golf course of legend – where pretty much every pro golfer has been known to play, there is a lot of history and a lot more to this town than just golf (though almost everywhere you look you’ll see some sort of golf-themed tourist shop).
We visited the town in late spring, and had great Scottish weather to wander around the area (aka it was sunny for at least 20 minutes). You can definitely visit the town as a day trip, or if you want to really experience the coast, stay over in some of the great hotels. Either way, here are some the sight’s you should definitely check out.
Old Course (and the Walking Tour)
If you’re into golf or history, doing a walking tour of the Old Course is a must. The tour guides are wonderful and quite well informed (ours was an older man who worked as a caddy at the course from the age of 15!).
The tour lets you walk down the 1st hole and back up the 17th and 18th holes (between golfers), while learning about the 600 year old history of the course itself, about the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (founded in 1754), and of the area surrounding the course.
This tour also lets you see and walk on the Swilcan Bridge, a tiny but famous stone bridge between the 1st and 18th holes that was built about 700 years ago as a sheep crossing. Its very photogenic and getting your photo on there will make any golf enthusiast at home very very jealous.
St. Andrew’s Cathedral
A short 500m walk South East down the coast from the Old Course you’ll find the ruins of the St. Andrew’s Cathedral, an old Catholic church built in 1158. It was the largest church ever built in Scotland, so even in ruin you can imagine how large it was. The church was taken apart during and after the “Reformation of 1559” and much of it’s stone supply was used in building the town itself.
When it comes to medieval ruins, this church is very beautiful. Just a walk around and through it’s grounds you’ll see some very impressive historic architecture. If you’re not too spooked out, definitely walk through the cemetery and check out some very old graves.
Part of the Cathedral area includes the St Rule’s Tower, which actually predates the church by a number of years. If its open, you can climb the tower for a small entrance fee and get a good view of the area, and your daily stair climb in.
West Sands Beach
If you happen to visit on a nice day in summer, the West Sands Beach, just beside the Old Course, is a nice place to stop for a snack (or a swim if you’re brave).
Famous for the beach running scene in the opening of the movie Chariots of Fire, the beach is almost 2 miles long and a great place for a stroll. Backed by sand dunes (and then the Old Course) you may even be able to find some rogue golf balls that no one wanted to admit they hit that far away.
Due to the winds in the area, you may also spot some kite surfers at the northern-most section of the beach.
St. Andrews Castle
Directly between the Old Course and the Cathedral lies the ruins of the St. Andrew’s Castle. While most of had fallen years ago, the front face of the castle still looks impressive. You can enter over a bridge through the main gate, wander the open courtyard and get some great sea views.
One of the cooler features of this landmark is the underground tunnels that were dug during sieges as an attempt to gain entrance to and exit from the castle.
You can also see a ‘bottle dungeon’, a famous castle prison where prisoners were lowered into a 7 meter claustrophobic pit.
Cobbled streets, amazing old buildings and lots of cafes and pubs are what you’ll find in the old city centre of St. Andrews. If you’re into shopping, there are a good number of little shops to visit.
One of the many “must see” pubs to visit in the town center is the St.Andrews Brewing Company. Getting a good local craft beer in Scotland is always a required stop.
The St.Andrews University is also right outside the town center and contains some amazing architecture. Built in the 1400s, its the third oldest university in the English-speaking world, and oldest in Scotland. Its also more recently famous for where Prince William and Kate Middleton went to school and met.
If you have more time, there are a lot more places to see in the St.Andrews area from well known Spas, to the British Golf Museum to the St.Andrews Aquarium to one of the many distilleries.
There are also a number of yearly events that go on in St.Andrews apart from the golf tournaments, including a Chariots of Fire Beach Race (why not!).