Scotland’s St. Andrews: More than a Golf Course!

Heading north through Cairngorms National Park toward Balmoral Castle. The castle and grounds sit between the small villages of Braemar and Ballater and along the River Dee. Cliff McCain photos.
Heading north through Cairngorms National Park toward Balmoral Castle. The castle and grounds sit between the small villages of Braemar and Ballater and along the River Dee. Cliff McCain photos.

10 Things You May (Or May Not) Know About St. Andrews, Scotland

By Cliff McCain

Looking up Victoria Street in Edinburgh. It is reported to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series St. Andrews
Looking up Victoria Street in Edinburgh. It is reported to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.

St. Andrews, Scotland. Admit it. More than likely you thought about the sport of golf. That’s OK. The majority of people probably do the same.

But this little town on the east coast of Scotland is much more. I fell in love on my first day there and the desire to return again and again has not waned. When you are planning a trip to Scotland do not dismiss St. Andrews as a stop.

These are 10 things you may want to know about on your first trip to St. Andrews.

No Direct Planes or Trains Into St. Andrews

People are often surprised that the town is not accessible by plane or train. Especially considering that it has a major university and the fact that it hosts a worldwide golf tournament. However, this is not a terrible inconvenience. You have a couple of options.

You can take a train into the town of Leuchars and hop a bus for a 10-minute ride. The buses run on a regular schedule and your wait is minimal. Secondly, you can drive through directly into St. Andrews with a car.

It is only about a 90-minute drive from the city of Edinburgh. We have done both. The drive is beautiful and the train and bus combination was an easy option. It just depends on what kind of trip you are on.

A view of St. Andrews Castle ruins with the North Sea in the background. The castle was built around the year 1200.
A view of St. Andrews Castle ruins with the North Sea in the background. The castle was built around the year 1200.

It Is a Wonderful College Town

St. Andrews University the oldest university in Scotland and arguably one of the best universities in Europe. Its location is unique because it sits between downtown, the golf course, the ruins of a chapel, and the North Sea.

Students can walk out of class and decide to take a five-minute walk to hang out with their classmates in a pub or head to the west to the golf course or go the history route and see castles and ruins. Just whatever mood strikes them!

St. Andrews Is a Great Day Trip

The Martyr’s Monument, St. Andrews commemorating Scottish martyrs of the Protestant Reformation.
The Martyr’s Monument, St. Andrews commemorating Scottish martyrs of the Protestant Reformation.

Although located on the far east coast, St. Andrews is still close enough to several “must-see ” sites.

Daytrips by train are possible to places like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. The trains are a great European experience and offer some beautiful scenery. Car trips are also an option.

One of the day trips from St Andrews we took by car was to Balmoral Castle. It was wonderful to be able to stop and see the different farms, shops, and local attractions along the way.

In fact, we took a wrong turn going through the city of Dundee and decided just to explore a while as we found the main road. Best mistake I ever made. We ended up getting a scenic tour that people would pay a bundle for.

The countryside was so beautiful and serene. It took us a little longer but was well worth the time. This is the advantage of car trips. We love train travel, but you give up a little local flavor along the way.

St Andrews harbor Scotland
St. Andrews Harbor. Photo taken from the pier that extends into the north sea. The harbor itself dates back to the 13th century.

You Can Get Almost Everywhere in Town by Foot

On our trips, we did not use our rental car to travel within the city. With the layout of the city, you can spend a couple of days sightseeing and walk everywhere. Interestingly, you can leave the Royal and Ancient Gold Club and walk Southeast on the Scores and without turning, walk to the harbor and ruins of the chapel.

The New Course at the St. Andrews links from atop the clubhouse. It is one of the six courses that lay adjacent to each other. There is a course fall all skill levels.
The New Course at the St. Andrews links from atop the clubhouse. It is one of the six courses that lay adjacent to each other. There is a course for all skill levels.

Along the way, you will pass a castle on the left and the dorm where Prince William and Princess Kate lived at one time.

One right turn will take you through the campus and into the downtown shopping area. It really is a remarkably convenient layout for tourists.

On an interesting side note, you can walk almost at will all over the famous golf course. The walking paths wind forever and an early morning walk or run through the paths is hard to beat.

St. Andrews Has a Wide Variety of Great Places to Eat

At one time, Scotland, in general, did not have the best reputation on the food scene. But it is definitely more than neeps and tatties now. The word “variety” fits the St. Andrews restaurant experience. Pub food and fine dining are usually only a short stroll apart.

The cemetery at the St. Andrews Cathedral. The cathedral was built around 1158.
The cemetery at the St. Andrews Cathedral. The cathedral was built around 1158.

The main reason is the unique combination of having a college in the same location as possibly the most prestigious golf club in the world.

This variety of patrons leads to a variety of options for diners. St. Andrews does not disappoint either group.

The Harbor Is a Place Well Worth Visiting

I think the hidden gem of the town is the harbor area. If I am totally honest, it was not on my radar my first visit. It is “hidden” in some respects because it sits behind the wall where the cathedral ruins lay.

We just happened on it as we were out for a walk. It is one of our favorite discoveries.

We spent time on the pier where you can venture a good distance from town. On the pier, the town feels different. It feels more like a traditional port town. After returning home, I did more research on the harbor and found what a significant role the area plays to both the town and the university.

A look down the first fairway of the Old Course to the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse at St. Andrews.
A look down the first fairway of the Old Course to the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse at St. Andrews.

As a bonus, stroll back up The Scores to the St. Andrews Aquarium. It is an appropriate next stop after visiting the harbor.

There Is Real History in St. Andrews

So where do you want to start? Probably the logical spot is the famous ruins of the St. Andrews Cathedral.

Once the largest building in Europe, it is a beautiful and haunting spot located just steps from the arbor. There is also a castle that sits on the North Sea right off the campus of The University of St. Andrews.

There are street markers of those who died as martyrs during the Protestant Reformation and an actual Martyr’s Monument a pitching wedge from The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and the Old Course. If cinema history is more your interest, the beach where the most famous scene from Chariots of Fire was filmed is located here.

The old stone wall that runs along behind the 17th Hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews. It is affectionately knowns as The Road Hole.
The old stone wall that runs along behind the 17th Hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews. It is affectionately knowns as The Road Hole.

It is commonplace to see people running down the beach singing the main theme. Yes, I too am guilty!

The entire town is a history museum. Just spend an afternoon wandering the streets and you will find a list of things you will want to surf the net for more information about.

Nicer Weather Than Most of Scotland

We have been incredibly blessed during our visits to St. Andrews. We have always been in May so that does make a difference.

But in many weather categories, St. Andrews is one of the tamer regions in Scotland. But even if that were not true, it does not rain all the time in Scotland!

The aspect of the weather in Scotland that surprises people is the unpredictability. You can be sitting in a park to get some sun one minute and be running for cover the next. The key to the weather is layers. Take a rain jacket, an extra shirt, or whatever your excursion calls for.

Sunset over the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and the West Sands Beach.
Sunset over the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and the West Sands Beach.

It is a beautiful town and region. Do not let any weather concerns stop you. Besides, as the old saying in Scotland goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it will change.”

The quiet and peaceful end of Market Street in St. Andrews. The opposite end is filled with businesses and nightlife.
The quiet and peaceful end of Market Street in St. Andrews. The opposite end is filled with businesses and nightlife.

For a Small Town, It Is Well Set Up to Handle the Crowds

St. Andrews is a unique location. As you walk all over the town, you feel like you are in a small quaint village.

As you stroll, you wonder how they could possibly host the most famous golf tournament in the world every few years and substantial events every year.

Beds for 10,000 Visitors in St Andrews!

During the peak season St. Andrews can provide beds for 10,000 visitors per night. As I read that statistic, I took an actual double-take. 10,000??

But that is part of the magic of St. Andrews. It seems to have the ability to transform into whatever is needed. Sleepy village to important host. Like a genie granting wishes, St. Andrews provides whatever is asked.

It Is Known As the Home of Golf

18th green of the Old Course, St. Andrews. In the background stand the Rusacks Hotel which opened in187.
18th green of the Old Course, St. Andrews. In the background stand the Rusacks Hotel which opened in 1887.

Yes, I know. I said the town had other things to offer. But how can you not include golf when the game was born there?

There are several courses in the area if golf is your bag. Even if it isn’t, the guided tour of the Old Course is fun and full of local historical information.

While it is extremely difficult to get a tee time on that course, its location makes it a tourist stop as it sits at the end of The Scores and adjacent to the West Sands Beach. People are always astounded to see walkers and bikers cutting across the path that intersects the fairways.

Course marshals allow you to cut across after groups have teed off. It is a little unsettling but a unique perspective. Great selfie opportunities as well!

I freely admit my biased nature when it comes to St. Andrews. I think I fell in love with it on the first flight over. Biased or not, I have nothing to gain from a continent away by you, the reader, visiting. Only hope that other people can have the same experiences I have had and go home with a little piece of St. Andrews in their hearts. I know it is in mine forever.

Cliff McCainCliff McCain is a lifelong educator from Oxford, MS with a passion for hitting the road whenever the opportunity presents itself.  A proud cancer survivor, he and his wife have taken in 40 states in the last ten years and plan to finish the entire American circuit together in the future.  His latest cultural interest stems from recent trips to Scotland and England where he found plenty of local cuisines to sample. Read more from and about Cliff on his Read Cliff’s Notes Website

Print Friendly, PDF & Email