One of the oldest university towns in Britain with extraordinary medieval ruins, charming restaurants, oodles of history, heavenly white sand beaches – and one of the world’s most distinguished golf courses, there is a lot of love about St Andrews.
Just over an hour out of Edinburgh by car – and with plenty of other transport options available – St Andrews is a small town with an outsized reputation. For millennia known as a religious hub, then making a name for itself as a city of education, today St Andrews has diversified and offers intriguing attractions for just about everyone.
A well-heeled, happening town full of dedicated students and the fabulously wealthy, St Andrews is the kind of place where you don’t need to worry about your own safety – or your objects. It’s not exactly crime-less, but nowhere is, however, unless you are in living in one of the giant mansions with state-of-the-art home alarms protecting priceless antiques, well, it is highly unlikely anyone would even consider stealing your stuff because chances are already own something a lot nicer already.
One of Europe’s most delightful towns, St Andrews is not only a place of history, learning and culture, but a magnificent coastal resort filled with mystery, charm, and grace. In fact, this town is so quixotic that the royal romance of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which eventually captured the hearts of the nation of the world, started here when the two were students at St. Andrews University.
If that’s not enough, there are 11 golf courses – as you would expect in the world’s home of golf – enchanting gardens, a seemingly endless array of festivals and events, wildness, nature, enigmatic old-world properties, cobbled streets and independent shops with unique goods to explore.
You might never have heard of St Andrews in Scotland before, but we are here to fix that – and give you all the information you need to plan your dream day trip from Edinburgh to St Andrew’s. It is one of our favorite places in Scotland and to be honest, however, we fell in love with this town and discovered far, far more attractions than we had anticipated so if you have the time you might want to consider extending your stay.
We fell in love with a few gorgeous B&Bs which we will point out later, and if you visit outside of peak season – when we think moody Scotland is at its best – their prices can actually be quite reasonable. Perfect for a romantic getaway, historical exploration, gold aficionado’s or lovers of culture, this town has it all.
Welcome to St. Andrews!
St Andrews is located in the east coast of Fife in Scotland, with a population of around 16,000- making it only the 45th most populous settlement in Scotland. Despite its small size, however, this little town has a long and interesting history, dating back to around 4500 BD when nomadic people settled in the area around the modern, becoming farmers and clearing the area of woodlands.
Things really heated up in a few thousands years later in the 8th century when a monastery was established and the bone relics of Saint Andrew, a Christian Apostle and the brother of Saint Peter, were (according to legend) brought by divine guidance from Constantinople including the saints’ arm, kneecap, three fingers, and a tooth.
Thus the origins of the towns current name. After a few new churches’s were built (and destroys, the occasional Viking riders, and some gruesome executions, the modern town began to take its present shape around 1140 on the site of the ruined St Andrews Castle with the creation of a particularly large cathedral built in 1160 that quickly became the preeminent centre of pilgrimage in medieval Scotland and one of the most important in wider Europe.
Pilgrims flocked here in huge numbers to be blessed and cured at the shrine of Saint Andrew, which increased trade and growth with the burgh’s flourishing significance being recognized with inclusion at the Great Council at Scone Palace in 1357. Acknowledged as the apostolic capital of Scotland, St Andrews in this period had immense economic and political guidance within Europe as a cosmopolitan town – until 1559, when the town fell into near obscurity as a result of the vicious Scottish Reformation and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
Today the famous Martyrs’ Monument at Saint Andrew’s commemorates the Protestants executed, including Hamilton and Wishart, in an ultimately futile attempt to halt the Reformations. Breaking with the papacy and developing a predominantly Calvinist national church, which was strongly Presbyterian in outlook resulted in a focus on the parish church as the center of worship in Scotland.
St Andrews lost its status of ecclesiastical capital of Scotland and many complex religious endowments such as chapelries, monasteries, and cathedrals were abandoned across the nation or simply left to the decay. The one grand Cathedral at St. Andrews, was actually mined for stones to be used in local houses and in this decline the one prestigious University of St Andrews actually considering relocating to Perth in 1697 and 1698. This decline continued for centuries, but by the 18th century St Andrews was attracting golfers and was known widely as the “home of golf.
The most famous golf course here is the Old Course, purchased by the town council in 1894, but dating back to medieval times. Interesting The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, which was founded in 1754, actually held until 2004 legislative authority over the game of golf worldwide (except in the United States and Mexico), and still today golf is a huge drawcard for the town with the Old Course being the most frequent venue for The Open Championship, the oldest of golf’s four major championships- and is still ranked amongst the finest golf courses in the world.
By the 19th century the town began expanding again, the University – the third oldest English speaking university in the world and oldest in Scotland – had regained its former prestige and everything sort of fell into place with new neighborhoods and a slow but steady population grown. As a result, today St Andrews is no longer famed amongst religious pilgrims but attracts those motivated by higher education, golf, and quintessential seaside Scotland.
St Andrews is a relatively small town and easy enough to walk around for the most part – which means you could easily enjoy a day trip from Edinburgh here without hiring a car. In essence, you have three options for travel to St Andrew’s: car, bus or train, since nearest major international airport to St Andrew’s is in Edinburgh, though you could also take a relaxing day tour.
As you would expect, taking a car is the fastest way from Edinburgh to St Andrews, which via the A92 takes around 1 hour and 20 mins (traffic depending) – through via the A91 and M90 is roughly the same time. There is quite a bit of free on-street parking around town and a large free car park on the way into town too, but depending on when you visit you might have to spring for paid carparks. Sundays are more relaxed with parking rules, but many Scottish day-trippers also make their way here on the weekends so it can be busier.
If you have a car, driving is always the best options – and if you are considering hiring a car as part of a bigger road trip around Scotland you could also visit the Isle of Skye, the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, and the abandoned Buchanan Castle. It might be more expensive than the bus or train, but you will have more independence, and can save by enjoying freedom camping in Scotland almost anywhere you want!
St Andrews has admirable transport links to the rest of Scotland, most of which delivery you to a bus station just a few minutes walk from the town center. Left luggage lockers are available for use in the waiting room if you need to store some gear while on your day trip from Edinburgh to St Andrew’s, and there is also a cycle rack.
From here stagecoach buses regularly run to and from Edinburgh which tickets covering around half the price of train tickets. When arriving from a service, you can connect to a regular local bus service, run by a company called Moffat and Williamson, if your accommodation or destination is further afield – but we never needed to use their services.
If you want to complete the entire journey by train (which is common if you are using the BritRail Spirit of Scotland Pass) then the St Andrews Train Station is actually located in Leuchars, about 5 miles away. There is a regular bus service connects the train station with St Andrews town but the cost is almost double the bus if you are just coming from Edinburgh so much less convenient. Trains do however run here from Dundee / Aberdeen and there is an occasionally London Kings Cross direct train which can be more useful.
There are so many wonderful things to do in St Andrews – whether you opt for a simple day trip from Edinburgh or a longer stay. Many of your favorite highlights will undoubtedly come for wandering its consecrated streets and getting wonderful lost. Who knows what you will find.
Boutique stores, cute cafes, exquisite ruins, and quiet town-house lined streets beg you to explore further but these are just a few of the attractions you are not going to want to miss…
As we already said – a day trip to this wonderful spot in Scotland is great, but you will surely want to stay much linger once you arrive so why not just plan a few relaxing days here. Whatever your tendencies, style preferences, or budget, you can find a place to stay in St Andrews thanks to its wide range of accommodation options.
Everything from five-star hotels to cheap hostels, luxury B&Bs, and self-catering apartments can be found here. Take a look at the best deals for St. Andrews accommodation now, or let us help with a few of our personal favorite St Andrews hotel ideas to tempt you.
Old Course Hotel St Andrews
A five-star hotel offering the perfect vacation resort for golf, spa, and deluxe hotel dining experiences. Bordering the renowned 17th Road Hole of the Old Course, the Old Course Hotel overlooks the famous links courses and the West Sands Beach. –> Check it out
The Albany St Andrews
Experience a real Scottish welcome in this boutique townhouse nestled in the heart of St Andrews. A delightful conversion of a traditional Georgian terraced town house dating from 1764 with welcoming owners, a prime location, cute designer details and a warm personality all of its own. –> Check it out
St Andrews Tourist Hostel
Affordable dormitories and private rooms. Easily the cheapest place to stay in St Andrews if your budget is important to you. Centrally located so you are close to the most popular attractions, restaurants, and nightlife with friendly staff for a relaxing and enjoyable stay! –> Check it out
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Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
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