If you’re coming to Scotland, there are a few things you should know. The obvious ones come to mind first: that whisky is our national drink, that the unicorn is our national animal, and that having a waterproof jacket on hand is always a good idea.
And then there’s our beautiful flag. A white cross over vibrant blue, known as the Saltire. If you’ve ever wondered where it came from, allow us to shed a little (morbid) light on it. Anyone who knows Scottish history knows that it can be a tad dark at times. With that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to a man named St Andrew.
St Andrew was both a fisherman and one of Jesus’ first Apostles. Sadly, he was sentenced to death by crucifixion by the Romans... but not before making an odd request. He asked to be crucified on a diagonal cross, as he believed he wasn’t worthy of dying on the same shape of a cross as Jesus.
That diagonal cross is the one you now see on the Scottish flag. No one is quite sure when St Andrew became our patron saint, but he has been celebrated in Scotland for over a thousand years. And according to legend, his remains were washed up on the Fife coastline... hence the lovely town of St Andrews came into existence.
But why is the town of St Andrews so famous? It goes beyond its links to our dear old patron saint.
You may already be familiar with some of the world’s most famous universities, the University of St Andrews being one of them. It was Scotland’s very first university and the third oldest in the English-speaking world. Upon first glance, you might think you’ve just stepped into Hogwarts.
Founded in the 15th century, this impressive institute has a notable alumni list including Prince William and Benjamin Franklin. But don't be fooled by its distinguished facade and history, it has its share of fun, including the annual Raisin Monday Foam Fight... which sounds like something everyone should experience at least once.
And if that isn’t already enough – one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world and its very own patron saint – then there’s St Andrews’ connection to one of the world’s most beloved sports. Golf.
Most people know Scotland as the land of whisky, of haggis, of Highland coos. But few know that the game of golf was born in Scotland. St Andrews is known as the home of golf and golf fanatics will love getting to know the Grand Old Lady, also known as the Old Course.
Funnily enough, in 1457 golf was banned by King James II of Scotland for being 'too popular'. He'd shudder to know how popular this Scottish sport is today. Six centuries of golf have been played in St Andrews and the Old Course is known around the world as the Home of Golf.
If you swing by (pun intended) the course for a visit, don’t forget to stand on the wee Swilcan Bridge for that iconic shot.
And while you’re wandering the streets of this historic town, you may spot the ruinous cathedral looming overhead. Back when this striking monument was still intact, it was frequented by countless pilgrims. From the early twelfth century, the town of St Andrews was a holy pilgrimage site that many would flock to for a glimpse of the relics of Saint Andrew himself.
Sadly, in 1559 during the Reformation, a Protestant mob ransacked the cathedral, destroying the interior of this once magnificent building. It fell into ruin, becoming a source of building material for town 'scavengers'.
So, you’ve now decided that a visit to St Andrews is a splendid idea. Your own pilgrimage, if you will. Of course, we’d highly recommend going to explore the golf course, the university grounds, and the cathedral – but there’s plenty more to fill your day.
To start, you’ll need to get to St Andrews.
This begins most often with a mesmerising train journey, a (hopefully) turbulent-free flight, or a great road trip. You may be looking at a map right now thinking St Andrews is quite far north, in the middle of nowhere. Scotland has this way of convincing people we’re all wild Highland moorland, nothing but a brush of heather and the occasional coo or deer. And, true, we have a lot of that. But we have incredible towns and villages, just like St Andrews. It’s not as difficult to get there as it might seem.
Obviously, if you’re renting a car, driving will be the easiest option from the major hubs of Scotland. We’re talking Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen – but Scotland in general is pretty easy to navigate with a car.
The other best option would be to get a train to Dundee (this works from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen) and then a bus to St Andrews. The whole trip will take around 2-2.5 hours and, while it might not seem like it, a day trip is definitely possible. However, no one would judge you for staying overnight in such an iconic town!
While there are corners of Scotland that can be a wee intense depending on the time of year, St Andrews is a solid choice all year round. Make sure you rug up during winter (always a good rule in Scotland, and always good to have a jacket on you no matter the time of year – trust us) as this beach-side town can get a touch brisk, but as it’s not the wild and woolly Scottish Highlands, St Andrews remains easily accessible throughout the year.
Golf fans might even consider timing their visit for a golf event or taking advantage of the beautiful seaside green and sharing a game or two with your friends.
We frequent St Andrews. Why? Because it’s the perfect mix of history and beauty. It’s the kind of place local Scots take their visiting relatives and friends. It’s the ideal blend of a sleepy Scottish town and a thriving tourist destination. We take several of our tours there for the day and there’s plenty to do.
So, if you’re going there on a day trip with us or on your own, what should you focus your time on? As previously mentioned, you’ll want to visit the golf course, the university, and the cathedral. Since we’ve explored the town many times, here are a few extra tips from us to you.
Let’s be honest, if you had the power and money to build your own castle, you’d build it by the sea, wouldn’t you? And inside a castle like this, you’d expect some incredible, memorable and dramatic things would happen, wouldn’t you?
Perhaps it would suffer a great siege. Definitely the murder of a Catholic Cardinal. Maybe the burning of a Protestant preacher.
All great castles have stories. Memories. Etched into the stone, soaked into the very grounds, haunting the ruinous skeleton of a once great castle.
Imagine this: you presided in your stunning castle with an incredible view of the North Sea glistening at sunset. That water looks inviting, so you head down to the beach just below the castle for a quick and refreshing dip in your own private watering hole. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
Today, when you visit St Andrews, while you might not own the ruins of the castle yourself, you’re still welcome to pop down to Castle Sands beach and tuck yourself up among the rock formations and sand and enjoy the view.
It’s about time for a snack, isn’t it? There are endless cafes and restaurants to choose from, and being on holiday is the perfect excuse to eat what you want, when you want. For a mid-morning treat, you can tuck yourself up among the tea cosies and outdated kitchen appliances at the Scone Café. Scones are a staple of the British diet, even up here in Scotland. And since you’re on holiday... what is a scone without clotted cream?
We know what you’re thinking: but what about in the afternoon when I’m crashing after lunch and need a little pick-me-up? Jannetta’s ice cream, trust us.
Sounds spooky, doesn’t it? It’s really anything but, though we can imagine a healthy dose of mist might have that effect. And if you wander down either of the main streets in St Andrews, you will come to the imposing collection of ruined stone and slanted, worn gravestones that make up St Andrews Cathedral.
Work on the cathedral began around 1160 and it took some time to finish this beauty. By the time it was completed in 1318, it was the largest church in Scotland. Known then as St Rule’s Church, it became the headquarters of the Scottish Church.
And see that dramatic tower looming above you? St Rule’s Tower was once a beacon for pilgrims heading to the shrine of St Andrews. If you fancy a view your camera will love, you can climb the 33m tall tower.
If you love the feeling of a brisk wind buffeting your entire body, you’ve come to the right place. And by that, we mean Scotland. But for a gorgeous view no matter what the weather, you won’t want to miss a walk along the pier wall to gaze out at the sea that is married to the town of St Andrews, waves kissing the shoreline, birds circling above, travellers snapping pictures at the far end of the pier as they cling to the railings with a large smile stamped onto their face.
You know when someone says that a place has everything, and you think to yourself that it couldn't possibly? It's likely they were talking about somewhere like St Andrews. You could spend days wandering the waterfront, playing a game of golf, and sampling the local cuisines. But even if you only have a few hours, you’ll leave knowing why St Andrews is beloved across Scotland.
This medieval town is the perfect day trip from cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen. If you've come to Scotland for ruined castles and haunting cathedral graveyards with a sea view that will steal your camera's attention, you'll find it here.
If all you want to do is sit in a pub or cafe that once hosted royals, take in the passersby with a pint, scone, or cup of tea in hand, then wander the shops and spend money you really shouldn't... St Andrews has you covered.