St Andrews is a small, pretty town situated on the East Neuk1 of Fife in Scotland. It is, of course, most famous for being the home of golf, and for having the oldest established university in Scotland.
Transport to St Andrews
St Andrews has no railway station, so unless you are travelling by car you will have to go to the nearest railway station in Leuchars. Unless you're prepared to wait for hours in the freezing cold for the very rare buses, a taxi is recommended, although the fares are appropriately extortionate. It is occasionally possible to hitch lifts off kind-hearted townsfolk or mobile students.
Places to Stay
St Andrews is well geared-up for the tourist trade, so there is plenty of hotel accommodation, ranging from the cheap and cheerful bed-and-breakfast, to the sumptuous Old Course Hotel. Tourist Information can help you choose which one is best for you.
Getting about in St Andrews
You can easily take in most of St Andrews in an hour, so it has little use for luxuries such as an underground railway system or trams. There are three major streets: North Street, Market Street and South Street. These are linked by other minor roads.
North Street features the only cinema in town, some of the more important university buildings, and some golf shops.
Market Street has the main shopping centre, some of the better pubs and restaurants and some golf shops.
South Street features lots more pubs, a few restaurants and some golf shops.
At the east end of these three roads you will find the cathedral, and, at the west end, the 18th Green of the Old Course. And a few more golf shops. If you really don't want to walk about town, the local taxi firm will, unsurprisingly, be more than happy to drive you around.
What to See in St Andrews
Unavoidable really. You can't miss golf in St Andrews, as approximately 90% of the shops sell at least something relating to the sport. The famous Old Course's 18th Green is situated very close to the town centre and there are five other courses in the nearby vicinity. You can see the old club house next to the 18th green, and the Old Course Hotel is to be seen to the west. Women and non-members are permitted to enter the Royal and Ancient club house (the R&A as it's known) on St Andrews Day (30 November) free of charge. Being lectured at by ancient St Andrews golfing royalty is also provided gratis.
The subject of golf is expanded upon below.
This is about the only other thing St Andrews is famous for, and there are a number of fine old buildings belonging to the university, mostly situated on North Street. From here, you can walk eastwards and find the cathedral, which, considering it was mostly pulled down during the Reformation, is in pretty good shape and is well worth a visit.
Also from North Street, you can walk further northwards to a smaller road called The Scores. This leads west to the 18th Green and east to the castle, again worth a look but you will have to pay an entrance fee to explore its interior. There is a ceilidh (pronounced 'kay-lee') held in the castle grounds every May, organised by the city's student population. You get to look around the castle and dance too (which is much more fun but mostly due to the kilts and the uneven ground).
The Scores also runs along the coast, so you can wander down for a walk on the beach from there. If you possess a wet suit and an iron constitution, you can take a dip in the North Sea which is, according to all sources, absolutely freezing at the best of times.
Golf in St Andrews
If you wish to play golf in St Andrews you will have no problem: all courses except the Old Course are open to the general public. If you want to play the Old Course, the best strategy is to buy a house in St Andrews, as this will entitle you to an Old Course card2. This will have two effects:
It will annoy the locals, causing house prices to rise to even more ridiculous levels and force them to move to Kirkcaldy or Glenrothes.
It will entitle you to a golf pass from the local council. This costs around £90 a year and allows you to play on all the courses in St Andrews for free for a period of one year (guests are also allowed on the Old Course with this card).
Do not expect playing golf in St Andrews to be fun. It is extremely windy there. Wind speed is rarely below gale force so all your drives will be shortened or will be blown into either the sea or the gorse3. You may also get the Haar coming in. This is a thick sea fog that regularly gets blown over the town. You will invariably be caught by the rain (or even snow if you're really unlucky). This of course, is horizontal due to the wind and will make you so cold that you lose all sensation in your fingers. This is detrimental to your swing. If you ever go in a bunker, do not, under any circumstances, try and play your ball out again. You may need rescuing if you attempt to enter one as the depth of these is legendary.
On a more positive note, the town is so far north that in the summer, it doesn't get significantly dark until around 11pm. You can therefore start a round of golf as late as 7pm and still complete 18 holes.
Unlike England, golf in St Andrews is a relatively relaxed and unsnobbish pastime. There are no real dress restrictions (except on the Old Course) so you can wear denim and trainers if you want to.
The Six Golf Courses in St Andrews
The Balgove - A glorified 'Pitch and Putt', excellent for the beginner. Only nine holes but going round twice is included in the price.
The Strathtyrum - Locally known as the Strath or the Stratheasy. It is a full 18 holes but is very short and is a good course to play if you like being able to show off a low score. The R&A value this course so highly that they use it as a car park during major tournaments.
The Eden - A nice course, not too hard but up to most normal golf course standards. Much tougher than the Strath.
The Jubilee - Supposedly harder than the Old Course. This course is not for the faint hearted; it features two par-five holes of near Amazonian extent.
The New Course - Hardest of all, blood capillaries are considered to be wider than the fairways on this course.
The Old Course - The most famous golf course in the world. Scene of The Open many times. Under no circumstances play this course unless you are very good at golf. The 18th Green is right next to the town centre and you will be watched by lots of tourists and serious golfers as you approach it. It is even possible to watch the 18th Green on a live webcam. Be confident that you will play a decent shot.
Things to Do
Apart from golf and sightseeing, there is not much else to do in town during the day except go somewhere else. The foothills of the Grampians are a short drive away, so St Andrews can be a good base for hill walking. In the winter, snow permitting, car ownership also opens up all sorts of skiing opportunities. It's not quite the Alps, but it's better than going clubbing in Dundee.
If you're after golf equipment and/or cheap and tacky tourist souvenirs you'll not be disappointed. It's also quite good for cold weather clothes and mountaineering equipment; there are a good number of shops that cater for woollen wear. However, if you want anything else that might be considered useful or more specialised than this, go to Dundee or, even better, Edinburgh.
St Andrews had a plethora of rather good pubs with some excellent ales available. Among the best are:
The Cellar Bar (Bell St, between South St and Market St) - This, as the name suggests, is underground. It is small, but has perhaps the best beer in St Andrews. In addition, if you're friendly to Malcolm, the landlord, he might treat you to a tasting session of his fine collection of single malt whiskies.
The Whey Pat Tavern (Kinnessburn Road, - west end of South St) - A fine traditional working man's pub. Famed for its domino evenings and has probably the only dartboard in town.
Ogstons (South St) - A trendier style of pub. Caters mainly for the younger pub-goers and has a disco-of-sorts on a Friday night. The nearest thing to a nightclub in St Andrews unless you go to...
The Students' Union (North St) - You'll have to persuade a passing student to sign you in here but it possesses the only real nightclub in town.
Ma Belle's (The Scores) - Has good food and is an excellent venue if there happens to be a rugby or football match on. Free drinks can be won on these occasions.
The Westport (South St) - An odd one this, but it has a beer garden which is open all three days of the summer (be prepared to wear all-weather gear). Lots of board games are available (Chess, Monopoly, Risk, Backgammon etc). It is also excellent for a cup of tea or coffee and has a superb range of continental style sandwiches and cakes available at lunchtimes.
The Vic (Market St) - Probably the trendiest pub in St Andrews.
Homelea (North St) - Has loads of games too, always a bit of a squeeze but has good beer, a warm atmosphere and the odd elusive local (usually playing dominoes and muttering in dialect).
Restaurants are generally pretty expensive in St Andrews, presumably because there isn't much to do except go out for a meal in the evening (unless you're a pub-goer). However, they can be very good. Here is a selection:
The New Balaka (Market St) - Reputed to be the oldest Indian restaurant in the UK (around 250 years old). This may be true, but their claim of being the best Indian restaurant in Scotland isn't. They may well be the most expensive, however. Don't expect a meal here to cost less than £20. Average to good Indian food4.
The KFB (Kinness Fry Bar, Kinnessburn Rd) - Not strictly a restaurant but no visit to Scotland is complete without trying a deep-fried Mars Bar. The complete chippy. Is there anything they won't dunk in hot fat? Highlights include deep-fried pizza, deep-fried haggis and an excellent range of kebabs.
The Vine Leaf (South St) - Expensive, and portions are small, but the food is excellent and the service very friendly.
Jahingir (South St, next to Ogstons) - Indian restaurant, does an excellent value lunchtime buffet. The food is not of the highest calibre, however.
Café India (Market St) - Massive takeout portions, pretty good sit down menu and nowhere near as extortionate as the New Balaka.
Littlejohn's (Market St) - It has rather good food, a warm atmosphere, and a distinctive globe above the front door. A popular restaurant.
The Grange - A little out of town but the food and wine are very nice indeed. A little expensive but well worth it.
Things you Won't see in St Andrews
Locals - They are rumoured to exist but are seldom seen. They reputedly congregate in The Stables pub outside the town centre but entering this establishment is considered to be a risky business.
Scottish People - Almost everybody in St Andrews is either English or American. The Americans are there for the golf and the English are at the university. Don't ask them if they applied to Oxford or Cambridge.
McDonalds or Burger King - The Town Council thinks they would lower the tone of the area. Opinion is divided on this subject.
Nearby towns that also may be of interest to the visitor are the beautiful coastal villages of Crail and Anstruther and the city of Dundee, about 15 miles away across the river Tay. The chain walk at Elie can also be a lot of fun providing the tide is out.