With settlements dating back to 4500 BCE, St Andrews is packed with history. Formerly the religious capital of Scotland, and arguably still the academic hub of the country, the town has played a major role in some of Scotland’s biggest historical events. Whether you’re interested in the Reformation; the educational establishment or the history of sport and leisure in the area, there are some fantastic attractions across the town to dive deep into centuries of history.
There’s a lot to choose from, but we’re here to help you narrow it down a little bit. These are our five top picks for history buffs visiting St Andrews.
St Andrews Cathedral started construction in the 12th Century, but storms and the War of Independence meant it took 150 years to finish. Upon completion it was the largest church in Scotland. It would go on to experience a turbulent few centuries as a centre of the Protestant Reformation. Following a sermon by John Knox, the cathedral was destroyed and left abandoned.
These days most of the Cathedral lies in ruin. Visitors can still climb St Rule’s Tower, one of the first structures on the site. You also get some great views of the town from the top. The small museum has a collection of artifacts dating back through the centuries and is well worth a visit. For more information, check out the Historic Environment Scotland website.
We have this quaint four bedroom villa that's right next to the Cathedral - and only a short walk from the castle.
St Andrews Castle commenced construction shortly after the Cathedral. It was intended to be the residence of the sitting bishop at the time, signifying the church’s importance within the community. During the Reformation, St Andrews Castle saw some of the bloodiest atrocities - including the burning of a preacher alive.
Whilst the castle is also mostly in ruin, there are a few parts of it that are better preserved. The mine and countermine, which were once tunnels used during the Reformation by both sides, can still be visited. Despite the turbulent history, the exhibit is very family friendly and kids love visiting the countermine. You can also learn more about the castle on the Historic Environment Scotland Website.
As the oldest university in Scotland, and the third oldest in the UK, St Andrews University was long considered the heart of academia in Scotland. The university was not left completely unscathed by the Reformation and tensions between Scotland and England, but has nevertheless managed to maintain many of its historic buildings.
It’s still a functioning university to this day, and is considered among the most prestigious in the world. You can still visit the public areas and admire the architecture, but as a place of education you are best visiting during the holidays. Students and staff account for a third of the population in term time, adding a unique atmosphere to an otherwise quite small town. You can check out the Visiting page on their website for more info.
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St Andrews Harbour is a great representation of the many stages of St Andrews history. Dating back to the foundations of the town, this harbour was once the beating heart of St Andrews. In the 16th Century the harbour was expanded, turning it into the academic and religious hub it still is to this day. With further expansions in the 1700s and 1900s, there are little pieces of every era of the town’s past.
Today, St Andrews Harbour is one of the quieter parts of the town. The Long Pier has a footpath on it where you can take in the sea breeze. It’s also a great point for photos - perfect for showing off your trip on Instagram. You can learn more about the Harbour at the St Andrews Harbour Trust website.
St Andrews is considered the Home of Golf - and is therefore a popular pilgrimage for fans of the sport. The Old Course in St Andrews Links is the oldest golf course in the world, hosting games since the 15th Century. It even survived the brief ban on the sport during James II’s reign. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is based here, and is a major governing body for golf internationally.
Alongside golf, St Andrews Links is home to one of the most prestigious clubhouses in the country. They also maintain the British Golf Museum where you can learn more about the history and culture surrounding the game. You can book a tee time at any of the several courses managed by St Andrews Links on their website.
We have this charming pied-à-terre right on the golf course.
For such a small town, St Andrews packs a mighty historic punch. Tucked away in Fife’s Northeast coast, the town has been central to some of the biggest events in the nation’s history. It’s no wonder the streets have retained their historic charm and fascinating insights into the past.
Thinking about coming to visit? We offer self-catering accommodation in St Andrews and across the East Neuk of Fife. Check out our properties here, or flick us a message to learn more. Or maybe you’re considering buying a holiday home in St Andrews? Check out our other website for more information on how we can help.