St Andrews - the home of golf and so much more

by Alison Craig

St Andrews, Scotland - a golfers' mecca steeped in history, art and culture with beaches, shopping and great food and drink. It has something for everyone.

St Andrews is the perfect place for a holiday in Scotland. It was the venue for The Open 2010, but it has much more than golf to offer.

St Andrews is a charming Scottish seaside town. Aesthetically it is very beautiful indeed. Known as the home of golf, there are several golf courses including the St Andrews Old Course, where the British Open Championship 2010 was held.

If you are a golf fan then you'll be in heaven but if, like me, you're not, then you will not be disappointed. The beaches, the history, the architecture, the castle, the shops, the food, art, theatre, walking and water sports ensure everyone will find something to do and see in this lovely Scottish town.

The beaches are a major feature of St Andrews. The long, sweeping sands are a mecca for kite surfers, sailors, dog walkers, horse riders, sunbathers, joggers, kids, wind surfers and sand castle builders of all ages. The water is clean - if a little cold - but if you have a wetsuit or a strong constitution there is a huge choice of sporty past times to pursue. The harbour is quaint and offers a smaller beach with a lovely caravan site which has a path leading direct to the sand.

You feel as if you've been transported back in time when you arrive. The town is compact, you can walk everywhere and unlike many high streets, St Andrews still offers a great selection of independently owned and run shops. Delis, cheesemongers, clothes and gift shops, ubiquitous golf goodies, art, and jewellery. It is all here in abundance.

Things to do

History buffs will be in their element. St Andrews Castle, St Andrews Cathedral, St Andrews University (founded in 1493) and St Rules Tower are all fasincating. Walking tours of the town are a good way to get your bearings and bring the rich history of the town to life. Tours last 80 minutes (www.blackhart.uk.com)

For younger kids a bucket and spade and a choice of beaches will do the trick but for a change you could try Craigtoun Country Park, which has trampolines, bouncy castles, crazy golf, adventure playgrounds and even a wee train to whizz you through the grounds. Or if it's raining head to the aquarium (www.standrewsaquarium.co.uk).

For art lovers there are several great galleries but don't miss the Fraser Gallery situated in an ancient StAndrews house; they have some wonderful Scottish art to enjoy (www.frasergallery.co.uk).

For those with a strong constitution head to the step rock pool situated below the aquarium and seafood restaurant. Since 1903 local gents used to swim here naked – that would be a laugh – but whether it's the weather or the close proximity to the Seafood Restaurant - it's a strict "trunks on" policy these days.

For lovers of performing arts the Byre Theatre is an excellent venue with productions running all year. It's also a great place for something to eat and drink (www.byretheatre.com).

There is an annual airshow at  RAF Leuchers just 10 minutes from St Andrews in August, which people travel from all round the country to attend. It is spectacular and if you are in the area, don't miss it (www.airshow.co.uk). 

For garden lovers do visit the Botanic Garden in Canongate, regarded as a hidden gem of Scotland (www.st-andrews-botanic.org).

An excellent free street map can be picked up from the tourist information centre in Market Street.

Food

There is a large student population here so there are a wide array of styles and prices for food to suit all pockets.

Ice cream fiends - don't pass by Jannetta's, 31 South Street, St Andrews. On the go since 1908, it makes the most delicious ice-cream. With over 40 flavours, a great wee cafe and some outside seating for the warmer days, this is a must for all the family (www.jannettas.co.uk).

Deli delights from IJ Mellis; originally just cheese but has now expanded to offer more deli stuff. The staff are so knowledgeable and and are happy to cut slivers of cheese to let you taste. The cheesy smell is strong though, beware! (www.mellicheese.co.uk).

Top end

The Seafood Restaurant: a glass box literally built perched on a cliff overlooking the beach and sea. A stunning location to sample some of the best seafood Scotland has to offer. The menu changes daily and booking is essential (01334 479475; www.theseafoodrestaurant.com).

Mid price

The Glass house, Grill House and Dolls House are all in the town and owned and run locally. Each offers a different experience, as their name would suggest. The Glass House is a quirky space and does a very reasonable set price lunch. The Grill House, as you would expect, offers burgers, steaks and familiar fare – well prepared and served with a smile. The Dolls House is the most expensive option of the three but again is quaint, central and offers great food. You can check out the website to see which one suits your requirements - www.houserestaurants.com.

Cheap and cheerful

Northpoint Cafe (24 North Street; 01334 473997) - students love this place and so will you. Opens at 8.30am and offers reasonably priced, wholesome food and if you have a student card you get hot drinks for £1 all afternoon. The hot chocolate is wonderful and bacon sandwiches a life saver.  

Where to stay

St. Andrews Coach Houses. Self catering is a good way to go here too if you would like luxury and flexibility. Situated an easy drive or taxi ride from the town St. Andrews Coach houses offer a high level of accommodation for a very reasonable price. There are 3 coach houses with power showers, fluffy robes, state of the art kitchens, TV, DVDs: in fact everything you need. Plus the opportunity to watch Sophia the horse eating her breakfast in the morning as farm life goes on around you. Maggie & John Picken are delightful hosts and Maggie is a walking almanac of all things St Andrews and will help you plan your day, no matter what you want to do. £85 per night for a 3 night break for 4 or weekly rates.

Fairmont St Andrews is a wonderful spot overlooking the golf course and North Sea. As you arrive up the sweeping drive it takes your breath away. The scale of this hotel is astounding, in a good way I always joke you need a skateboard to get around. There's a lush spa on the ground level with a chilled out pool, sauna, wet room area as well as Esperanto, their in house fine dining restaurant. Vast couches and chairs to lounge in in the bar and atrium and a clubhouse by the golf course which does great grub too. A highlight are the tartan-clad cheerful and knowledgeable staff.

Getting here

Train: direct from Edinburgh to Leuchars takes just over one hour. St Andrews is a ten-minute drive by taxi.

Air: Edinburgh Airport is closest at about a 90-minute drive. Glasgow Airport is about two hours away.

Car: get here fast using the motorways or spend more time weaving up the coast popping into some lovely towns and villages enroute including Anstruther, Pittenweem & Crail traditional Scottish fishing villages.

Alison Craig

I am a writer and broadcaster from Scotland. I have been lucky enough to live and work in Edinburgh for most of my adult life and I love it. Aesthetically I believe it to be the most beautiful city in Europe. Culturally rich, it is buzzing with great restaurants, bars and lively venues. Music, art, history and architecture are everywhere and, frankly, shopping is a joy. The choice is dazzling from the local cheesemonger, antique jewellery shop and hidden boutiques to the high-end world-renowned designer shops. It’s all here and what’s more I’ve made it my business and passion to know where you can find the Edinburgh that interests and excites you. You can enjoy Edinburgh on a shoestring or a Platinum card once you have the information...it’s entirely up to you. http://alisonsdiary.com is my daily blog, all about Edinburgh Scotland and life!

My Edinburgh

Where I always grab a hot drink: There are endless choices but for a top skinny latte with homemade cakes my favourite is Cent Otre on George Street. Situated in a converted bank building, it has a sense of grandeur as well as some remarkably tasty cupcakes and a zingy atmosphere thanks to the warm Italian hospitality that abounds.

My favourite stroll: If the weather allows, I love to walk along the Water of Leith, starting at Stockbridge and heading towards the Modern Art Gallery - you could be in the middle of the countryside. Keep an eye out for the Antony Gormley sculptures en route and the resident heron.

If it’s too darn cold and wet, The National Gallery on the mound in the centre of Princes Street has a permanent stunning collection of art with a top class coffee shop and gallery shop to browse too. When the weather clears, you are in the heart of everything.

Where to be seen: In Harvey Nichols' cocktail bar all year round. On warm days, on Oloroso roof terrace and dancing in Lulu.

The most breathtaking view: From Edinburgh Castle ramparts, the top of Calton Hill or Arthur's Seat. Both Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat take a bit of puff to get to and if time is tight then head for the Castle from where the city of Edinburgh is laid out at your feet.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: The Royal Botanic Gardens are stunning and are a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. There are several vantage points from where you can look out over the city if gazing at your navel becomes tedious.

Shopaholics beware: So many shops, so little time! If you are restricted to one day, go along Thistle Street from end to end, back along George Street, along Rose Street and finish on Princes Street. Phew! End to end shops, all in a square mile - great.

Don’t leave without...walking top to bottom or bottom to top of The Royal Mile with Edinburgh Castle at one end and Holyrood Palace at the other. Right along this street you will find myriad treasures architecturally and culturally as well as some eccentric quirky little shops for this and that.