Possibly my most favourite town in Fife and one of the best in the whole of Scotland, St Andrews has everything: history, culture, great coast, good university (and, rather unfortunately, golf too).
by MagdaDH_AlexH on June 10, 2010
The county (or The Kingdom) of Fife is located between Forth and Tay, north of Edinburgh and south of Dundee. The prime destination in north Fife, and in fact in the whole of the Kingdom is undoubtedly St Andrews, a small town on the north-east coast of Fife. St Andrews is an ancient Scottish centre of Christianity, a location of the oldest university in Scotland, known more recently as the birthplace of golf. Despite being rather overrun with tourists and day-trippers, St Andrews is a place eminently worth visiting and easily affording a day or two days exploration itself.St Andrews has two decent beaches, the East Sands near the harbour which are smaller and perhaps a bit more cultivated, and the West Sands, a magnificent expanse of sand along the Duke's Course. You can see the golfers on the course as you walk by.Historical St Andrews focuses on the glorious ruin of a huge cathedral church on a high cliff above the sea. The tombs are doted around, the whole site is enclosed within walls, and covered in grass. It's old, venerable, slightly spooky and yet immensely refreshing as well. The site entry is free, but there is a small museum which charges entry fee, allowing also the visitors to climb up 108ft high St Rule's tower, affording a wonderful panorama of the whole of St Andrews and a large swathe of the country around it.Further along the high-cliff path (called The Scores) from the East Sands towards the golf courses and the West Sands is the St Andrews Castle (available as a joint ticket with the Abbey Museum and the tower). It's now another of those superior ruins Scotland does so well, with the history dating to 10th century and a long-standing role as the seat of bishops and archbishops of St Andrews and thus the principle centre of the Scottish Church. It's now a fascinating visitors attraction, with informative displays and evocative remains of the walls, towers, dungeons and even underground tunnels .Fans of golf will be interested in visiting the British Golf Museum, a rather bunker-like structure at Bruce Embankment, and some might even want to play at THE Old Course at St Andrews or at least have look at the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse.Apart from attractions, St Andrews is a very pleasant place to walk about, with an affluent and civilised feel similar to exclusive areas of larger cities. It has a good theatre (The Byre), which houses a very pleasant bar/cafe (and the play area upstairs is THE place to shove your children in while you relax with a coffee or a drink after a day traipsing beaches, streets and ruins.Nearby across the river Eden is RAF base Leuchars, and each September they put on an air show, reputedly one of the best in the UK and worth aiming for if you are into military aircraft.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on March 23, 2012
The Museum of the University of St Andrews, commonly known as MUSA, houses a collection of memorabilia, art and historical artefacts relating to the history of the oldest university in Scotland. The entry to the museum is free of charge and inside the visitor can see four galleries with various objects grouped thematically. On display there are old manuscripts, ceremonial maces of the Chancellors, old gowns and scientific instruments. There are also numerous displays that relate to the student life nowadays and in the old days of the University. Many of the exhibits are interactive, with activity stations and computer games suitable for children. There are also activity backpacks and treasure trails available and a large art-cart with various arts and crafts materials. The MUSA has also a learning loft for more activities and a viewing terrace. Open every day in the summer and Thursday to Sunday from November to March (closed for Christmas in the last two weeks of December). We visited one winter afternoon, and with an hour to go we though we would have plenty of time to explore the few display rooms of the MUSA, but surprisingly there was enough interest there to easilly fill that time. The collection is quite varied, with historical relics in Gallery 1 – the pride of place here is taken by the magnificent ceremonial maces: the Arts, Canon Law and St Salvator’s mace, ornately decorated with heraldic beasts, saints and buildings. Gallery 2 is perhaps the most interesting, with displays presenting the students and their life nowadays and in the past 500 years of University's history. Gallery 3 has a hotch-potch of exhibits related to the research and study at St Andrews while galery 4 muses on the ideas associated with the concept of a museum. There is a large, wooden, magnificently crafted Art Cart full of materials for paper crafts and artistic expression: our children spend some time simply playing with its content. Other galleries also have interactive stations, and quiz sheets are available from the reception. It's not perhaps an A-list attraction, but if you are passing by with some time to spare it's worth popping in – and it's free to enter. Recommended.
West Sands in St Andrews is an iconic, vast beach stretching along the famous St Andrews Links which comprise the Old, New and Jubilee golf courses. The beach stretches for almost two miles from the town to Eden River Estuary. Most of it is tidal, but at low tide a huge expanse of sand is exposed and available. The beach is flanked by grassy dunes along which runs a car-accessible road with several parking areas. The beach was a setting for scenes in the Chariots of Fire film. It is a popular location for swimming, walking, running, sand yachting and kite flying. The beach is very tidal: at high tide there is hardly much sand left, and at low tide there is a huge expanse of sand stretching into the sea. Seals are known to appear occasionally to sun themsleves on the sandbanks, though we have never seen any. It's a windy beach and it needs hardy Scottish sun-bathers and rare sunny days (though St Andrews is among the sunniest parts of Scotland) to use it in the summer-beach manner. You could also attempt water activities, but I think only children would happily immerse themselves in these waters (and Polish sea is cold by reasonable standards - but Scottish sea is colder). Better use it for those quentesentially British seaside pursuits: walking, shell picking and wrapping yourself tightly in your wind-and-waterproof jacket. We went on a windy, semi-sunny March morning and it was a glorious little walk, a four-mile bracing circuit with the sea sparkling and rolling in a calaidoscope of gunmetal grey, pearly silver and pale blue. Behind, the ancient skyline of St Andrews under the crepuscular sun rays, slightly sinister but magical too.Eden estuary stretches wide between West Sands and the Tentsmuir, a haven for wildlife of all kinds, surprisingly as the Leuchars jets taking off from the opposite bank certainly scare the living daylights out of me. There is a viewing platform from which you can look at the estuary but also, if this is the kind of thing that rocks your boat, observe golfers on the Jubilee course. As it's certainly not our thing, we stumble across through the dunes to the sands and walk back along the beach. There is a road all the way along the West Sands, as well as a cycle path, but I think the best way is to just walk along the beach, away from the golfers and rabid cyclists.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on February 24, 2012
One of the principal performance venues in the Tayside, the Byre is a major St Andrews attraction and offers a variety of performances throughout the year. The quality and content of the shows varies, from local amateur dramatics to lavish performances with a large cast; from music and comedy to classic drama and family pantos.The last time we went to the Byre was for the Aladin panto at Christmas time and it was a fun, traditional show which particularly excelled in scenery and visuals in general, from lights to impressive costumes. The auditorium is relatively small, but comfortable and the visibility should be good from pretty much every location (I didn't get a chance to test the acoustics). The Byre functions as a bit of a multi-purpose venue, with a restaurant/bar that make a lot of effort to advertise themselves; upstairs there is a children's area with theatre related toys and activities (nearby some deep sofas) which makes it one of the best place in St Andrews to have a coffee if you have children – especially bored/tired ones - with you. Parking is not ideal nearby, so allow for extra time to find a space and walk to the Byre if coming by car. It's hard to make a firm judgement as different locations have different circumstances, but in all honesty I think that both the performances and the quality of the repertoire – and especially the trade off between the price and quality – is probably better in Dundee Rep. Maybe I am doing The Byre a disservice by this comparison, or maybe I am ignorant about the economics of theatres, but I feel that less emphasis on non-theatre functions would be better. I also don't understand why the prices are higher then at the Rep as I always thought that smaller theatres were usually cheaper.Altogether though it's a good enough venue, especially for such a small place as St Andrews (though the town has a much higher status that its size would suggest due to the university and possibly also golf fame) and I am sure we will be back there . Not a kind of place I would suggest driving from very far to visit, but for those staying in St Andrews , Dundee or Fife, recommended.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 29, 2009
St Andrews castle was originally a bishop's seat, and there has been a castle on the site since the 12th century. At the time of the Wars of Scottish Independence, the castle was demolished and rebuilt a few time, to be then destroyed by the Scots in 1336-1337 to prevent the English from using it. The castle was rebuilt around 1400 by Bishop Walter Trail and was used by Bishops, Scottish royal family and also as a prison. During the Reformation, the castle was a centre of major controversies and conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants Bishop David Beaton imprisoned and then burned at the stake the preacher George Wishart, and in turn was himself murdered by the protestants who gained entry disguised as masons. After this, the castle became the location of the first Protestant congregation in Scotland, which, in 1546, was subjected to a siege by the Scottish Regent, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran. It was during this siege that the now existing mine and counter-mine were cut through the solid rock. St Andrews castle is one of the two main historical attractions in St Andrews, the second one being the ruins of the abbey with St Rules tower. Both sites are managed by Historic Scotland and both can be visited on a joint ticket that offers a significantly better value than single entries (but is still fairly steeply priced, at over 7GBP for two entries). There is a well presented exhibition on the history of the castle (and thus, to some extent, history of St Andrews). It's done in the modern child-friendly, wax-work like style, but provides some interesting information.The castle itself is approached via an attractive bridge and a impressive gatehouse/wall combination (this is the best preserved part of the structure and you can walk on the battlements above and around the gate). The inner courtyard is pretty much empty, with some display boards showing what the original building might have looked like. Towards the sea there is a couple of god towers, and from the cliffs, great views towards the St Andrews harbour, cathedral and the beach below. One of the towers houses the entrance to the bottle dungeon, a terrible prison hole deep in the bowels of the castle, with access only allowed through a small "bottleneck" opening in the ceiling.One of the most interesting parts of the site is the entrance to the tunnel (a mine and counter-mine) that was used to try and enter the castle during the time of a siege. All in all, St Andrews castle is a decent if not spectacular Scottish castle, and worth visiting if you have some time spare in St Andrews (you'd need at least an hour to do the site – and your entry ticket price – justice). The best part is probably the location on the edge of a cliff and the resulting views, the bottle dungeon and the mine and counter-mine
I am not a golfer, so don't associate St Andrews with taht sport - but still love the town for the atmospheric streets, beach, cultral life and historical buildings it abounds in. My favourite historical sight is the perhaps best known and popular of St Andrews old buildings (now, the most significant part of it is a ruin).Historical St Andrews focuses on the glorious ruin of a huge cathedral church on a high cliff above the sea. It is often visited on a combined ticket with St Andrews castle, but is arguably the better of the two sites and simply unmissable one. Of the cathedral remain two walls with spiky towers and bases of many clumns. The tombs are doted around, but because the extent of the nave is not immediatelly clear one feels like the tombs are actually within the cathedral. The whole site is enclosed within walls, and covered in grass. It's old, venerable, slightly spooky and yet immensely refreshing as well. The site entry is free, but there is a small museum (not particularly interesting) which charges entry fee. The fee is worth paying as it also allows the visitors to climb up 108ft high St Rule's tower, affording a wonderful panorama of the whole of St Andrews and a large swathe of the country around it.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on January 7, 2010
The Glass House in St Andrews is a modern restaurant (part of the House restaurant series, or chain) which is located in a former Salvation Army church hall opposite the historic university quadrangle on North Street. The restaurant thus combines a historic, rather ancient structure with very modern, quite sharp design: the name is apposite as a lot of the front facade is a large window, and inside there are mirrors and sleek wood. The restaurant claims to use locally sourced and seasonal produce, and thus has a changing menu. We were attracted by a lunchtime offer of two courses for 5.95 GBP (which is excellent value for a proper, sit-down meal in St Andrews) and we were not disappointed.The menu is mostly Italian based, with a good selection of pizzas, properly stone baked, with a thin crust and imaginative selection of toppings. The more expensive dishes carried a supplement: in addition to pizzas we had steak (which, even with the supplement of 4 GBP, was still a very good value, and decent quality too). My duck salad was perhaps the relatively lowest point of the meal, with the duck being slightly too flaked, but still perfectly palatable. The service was cheerful, friendly and understanding of a family with two small(ish) children (they even provided crayons and paper to draw on). All in all, an excellent option for relaxed, great value lunch.
The St Andrews aquarium is nothing special as far as aquaria go: a good but not wonderful selection of species displayed in an almost endearingly old fashioned way. There are some very attractive creatures there, includining lovely tropical fish and fascinating stone fish.I liked the fact that some of the larger tanks were open, this didn't necessarily make seeing the things easier but created a more natural, more pleasant feel. May daughter who is fascinated by turtles loved the little sea turtles that were on display, while everybody in the family liked the seals living in large basins outside. All in all, a pleasant hour can be spent at the St Andrews aquarium, and although it doesn't have a particulaly strong wow factor, it will certainly amuse and educate many children and at least some adults.The ticket prices are, in my opinion, incredibly high, though, at over 7 GBP per entry and thus if you are trying to budget, give it a miss.
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