If St Andrews in Scotland is known for one thing, then this is golf. OK, maybe it is its centuries-old university too. It could also be the ruins of a cathedral and a castle with great seaside views. For whichever reason, you decide to visit this Scottish town in the region of Fife, read on to see how to plan a day trip to St Andrews.
Getting to St Andrews, Scotland
Although St Andrews is a popular day trip destination in Scotland, it is not as straightforward to get there as you’d expect, as it does not have a train station. But you don’t need to worry. Getting there it is still easy.
How to get there from Edinburgh
The easiest way to reach St Andrews from Edinburgh is to get a train to Leuchars. There are frequent Scotrail trains from both Edinburgh Waverly and Haymarket stations. Once there, you need to take the bus to St Andrews. The bus station is outside the train station (get out of the station and turn left). Buses 94, 99, 99A, 99C and 99D take you to St Andrews bus station. Note, that the same bus stop serves both directions, so make sure you check the front of the bus to ensure that the bus goes to the right directions. Double-check with the bus driver if you are still unsure. The train trip should be about 1 hour long and the bus trip should be about 15 minutes long. If buses run on time, this option should take not more than 1h30mins.
Tip: Bus tickets can be bought on the bus, but in some cases, you can get your bus ticket included in your train ticket when selecting St Andrews as the final destination instead of Leuchars when purchasing your train ticket.
Another way, to get to St Andrews from Edinburgh is to take bus X59. The bus passes from different locations in Edinburgh including Prince’s Street. Bus tickets can be purchased on the bus. Although this option is more straightforward, it takes longer (more than 2 hours) than the combined train and bus option.
Note: I recommend you choose the same way to getting in and out of St Andrews to take advantage of the return fares.
How to get there from Dundee
The closest city to St Andrews is Dundee. The easiest way to get there from Dundee is to take bus 99 (or its variants) from the Railway station. The journey should last about 45 minutes. You can buy tickets on the bus. Alternatively, head to Leuchars by train (~10 minutes away) and then take the bus to St Andrews. Even though you need to take both a train and a bus, this route is a little quicker (~30 minutes). For more details about the bus to take from Leuchers see the directions from Edinburgh above.
How to get there from anywhere else in the UK (including Glasgow)
To get to St Andrews from any other place in Scotland and the UK in general, you need to get first to Edinburgh or Dundee, and then follow the directions from there.
Things to do on a day trip to St Andrews, Scotland
The most popular attractions in St Andrews apart from the golf courts and the university are the ruins of the St Andrews Cathedral and Castle. Combine them with the coastline and you will get a walking itinerary to spend a whole day. En route, you will pass from the town centre (you may even come across a market), and you will have the chance to visit a few museums. Below, you can find a list of places that you can visit on a day trip to St Andrews while following the walking itinerary in the map underneath. Not to miss places are marked with a star.
This walking itinerary is based on my own day trip to St Andrews in June 2019 from Edinburgh. The highlights of my visit were the St Andrews Cathedral and Castle and getting some photos of the beach. I briefly passed from the town centre and the Old Course, but I didn’t walk around the university or enter any other museums (mostly because I didn’t have enough time).
Note that this walking itinerary is designed for summer months as it takes advantage of the longer days and milder weather. If you choose to follow it during winter, then you may want to spend more time indoors in one of the museums.
Market Street (and its parallel road South Street) is the heart of the town with many shops, restaurants and cafes. Buy some snacks or get a takeaway lunch to enjoy later at the beach.
Blackfriars Chapel is part of a Dominican friary from the middle ages. You can find it right in the centre of the town. The chapel is the only part of the friary that remains today and you can view it from the street.
Find out more about Blackfriars Chapel here.
⭐ St Andrews Pier + East Sands
The Pier is a nice place to wander around and see some fishing boats. If you walk along the pier you will have some great views of the East Sands beach. Note that the view changes vastly depending on the tide. If you want, after finishing your walk, head to the East Sands beach.
The Church of St Mary on the Rocks
The Church of St Mary on the Rocks is another set of ruins that you will come across on this day trip. These ruins date from the 12th century. The church was originally built by Celtic monks, right next to the Cathedral.
Find out more about St Mary on the Rocks here.
⭐ St Andrews Cathedral
One of the highlights of St Andrews is the medieval cathedral or its ruins to be exact. You can see a large part of the ruins from outside the gates (this is what many people and tour groups do), but it is worth to get inside. There is an entrance fee to walk around the remains (possible to get a combined ticket with the Castle). For an additional small fee, you get access to a small museum and the 33 m tall St Rule Tower that you can climb to the top. As I am not a huge fan of history, my favourite part was the view from the top.
Find out more about St Andrews Cathedral here.
⭐ Castle Sands
Before heading to the Castle, turn left and climb down the stairs that lead to the Castle Sands beach. Take a small break there before going to the castle.
⭐ St Andrews Castle
If you didn’t get the pattern here. St Andrews Castle also features the ruins of a medieval castle. Again, it is still possible to see part of the ruins from outside, but paying a visit will allow you to get a better idea of the place. In addition, you will be able to enter an underground mine and countermine (which is a bit slippery at points and you will need to bend for parts of the route). This on its own is a unique experience that you don’t usually get.
Find out more about St Andrews Castle here.
University of St Andrews
The University of St Andrews is one of the oldest universities in the UK (the third oldest to be exact after the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge) and the oldest in Scotland. The town itself has a large student population, which you will be able to notice if you visit during the term time. (I visited the town on one of the graduation dates and the town was full of students walking in their graduation gowns). The university also operates two museums in the town, the Wardlaw Museum and the Bell Pettigrew Museum.
Find out more about the University Museums here.
⭐ The Old Course
No visit to St Andrews is complete without getting a glimpse of people playing golf and the Old Course is the best places for it. It is close to the city centre and in public view, which makes it easy to approach it on foot. Besides, it is said to be the oldest golf course in the world. Another thing to spot here is the Swilican Bridge, a tiny Roman-style bridge built around 700 years ago. Adjacent to the golf course, you can find the British Golf Museum, which is said to house the largest collection of golf items in Europe. If time allows (they close at 4 pm in the winter and 5 pm in the summer), you may want to pay an entry to see the exhibits.
Find out more about the British Golf Museum here.
⭐ West Sands Beach
Last stop of the day is the West Sands Beach, a large sandy beach to relax before heading back to the bus stop.
St Andrews Museum
If you finish the above route by 3 pm (I didn’t), then you may want to check out the St Andrews Museum. It is housed in a Victorian mansion in Kilnburn Park, only a few minutes away from the bus stop. At the museum, you can find information about the history of the town. Note that the museum is not open daily. Year-round it is closed on Sundays and during the winter it is also closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Find out more about St Andrews Museum here.
Stretch your day
Although technically this is not possible as most attractions close by 4/5 pm. Here are some other suggestions and alternations for things to do in the town: Visit the St Andrews Aquarium, head to the Botanic Garden or pass by the West Port, one of the most well preserved medieval gates in Scotland. All of these places are a short walk from the town centre.
P.S. During my time in Scotland, I went to many day trips from Edinburgh. Click here for ideas for other places to visit in Scotland.
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