St. Andrews has been a pilgrimage destination for nearly 2,000 years. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims came to venerate St. Andrew, whose bones were likely moved to town in the fourthcentury. Wearing capes and large hats with badges bearing images of the saint, they came seeking forgiveness, to find cures, or as punishment for crimes they had committed.
Today, St. Andrews attracts a different kind of pilgrim — golfers who want to play in the sport’s birthplace. Besides the legendary Old Course, the world’s oldest, there are more than a dozen other world-class golf courses in the area, not to mention a fascinating golf museum. But St. Andrews is much more than a haven for golfers. It’s a welcoming place where even introverts will want to mingle with the locals; savor their wit and glorious Scottish accents like a wee dram of fine Scotch whisky. The old seaside town is packed with history and charm, not to mention a venerable university where Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, met Kate Middleton. You can roam the same streets they did during their courtship; chances are, you too will be seduced.
The kilt has been both a practical garment and an important part of Scottish culture since the 16th century. A good quality kilt can set you back $1,000 or more, but you can be an honorary Scot for the weekend by renting one at the nearly 50-year-old, family-run Kirk Wynd Highland House (adults £65, or about $86; children £35 per weekend.) They have more than 40 of Scotland’s 16,500 recognized tartans to choose from, and you can rent or buy a full outfit, including jacket, sporran (pouch), garter flashes, sock knife and more. Women can also find tartan style handbags and other Scottish accessories.
A smoky, intoxicating aroma will draw you into the Steak Barn, a former sawmill that’s part of the popular Balgove Larder farm shop and cafe complex. The Steak Barn serves up juicy steaks, burgers and sausages (along with vegetarian options) made from grass-fed cattle that have been reared and butchered on site in a smokehouse-style setting with communal tables and sawdust covering the floor.
It’s easy to find Jannettas Gelateria — just look for the lines, which often stretch well outside the door in summer. The Jannetta family has been serving up gelato at 31 South Street for more than 100 years, and with 54 delicious flavors to choose from, even decisive types will have a hard time narrowing the options. (If the lines at Jannetta’s are too long, walk five minutes to the Burns Sweet Shop, which carries a limited selection of Jannetta’s flavors.)
For a big, rectangular slice of heaven on earth, treat yourself to a decadent fudge doughnut at the Church Street branch of the Fisher and Donaldson bakery. This local favorite is made with a thick layer of creamy fudge on top and a river full of confectioner’s custard inside. The recipe is kept in parts hidden across five locations, and the owners claim that the secret is only revealed to their “pure-bread Viking bakers” who are equipped with their delectable “weapons of dynasty”: a shield of custard and a sword of fudge.
Just outside town, at the stunning Fairmont St. Andrews Resort, you can see where Kate Middleton caught Prince William’s eye on March 27, 2002, while modeling in a transparent dress at a charity fashion show. If you’d like to see where they lived, start as they did their freshmen year at St. Salvator’s Hall, in the heart of University of St. Andrews, and then take a short walk off campus to 13a Hope Street, where they resided with two other friends in their second year. (They lived their third and fourth years at Balgove House, a four-bedroom cottage near the Balgove Larder farm shop, but it’s largely hidden behind a stone wall.) Other William and Kate haunts include West Sands Beach (where the opening scene of the film “Chariots of Fire” was filmed), Northpoint Cafe, where they often met for coffee.
Wind up your William and Kate tour at Jahangir, an Indian restaurant that was reportedly one of their favorite places to eat. (Note the photo of William eating curry on their wall of fame.) It’s hard to find a better value in town than the £6.95 express lunch, which comes with three courses and freshly baked naan bread.
Golf developed along the east coast of Scotland in the 15th century, and the rules were laid down in 1744. Check out the British Golf Museum to learn how the sport evolved and flourished despite opposition from a succession of Scottish kings. Getting a tee time across the street at the Old Course at St. Andrews, arguably the world’s most famous golf course, requires patience, luck and no worse than a 24-handicap (36 for women.) Your best bet is to enter their ballot lottery, the results of which are posted two days prior.Single players can also queue up in the morning to join groups of two or three (the lines often start the night before, so be prepared to camp out if you’re determined).
If you strike out, don’t worry: St. Andrews Links has six other public courses, each with its own attributes.And, then there are a host of other great options in the area, including two sea-view courses at the Fairmont where you can surf the course on a Golfboard;Kingarrock, a throwback nine-hole course where you play with 1920s-era hickory golf clubs and get free shortbread and ginger beer; and Carnoustie Golf Links, a challenging course 40 minutes outside town.
Forgan’s, a smart casual restaurant with an emphasis on local produce and meats, is a local favorite where you can wind down with a nice meal and then blow off some steam with Gaelic music and dancing at the 10:30 p.m. ceilidh. If you have a group of eight to 12, book ahead to score one of the intimate bothies, semiprivate dining alcoves named after the unlocked huts that are common in the Scottish Highlands. Try the duck shepherd’s pie or beef bourguignon with a pint of Forgan’s Ale, and save room for the rich and malty sticky toffee pudding.
Turn up at the Balgove Larder Cafe when it opens and feast on melt-in-your-mouth cheese scones while they’re still hot from the oven. The Fife muesli with fruit, and the hot, filled morning roll with house-made sausages and free-range eggs are also superb. The adjacent farm shop is a great place to stock up for a picnic and buy local souvenirs.
The Old Course is closed to golfers on Sundays, and walking the course has been a popular Sunday tradition for centuries. Don’t miss the photo opportunities at the famed Swilcan Bridge and at the appropriately named coffin and hell bunkers on the 13th and 14th holes. Afterward, try your hand at the Himalayas putting course (£3 for adults, £1 for children), smack a bucket full of balls with a view of the city at the St. Andrews Links Golf Academy (25 balls for £3.00 and £2.50 per club rental), or have a friendly local teach you how to play lawn bowls at the nearby Kinburn Bowling Club (£3 an hour, per person.)
Ten miles south of St. Andrews, you’ll find the Kellie Castle & Garden, a lovely, child-friendly place to spend the afternoon. The oldest part of the castle dates to 1360, but the Victorian-era furnishings and the traditional walled kitchen garden are the highlights here.After your tour (guided or self-guided) take the scenic route back to St. Andrews with a stop at the Kingsbarns Distillery, where you can take a tour or simply sample single malt whiskeys in the cafe. Wind up your country excursion with a short drive to Crail, a quaint fishing village where you can take a scenic afternoon constitutional along the Fife Coastal Path.
The 520-acre, waterfront Fairmont St. Andrews (standrewsbay.com) is a luxurious resort with a maritime theme that was renovated in 2015. The spacious rooms feature separate marble bathtubs, and the hotel has two championship golf courses, a pair of fine restaurants, a high-end spa and swimming pool, and friendly bellhops in kilts. Bed-and-breakfast from £199.
The cozy Dunvegan Hotel (7 North Street; dunvegan-hotel.com) is a good option for those in search of quality, budget accommodation within walking distance of the Old Course. The Dunvegan has five rooms above their popular bar and restaurant, and a spacious three-bedroom apartment across the street. Bed-and-breakfast from £80.
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