Known as the “Home of Golf”, St Andrews is a seaside town northeast of Edinburgh, on Scotland’s east coast.
As well as its many golf courses, the town is famed for its medieval and early modern history, particularly concerned with the Wars of Scottish Independence and the Scottish Reformation. It is also home to Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the English speaking world.
Below are 10 fascinating historic sites from the town rich in heritage.
1. St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle is a ruin located in Fife, Scotland. The castle sits on a rocky promontory overlooking a small beach called Castle Sands and the adjoining North Sea.
Similar to the ruined Cathedral which stands a few hundred metres away, St Andrews Castle dates back to the mid-12th century.
One of the most historic and scenically beautiful castles in Scotland, St Andrews Castle was first fortified around 1100. The ground upon which the fortress was built on, defended by sheer cliffs on the seaward side, and by rock-cut ditches to the landward, made the castle an easily defended site.
During the Scottish Reformation, the castle became a centre of religious persecution and controversy and was besieged in 1546 at the orders of the Scottish Regent to Mary Queen of Scots, James Hamilton, when a protestant congregation formed and took refuge in fort. Attempts were made by both sides to create mine tunnels in order to break the siege, all of which can still be viewed today.
2. St Andrews Cathedral
Overlooking the North Sea and the medieval seaside town, St Andrews Cathedral is a ruined chancel dating back to the mid-12th century.
It remains Scotland’s largest built cathedral to this date, with the ruins indicating that the building was approximately 119 m (390 ft) long.
Built in 1158 by Bishop Arnold, the Cathedral became the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland however it fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th century Scottish Reformation.
The cathedral church is now ruined, but large areas survive. Its superb remains include the east gable of the presbytery, which housed the relics of St Andrew, the south wall of the nave and the majestic west front.
On display are fascinating artefacts from the early medieval era to post-Reformation times.
3. Martyrs’ Monument
Built to commemorate four men who were executed in St Andrews during the 16th Century Scottish Reformation, Martyrs’ Monument has become one of the town’s most intriguing and iconic historic landmarks.
The monument still stands tall and, as a beacon of religious freedom and tremendous courage, is a frequently visited landmark in Scotland.
Along with St Salvators Chapel, which is said to have the face of Hamilton burnt into its walls, Martyrs’ Monument brings alive the rich history of St Andrews and its key involvement in the Scottish Reformation.
4. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club
St Andrews has long been known as the “home of golf”. Overlooking West Sands Beach and situated just behind the first tee of the ‘Old Course’ (considered to be the oldest gold course in the world) is the famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
The club is an exclusive, private-members only golf club with a history dating back over 250 years.
Today the Royal and Ancient Golf Club continues to take on a variety of logistical responsibilities, such as hosting The Open and other major golf championships, whilst also upholding its metaphorical and symbolic role as a global hub of the game.
5. Dunino Den
Located approximately 5 miles south of St Andrews, Dunino Den is a site of ancient Druid, pagan worship.
The hidden gem, which lies in the wooded area just behind Dunino Abbey has a mystical, supernatural atmosphere. The pre-Christian holy site consists of two large crags, below which lies a clearing in the woods.
First known to exist around 4000BC, Druids were the most knowledgeable people of their time in Scotland. The practises and rituals of these people have fascinated historians for centuries. Sites such as that seen at Dunino Den only further feed these curiosities.
Although Dunino Den is a relatively unknown pagan site, many people who do visit it continue to use the site in the way that it was used in ancient times.
6. University of St Andrews
The University of St Andrews is the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland and, following Oxford and Cambridge universities, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world.
In the medieval period, Scottish students were forced to pursue their studies abroad. By 1410, most had been forced to Paris from Oxford and Cambridge due to the outbreak of War with England. The time had come to establish a seat of learning, of international standing, back home in Scotland.
For decades the University has been ranked as the best university in Scotland and has, as recently as 2021, been ranked second in the UK behind the University of Oxford.
7. St Salvators Chapel
St Salvators Chapel is one of two collegiate chapels belonging to the University of St Andrews founded in the mid-15th century. The site is well known for its significance during the Scottish Reformation, as the site where Lutheran reformer and martyr Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake in 1528.
His face is said to have been burnt into the stone walls of the Chapel, a popular historical attraction to this day.
The chapel of today is a mixture of old and new – bearing the scars of religious strife and mistreatment in the Middle Ages but nevertheless a beautiful, living building that is much used by the students and staff of the University.
8. St Andrews Town Hall
St Andrews Town Hall is a civic and legislative building located at Queen’s Gardens in the centre of St Andrews.
Built between 1858 and 1862 from the designs of Mr. James A Hamilton, the Town Hall’s structure was in an old Scotch baronial style, and along with the bold and picturesque effect of the style it combined all the convenience and appliances of contemporary art.
In more recent years, Fife Council, the unitary local authority for St Andrews who are the deliberative and legislative body responsible for local governance meet in the Town Hall regularly.
9. Leuchars Station
Leuchars Station is a British Army Base, located in Leuchars, Fife, on the east coast of Scotland, near to the historic town of St Andrews. It was formerly a Royal Air Force Base until 2015, when the installation was transferred to the British Army.
Aviation at Leuchars Station dates all the way back to the First World War when the airfield was established to be a training unit, taking aircrew from initial flying training through to fleet co-operation work. Building was still under way when the Armistice was signed in 1918.
The base would remain an important RAF installation for almost a century until 2015, when the station was transferred to the Army Core.
10. St Andrews Museum
One of the numerous historical institutions located around the town, St Andrews Museum explores its town’s heritage, all the way from its medieval past to the flourishing present.
Located within a stunning Victorian mansion nestled in the grounds of Kilnburn Park, St Andrews Museum offers a unique insight into the history of the sea and university town with a series of lively temporary exhibitions.
All of the above help to tell St Andrews’ story from the 12th century to its current day incarnation as a major university hub and the spiritual home of golf.