Get Your Plaid on in This Cute Scottish Town

St Andrews is more than just golf. (But there’s definitely plenty of golf.)

The St Andrews Cathedral in the foreground of the town of St Andrews
The St Andrews Cathedral | pawel.gaul / E+ / Getty Images
The St Andrews Cathedral | pawel.gaul / E+ / Getty Images

There is certainly nothing wrong with longing to visit the beautiful Scottish capital of Edinburgh, nor the country’s most populous city, Glasgow, and its thriving art scene. You also might feel compelled to go off the beaten path and immerse yourself in its most rural mountains or stay in a castle just for the hell of it. But if you want to see the best combination of a bustling town with beautiful scenery and some sneaky-awesome food (along with the joints to eat it in), you should make your way over to St Andrews.

Now, we know what you might be thinking. Isn’t St Andrews where only golf nuts go to return to the roots of the sport that they’ve spent countless hours and half their paychecks on both watching and playing? Well… yes, that’s true. BUT, if you think that St Andrews is only about golf, you’d miss out on so much the town has to offer. Even if your plan is to see Edinburgh, St Andrews is a mere one-hour drive away, making for an easy day trip even for those who don’t have much time. That said, once you arrive, you might want to make plans to stay longer. Here’s why.

Men golfing at the Castle Course in St Andrews Scotland
The Castle Course at St Andrews Links | Kenny Smith Photography

But first, the golf (and mini golf)

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it, when it comes to the town where golf was invented. There are seven courses at St Andrews Links (and numerous other courses not far from the city proper), with varying degrees of difficulty and lengths. The Old Course is obviously the most popular and well known, due to its hosting the Open Championship every five years—but if you’re looking for something a little bit different, try out the Castle Course. It features stunning views of the coast and the town of St Andrews itself and is actually the newest course at St Andrews Links, built in 2008.

All of the courses at St Andrews Links are open to the public, however prices and availability vary depending on the time of year and what course you’re looking to play. You can save some serious dough by playing outside of the high season, if you’re willing to bundle up a bit and head to the courses in the fall and winter. It’s decidedly a big financial advantage considering course fees are cheaper, as are hotel and flight rates in Scotland’s “shoulder” or “low” golf seasons.

The Himalayas Putting Green | Kenny Smith Photography

Driving, chipping, and spending an entire day on a course not your thing? Then you should check out the Himalayas putting green (also known as the Ladies' Putting Club). Located between the world-famous Old Course and the West Sands Beach, the Himalayas offer a much more relaxed, putt-putt style game. It has 18 holes set throughout undulating hills and costs just £4 per round for adults and £2 per round for seniors and children (under 16). It’s quick, fun, and they’ll provide you with putters and balls just like your local mini golf course.

Interior of the TravisMathew store at St Andrews Links
Kenny Smith Photography

Get your fit

If you’re coming to swing the sticks (and even if you’re not), then you’ll want to look the part and be comfortable too. Sure, maybe you already have golf shirts and some nice slacks, but this town is made for golf, so it’s also one of the best places you can go to outfit yourself for the links. Though a number of stores are stationed near the homebase of the Old Course (such as the Open Shop and the Old Course Shop) you can get some of the most comfortable gear (for golf or otherwise) right off the 18th green at the newly opened St Andrews Links by TravisMathew store. It’s the first branded permanent retail store on the grounds of the Old Course in its 460+ year history. Some of the St Andrews Links x TravisMathew co-branded items are available online, but others are only available at the St Andrews location, so pack light! They also make for great souvenirs, since most of the items prominently feature the “St Andrews Links” logo.

Rusacks St Andrews
Rusacks St Andrews | Marine & Lawn Hotel and Resorts

Where to stay

To house the influx of visitors for the Open Championship every five years, the town is well equipped with a number of hotel options. You could shell out and stay at Tiger Woods’ preferred lodging, the Old Course Hotel, which has its own 18-hole golf course, a Swing Studio featuring more than 60 virtual courses, a golf academy, and its own spa.

But if you want to opt for something a little closer to town, check out the Rusacks St Andrews. It’s situated right off the 18th fairway of the Old Course and offers exceptional views of both the course and the picturesque beach (where the iconic opening scene of Chariots of Fire was filmed) just beyond. You can book a variety of rooms ranging from their more basic (but still gorgeous) Rusacks Single to an entire townhouse with a kitchen, dining & living areas, and four bedrooms across four floors.

The 18 at Rusacks restaurant
The 18 at Rusacks restaurant | Marine & Lawn Hotel and Resorts

If you’re looking to dine in, the hotel features The Bridge, a casual all-day restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. You can also head to 18 at Rusacks, a rooftop restaurant and bar specializing in locally sourced beef and seafood prepared in a state-of-the-art Robata grill. Head out onto the balcony for a one-of-a-kind patio putting green overlooking the course and ocean. And if you’re in need of a pint, venture downstairs to the One Under Bar, a cozy pub serving all the classics and a variety of bar bites. It has just about everything you need if you never wanted to leave the confines of the hotel. But you came for more than just a comfortable bed…

St Andrews Castle
The ruins of the St Andrews Castle | Heritage Images / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Cruise around town for meerkats, Harry Potter-look-alikes, and maybe ghosts

The town of St Andrews is, of course, more than just your hotel and golf. It’s a bustling college town steeped in history, filled with quality dining options and beautiful sites unlike any other. Aside from the golf, the centerpiece of the town is the University of St Andrews. Founded in 1413, its campus resides in the northeast corner of the city. When school is in session, the area is buzzing with students walking throughout its classic stone architecture. But if you visit in the offseason, it’s quiet, chill, and relaxing to explore the campus including the several museums and galleries that are free to the public. If you do visit while school is in session, you could bear witness to some strange (but entertaining) traditions—the Harry Potter-esque academic gowns, “Raisin Weekend,” and the May Dip.

For those who want an up-close look at the Old Course but want nothing to do with the sport, visit it on Sunday. Though this is golf Mecca for people across the world, it’s a public park on Sundays. Hundreds of years ago, playing on Sundays was not allowed for religious reasons, so it was declared that when a tournament wasn’t on, it’s open to the public to rove the grounds, host picnics, and even walk dogs (as long as you pick up after them). It’s a lovely way to take in the beautiful scenery, get some exercise, and forget you’re even on a course.

If you want to stretch your legs and get a lay of the town, the best way to do so is through a St Andrews walking tour. They start at the Martyrs' Monument (a minute’s walk away from the Rusacks hotel), wind by the Old Course, and proceed through the town. You’ll get a fun history lesson and see various attractions like the St Andrews Castle, St Andrews Cathedral and graveyard, among a host of other sites. It’s by far the best way to experience the town—through the stories and facts of a friendly local. You’ll learn why so many people have been killed there (luckily not anymore), why the town was home to something called the “Rabbit Wars,” and just why the university’s library is sinking. Plus if you’re looking for the same thing, just spookier, you can join them for the ghost tour version on October 29, 30, and 31.

Iguana at the St Andrews Aquarium
One of many creatures at the St Andrews Aquarium. | Pete Dombrosky

If you’re looking for an unguided activity, check out the small but mighty St Andrews Aquarium. This family-owned animal habitat has more than 120 species on show every day. You’ll see seals, sharks, reptiles, and the crowd-favorite meerkats, which you can see being fed every day at 11 pm and 4:30 pm. Be sure to ask just why there are meerkats living in a fish exhibit.

And if you’d like to immerse yourself in nature without all the creatures, St Andrews is also home to an 18-acre botanic garden that includes around 8,000 different kinds of plants that represent biological communities from around the world. It’s famous for its collection of alpine plants in its rock garden and is without a doubt the most peaceful place in town.

The Seafood Ristorante
The Seafood Ristorante overlooking the North Sea. | The Seafood Ristorante

Eat from lochs or dine like royalty

Though you can go practically anywhere to find solid seafood and hearty traditional Scottish fare, there are definitely some standouts that you might not expect for a town of fewer than 20,000 people. And if the following spots aren’t enough, a great bet is to ask a caddie. Oftentimes they’re longtime residents from the area and have some of the best recommendations you can get.

“Great Italian” might not come to mind when you’re thinking of St Andrews (or Scotland in general), but if you’re able to get a reservation a few days in advance, Little Italy is a slam dunk. Its extensive menu spans all the traditional favorites from pizza to pasta, chicken/veal/fish, and a long list of desserts. Seriously, don’t try to walk in on most nights. There's a good reason for the crowds.

Speaking of great Italian, if you have a sweet tooth, you simply cannot visit St Andrews without a trip to Jannettas Gelato. They’ve been dishing out some of the best gelato in not only St Andrews but all of Scotland for more than 110 years. Just be warned if you’re indecisive: There are 54 flavors to choose from, including biscoff, tayberry, and something called Hokey Pokey—and that’s not counting an additional array of sorbets, frozen yogurt, and gelato cakes.

Shetland cod with Loire Valley asparagus, stuffed morel, and chicken butter sauce. | The Seafood Ristorante

Maybe you’re looking for something a little more traditional UK-fare in the area. Simply put, you won’t find better fish & chips than at Tailend. You can opt for the classic battered haddock & chips with mushy peas and tartar sauce, but don’t be afraid to see what they have in season or on special. You can’t go wrong.

If you wanna go fancy, look no further than The Seafood Ristorante. Not only does it offer Michelin-level dining, it provides perhaps the best views of any restaurant in the city due to its prime location by the water and 360-degree windows. Plus you’ll find dishes like Loch Etive sea trout done in a Wellington-style.

If you knew that Kate Middleton met Prince William while they both attended the University of St Andrews in 2001, then there’s a chance you’d like to know exactly where they went. Supposedly it was at the Northpoint Cafe, where they proudly hang a sign reading “Where Kate Met Wills (for coffee!).” It’s decidedly not a royal affair, however it’s a terrific (and cheap) option for breakfast and lunch. It’s almost always bustling so who knows, maybe it could be where you meet your Kate or Wills.

Inside the Dunvegan pub at St Andrews
Floor-to-ceiling pictures of famous visitors at the Dunvegan Bar & Restaurant. | David Davies / PA Images / Getty Images

Cozy up to a pint or tipple

It’s Scotland after all, so pints abound all over town. Golfers looking for a “19th hole” option should opt for the Dunvegan Bar & Restaurant or the Old Course Hotel’s Jigger Inn.

The Jigger Inn, located right off the Old Course, is your classic, cozy pub. Take refuge from the chilly temps next to one of the open-hearth fires and stuff yourself with hearty soups and sandwiches while perusing an extensive collection of beers, ciders, and more than 30 brands of whiskey. And when the weather is nice, sit outside the more than 150-year-old structure and watch the players play through.

Want to see a visual encyclopedic look at famous golfers and other celebrities who’ve passed through town (while, of course, throwing back a pint)? The Dunvegan is your spot. Situated on the corner in the Dunvegan Hotel, this tavern is covered top to bottom with photos of pro golfers (35 Major Champions) and other celebrities (Neil Armstrong!) who’ve stopped by for a drink over the years. It makes for fascinating perusal while you’re waiting for a bowl of tomato soup and a burger. Plus, when the Open Championship is in town, you never know whose caddies will be congregating here and might be willing to share stories!

Eden Mills gin
Eden Mills gin | Kenny Smith Photography

When it comes to imbibing, St Andrews is not only home to pubs. If spirits are more your fancy, you should head to the Eden Mill Distillery Gatehouse. Their new distillery and brewery are currently under construction, but for a chance to try their catalog of gins and whiskeys, book an hour-long tasting session.

Scotland might be known for its brown liquor, but their most popular spirit is gin, and for good reason. They craft a number of different varieties including one of their most well-known, Ramsay’s Gin, which is the lovechild of a partnership between Eden Mills and everyone’s favorite tantrum-throwing celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay. And even if you can’t make it to the Gatehouse to try it on the premises, you can order it at many of the local pubs in town and find their storefront on Market Street, which features most of the gins you can try/buy at the source.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat!

Pete Dombrosky is the Director of Operations, Lifestyle at Vox Media.