Things to see and do in St Andrews


St Andrews may be a small town but there is plenty to see and do – I’m going into fourth year and I still haven’t quite managed to squeeze in visits to all the attractions. Next time you have some free time, why not make the most of the historical sites and beautiful scenery that our little bubble has to offer?

The Cathedral and St Rules’ tower

It took me until the beginning of my third year to get around to climbing to the top of St Rules’ tower. Don’t make this mistake. Grab the opportunity on a clear day but make sure you’re feeling energetic. The only way up is via a very narrow spiral staircase but you will be rewarded with a beautiful view right across St Andrews and beyond. You can take a look for free at the magnificent Cathedral ruins, which date back to the 12th century, though visiting the museum and climbing the tower will incur a small fee. (Tip: St Rules’ tower is free to climb on St Andrews’ Day on 30 November, provided you wear your red gown.)

The museum itself has some great artefacts that tell the story of the origins of the town and it’s development. Although most students will visit the Cathedral at some point in their time here, make sure you don’t miss out on the museum and St Rules’ tower. More information on the Cathedral and tower can be found here.

The view from St Rules' tower
The view from St Rules’ tower. Photo: Laura Abernethy

The Castle

The Castle is one of St Andrews’ better known landmarks but many students miss out. Students can enter for free at any time if they are wearing their gown, which adds to the sense of history and grandeur.

The Castle was originally built around the year 1200 and is an important part of the history of St Andrews as it housed many bishops and archbishops, the central figures of the Church in Scotland. You can learn about the importance of the Castle and how it developed over time at the exhibition before heading outside to wander around the grounds, take a trip down the mines and visit the bottle dungeon where Protestant martyrs John Knox and George Wishart were thought to have been imprisoned. There is plenty to be discovered, all accompanied by a clear view across the North Sea thanks to the Castle’s perch on the cliff top.

Tickets for the Castle (if you are not wearing a gown) can be bought separately or in conjunction with a ticket for the Cathedral so you can combine your visits for a slightly reduced price. More information can be found here.

The Castle from afar. Photo: Elliot Davies
The Castle from afar. Photo: Elliot Davies


The Museum of the University of St Andrews is another gem that often gets forgotten. It details everything about the history of the University – from its establishment to the origin of traditions such as Raisin. It’s great to be able to impress all your friends and family at home with snippets of the 600-year-old story. My favourite items are the splendid medieval maces; St Andrews is said to have the best collection of medieval maces in Europe. These intricately carved, gold weapons have been present at graduation ceremonies since they were made in the 15th century and are still used today.There is also a lovely roof terrace with views over the North Sea that are well worth seeing even if you aren’t interested in history.

For more information on MUSA, visit their website.

The view from the MUSA terrace
The view from the MUSA terrace

The Aquarium

The St Andrews Aquarium, situated on the Scores, brings back many memories of my childhood. I don’t think there is a child in Northern Ireland that has not been to the Exploris Aquarium on a school trip at some point so I was pretty excited when I found out there was an aquarium in St Andrews.

It is an odd mix of things – from the typical fish, turtles, stingrays and reptile tanks that I remember from my primary school days to a family of 13 meerkats. I’m not sure if anyone will ever understand why there are meerkats at an aquarium but they are pretty entertaining to watch as they scuttle around. The Aquarium is also home to a colony of four humboldt penguins, amusingly named Andy (after the 2013 Wimbledon champion), Judy, Kim and Shirley (after Andy’s mother, wife and grandmother respectively). The group of seals are also popular. One of them even has his own Twitter account, sadly with more followers than me.

There is  plenty to see at the Aquarium and it is a nice way to spend a few hours if you need a break from the library. Check out their website for prices, opening times and details of feeding times.

A walk across the golf course

One of my favourite ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon is a scenic walk with friends to help get over the last of your Saturday night hangover. You can walk across the golf course on a Sunday, which gives you the perfect opportunity to get that photo of you and your friends on the famous Swilcan bridge for your mum to pin up on the noticeboard at home.

Perhaps follow up with a walk along the Scores and take trip to Castle Sands, one of the three beautiful beaches in St Andrews. You can then walk alongside the sea past the pier and Cathedral, past the harbour and through the Pends at the end of South Street. To reward yourself for all that exercise, stop by Jannettas on South Street for a delicious ice cream.

The famous Swilcan bridge

Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History

The museum is not open to the public very often but when it is, it is worth a visit.  It is open on a Saturday in the spring as part of National Science Week and on a Sunday in September as part of Doors Open. It is also open during some afternoons in the summer months if you are still around. Make sure you keep an eye on the website and take the chance to see it when you can. The collection dates back to 1838 and is made up of all sorts of weird and wonderful items, with over 3000 species on display. For more information, visit their website.

Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens are situated away from the three main streets and many first years don’t even know that they exist. I have the pleasure of living a few minutes away from them and for me, they are a must see. They have recently come under threat of closure so make sure you show your support. They hold various events throughout the year or you can just go for a walk around the beautiful gardens and greenhouse. For more information on events, admission prices and opening hours, visit their website.

St Andrews Botanic Gardens
St Andrews Botanic Gardens

Lade Braes walk

It took me a long time to discover Lade Braes, as like the Botanic Gardens it is hidden from the town centre. It is the perfect place for a walk, run or cycle. The walk is beautiful on a warm summer’s day but also equally as nice for a brisk autumn walk with the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot.

Lade Braes is quite long but it runs alongside the main route through town, so you can join and leave the path at any point. There is a large common with a play area near the beginning and an iron bridge over the stream further along. Near the end you can see Hallow Hill, which was an early Christian burial site. An excavation in the 1970s led to the discovery of long stone cists dating back to the seventh century, which can still be seen on the hill today. You can access Lade Braes from many different points throughout St Andrews, so check out a map to find where is best for you.


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