Did you know that with a Young Scot Card you get free bus travel if you’re under 22? You don’t even have to be Scottish! Apply online and then make a packed lunch (or steal a sausage bap from your catered friends), hop on a bus and start exploring.
Your first stop should be the local villages. Crail is a very picturesque harbour town, and only a half hour trip. In the same time frame, you can also nip to Anstruther and its legendary fish bar. Further along the coast St Monans is another shortbread-box town with a charming church so remarkably close to the sea I was rather surprised it didn’t just slide in! Finally, there’s Leven and Elie. Elie is home to the chainwalk, an intriguing cliffside path that you scale by clinging onto chains bashed into the rock — I’ve never done it, but it looks both fun and mildly terrifying. All these places are dotted along the Fife Coastal Path and, along with the Fife Pilgrim Way, the Path makes a great walking excursion full of photo opportunities and rocks to sit on as you look wistfully out to sea.
Dundee might not be your first instinct for a cultural day trip but there’s actually lots to be seen in this city — besides big Tesco. I found the V&A spectacularly underwhelming, an empty art-less shell of a building. It does, however, offer gorgeous views over the silvery Tay perfect for reciting William McGonagall’s infamously dreadful poem (Google it, I promise it’s worth it). While you have your phone out you should also find the hilarious story behind the polar bear statue in the city centre. In the afternoon, the McManus Gallery will scratch the artistic itch left by the V&A and in the golden hour sunlight Dundee’s churches can look quite stunning. I’ve never been but the Mills Observatory hosts an exciting-looking range of telescopes and space exhibitions — just change buses in central Dundee.
Edinburgh is slightly over two hours by bus (the X59) but worth the ride. If you feel you’ve exhausted the delights of the Royal Mile’s tartan shops, eating your sandwiches in Princes Street Garden, and peering into the castle from the car park be- cause you don’t want to buy a ticket then perhaps these spots will inspire your further explorations. The City Arts Centre right opposite Waverly (and the Prince’s Street bus stops) hosts a range of exhibitions as well as a charming little café. On a larger scale there’s the four complementary National Galleries: the central National Gallery, Modern One, Modern Two, and the National Portrait Gallery. All are free. Although it is a bit childish in places the National Museum of Scotland has free exhibitions on everything from the history of mobile phones, to stuffed animals and glassware. It also houses a creepy giant clock which still haunts my dreams. It’s worth a visit just for that.
Back on the smaller side of things the National Library usually has at least one exhibition worth seeing on some fascinatingly niche subject, when I last went it was on the writings of early female mountaineers. Speaking of hills, if you want a view of Edinburgh that doesn’t involve all the tourists up Arthur’s seat, why not try the more sedate Blackford Hill for panoramic views of the city. Alternatively, head down from the National Library to Scotland’s smallest museum inside the Cadies and Witchery Tours shop on Victoria Street. Ostensibly nothing more than a gift shop full of spooky tat, on the counter you will find the tiddly exhibit — a wooden box containing a slightly smaller box made out of grave robber William Burke’s skin. My girlfriend found this worryingly exciting.
Glasgow is three hours by bus, so it’s only a day trip for those who are adventurous and willing to get up early. If that’s you (or you have a friend’s sofa to kip on) then try out Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Muse- um, the Necropolis, the Riverside Transport Museum, and the beautiful old buildings of Glasgow University. I’ve never been, but the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art is high on my bucket list too.
Finally, there’s National Trust places. While they’re not technically free, if you can’t find a mate with a membership at a uni as middle-class as St Andrews where can you? Near us is the Hill of Tarvit Edwardian mansion, the Victorian Kellie Castle, Barry water-powered mill, and Mary Queen of Scots Falkland Palace — home to the oldest surviving tennis court in the world.
So, there you have it, months’ worth of totally free weekends away from the bubble. And by the end of it you’ll have saved so much on bus fares that you can justify a pint in Aikman’s.