St. Andrews is the birthplace of Golf, but there's considerably more to this medieval Scottish town than that. Its fresh seafood, smooth whiskeys, luxurious woolens, dazzling seaside, and storybook past are on par with its illustrious links.
Fore!—“Heads up!” in golf parlance—is barked often on the warren of championship courses in St. Andrews, Scotland, where the game got its start in the 1400s. The 12th-century town still beckons as the pearly gates of golf, but it’s also the jumping-off point for a quintessential Scottish experience that leaves golf in the rough.
For a compact town, St. Andrews is jampacked with medieval history plus modern shopping and dining along its centuries-old cobblestone streets, all easily navigable in a 90-minute walk (longer if you’re in a shopping mood). A prime North Sea location with pristine white sand beaches and rocky crags makes the town home to fabulous seaside resorts, all of which offer golf packages to sweeten the deal. The “Auld Grey Toon” is also a university town, and it has that special indie vibe to prove it.
Except for the Victorian red sandstone Hamilton Grand apartments, the town really is gray. Now a ghostly, stony ruin with the tower of St. Rule rising in the center, the Cathedral of St. Andrew introduced the gray palette when it was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Ahead of their time, “city planners” wanted the cathedral to be the town’s tallest building, in plain view for the thousands of pilgrims making their way there from all over Europe to be in the presence of relics of Andrew the Apostle.
The newly renovated Hamilton Grand luxury apartment building enjoys rooftop views of the North Sea, the Old Course, the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, and the town of St. Andrews.
The R&A headquarters was built in 1854.
The newest 19th hole in St. Andrews, Hams Hame Pub & Grill opened in 2013 at the Hamilton Grand.
The pilgrimage route still provides the best walking tour of the town today. It begins at the ancient city gate at the west end of South Street, and includes historic Blackfriars Chapel, Holy Trinity Church, and St. Mary’s College (a part of the University of St. Andrews, where Prince William courted Kate Middleton) before ending at the cathedral. South Street provides retail therapy along the way, chock-full of quirky galleries and shops selling everything from cashmere to chocolates, and it’s amply equipped with pubs and restaurants where a smooth single-malt and fresh seafood can be sampled or a frothy Scottish ale tossed back.
Ruins of St. Andrews Castle overlook Castle Beach.
A stroll downhill from the cathedral to the harbor and its ancient pier (often overlooked by tourists) provides a sense of how this fishing-port town got its start. Heading back up a footpath around the Cathedral to St. Andrews Castle affords the non-claustrophobic a tour of the castle’s long underground tunnel and infamous “bottle dungeon.” From there, a street called The Scores provides a spectacular view of the huge West Sands beach and the Old Course—the world’s most famous golf course—where the game began and what ultimately put St. Andrews on the map.
Seafood Restaurant, located in this vicinity, merits stopping in for a meal before some serious upscale shopping on Golf Place and Links Place, and finally on to Bell, Church, and Market streets for more unique shops. (Bagpipes, anyone? Kilts? Vintage golf clubs?)
Johnstons of Elgin is a purveyor of wool and cashmere, from home accessories and yardage to apparel.
Stop by Forgan’s in the center of town for a stellar meal amid rustic chic decor that Los Angeles designer Joe Lucas describes as “Napa barn meets Soho hot spot, but with a Scottish flair.” Right by Forgan’s, you’ll find Mitchell’s. On the small side, it’s half butcher/specialty shop and half pub, giving it a distinctly Scottish feel. The pub fare is outstanding—fish and chips, fish chowder, haggis, and more to make any clansman proud. For a town of fewer than 20,000 people, St. Andrews offers a good 70 restaurants, cafes, and pubs to keep up the Brigadoon spirit.
A fifth-generation bakery, Fisher and Donaldson offers creativity in sugary confections.
More from St. Andrews on the next page.
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Photography Dominic Blackmore
Produced by Krissa Rossbund & Mick Schnepf