What to see
Follow in the footsteps of nearly 1000 years’ of worshippers and visit the medieval ruins of St Andrews’ Cathedral. Built during the reign of Robert the Bruce, it was ransacked in 1599 by a protestant mob outraged by the teachings of John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian church. Nearly half a century later, it remains the largest church ever built in Scotland – and quite the sight too.
For a landmark from a more modern conflict head to Scotland’s Secret Bunker – a 100ft-deep Cold War hide-out, with its entrance hidden in a farmhouse, intended to protect the country’s military elite in a nuclear war. Like all things nuclear war, it’s still pretty terrifying.
Of course no visit would be complete without the Royal couple. While the unofficial ‘Wills and Kate’ tours might have dried up, every establishment in town seems to have its claim-to-fame. The Indian restaurant, Jahangir, says it hosted the couple’s first date. Then again, I suspect even the launderette has a laminated sign saying the future Duchess once washed her hockey socks there or something similar. Take a tour of the university to see where the royals met or snoop around the Georgian terraces on Hope Street where Will and Kate shared a house in their second year (13a to be precise).
What to do
They call St Andrews the capital of golf – and some say even that doesn’t do it justice. They’ve been golfing here for nearly 600 years, with the first professional championship taking place in 1873. Golf fans will head straight for one of the seven courses. The British Golf Museum is a good alternative if the weather is a washout.
If you’re keen to try something rural, Steve Brazendale – the Scottish countryman – offers countryside experiences, suitable even for spoiled townies like me. Try your hand at archery, fly-fishing (weather allowing) or falconry. Steve’s birds can swoop over 180mph and spot prey from 4km away. Well, most of them anyway. Last year, he adopted Argyle, an infant falcon of excellent pedigree who turned out to be so scared of heights he can hardly clear the trees without needing a cuddle afterwards. Thanks to Instagram, the youngster has become a big hit with visitors.
Where to eat and drink
St Andrews Bar and Grill at the Fairmont Hotel promises the finest steak and seafood in Fife. They’re big on sustainability, with an impressive percentage of the menu, from the lobsters to the vegetables, being procured or grown locally. Head to the smoking terrace to get the best view of the bay – come back again after pudding and take in the breathtaking sunset.
The Adamson is one of several high-end restaurants which cater to the well-heeled American students who come to St Andrews to find their Royal romance. Meanwhile the Zephyr (also at the Fairmont) styles itself as Scotland’s only vegan sports-bar. You’ll be blown away by what their chefs can do with seitan, the fashionable meat substitute which kitchen wizards can craft into sheer deliciousness.
For a quiet drink try the Criterion, a cozy boozer which has held its own against the march of the cocktail bars. And if whisky’s your thing, do pay a visit to Kingsbarns, St Andrew’s only distillery. By local standards, it’s practically embryonic (they only filled their first cask in 2015) but their Peat Chimney packs a serious punch. If you’re feeling brave, try their ‘spirit drink’ – a super-strong prototype which isn’t old enough to be called whisky. It’s probably the nicest (and poshest) moonshine I’ve had.
Where to stay
The Fairmont St Andrews is a 5-star hotel on a sprawling 500-acre estate – perfect for those who enjoy a morning walk. Double rooms start from £189.
Macdonald Rusacks offer special golfers’ packages in luxurious surroundings. Double rooms from £398.
Downtown St Andrews is full of bed and breakfasts: St Andrews B&Bs offers a full list.