I have been visiting St Andrews quite regularly since I was very young. My family used to rent a cottage in the nearby Morton of Pitmilly and, since 2009, we’ve had a caravan situated just outside the small Scottish town.
If you should know anything about St Andrews it should be these two things. Firstly, the town is almost a mini USA with the vast amount of American tourists and students walking around. And secondly, there is plenty to do in what is, relatively speaking, a small geographic area.
What’s more, there are plenty of free and/or cheap things to do that tourists, students and locals can enjoy, so here is a comprehensive list.
1) Free Tea/Coffee at Toppings
I’m putting this first on the list because it’s probably one that often goes unsaid. Topping and Company Booksellers is a quaint but surprisingly large book store complete with comfortable furniture and rolling bookshelf ladders. They have a large collection of fiction and non-fiction books which are neatly organised into sections.
The best part? The staff offer you free/tea and coffee with a biscuit. You may also notice as you browse that Toppings have a large selection of signed first edition books. You can spot them easily as they have a large navy-coloured band around their spine. If you’re looking to treat yourself or someone else, these are a great gift idea.
I’m not usually one for endlessly browsing book shops but this place is completely captivating. The free tea/coffee is just the icing on the cake.
2) Sunday Walk on The Old Course
If you’re in St Andrews on a Sunday, you might have the chance to walk on the Old Course. This is because it’s closed most Sundays of the year unless there’s a competition or event on. The Old Course is considered the oldest golf course in the world so if you’re interested in Golf this is a must do. If you’re not, it’s still a beautiful place to enjoy a Sunday stroll.
One fun bonus activity here is golf ball hunting. As you can imagine, lots of golf balls get lost on the Old Course. It’s a fun activity to try and see how many you can find.
3) Take a Picture on The Swilcan Bridge
The famous Swilcan Bridge, built over 700 years ago, spans the Swilcan burn between the 1st and 18th fairways of the Old Course. It’s probably one of the most iconic images of St Andrews recognised by golfers and non-golfers alike.
Here are a couple of tips. Firstly, remember to include the R&A, Hamilton Grand and 18th green on the skyline in the background of your photo. Secondly, if you’re not playing on the golf course and it’s open to golfers, take your picture once any players have moved up the 18th fairway. I once witnessed a few unhappy golfers shout at some European tourists because they were in the way of play.
4) Walk on West Sands Beach
The sandy West Sands beach on the west side of St Andrews is nearly 2 miles long. It was featured in the opening of the famous film ‘Chariots of Fire’ from 1981. The famous scene was reenacted during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 olympic games and featured Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean, Johnny English).
5) St Andrews Museum
St Andrews Museum is based in the grounds of Kilburn Park west of the town centre. Their collection of displays and objects are designed to tell the tale of St Andrews from its beginnings back in the 12th century to today. There is gallery space offering a rotating display of artwork, a museum shop and a cafe on site.
6) St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum
Despite visiting St Andrews for years, we only ventured into the Preservation Trust Museum recently. Situated near The St Andrews Cathedral, this small museum and garden explores the history of St Andrews and its residents. There is exhibition space upstairs which changes regularly.
7) Walk in The St Andrews Cathedral Grounds
St Andrews Cathedral in the east side of St Andrews was built in the middle of the 12th century and became the headquarters of the Medieval Scottish Catholic Church. The church became a ruin in the 16th century during the Scottish Reformation when Catholic mass was declared illegal.
You can wander the grounds and read various plaques which tell you a lot more about the cathedral’s history. There is a museum here and St Rule’s tower which offers stunning views over St Andrews and beyond. However, these are both paid-for activities.
8) Fraser Gallery
Fraser Gallery St Andrews first opened in 2007. The family business began all the way back in 1862. You can wander into the gallery based in South Street and view the works of contemporary Scottish artists. You will begin to notice a trend in many buildings in St Andrews. A small store front but maze-like in their expansion towards the back. The gallery, like Toppings and many other buildings, stretches back into a surprisingly large space.
The Museum of the University of St Andrews is a free museum located on the Scores at the north end of St Andrews. There are 4 galleries showcasing some of the universities prized possessions including St Salvator’s mace which is still used in university graduation ceremonies.
The viewing terrace on the first floor also offers great views over St Andrews Bay.
Super Cheap Activities
10) Putting at The Himalayas
The first paid-for activity on our list is The Himalayas. Officially known as The St Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club this is an undulating putting course sandwiched between The Old Course and the West Sands.
There are 2 courses here, an 18 hole course and a 9 hole course aimed at younger players. One unique aspect of The Himalayas is that the course changes every Wednesday offering a different challenge. Make sure to wrap up warm. The breeze off of the North Sea can be chilly even on warm summer days and you might be standing for a little while waiting behind other players.
The course is seasonal, open daily from April to September (sometimes closed for members use). They sometimes open earlier (March) and close later in the year (October) if weather permits.
Cost: £3 (adults), £1 (child under 12 + senior). Individuals are each given an appropriately sized golf club, plus a ball. Each group is given a score card and a pencil.
Max Group Size: Management rules state 4 players maximum per group at one hole. Any parties larger than 4 will have to split into separate groups.
11) Cakes From Fisher and Donaldson
The charming Fisher and Donaldson bakery situated on Church Street, just off Market Street, offers a great selection of cakes, pastries, chocolate and more. Frog cakes and ghost cakes, sold near halloween, are fun treats for kids and their soft morning rolls have a delicious and distinctive flavour. 2019 marks the 100 year anniversary of their family business.
12) Drinks in The Road Hole Bar
The inclusion of this on the list will no doubt be controversial. Drinks in the Road Hole Bar on the 4th floor of The Old Course Hotel? Cheap? For what you are getting, I would argue, yes. Whilst the bar is known for its vast selection of whiskies, you are not forced to buy one. You can buy a soft drink instead for around £2.50, enjoy some nibbles, free WiFi and spectacular views over the Old Course, West Sands and the North Sea beyond that.
Damon and I have been to this bar a few times and, on one occasion, enjoyed a stay in the hotel itself.
Cost: Dependent on the drink. A soft drink is around £2.50. A tea is around £4.
Whether you’re there for a quick visit or you’re based in the town, St Andrews has a lot to offer those who don’t want an expensive day out. Have you recently been to St Andrews or are you planning a trip? Let me know in the comments section down below.