St Andrews is a quintessential university town, nestled along the Fife coast and saddled with picturesque views of the North Sea. It is only made more desirable by its medieval architecture, and of course, an 800-year old castle. Upon first look, the town is striking and postcard perfect, and, paired with its academic reputation, its history as the oldest university in Scotland and third oldest in the English speaking world, it is a common belief that once you arrive in St Andrews, you will never want to leave.
This belief is further perpetuated by the active social calendar of St Andrews students. A high student involvement rate in everything from the 140 student societies, to 50 sports clubs, and 100 competitive sports teams cultivates a community feeling within the school and town as a whole. St Andrews provides everything that students need for a fun and engaging semester.
However, despite its charm, St Andrews is a small town and dominated by only three main streets. ‘Mom and Pop’ boutiques and vintage shops prevail, and while this only enhances its one-of-a-kind allure, it can be a hard adjustment for the geographically diverse resident population. St Andrews is the most diverse university in Scotland with students and staff from over 120 different nationalities. Small town living can be a dramatic change for many.
For those who cannot give up city life for four consecutive months, or others who might simply need a change of scenery to ward off any monotony, do not fear! There are plenty of adventures just ‘outside the bubble’. The following list might serve as a helpful starting point for anyone new to the area, and looking for things to partake in at St Andrews’ neighbouring cities.
The most obvious out of town location is Edinburgh, a short hour and £14 train ride away, it provides all the cosmopolitan comforts of a big city. For any foodies, Mary’s Milk Bar is a pinterest worthy mashup of hot chocolate and gelato, and Princess Street is home to all the retail therapy a shopping starved St Andrews student could desire.
For those looking for a more outdoorsy pursuit in the capital, Arthur’s seat provide panoramic views 250 meters (or 822 feet) above the city’s skyline. The hike to the top is doable, even for those of us who might have missed out on the gym this summer! Of course, the views are definitely worth it. The hike is free courtesy of the Holyrood Park system, and easily walkable from the city center.
Another exciting travel destination in the heart of Edinburgh is Edinburgh Castle, perfect for history buffs and travel enthusiasts. Located at the top of Royal Mile, it is a stunning feat to architectural ingenuity. This historic fortress was carved into Castle Rock and looms over most of New Town. Audio and guided tours of the castle are available from £17. However, one can definitely enjoy a stunning look and great picture without have to enter the castle.
A little further afield is Glasgow, the industrial and economic heart of Scotland. Scotland’s largest city is situated on the west coast, making it a perfect weekend trip for adventurous students-especially those interested in music! Each year, numerous artists come to Glasgow and perform sold out performances. Upcoming acts include Celine Dion, Queen and Adam Lambert, Katy Perry, and Harry Styles. Get your tickets soon before they sell out!
While in Glasgow, why not plan a visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum? With 22 themed galleries ranging from natural history to weaponry, there truly is something for everyone here. Art from all time periods is housed in Kelvingrove, the most famous piece of which is Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’, a worthwhile reason to visit. And to top it off, admission is free to the museum.
To the north, Aberdeen is the home of Balmoral Castle, a frequent residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike will rejoice in beautiful gardens, expertly preserved interior rooms, fly fishing, and bird watching held at this estate. Conveniently, Aberdeen is an easy 3 hours train ride from Leuchars, with tickets often as low as £25.
For those St Andreans eager to get a taste of the highlands, but not equipped with a car, Inverness is an easy to reach destination via public transportation. Its winding streets are only outmatched by Loch Ness, a must see destination on the border of the city. Hiking around the scenic perimeter is free and can serve as a perfect opportunity to try and catch a sight of the famed Loch Ness Monster.
Nearby Loch Ness, the Urquhart Castle overlooks the body of water, and entrance tickets are a mere £9. As one of the oldest and most historically significant castles in Scotland, it is a worthwhile pitstop.
Nearby Inverness, the Harry Potter fans among us can get up close and personal with one of the most iconic scenes of the movie and visit the Glenfinnan VIaduct, or better known as “the” train that transported Harry to Hogwarts. Die hard Potter fans can live their childhood dreams, riding the train from Fort William to Mallaig or vice versa, putting themselves in Hogwarts students’ shoes.
Nearly directly across the Tay River is neighboring Dundee, a quick commute for students who need an immediate taste of city life, or are simply looking for a way to mix up their Sunday afternoon routine. Buses leave regularly from the St Andrews bus station and reach Dundee within 20 minutes.
The Overgate shopping centre offers big chain stores like River Island, Topshop, and Debenhams. After working up a sweat shopping, students can retire to the Babica Hen Cafe, famed for its diverse waffle offerings and American style brunch.
For students who would rather use their own two feet than catch a bus or train, the Fife Coastal path is a must do. It is easy to hop on from East Sands at which point an array of scenic fishing villages lie to your North and/or South.
For the foodies again, there is an array of stops to see and experience. Head south to Pittenweem Chocolate Company and Cocoa Tree Cafe for some sweet treats. On your way back to St Andrews, make sure to swing by the Anstruther Fish Bar for a classic fish supper, ranked the “Best Fish and Chips” shop in the UK and featured on several national television programs.
As you continue to hike along the scenic path, you will leave ‘the bubble’ far behind and be even happier remembering that this excursion was indeed, free of charge.
Some of the best events outside the bubble only take place on a seasonal basis. Yet despite their limited availability and the potential difficulty of fitting them into your busy schedule, they offer brilliant distractions and once in a lifetime memories. The following include a few more potential activities that are seasonal and/or perfect for school holiday breaks.
Come wintertime, the famed Edinburgh Christmas Market will return. This year, it will be held from 17 November to 7 January. Its central location (right off Princes Street and next to Edinburgh Waverley Station) makes it an easy daytrip and the perfect chance to get some last minute christmas shopping done. Many halls put together subsidized trips for students, as well as various societies such as the At Home and Abroad Society. Amongst cashmere sweaters and tartan scarves, students can also find mulled wine, crepes, and many more festive treats and foods.
For students on the hunt for the perfect stocking stuffer, a little closer to home is the Glamis Christmas Market, held at Glamis Castle near St Andrews. Various vendors from around the area unite to offer an array of authentic and appropriately timed goodies on sale. With the castle as a backdrop, it’s the perfect event to get into that holiday spirit!
And for the wanderlusters among us seeking to go even further afield, the rest of Europe is quite literally at our fingertips. London is only 5.5 hours away by train from Leuchars and deposits students right at London’s King’s Cross Station. Once in Edinburgh, inexpensive and short flights abound. From Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Paris, and Prague are all only an hour and a half to two and a half hours flight journeys, making virtually any city on the continent weekend trip worthy.