By Craig Neil
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Table of Contents
- Tourist information
- Tourist map of Scotland
- Things to do nearby
- Frequently asked questions
The East Neuk of Fife is a region north of the Firth of Forth that comprises the land and villages between Earlsferry to the south and Kingsbarns to the north.
Although it’s a small area at just 40 square miles it’s well known for its combination of scenic coastline and pretty fishing villages, two of which – Pittenweem and Anstruther – are tourist attractions in their own right thanks to their attractive harbours.
Discover this superb region of Scotland with this complete visitor guide which includes an overview, visiting advice, a photo slideshow, and a 360° virtual tour.
1: The East Neuk of Fife is best known for two things – quaint fishing villages and scenic coastline.
Starting with the villages, visitors should make a beeline for Elie to see its golden beach and historic lighthouse, Pittenweem to soak up the step-back-in-time atmosphere, and Anstruther to munch on some of the best fish and chips in Scotland.
2: The coastline of the East Neuk of Fife is up there with any other in the country, and it’s best explored by following the Fife Coastal Path.
The section on the East Neuk of Fife starts in Elie and finishes in Crail and covers a distance of around 9 miles.
Along the way, walkers will find working lighthouses, ruined castles, lots of fishing harbours, spectacular sea views, and endless numbers of seabirds (especially between Anstruther and Crail near the Isle of May).
3: Slightly inshore to the west of Crail is one of the strangest, yet most interesting, attractions in Scotland. Scotland’s Secret Bunker is an underground Cold War bunker that was designed to survive nuclear armageddon in the 50s and 60s but was abandoned when the threat ended.
Today, it’s a fascinating 4-star visitor attraction that explains the history of Scotland’s best-kept military secret.
1: The East Neuk of Fife has gained a reputation for offering visitors a delicious assortment of seafood thanks to the fresh catches brought in daily to each of its harbours.
2: If you visit between April and September I highly recommend taking a boat trip from Anstruther to the Isle of May.
This tiny island is just 1 mile long and 1/3 mile wide but it’s one of the best places in Scotland for seabird watching as it’s home to upwards of 250,000 birds at the height of the breeding season. Check out the Nature Scot website for details about getting to May.
3: The village of Pittenweem is one of the gems of the East Neuk of Fife due to its picture-postcard harbour. This village is far less touristy than Anstruther, and the sections of the Fife Coastal Trail to the north and south are possibly the most scenic of the entire route.
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The East Neuk of Fife is one of those areas that’s almost entirely overlooked by overseas visitors, yet it’s one of the best places to visit in the entire southeast of Scotland.
The ‘Neuk’ (a Scots word for ‘corner’) is situated north of Edinburgh across the choppy waters of the Firth of Forth, around 20 miles northeast of the city centre and 10 miles south of St. Andrews.
This isn’t exactly the largest part of Scotland, but it features a stretch of coastline that’s up there with any other as far as scenery goes, and for picturesque fishing villages it’s second to none.
With regard to villages, there are twelve in total, but it’s the ones on the coast (highlighted below) that are the main draw for tourists. These are; Earlsferry, Elie, Colinsburgh, St. Monans, Pittenweem, Arncroach, Carnbee, Anstruther, Cellardyke, Kilrenny, Crail, and Kingsbarns.
The wee harbours of these historic fishing villages are surrounded by quaint houses and the occasional cobbled street which are perfect for a leisurely stroll, but not before sampling some of the delicious seafood this part of Fife is famous for.
There are too many cafés and restaurants to list in one article but big shout-outs have to go to the Anstruther Fish Bar which serves the best fish and chips EVER, and the Reilly Shellfish Lobster Hut in Crail which is so good it was named one of Scotland’s best seafood shacks in 2021.
After exploring the villages of the East Neuk of Fife, visitors can strap their boots on and go for a walk along the region’s second big attraction – the Fife Coastal Path.
This 117-mile walking trail pretty much follows the entirety of Fife’s coastline from the Firth of Forth in the south to the Firth of Tay in the north, but the section on the East Neuk between Elie and Cambo Sands is, (in my humble opinion) the most scenic by far.
The rocky shoreline offers fantastic views at every step of the way and it’s an absolute must-do for wildlife lovers, especially once you get past Crail and enter the gorgeous Kilminning Coast Wildlife Reserve.
The reserve is located on the north-eastern tip of the East Neuk and comprises an area that’s awash with wildflowers and low-lying grasslands that are secluded from the rocky shoreline.
Go there on a sunny day when the only noise is the trill of skylarks and the gentle splash of waves and you’ll instantly fall in love with this underappreciated part of Scotland.
If you’re travelling as a family you’ll be pleased to know there are a number of beautiful golden beaches in the East Neuk of Fife which offer a range of activities for all ages.
The two biggest are located near the villages of Earlsferry to the south and Kingsbarns to the north, but if you’re walking the route along the entire East Neuk you’ll find lots of quieter ones, notably north of Elie and north of Crail.
Elie, in particular, offers a superb day out as it has a wide and sheltered bay which makes it a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts, especially those with a love of windsurfing and sailing.
I’ll cover more things to do in the East Neuk of Fife in the next section.
I know 40 square miles doesn’t sound like much, but the area between Earlsferry and Kingsbarns has more than enough going on to keep visitors entertained for a full 2-3 day trip.
Rather than just list a bunch of random attractions, I’ll list each coastal village of the East Neuk of Fife in the following section, working from south to north following the Fife Coastal Trail.
Elie and Earlsferry
There are two beaches in Elie, but the northernmost is the largest so is the best option for finding a quiet spot. To the west is a golf course and behind that there’s another beach which lies east of a brilliant attraction – the Elie chain walk.
The chain walk comprises a number of steel chains embedded in cliffs of volcanic rock which you can clamber across to explore lots of hidden nooks and crannies.
Although it’s only a third of a mile in length it’ll take at least an hour to complete as it’s such hard going – but you’ll need a good head for heights and parents should be aware it’s not suitable for young children.
Heading north around the coast you’ll find the first section of the East Neuk of Fife Coastal Path, but before setting off on the rough track you might like to take a look at Elie Ness lighthouse and Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower which both have amazing viewpoints across the Firth of Forth.
St Monans is a tiny village but it has an attractive harbour with a wide walkway on the east pier that leads to a famous(ish) seawall that zigzags in all directions.
There’s also a bizarre welly garden (yes, a garden full of Wellington boots) and a tiny museum dedicated to the heritage of the village.
To the north of St Monans lies a tidal pool that was built in Victorian times which allows swimmers to effectively swim in the ocean while being protected from the waves. It’s currently undergoing restoration and is planned to be developed into a bigger attraction in the near future.
Next to the pool are the remains of ancient saltworks where sea salt was evaporated and the precious salt collected, powered by a windmill sited at the top of a small hill.
There’s no fee to visit the site but you won’t spend much more than half an hour there anyway, after which you can head straight back onto the Fife Coastal path which cuts right through the saltworks.
This is my personal favourite of all the villages in the East Neuk of Fife as it has a real step-back-in-time atmosphere, although visitors should know beforehand that Pitenweem is not set up as a tourist attraction so the facilities are few and far between.
What it does have is another Victorian tidal pool (the walls are almost completely worn away though), a long harbour wall that can be walked along for very nice sea views, and St. Fillan’s Cave – a natural underground cavern that was supposedly lived in by the 7th-century saint.
As the largest of the coastal villages, Anstruther has plenty to offer tourists. There’s a large harbour with two long harbour walls that can be walked along, the incredibly popular Anstruther Fish Bar, and the Isle of May boat trip departure point.
If you’re not aware of the Isle of May, it’s an island nature reserve located 5 miles off the coast of the East Neuk that’s famous amongst birdwatchers for the number of seabirds that call it home.
In peak season there are around a quarter of a million birds on the island at any one time, including 45,000 breeding pairs of puffins, huge colonies of guillemots, shags and razorbills, plus around 200 grey seals, dolphins, and even the occasional whale.
Another attraction in Anstruther is situated 3/4 mile east of the harbour at the Scottish Fisheries Museum. This museum features displays about (you guessed it) fishing and includes fishing boat models, dioramas, paintings and photographs, plus a café and a gift shop.
Cellardyke basically joins Anstruther to the east but there isn’t much there to be honest. It does have a tidal pool though, as well as a couple of sand beaches.
There’s nothing between Cellardyke and Crail for the 2.5 miles of that section of the Fife Coastal Way except for farmland on one side and sea on the other.
Once you get to Crail you’ll immediately notice that it’s very quaint and reminiscent of the lovely fishing villages that dot the coastline of Cornwall.
It’s certainly a sleepy place down by the harbour, but one thing that might attract a few extra tourists is the Reilly Shellfish Shack which serves absolutely delicious fresh crab and lobster and is a must-do if you like seafood.
Heading away from the harbour will take you to the centre of Crail which has several cafés and tearooms, a highly-rated local pottery shop (a bit pricey in my opinion), and the Crail Heritage Museum which features lots of exhibits that explain Crail’s history and its fishing industry.
The last destination in the East Neuk of Fife is Kingsbarns which lies 5 miles around the coast and past the Kilminning Coast Nature Reserve.
Kingsbarns itself is set inland so there’s obviously no harbour, and to be honest it’s so small I wouldn’t even bother venturing into it.
What it does have, however, is a superb beach that’s soft, golden, and is a great place to sunbathe in peace and quiet.
There’s a car park for the beach that’s accessed from the A917 (the turning is immediately after the Kingsbarns sign at the village entrance), but as a top-tip, instead of sitting on Kingsbarn beach, head north for half a mile to Red Beach which is a real hidden gem as it’s considerably quieter.
Tourist map of Scotland
Anstruther: Anstruther, QY10 3EA
Elie: Leven, KY9 1BJ
St. Monans: Anstruther, KY10 2AX
Pittenweem: Anstruther, KY10 2NH
Crail: Anstruther, KY10 3TX
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Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:
St. Andrews & East Fife – 371 Explorer.
St. Andrews – 59 Landranger.
OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
Things to do nearby
Elie Beach. Address: 18 South St, Elie, Leven. Distance: 5.5 miles. This small beach is situated in the heart of Elie at the southern end of the East Neuk of Fife.
The beach is highly rated for its clean golden sand and features coastal footpaths to the north and south.
Newark Castle. Address: St Monans, Anstruther, KY10 2BX. Distance: 3.8 miles. This ruined castle overlooks the coastline near St Monans.
Although it’s fenced off it’s a good start and end point for walks along the Fife coastal path, especially south to Elie where the footpath passes two more historic sites at Ardross Castle and Lady Anstruther’s Tower.
Scotland’s Secret Bunker. Address: St Andrews, KY16 8QH. Distance: 5.1 miles. This museum is a restored Cold War nuclear bunker which is secreted away under a farmhouse.
Visitors can explore numerous rooms complete with weaponry, a BBC studio, 2 cinemas, and a café.
Crail Museum & Heritage Centre. Address: 62-64 Marketgate, Crail, Anstruther, KY10 3TL. Distance: 4.2 miles. A museum dedicated to keeping the heritage of Crail and the East Neuk of Fife alive.
Displays include exhibits from Crail’s fishing industry, its airfield, and its kirk.
Kellie Castle. Address: Pittenweem, Anstruther, KY10 2RE. Distance: 4.4 miles. Kellie Castle and Garden is a restored country estate managed by the National Trust for Scotland.
The interior of the castle features restored Victorian decor and the garden offers relaxing woodland walks.
Frequently asked questions
Where is the East Neuk of Fife?
The East Neuk of Fife is located north of the Firth of Forth on the southeast coast of Scotland.
The East Neuk is a region of the county of Fife that comprises a number of fishing villages in an area that covers around 40 square miles.
Where does the East Neuk start?
The East Neuk of Fife starts at the village of Earlsferry to the south and runs along the coastline to Kingsbarns at the northern end of the East Neuk.
What villages are in the East Neuk of Fife?
Villages in the East Neuk of Fife include; Earlsferry, Elie, Colinsburgh, St Monans, Pittenweem, Arncroach, Carnbee, Anstruther, Cellardyke, Kilrenny, Crail, and Kingsbarns.
What is the biggest town in Fife?
Dunfermline is the biggest town in Fife with a population of approximately 58,000 people which equates to 16% of the total population of the county.
The next biggest towns are; Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes, St. Andrews, Cowdenbeath, Rosyth, and Methil.