The medieval ruin of Saint Andrews Cathedral is located in the historic coastal town of St. Andrews in Fife. The cathedral is best known for the thirty three-metre tall St. Rules Tower which dominates the St. Andrews coastline.
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Review of Saint Andrews Cathedral
If you ever find yourself in the picturesque coastal town of Saint Andrews you really should take the short walk over to the ruins of the medieval cathedral located close to the town centre.
This enormous complex of derelict walls, gravestones and foundation stones was once the heart of the Catholic church in Scotland, but it’s now more famous for St. Rules tower, the 33-metre landmark that can be seen for miles around which offers glorious views across St. Andrews and the Fife countryside.
The site is cared for by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) who have done a fantastic job of maintaining the ruins, and families can enjoy exploring the medieval nooks and crannies hidden away amongst the church walls and graveyard as well as learning about the history of the cathedral thanks to the small museum installed on the site.
The fact that this attraction lies so close to the town centre also means you’ll have plenty of time to explore St. Andrews after your visit and you can let the kids run riot on the sandy beaches that run all the way along this lovely part of the Fife coastline.
Things to do at Saint Andrews Cathedral
The town of St. Andrews has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years, and for good reason.
First, there’s the world-class golf course which overlooks the seafront and is believed to be the oldest in the world. It’s at this course where historians believe golf was invented and it’s known that the game has been played at St. Andrews links for at least 600 years.
The second top-rated tourist attraction is the charming town centre itself which is not only home to more quaint restaurants and craft shops than you can shake a stick at, but it’s also home to St. Andrews University where Prince William and Kate Middleton met.
And the third best reason to visit the town is St. Andrews Cathedral, the enormous set of ruins that was at one time one of the most important buildings in Scotland.
Walking through the enormous graveyard you begin to get an idea for how big the main church building must have been in its prime, which is easier to understand if you trace the route along the 119-metre length of the remaining foundation stones.
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This huge cathedral was obviously built to impress and it still does – even if most of the walls have been demolished – but there’s another more intact religious feature that’s even more impressive.
St. Rules tower is named after Saint Rule, the saint who’s believed to have brought the relics of Saint Andrew from Greece to Scotland in the 4th-century, and the tower built in his honour offers visitors some of the best views in the area.
A climb up the narrow steps of the sandstone landmark gives you amazing views across the town, sea, and surrounding countryside, and if you’re a bit of a photo-fanatic like me it’s a must-visit attraction.
The final highlight of Saint Andrews Cathedral is the graveyard which is absolutely enormous and is definitely worth taking a walk through.
Part of the graveyard looks out onto St. Andrews harbour and pier, and there’s a gate at the bottom so you can head down to east sands beach with its many rockpools to explore.
The beach is great fun for kids and it’s a perfect way to round off your day at the many interesting tourist attractions in St. Andrews.
The history of Saint Andrews Cathedral
Built in 1158, the cathedral was the centre for Catholicism in Scotland for over 400 years until it was ransacked by a Protestant mob in 1559. From then on it slowly fell into disrepair and was further damaged by locals looking for building material for the growing town nearby.
Then at the end of the 16th-century the main tower collapsed, and what was once the biggest church in Scotland was left to fall into ruin.
Fortunately by the mid-1800s local historians had begun to recognise that the site should be preserved for future generations and this preservation has been carried through to modern times thanks to the management of the site by Historic Environment Scotland.
Discover more historic attractions in Scotland with my Historic Places to Visit articles.
- It’s in a great location next to St. Andrews beach and harbour. There are paths that lead onto East Sands beach which is a short walk across The Shore road.
- It’s also a huge ruin that’s fun to explore and the wee museum is quite interesting. Maybe not for children though.
- There are fantastic views from the top of St. Rules tower.
- Have a look around Saint Andrews while you’re there. It’s a lovely town (especially if you’re a golfer).
- If you want to visit a nearby family attraction take a look at St. Andrews Aquarium which offers a wonderful day out for all ages. Another animal-themed attraction that’s a bit further to the west of St. Andrews is the Scottish Deer Centre which is one of the best child-friendly places to take kids in the east of Scotland.
- Visitors often forget that the city of Dundee is a mere 30 minutes away on the A91. While you’re there I recommend you check out the V&A Museum and the McManus Museum – both of which are free to enter and offer a good few hours of exploring.
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Things to do near St. Andrews Cathedral
- St. Andrews Links. W Sands Rd, St Andrews KY16 9XL. 14-minute walk. The world’s oldest golf course. St. Andrews course was founded in the early 15th-century. It is possible to walk alongside the course via West Sands Road. The clubhouse has a snack bar and a café.
- St. Andrews Castle. The Scores, St Andrews KY16 9AR. 4-minute walk. Ruined castle atop cliffs that overlook the North Sea. During the course of the 450 years that it was in use it acted as a bishop’s palace, a prison and a fortress. There is a museum inside the recently-constructed visitor centre.
- St. Andrews Aquarium. The Scores, St Andrews KY16 9AS. 12-minute walk. An aquarium that faces the North Sea near West Sands beach. The aquarium has a variety of enclosures on display that hold more than 100 different species of fish as well as sharks, seals and penguins.
- West Sands beach. W Sands Rd, St Andrews KY16 9XL. 13-minute walk. An exceptionally large beach that is backed by St. Andrews Links. The beach juts out into the area where the River Eden flows into the North Sea at Out Head. Car parking and public toilets are located close to the beach.
- St. Andrews Botanic Garden. Canongate, St Andrews KY16 8RT. 20-minute walk. A large botanic garden and greenhouses that cover 18 acres in the heart of St. Andrews. There are more than 8,000 plant species to view, many of which are exotics that are rarely seen in Scotland. There are woodland walks, a play area and a gift shop on-site.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.