Considering I’ve now lived across the bridge from Fife for over eighteen months, I’ve seen very little of my neighbouring county. The Kingdom Of Fife. It sounds so grand, doesn’t it?
Truthfully, Fife has never really piqued my interest in the way that other places around Scotland have. Until last year, I don’t think I’d ever even stopped there. If you asked me where I’d been in Fife, I would shrug and say I’ve passed the Amazon warehouse a million times.
WHAT. AN. OVERSIGHT.
Fife may not have the grandeur of the mountains and lochs, but what it lacks in scenery against the west coast, it sure does pack a punch with a plethora of picture perfect towns.
Last year, we visited Dunfermline on a whim (and it had nothing to do with the fact it’s now got a Tim Hortons, although that was a very pleasant bonus) and very quickly fell in love with Dunfermline Abbey before seriously warming to the town itself. Because this post is about coastal towns, I won’t focus too much on Dunfermline, although it’s only three miles from the coast.
But it’s a fascinating place to visit – Robert The Bruce is buried in the Abbey (minus his heart – you can find that at Melrose Abbey down in the Borders), and Dunfermline was once the capital of Scotland.
There are plenty of other towns to visit across the county though, and all of my favourites are along the coast, so let’s begin!
About a year ago, we finally hit up St. Andrews, over on the east coast of Fife. St. Andrews is mostly famous for two things: golf courses, and it’s where Wills and Kate met at university.
If those two things are stepping stones for people coming to explore this lovely little town, then that’s fine by me! St. Andrews is exquisite.
Apart from its gorgeous book shops, charming pubs and delicious ice cream, St. Andrews has a surprising amount to offer for a small town.
We didn’t actually make it over to its famous West Sands beach, arguably one of its most popular attractions, but we did take in most of the centre of town, along with a walk along one of the other shores, past the castle – and of course, the prominent ruins of the cathedral.
One of the weird highlights? St. Andrews has a famous cat with the best name – Hamish McHamish! Sadly he passed away in 2014, but not before becoming Facebook famous and a local treasure – he did have an owner, but became very nomadic, finding new friends around the town!
St. Andrews is a great wee town and one of my favourites to visit in Fife.
And I don’t even like golf!
If you asked me for one adorable town in Scotland, my immediate answer would be Culross (I would also pronounce it wrong, because it’s actually said “Coo-riss” and I just can’t get my head around that).
But it IS unbelievably adorable. I mean…
Don’t you just want to pick it up and put it in your pocket?!? It’s like a fairytale!
Culross is another town that packs quite a lot for its size – it doesn’t take long to walk around the village, but there is so much to stop and look at! The main attraction is colourful Culross Palace, which is closed at the moment but you can now explore the gardens (the first photo above is the only “area” that we were able to explore just after lockdown restrictions were lifted; the second photo was taken through the locked gate).
There’s also a historic abbey overlooking the town – we haven’t been up there yet, but it was pretty striking peeking out from the trees. You can also get married there, which would be a lovely venue and setting!
I’m sorry, is Culross not colourful enough for you? Well that’s just fine, because I’ve got St. Monans waiting in the wings just for you.
St. Monans is a beautiful traditional fishing village, like the rest of the places on this list. Out of all the towns in Fife, I think St. Monans might just be my favourite (so far!). I’m sure from my photos that it’s not hard to see why.
There is a blocky but picturesque church a short walk from the harbour on one side of the town, and a historic brick windmill on the other, but the main attraction I would say is the harbour itself. Adorable houses fill the village left, right and centre, interconnected with the beautiful houses above with winding, narrow alleyways.
My favourite part was stumbling across this ridiculously cute welly boot garden on the slipway at the end of the harbour!
There’s not a lot to actually do in St. Monans, but I absolutely loved just wandering the streets and finding yet more cute buildings around every corner.
In short, St. Monans is delightfully whimsical, and an absolute must-stop if you’re passing.
A few minutes on from St. Monans is another cute fishing town, Pittenweem.
Pittenweem is much more of a working harbour, and boats were busying themselves to prepare to leave for a night’s fishing for shrimp. We even saw a seal in the harbour, probably planning to follow the food!
Pittenweem is also home to St. Fillans Cave, where Saint Fillan from the nearby Isle Of May priory reportedly lived after he left the island. Being that it’s a cave, I fully expected it to be by the sea, and planned to go and explore it. Well, it’s not!
It’s actually up this adorable alley way up from the harbour! You can see the entrance to the cave on the right, with the cross on the gate. You have to get a key to the cave from a couple of the nearby shops, but by the time we got there it was a bit too late, so we satisfied ourselves with a wee peek in through the gate.
One thing we did do, though, was treat ourselves to some sweets and ice cream – from this absolutely picture perfect ice cream parlour!
Where St. Monans felt very ye olde timey, Pittenweem was much more of a working village, though it still carried off some of the same vibes as its neighbour.
In terms of adorability (new word), Anstruther is probably my least favourite on this list – it’s much more of a town and not quite as charming as the other towns and villages we saw. However, it’s got a lot going on and above all, it does have one huge selling point – award winning fish & chips!
Basically: everyone knows Anstruther for this reason, and the best place to try fish & chips, possibly in the whole of Scotland, is the Anstruther Fish Bar.
The downside of such a huge reputation is that you can expect long queues, and when we made a beeline straight for it, the queue was massive. We actually debated whether it was worth queuing for an hour (which is how long people had been told it would be), but decided it was a one off to experience a place with such high accolades.
Except it didn’t take an hour – after an hour, we were still painstakingly only half way there, but of course by that point you’re too far in and you don’t want to give up now. In the end, it took just over two hours!! If we had known that, I don’t think we would have bothered – but the thing is, nobody in the queue was complaining. Everyone seemed to be return customers, so they KNEW it was worth it. The couple in front of us had even driven from Edinburgh (a 1.5 hour drive) JUST for the chippy.
Despite the long wait, I thought it all seemed really organised – someone came round with menus, and shortly afterwards she took everyone’s orders. By the time we got to the counter, they read out our order and handed over our food. I’m not really sure why the queue took so long, because we were at the counter for less than a minute in total. It seemed really efficient, and yet the queue only moved every five minutes or so?
Grievances apart, it really IS good fish & chips, and Ash declared it the best he’s ever had (no mean feat!). I didn’t think the chips were anything to write home about, but we’ve never had fish that stays crisp the whole way around! I don’t know what they do to the batter (nobody does – it’s a secret recipe!), but it’s amazing!
So… if you really want to try the best of the best, it’s probably worth the wait. If you’re queuing with other people, you can disappear for a wander, so you’re not both (or all) standing there for so long, which is what we did – after all, I wanted some photos of Anstruther before it got dark!
All things said, Anstruther is a really pleasant town, and it’s certainly a popular spot as, even outside the queue, it’s the busiest place we visited that day.
Bonus things to do while you’re in Fife
Scotland’s Secret Bunker
When we visited St. Andrews, we also took a detour to Scotland’s Secret Bunker; ironically, because we’d passed signs for it on the motorway so many times, so indeed not very secret at all!
When you turn up though, you can see how it got its name – it’s literally a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere! These days, there is an assortment of military equipment outside, but of course when it was in use during the Cold War, all you could see is a farmhouse.
Inside the farmhouse, there’s a shop and that’s about it. So it’s pretty awesome when you buy your ticket and you’re ushered through a simple door… into a MASSIVE underground bunker.
Honestly, I think this place is WELL worth a visit! From control rooms to bunking quarters and weapon rooms and communications, I actually couldn’t believe how much there is to see underneath this unassuming farmhouse and I really underestimated how long we would end up spending in there.
There is even a resident cat, which our friend immediately befriended! (The cat seemed happier with her than with me, that’s for sure!)
Isle Of May
Anstruther offers boat trips out to the Isle Of May, where during the summer months you can spot puffins, and between April and September enjoy the abundant wildlife on and around the island. This is one of the best wildlife tours you can take in this part of Scotland, and we are definitely planning to do it at some point!
Like most places in Scotland, Fife is home to various castles, and although most of them aren’t iconic compared to a lot of Scotland’s famous castles, they would be worth a visit if you have time. Aberdour Castle is actually debatably Scotland’s oldest castle that’s still standing, dated from around 1200. Aberdour itself looks like a really charming village with a seaside resort, however when we passed through, it was absolutely packed and we decided not to stop.
And although I haven’t been a fan of what I’ve seen in Kirkcaldy (it’s just a typical large residential town that feels quite industrial, in my opinion), nearby Dysart houses Ravenscraig Castle, which has links to Orkney. The building was passed to and completed by William Sinclair, Earl Of Orkney, who also built Rosslyn Castle just outside Edinburgh.
Not forgetting, of course, St. Andrews Castle on the coast.
Fife has an abundance of beaches all along its coast – and not just any beaches, but a whopping 14 of them have won awards! (I found it quite funny as we were driving along and almost every single sign pointing to a beach stated that it was award winning. “ANOTHER one?!” we’d say, incredulously and then eventually in disbelief.) So, clearly, Fife is a great place to come if you want some beach time.
The only beach town we stopped in was Burntisland, a pleasant town that felt very local and also includes a nice walk from the beach to the edge of the coast, boasting great views across the forth to Edinburgh.
We also passed through Elie but didn’t stop – but their beach looked wonderful. A friend recommended Petty Cur bay to us, and it seems to be a popular holiday resort, so they must be doing something right! And Aberdour’s beach, Silver Sands, was INCREDIBLY busy when we passed, attesting to the fact that’s probably a good choice too.
And, of course, we really need to get back to St. Andrews to check out their huge, expansive sandy beach that everyone loves.
Tips for visiting Fife
I would say that you can visit most of the towns on my list in a day from Edinburgh, however if you were to include St. Andrews it would definitely be too rushed if you wanted to see anything there. A perfect trip would be to combine Culross and the fishing villages (St. Monans, Pittenweem and Anstruther are all within five minutes of each other) in one day, and aim for St. Andrews in the evening before staying overnight and spending the next day there.
Of course, you could easily spend a few days in Fife with all the additional “bonus” stops in this post, not to mention the towns inland. I also haven’t been to Crail, and a lot of people recommend a visit there, so perhaps that could be one to stop at from the way back from St. Andrews!
I would highly recommend a car, as although there is public transport from Edinburgh and across Fife, it’s not the easiest for getting from place to place. Edinburgh to St. Andrews is two hours by bus, while Culross would require a bus from Dunfermline (which itself is a half hour train ride from Edinburgh). St. Andrews to Anstruther takes 45 minutes by bus, yet is only a 15 minute drive.
If you’re up for a big walk, the Fife Coastal Path is a popular trail – the whole trail runs the entire length of the coast of Fife, but the most popular section is from Elie to Crail, taking in three of the best towns on this list. You can also just do Elie to Anstruther, which is only around 6 miles each way and still includes St. Monans and Pittenweem.
I have definitely been missing out when it comes to Fife! Another town on my list still to visit is Falkland, which not only looks like a lovely little town, but it also played the part of “Inverness” in Outlander, making it one of the main must-sees for Outlander fans. Culross has also been used for the show.
But for now, the coastal towns have certainly whet my appetite for more Fife adventures!
Which of these towns is your favourite?
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P.S. I’ve set up a new Scotland section on the blog! I’m going to showcase Scotland’s highlights on here, as well as in-depth guides to the places I know best. I’m really excited to see what’s to come, as I’ve got loads of content coming up. Let me know what you think!