A couple of years ago I rolled out a series of Itinerary Ideas that highlighted different areas of Scotland. When I’d written as many as I could, I noticed there were still some glaring holes on the map. It was this process that kickstarted the planning of my subsequent trips – I needed to dig into and explore these areas in more depth. Today I’m highlighting the only part of Scotland still claiming to be a kingdom — the Kingdom of Fife — which lies just across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh calling visitors to make the quick journey north.
These Scotland Itinerary Ideas collect many of my previous articles on the selected region into one place, along with my assessment of their importance for the visitor and a bevy of useful tidbits that might’ve gotten lost along the way. At the end of the day, these articles should be useful cheat sheets to refer to when you begin planning your next trip to Scotland.
As always, don’t hesitate to pepper me with questions.
The Kingdom of Fife
There are few places I’ve come across in Scotland as complex and varied as the Kingdom of Fife. Historic fishing villages and the ancient university town of St. Andrews hug the eastern tip of the peninsula, huge swaths of farmland fill the center, and mega industrial installations consume the Firth of Forth coastline in the west. Perhaps in Fife as in no other part of Scotland the past and the present clash most vigorously. To many, it is a bedroom community for those who work in Edinburgh, Stirling, and the aforementioned industries, or little more than a pilgrimage for the golf-obsessed. It very well might be all those things, but Fife is also more than these simple labels. Only time and honest exploration reveals this truth, and it is one worth knowing for Fife holds many of its gems close to the vest.
Things You Can’t Miss
St. Andrews. This lively, fun town lodged on the eastern tip of Fife is home to the third-oldest English-speaking university in the world, a beautiful 11th-century ruined cathedral, and, of course, the game of golf. Here you’ll find scads of university students, good pubs, and a great base to explore much of Fife’s most beautiful coastline. The view from atop the cathedral tower is unmatched in the region.
The East Neuk. To my mind, there’s no more beautiful part of the Kingdom of Fife than the East Neuk, a span of quiet, historic fishing villages stretching along the coast between Elie and Crail south of St. Andrews. This area deserves attention especially in a place like Fife, which, in many travelers’ minds, is just another name for golf. If you’re a fan of gentle, coastal scenery, good seafood, seaside walking paths, and picturesque harbors, then Fife’s East Neuk ought to secure a stop on your next trip to Scotland.
Falkland Palace. Snug against the eastern edge of Lomond Hills Regional Park, Falkland Palace has long been a haunt of the Stuart monarchs who used the opulent castle as a hunting lodge. The palace is a striking edifice in the French Renaissance style set within the conservation village of Falkland, and it all adds up to an atmospheric visit rich with Scottish history.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss
The Fife Coastal Path. Scotland has loads of amazing long-distance footpaths, and Fife has its own: The Fife Coastal Path. The footpath follows the Fife coastline from Kincardine in the south along the Forth Estuary all the way to Newburgh on the Tay Estuary – 117 miles in total! You needn’t hike the entire length to get a feel for its beauty. Instead, consider doing a section, especially in the East Neuk.
Cambo Estate. Cambo Estate sits snugly between Crail and St. Andrews in countryside that couldn’t be more desirable. The estate is composed of a grand country home and many acres of wooded and open land. The history of Cambo Estate stretches back to the 12th century, and today visitors to the estate can book bed and breakfast, self-catered apartments, and cottages, play golf at the Kingsbarns Golf Links, and tour the new Kingsbarns distillery.
Dunfermline Abbey. Just across the Forth Bridge stands Dunfermline Abbey, one of Scotland’s most important cultural and historic sites. The abbey has its roots in the 11th century and is the final resting place of more Scottish royalty than anywhere else in Scotland barring Iona, for Dunfermline was the royal capital of Scotland until the 17th century.
Things to Do Off the Beaten Path
Warm your belly at Daftmill distillery. Daftmill distillery stands on farmland between Cupar and St. Andrews, and here Francis Cuthbert quietly distills small batches of single malt whisky when he’s not busy farming. Daftmill has been producing whisky for a decade, but not a single bottle has yet reached shelves. It’s not ready, says Francis, and when it is he’ll release it. In the meantime, why not visit the pretty farm distillery and decide for yourself?
Find Scotland’s Secret Bunker. Hidden 100 feet beneath a nondescript farmhouse in Anstruther lies Scotland’s Secret Bunker. These days it’s no secret, but for 40 years it remained hidden, outside the knowledge of all but a few, and it was from here that Scotland would be governed in the event of a nuclear attack. The bunker is two stories, each the size of a soccer field, reached by a 450-foot tunnel and a pair of blast doors. The bunker makes a fun activity even when it’s rain and not fallout coming down.
Wander pretty Culross. West of the Forth Bridge, near to Stirling and Falkirk, little Culross hugs the Firth of Forth forgotten by time. Today, Culross is the most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries. Visit the tolbooth and witches’ prison and you might, for a moment, feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s no surprise that Culross was used as a set for the new Outlander TV series!
Logistics & Salient Bits
Bases. Fife is composed of low, rolling farmland and a lot of coastline. This coastal area is where Fife really shines, and so I like both St. Andrews and the East Neuk as bases in the region. I’m rarely critical of Scotland, but the coast west of Kirkcaldy becomes highly industrial and I would avoid basing myself in this region barring a few islands of respite like Culross. As far as which town is best in the East Neuk, it’s a tough choice. They’re all pretty and of varying sizes. I like Crail, but St. Monan’s and Anstruther would be nice as well. You can’t really go wrong, so perhaps it’s actually an easy choice.
Transportation. Fife is one of those rare places in Scotland where, beyond the cities, you can see much of its highlights using public transportation. The train runs to St. Andrews, and from there you can take buses (or hike) along the coast where most of my recommendations cluster. Of course, a car provides more flexibility and convenience, and I do recommend you rent one to explore the Kingdom of Fife.
Food & Drink. Fife is a seafood-lover’s paradise. One need only look at the lobster below, which I bought from a stand along the harbor in Crail, to know what I mean. The shellfish and fish and chips in this part of Scotland are second to none and I promise you will not be disappointed. The Anstruther Fish Bar is a safe bet. In St. Andrews, The Grange and The Peat Inn serve delicious, classy food. The Cellar in Anstruther is also worthy of note, but most regular fish and chip shops are better than passable. The pub in the Golf Hotel in Crail became my normal watering hole. I enjoyed The Dreel Tavern in Anstruther. St. Andrews is loaded with good pubs like The Criterion, Cross Keys Bar, and Central Bar. The Ship Inn in Elie is a worthy stop as well.
I hope you’ve found some itinerary ideas that catch your interest. Fife is a lovely place that really appeals to those who love the sea, coastlines, and good seafood. Plus, it’s easy to access from the cities, so you’ve got no excuse to miss it!