Fuel your adventures in Fife, Scotland: A guide to what to do, where to eat and where to stay

Tasty and sustainable adventures await in this incredible part of Scotland

Robin McKelvie
13 March 2023
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Fife Scotland

I veer sharply to the right to catch the wind as it billows into my sails, sending my Blown Away land yacht hurtling off across St Andrews’ West Sands faster than the runners in that famous opening scene of Chariots of Fire. Welcome to the ancient Kingdom of Fife, a dramatic region that boasts far more than its world-renowned golf courses. Here, adrenaline-pumping adventures in the great outdoors are bookended by sumptuous foodie experiences, as I discovered when I threw myself into this scenic Scottish getaway.

It’s almost impossible not to be won over by Fife’s best known town, St Andrews, but I was determined to approach it in a different way. After an ice cream at the celebrated Jannettas Gelateria, I joined the Fife Coastal Path to bash along beaches, soar along clifftops and discover secluded coves where it was just me and the seals. In Fife, wildlife is never far away, whether its marine mammals, deer or majestic sea eagles – that flying barn door of the Scottish bird scene. I even saw dolphins playing in the surf. Nature tends to flourish here because it’s protected so well, and those who visit Fife are bound to encounter myriad wild animals.

Tuck into freshly caught seafood at the Lobster Hut in Crail (Alamy)

I’m bound for the south coast of Fife’s East Neuk via a pitstop at the Cheesy Toast Shack in Kingsbarns. Great food is also never far away in Fife. I round Fife Ness and I’m greeted by the town of Crail. In the days of the Hanseatic League, when the harbour here was so busy that you could cross it by skipping from one boat to another, this was a major port. It’s sleepier these days, home to artists admiring the local light rather than fishermen. That said, I tuck into sweet boat-fresh lobster at the waterfront Lobster Hut.

The next day, I saunter further west, towards Anstruther, a gorgeous stretch of the Fife Coastal Path that takes me past some old salt works. I walk this section with Douglas Clement, the inspirational visionary who set up Kingsbarns Distillery in 2014. His black labrador, Barclay, joins us. Pets love Fife. And children do too – my teenage daughter joins me for this stretch. We ease along under big skies forgetting all about the stresses and strains of the modern world. She doesn’t even care when her phone loses its signal. The only sound bar the patter of relaxed conversation is the lapping of the waters on the shore.

Anstruther has plenty of famous fish ’n’ chip shops, but I treat myself to dinner at The Cellar, which, along with the brilliant Peat Inn, gives Fife’s East Neuk a brace of Michelin-starred gastronomic temples. The head chef at the former, Anstruther-born Billy Boyter, tells me: “When I worked elsewhere I had to buy in foraged seaweed; in Fife, I just reach over the harbour wall for what nature provides.” Not only is Fife’s produce world-class, the cooking is sublime.

Crail Harbour offers heaps of local charm (VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins)

The next morning, it’s on to more of the East Neuk villages, their waterfronts all lined with whitewashed houses and topped by orange roof tiles and Flemish gables harking back to their old trading links with the Low Countries. I snare freshly smoked salmon by the fishing boats at the East Pier Smokehouse in St Monans and enjoy a pint in the legendary Ship Inn in Elie, drawn by the sound of leather on willow. This is home to perhaps the only cricket team on the planet who call a beach their home ground.

The next morning I cheat by taking the bus to Inverkeithing. Fife is well connected by an efficient network of buses and trains. Its sustainable travel is a huge draw for me, as is the Fife Pilgrim Way. This trail is historic and lies in the shadow of the three Forth bridges – I’ve been to over 100 countries as a travel writer and I’ve never come across anywhere else that has three architecturally significant bridges from three successive centuries right next to each other. I take time just to appreciate their grandeur and make a note to come back and check out the brand new Forth Bridges Trail.

Dunfermline Abbey was once the burial site of the Scottish monarchs (VisitScotland / Luigi Di Pasquale / Welcome to Fife)

I’m lucky too, as the Fife Pilgrim Way sweeps me right into the heart of Scotland’s newest city: Dunfermline. In 2022 King Charles III officially proclaimed Scotland’s ‘Ancient Capital’ a city. It feels like it; the old core is like a mini-Edinburgh with cobbled streets, an ancient abbey and intriguing Royal Palace. The spirit of Scotland’s only Royal saint, Queen Margaret, charms the deeply historic streets, as do the legacies of the city’s most famous son, Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie left Dunfermline for America as a boy, then returned as the world’s richest man – Fife tends to stay with people. He gave back to the city in the form of the (recently revamped) Carnegie Library and Galleries and the green lung of Pittencrieff Park. I reluctantly end my escape strolling here and vowing to return soon to savour more experiences in foodie Fife, where there are too many good restaurants to fit into one weekend. Maybe I’ll try my hand on an e-foil or get behind the wheel at Knockhill Racing Circuit, or meet the furry locals at Bowbridge Alpacas Scotland. There are always more adventures on the menu here.

Walk this way

Culross was once a thriving 17th century port and has since appeared in the TV series Outlander (Alamy)

Getting out of the car, savouring life-affirming experiences and appreciating the natural world is easy in Fife. The most famous walk is the 188km Fife Coastal Path. It soars east of the heritage village of Culross (where many of the most picturesque scenes in the TV series Outlander were filmed) and along Fife’s southern flanks into the East Neuk. After taking in a swathe of coastal towns and villages, it rounds Fife Ness and burrows north to St Andrews before turning west to push on to its denouement at Newburgh. En route, you can expect to see coastal castles, well-stocked farm shops, wee cafés, welcoming bars and lots of sandy beaches, as well as spectacular scenery.

The Fife Pilgrim Way is technically a newcomer, having only been open to walkers since 2019, though it has a much longer history. This 104km path begins in Culross and follows a route that countless pilgrims have tackled over the centuries in tribute to Saint Margaret, culminating in the holy hub of St Andrews. It is not yet well known, so you can still stroll it without having to battle the crowds.

Then there is Bowbridge Alpacas Scotland. They offer a two-hour ‘Alpacas Experience’ that includes a fun obstacle course and trek. It’s a wonderfully different walking experience when you’re accompanying an alpaca.

A newcomer in late 2022 was the Forth Bridges Trail, which has some of its most interesting stops in North Queensferry and connects with both the Fife Coastal Path and the Fife Pilgrim Way. In Fife, a great walk in the great outdoors is never far away.

Make a splash

The Wemyss Caves contain carvings, some of which are thought to date back to the Bronze Age (VisitScotland / Kenny Lam)

Fife is lapped by water on three sides, with – the mighty firths of Forth and Tay to the south and north; the North Sea to the east – so it’s easy to get out on the water. For something different, eFoil Scotland rents out futuristic carbon fibre e-foils, which are basically a personal hydrofoil with an electric motor, allowing them to almost fly over the water. They also welcome beginners. Get kitted out and then glide across the Firth of Forth.

In the East Neuk, Elie Seaside Sauna lets you enjoy a therapeutic sauna while gazing out over the Forth through a glass wall. The owners say their sauna can be good for those with breathing problems, like asthma, and joint and muscle soreness; it’s certainly great for relaxation and a serious stress-buster in these busy times. Encouraging sustainability, they also prefer visitors to arrive on foot or two wheels.

Elsewhere, Och Aye Canoe is run by the welcoming Sarah Thomson, who shares her passion for watersports in a way that has a low environmental impact. Choose open-deck canoeing (without a restrictive spray deck) or stand-up paddleboarding tours, both at Lochore. The more experienced can just book SUP boards.

Lastly, the effervescent twins at Blown Away are veterans of Fife’s outdoors scene. They introduced land yachts to St Andrews – no experience required and serious fun – and this friendly team also offers kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing. Their eight-man SUPer Tanker paddleboards are immense fun, and are rented out by guys who just love to put a smile on people’s faces.

Take a photo, leave no trace

The Bunnet Stane is one of the strangest rock formations in all of Scotland (Alamy)

Fife is home to a jaw-dropping array of natural sights and impressive man-made landmarks. In the region’s interior you’ll find the Lomond Hills, which tempt with superb walking – always check locally for conditions before setting out. Look out for the Bunnet Stane, a striking rock formation at the foot of West Lomond. It looks like a giant rock anvil peering out over Fife from its lofty perch. Another famous rock outcrop on the slopes of West Lomond is John Knox’s Pulpit. This outcrop of grey sandstone dates back to the late-Devonian period, over 350 million years ago, when Fife lay close to the Equator. No one knows whether the notorious 16th-century religious firebrand ever preached there, but it was used for clandestine meetings by Presbyterian Covenanters in the 17th century.

Back on Fife’s coast are Elie Ness Lighthouse and Lady’s Tower. A lighthouse has stood on the site of the former since the 11th century. Restored in 2010, the tower and the historic keepers’ cottage are today maintained by the Elie Ness Historical Society. The nearby Lady’s Tower dates to 1770 and was named after Lady Janet Anstruther, daughter of a wealthy Elie merchant who liked to swim in the Forth and appreciated her privacy. Not only did she have the tower to shelter in, but a bell would ring to warn the villagers she was swimming. Dunino Den is another beautiful escape and shrouded in fairy and pagan stories. Within this forest hideaway is a world of ornate rock carvings and natural beauty that man has held dear for millennia.

Where to eat

The Harbour Cafe at Elie in the East Neuk of Fife is a picturesque spot to tuck into some fresh-as-it-comes seafood (Alamy)

East Neuk of Fife

Ox and Anchor Founded in Pittenweem in 2022, this eatery is already a street-food award finalist. Think Tandoori burgers and seriously loaded fries.

East Neuk Salt Co Not only is salt produced on-site here, the company also offers an intimate supper club where 12 people can enjoy a five course tasting menu alongside music performed by local talent and from April they are launching an outdoor Sôlt Dining experience.

The Ship Inn This legendary foodie pub overlooks the famous sands. Expect local seafood, beach cricket and famous summer BBQs.

The Harbour Café This brilliant seafood oasis in Elie is a favourite of the Hairy Bikers and opens between April and October.

East Pier Smokehouse Tuck into seafood smoked on-site in St Monans by the harbour.

The Cellar This restaurant is great for a treat, offering as-good-as-it-gets Michelin-starred wonders.

Lobster Hut Tuck into a fresh plate
of lobster cooked beside Crail’s
picturesque harbour.

St Andrews

Balgove Larder A superb farm shop and café with a difference. The extremely well-stocked shop sells Fife’s brilliant, sustainable produce. The adjacent Steak Barn tempts with its tasty steaks and burgers.

Cheesy Toast Shack Who doesn’t love a cheese toastie? This street-food star is taking it to another level with its comforting cheese toasties.

Jannettas Gelateria This ice cream parlour has been making homemade ice cream since 1908 and offers flavours for everyone.

The Seafood Ristorante Executive Chef Davy Aspin runs a tight ship with sweeping views of the waters that its seafood hails from.

Elsewhere in Fife

Novelli’s Visit Burntisland’s ‘dessert parlour’ and award-winning purveyor of fine ice cream.

Salt and Pine This sustainable food shack hides in the bucolic surrounds of Tentsmuir Forest.

Saline Shaw This excellent new farm shop and café is made of Scandi-Scot timber and stone, and it has fine views of West Fife.

The Crusoe Named after the famous castaway, this waterfront pub strives to use 100% Scottish produce.

Room with a View This Aberdour oasis serves up scallops, lobster and crab alongside Forth estuary views.

The Peat Inn Geoffrey Smeddle’s Michelin-starred delights never disappoint, with the best of Fife produce on show.

Stay the night

During its 450-year history, St Andrews Castle has been a bishop’s palace, a fortress and a prison (VisitScotland / Kenny Lam)

St Andrews

Airdit Get back to nature in the hills above St Andrews at the new Bracken Treehouse.

Balmeadowside Country Lodges Meet the resident red deer, llamas, pygmy goats and cattle at this escape in the heart of Fife.

Kinkell Byre These cabins by the coast offer Rewilding Walking tours so you can learn how a rewilding project is benefiting nature here.

Dunfermline and West Fife

Coorie Forget hygge and get coorie (cosy) at this hotel and café in the seriously underrated Forth-side village of Limekilns.

Garvock House Hotel Relax in the stately surrounds of this 200-year-old mansion overlooking Dunfermline.

Craigduckie Shepherds Huts All stays at these glamping hideaways come with a free farm tour.

Balgownie Mains Farm Bramble Brae is a home from home near historic Culross, while Balgownie Bunkhouse sleeps 12. It offers direct access to the Dunfermline-Alloa cycle path.

Elsewhere in Fife

Periwinkle Cottage Check into your luxurious cottage and zone out on your BBQ patio overlooking the water in Lower Largo.

Off the Track These lodges, near Crail, come with outdoor hot tubs and woodburners. Handy for the Fife Coastal Path too.

The Rings With a mission to offer holidays to all, expect accessible self-catering and wilderness camping.

Wigwam Holidays Montrave Estate Glamp in grounds alive with swings, a football field and a communal barn with a BBQ fire and table tennis.

Feeling inspired?

For more information and inspiration for your visit, head over to the official Fife website.

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