St Andrews is best known as the home where golf was born, but this picturesque town has many fantastic sights to see during your visits. Foremost is the spectacular St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, an expansive ruin stretching from the village to the sea. This monumental historic landmark is nestled between the fair city of St Andrews, Fife – with the University of St Andrews and St Andrews Links just a stone’s throw away.
Learn about how siege tunnels were built to reach the bottom of St Andrews Castle, the Bishops and Archbishops that called it their home, and how the castle walls fell when you next explore this charming region of Scotland. If you need some extra guidance, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the castle’s history, details to know, and the top attractions to see.
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History of St Andrews Castle
St Andrews was prominent throughout the Middle Ages – historically, religiously, and culturally. The area birthed the sport of golf, now one of the most popular worldwide and the official residence of many bishops and archbishops of the time.
But the history of St Andrews Castle & Cathedral starts as we know it during the 10th century, the bishops of St Andrews became responsible for the Scottish Church. A few bishops took the helm of this building, with Bishop Arnold building the towering cathedral and Bishop Roger building a castle as a new official residence for the Archbishops.
The expansive complex of the completed work was put against the Wars of Independence with England during 1296 – 1356. With the castle significantly damaged, Bishop Walter Trail substantially rebuilt the castle. In addition to a rebuilt structure, St Andrews Castle had a dank and airless pit, serving as a notorious prison. The dungeon housed local miscreants who did wrongdoings underneath the Bishop’s jurisdiction and a few more prominent individuals, including the Duke of Rothesay and Archbishop Patrick Graham.
As time passed, and people familiar with Scottish history will be keenly aware, religion was tumultuous throughout the 16th century. Further construction was needed to keep the sacred sanctuary safe from intruders, with notable contributions made by Archbishop James Beaton. Whether it was intelligent preparations or premonitions from God above, these new defences would be put to the test quite soon.
The breaking point was when Cardinal David Beaton opposed the continual allegiance towards Henry VIII’s Protestant England. Beaton burned a Protestant preacher, George Wishart, to show his defiance in front of St Andrews Castle, which provoked a raid on the castle. The consecutive siege by Regent Arran was a pivotal moment in St Andrews history and includes the mine and counter mine that was dug to enter the castle.
Today, the castle forms a prominent historic landmark in St Andrews and is managed by Historic Scotland.
How to Get There & Details to Know
St Andrews Castle and St Andrews Cathedral are nestled right on the coast of the town of St Andrews and can be found on the north range of the town. If you’re within the town’s centre, St Andrews Castle is a stone’s throw away!
Here are some necessary details for you to know when taking a trip to this supreme attraction:
St Andrews Castle is open throughout the year, with opening times depending on which time of the year you choose to visit. Between April – September, the castle is open daily from 9:30 – 17:30, with the last entry from 16:45. During the winter months, specifically from October – March, the castle is open from 10:00 – 16:00, with last entry from 15:30.
Ticket prices may differ when you arrive, but generally, adult tickets cost £10 per ticket, child tickets cost £6 per ticket, and concession tickets cost £8 per ticket. There are numerous family tickets that parents and kids could purchase as well.
Attractions at St Andrews Castle
St Andrews Castle is a stellar attraction to see and easily fits into a day of sightseeing when exploring the historic town of St Andrews. If you want to know the top sights to keep an eye out for while visiting this ancient site, then read one!
Explore the 16th Century Siege Mine Tunnel
Before the tunnels were dug in World War I, St Andrews Castle was subject to several siege mine tunnels throughout its history. These siege tunnels were most prominent in 1546 as attackers tried to breach the castle walls.
The castle’s defenders realised that an underground breach was imminent, so the defenders began to dig a tunnel to meet the attacker’s tunnel! This allowed to continue to be defended and the castle to parry the siege away.
Two tunnels can still be seen near the castle’s main entry, the original tunnels the attackers attempted but eventually were found in the wrong location and then aborted.
See St Andrews Castle Prison
Just past the main entrance of the castle and St Andrews cathedral is the prison and ‘bottle dungeon’. This terrifying prison within St Andrews Castle was dropped into the dungeon from above and never seen again.
The prisoners of this dungeon would left behind. So it is unsurprising that numerous ghost stories exist throughout the castle, many of which find their origin in the depthless pit of this ‘bottleneck dungeon’.
Visitors to the castle can see the quite spooky room within.
Learn about the Archbishops at the Visitor Centre
If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, you’ll find the visitor centre extremely informative amongst the ruined state. The visitor centre and the ruins are managed by the Historic Environment Scotland, which are only 50 metres away.
Within the visitor centre, you can find several excellent exhibits and auditory experiences that cover not only St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, but the more excellent town itself. Learn about why the town is called St Andrews, how the Archbishops of St Andrews made their home here, and pieces of the best surviving carved fragments of the castle.
Marvel the Hamilton Facade
The most well-kept portion of St Andrews Castle is the Hamilton Facade, the most significant remaining part of the castle. It is below this point where the castle siege mine was undertaken, and the defendants dug a counter mine.
Archbishop John Hamilton, a notable member of the Scottish Church, built the Hamilton Facade. And while the castle’s grounds were very much a fortification, John Hamilton treated St Andrews as a place of main residence – it’s only natural that the most impressive portion of the castle is named after him.
Take an Audio Guide Through St Andrews
The best part of St Andrews Castle is that you can take in the stunning history at your own pace, with plenty of Scottish history to enjoy. One of the best ways to do so is listening to an audio guide while you do so, which provides in-depth information about the many stellar parts of the castle, including the sea tower, fore tower, and north west tower.