As you walk around the quaint, cobbled streets of St Andrews, you can’t help but notice that the town is filled with heritage and history. The street names pay testament to the significant figures and groups who have been resident in the town, whether that be ‘Greyfriars Gardens’ (so-called because of the garb worn by the Franciscan friars who lived there in the thirteenth century) or ‘Playfair Terrace’ (named after Sir. Hugo Lyon Playfair, who was provost of the town from 1842-1861). It is this vibrant history which makes the town such a wonderful place to holiday. Here is our month-by-month guide to the traditions of the ‘auld grey toon’.
As the Martinmas semester begins at the University of St Andrews, look out for the striking red gowns worn by undergraduate students. These were introduced after the Reformation to prevent students from drinking illicitly in local pubs — whilst they no longer serve this purpose, students love to don their traditional garb for special occasions such as formal dinners, pier walks, and chapel services.
Academic families are an established tradition at the University of St Andrews: third and fourth year students ‘adopt’ freshers at the start of each academic year, and this culminates in a weekend of challenges and games, as well as the famous fancy dress foam fight in St Salvator’s Quad. This is known as ‘Raisin Weekend’, because historically new students gave their academic parents a pound of raisins to thank them for their help settling into life in St Andrews.
St Andrew’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Scotland and the town’s namesake, is celebrated on 30 November each year. It’s a national holiday and the town-wide celebrations include fireworks, a street ceilidh, and live music — the perfect opportunity to sample some traditional cuisine and culture!
With Christmas just around the corner, St Andrews looks spectacular with its seasonal street lights. We’d highly recommend heading to a carol service in one of the local parish churches for an atmospheric and historic celebration. Holy Trinity, on South Street, is a kirk of particular note: it is known as the ‘cradle of the Reformation in Scotland’.
Burns Day is a celebration of the life and poetry of the eighteenth-century Scottish bard Robert Burns. To mark his birthday, a traditional meal of haggis, neaps, and tatties followed by cranachan is enjoyed by Scots up and down the country. Why not purchase a splash of tartan from one of the shops in town and head to a local restaurant to embrace this fantastic Scottish tradition?
The Pier Walk is an established and much-loved tradition amongst the students of the town. Pier walks take place each Sunday after the chapel service in St Salvator’s Chapel.
By the entrance to St Salvator’s Quad, you will see a ‘PH” in the cobbles. This marks the spot where Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake for his Protestant beliefs in the sixteenth century. You’ll notice that students walk around or jump over the initials — it is said that any student who steps on the cobbles will be cursed and fail their examinations!
The Kate Kennedy Procession is a colourful costumed parade around the central streets of the town which takes place in early April and tells the story of St Andrews from ancient times to the present day — you’ll see locals and students dressed up as scholars, monarchs, courtiers, bishops, golfers, and more! The procession has been taking place for almost 100 years and is named after the niece of Bishop Kennedy, who founded St Salvator’s College. Lady Katherine Kennedy is played by a first-year male student, and arrives in a cart decorated with daffodils. Certainly not an event to be missed! Each year, on 30 April, students from the University of St Andrews gather at the pier for a torchlit, piped procession known as ‘The Gaudie’. This procession remembers the valiant efforts of the university student John Honey who rescued members of the crew of the Janet Macduff near the East Sands in 1800. A wreath is laid at the site of the shipwreck.
After The Gaudie, students stay up through the night gathered around bonfires on the East Sands in anticipation of the annual May Dip. At sunrise on 1 May, students run into the North Sea and immerse themselves in the chilly waters —tradition dictates that this will give you good luck in your examinations! This chilly swim is followed by warming stacks of pancakes and other delicious cooked breakfasts in cafés, residences, and houses around the town. At the end of the month, as the Candlemas semester draws to a close, you will see students carrying large buckets, saucepans, and bottles of water through the streets to soak their friends as they finish their final examinations. You’ll then see some very wet students traipsing back through the streets ready to warm up with a hot shower and then celebrate in style! June With the academic year over, why not head to the Wardlaw Museum to learn more about the traditions of the University of St Andrews in their exhibition entitled ‘Scotland’s First University’. The exhibition features objects that range from medieval maces to costumes produced for Raisin Weekend in 2017. It’s well worth a visit!
Highland games are mainstaples of the summer season in Scotland. The St Andrews Highland Games at Station Park take place in July each year and are a fun-filled day out for the family with piping, Highland dancing, tug o’war, weights, and running events.
For over 100 years, Jannettas Gelateria has been serving up delicious, freshly-made ice cream, sorbet and frozen yoghurt on South Street. Tourists and locals alike love trying out the vast array of flavours — everything from Orange and Mascarpone to Scottish Tablet, Turkish Delight and Key Lime Pie. Make sure you head to Jannettas to take part in the tradition of selecting your ideal ice cream flavour combination to enjoy against the historic backdrop of the town!
If you’re looking for a heritage-filled holiday, there’s something for you in every month of the year. Why not check out our availability and book a St Andrews break (or two!) now?