ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - Most people are attracted to this ancient city for one reason - golf. But there are at least 18 other reasons why people should come to St. Andrews, and most have little to do with the game that has been played here for more than 600 years.
Oh, don't get me wrong. Playing a round in the place generally accepted as the birthplace of the game - the Dutch will argue they were the first to play something resembling golf, though - is the thrill of a lifetime for any player. To walk on the sacred ground that is the Old Course sends chills down most golfers' spines. Even the greatest in the game get a lump in their throat when they step up to the "first" tee.
St. Andrews is so much more than golf, though. It's a town where 12th century ruins and a 21st century prince co-exist quite nicely, thank you. But it's a place that can only truly be appreciated by walking its narrow, uneven cobblestone streets lined with old university buildings where young people cram for exams.
Above: St. Andrews ruins among the oldest in Scotland.
When visitors take the time to explore St. Andrews, and the adjoining countryside known as East Fife, they discover treasures that make this a tourist destination par excellence. Here are 18 of them:
1. The Westport: At first glance, there's nothing much that distinguishes this drinking establishment from others on St. Andrews' South St. But once inside, the overflow crowd of mostly young women, who take a quick glance at the entrance every time someone enters, indicates this pub is special.
"The girls all hang out here hoping Prince William will come through that door," a barman tells me when I visited the sight of this year's British Open Championship (July 14-17) a few months ago. "This and Ma Bells are the two places the young prince likes to hang out for a drink. But honestly, we rarely see him."
Prince Charles' oldest son, and second in line to the British throne, graduated from famed St. Andrews University last week with the Queen and his father in attendance. It was the social event of the year in St. Andrews and the spotlight was squarely on the handsome young prince.
But being in the spotlight here is nothing new to Prince William. While the townsfolk were very protective of his privacy, tourists and the women at the Westport kept a close eye out for him. Prince William was often seen walking the streets of St. Andrews and the grounds of the university.
Above: St. Andrews University is a prestigious school.
2. St. Andrews University: Scotland's oldest university is a great place to wander. The prestigious school ranks up there with Oxford but has a student population of only 7,000. It's actually a collection of handsome old buildings (with a few new ones thrown in) scattered about this town of 20,000 permanent residents. The buildings and gardens that make up the university's St. Mary's and Madras colleges are particularly lovely.
3. St. Andrews Cathedral: The skeleton remains of a church founded in 1160 are still very impressive today and stood out brilliantly against an azure North Sea sky the day I visited. The once mighty structure, which was consecrated in the presence of King Robert the Bruce in 1318, was in use for 300 years before a mighty gale knocked much of it down. The Reformation of the mid-1500s was its final downfall. Over the centuries, town residents used stones from the cathedral to construct their own homes. The ancient graveyard that sits in the shadow of the crumbling structure is a great place to dig up a lot of the town's history.
4. Martyrs Monument: The needle-like stone statue stands in testament to the horrors carried out in St. Andrews during the Reformation. The monument sits behind the Old Course clubhouse and in the very spot where many people were burned at the stake because of their beliefs.
5. St. Andrews Aquarium: It should come as no surprise that a town that straddles the sea should have one of the best sealife centres in all of Great Britain. Visitors get hooked on the sharks, catfish and other sea creatures that hang out here.
6. The streets: It's best to keep your head down while walking around St. Andrews. That way you'll see the Xs embedded in the sidewalks that mark the spots where people were burned during the Reformation. There are lots of them.
7. Scotland's Secret Bunker: We're not talking the golf course kind here. These bunkers are hidden beneath an innocuous farmhouse a few kilometres from the centre of St. Andrews. The farmhouse conceals an amazing labyrinth of radar rooms, dormitories and an elaborate command centre - a legacy of the Cold War. Visitors can tour the facility that sits 30 metres beneath the ground. The stately residence where Prince William resided while attending school here is not far from the bunker.
Above: The old streets are full of history.
8. St. Andrews Botanic Garden: The seven hectares of pristine land that makes up this internationally recognized facility might be the best-kept secret in St. Andrews. Ponds, waterfalls and rock gardens are just a sampling of what awaits visitors here.
9. The Seafood Restaurant: This glass cube dining establishment is one of the finest seafood restaurants in Britain - a Michelin star room that serves up fresh offerings right from the North Sea. The food and view of the sea and town one gets from the glass-walled restaurant are truly spectacular.
10. British Golf Museum: It's hard to escape golf in St. Andrews and one of the most interesting buildings, for golfers and non-golfers alike, is this treasure chest where exhibitions dating back 500 years trace the game's humble beginnings to the mega-sport it has become today.
11. Scottish Deer Centre: Located close to the city centre, this facility is home to nine species of deer gathered from around the world. It also offers falconry displays and trail rides.
12. St. Andrews Museum: This handsome stone structure houses 1,000 years of town history. Here you'll discover how a saintly monk named Rule travelled to Scotland with the remains of St. Andrew in a box.
13. Old Tom Morris Golf Shop: This is more museum than shop. Located on a street called the Links, right across from the Old Course's famed 18th hole, the tiny building was opened in 1848 by Old Tom Morris, the man who reconfigured the Old Course into the gem it is today. The shop has many golf relics and some great gift ideas.
14. St. Andrews Preservation Trust Museum and Garden: This charming house built in the 1600s introduces you to St. Andrews through the ages.
15. Market Square Amusements: If you have some young travellers in tow, the town's only amusement park is a wonderful place to spend some quality time. From pool tables to Playstations, this is a highlight with kids.
16. Balmerino Abbey: A short drive from St. Andrews along the A92, you'll discover the ruins of this abbey founded in 1229 by King William the Lion's wife, Queen Ermengarde. It's well worth the drive.
17. St. Andrews Bay Resort: You'll need somewhere to stay in St. Andrews and this American-style hotel will fit you to a tee. The four-year-old property offers all the latest amenities the modern traveller expects as well as two championship golf courses carved out of the rugged land that sits perched above the North Sea.
18. The people: St. Andrews' most enduring quality is its citizens. Like the charming old lady who raced after me after giving wrong directions.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she gasped while trying to catch her breath. "You wanted to go to the cathedral and I've pointed you in the direction of the museum. I get them confused. So sorry!"
Then there was the man standing in the doorway who invited me to join him so the rain would not ruin my camera. And the lady in the bake shop who slipped an extra cookie into my bag "at no extra charge" because she has a sister living in Canada.
So, as you can see, there's a lot to do in St. Andrews - without ever swinging a golf club.