Tucked away on the east coast of Scotland, the Kingdom of Fife is the happy possessor of a winning combination: fantastic scenery, a rich culture and history, a coastline bristling with cosy little fishing villages and long sandy beaches, a wide range of interesting attractions, plus great places to eat, drink and sleep.
It’s very simple to get to and around Fife as well. Trains run direct from Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Perth and serve many of the county’s towns and villages, including ancient Dunfermline, the Norman settlement of Leuchars and the attractive seaside resort of Burntisland. Frequent bus services criss-cross the county, connecting pretty much everywhere else with anywhere.
If you yearn to get away from the crowds while enjoying some of the best of Scottish hospitality, you may want to ink Fife into your summer, autumn and winter holiday plans later this year.
Explore the dramatic scenery of the Kingdom of Fife in our travel guide, including the best places to visit, stay and eat.
Outdoor activities in Fife
When it comes to exploring the Kingdom of Fife there may be no better place to start than the Fife Coastal Path, which is Scotland’s longest continuous coastal path. This waymarked long-distance footpath stretches for 117 miles (188km) from Kincardine by the Firth of Forth to Newburgh on the Firth of Tay. Along the way it not only offers walkers an abundance of seabirds and carpets of coastal flowers, but also a wide variety of attractions.
As well as the chance to nose around ruined castles and relax on deserted sandy beaches, you could enjoy the extraordinary collection of art at Kirkcaldy Galleries or visit St Andrews Cathedral – Scotland’s largest and, many would say, most impressive medieval church. After admiring the masons’ artistry, you could check in at the nearby Old Station, a former railway station and carriage converted into a remarkably swish guesthouse.
Some sections of the Fife Coastal Path also double as cycleways, so if you prefer two wheels to two boots you could take in the breathtaking seaside panoramas from high up in the saddle. And for those who live for an adrenaline rush, you could brave the Elie Chainwalk at Kincraig Point – hanging on to a series of chains while you negotiate a walkway hewn out of the cliff-face, although this is only suitable for confident climbers and walkers.
Burntisland is another pleasant location to visit along the Fife Coastal Path, with a sweeping, sandy beach which is popular with families, a lovely harbour and historic town centre it offers a great day out, with the local Burntisland Library & Museum handy to visit in wet weather. There’s plenty of choice when it comes to places to eat and drink, with delicious local produce available from The Fix Fife cafe and the artisan bakery Sunrise Bakehouse.
If you haven’t got time to do the whole coastal path, it’s been helpfully divided into shorter sections that can be achieved in a day or a weekend.
Alternatively, you might fancy trying your hand at landyachting at the beautiful West Sands beach in St Andrews instead, with experience sessions available from Blown Away to teach you the ropes. Land yachting is a combination of sailing and motoring on land and is suitable for all abilities.
Heading inland, the Lomond Hills Regional Park is a fantastic spot for walking and days out, with 25 square miles of moorland, farmland and lochs to explore on foot. There are several well-marked paths to choose from, which all offer excellent wildlife-spotting opportunities. As many of the sites are designated nature reserves, it is important to follow the Scottish Countryside Code to avoid damaging ecosystems or disturbing wildlife.
Film inspired and historic locations in Fife
The Kingdom of Fife’s photogenic landscape has often given film and television directors inspiration. Fans of the popular Outlander series starring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, will find a wealth of locations in the county. The ancient village of Falkland, home to the exquisite Falkland Palace, appears in one of the time-travelling drama’s very first scenes and is used repeatedly in later series to represent 1960s Inverness. The harbour at Dysart stands in for 1740s Le Havre, while 12th-century Aberdour Castle becomes the monastery at which Jamie finds repose after his stint as a prisoner.
But the king of all the Fife Outlander locations is Culross. The Royal Burgh on the Firth of Forth has become a staple in the show – its appearances include the use of the Mercat Cross area as ‘Cranesmuir’, and Culross Palace playing host to Claire’s herb garden. With its wonderful array of 17th-century cottages, the village has proved a magnet to filmmakers for decades, featuring in movies such as Kidnapped and Captain America and the 2008 re-telling of The 39 Steps. The village also benefits from two welcoming cafés in which to refresh yourself after touring the film locations. Bessie’s Café at Culross Palace is perfect for tasty home-cooked dishes including vegan and vegetarian options. Or you could have a coffee and a treat under the glass roof of the Biscuit Café and maybe pick up some locally made pottery or artwork in the adjoining gallery.
If you fancy a stroll beyond the village, the waymarked West Fife Woodlands Way will take you on a circular 10-mile (16km) hike through Devilla Forest, Balgownie Wood and Valleyfield Woodland Park, with some cracking views of The Ochills en route.
History lovers are in for a treat in the Kingdom of Fife, which has a noble and sometimes turbulent past. It’s a little-known fact that for several centuries in the Middle Ages the county was home to the capital of Scotland. All roads once led to the Royal Burgh of Dunfermline. No less a hero than Robert the Bruce is buried at the magnificent Dunfermline Abbey, one of a dozen Scottish medieval monarchs to take their final rest there.
If you fancy staying nearby and reconnecting with nature the eco-friendly Craigduckie shepherd’s huts offer a peaceful retreat on a working farm.
A few streets away, and a couple of centuries on, the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum pays homage to the fascinating life of the steel tycoon, writer and philanthropist who gave his name to New York’s world-famous Carnegie Hall.
Responsible travel and tourism is essential when visiting sites of historic or environmental importance, so that the sites are protected for future generations to enjoy.
Simple things you can do to be a responsible tourist:
– Travel in an eco-friendly way – either walking, cycling or using public transport to visit sites if you can.
– Don’t climb or walk on historic sites or tamper with the ruin or building.
– Make sure you take any litter home. Litter can harm wildlife and the local eco-system.
For more practical advice on responsible tourism, visit: visitscotland.com/about/responsible-tourism
Live music and drink in Fife
The historic and pretty village of Ceres in the heart of Fife is also well worth a visit, and is home to one of Scotland’s few traditional village greens. The village is also famously home to the longest running Highland games in Scotland, dating back to 1314. You might like to take a trip to the excellent family-friendly and interactive Fife Folk Museum before visiting the 17th century historic Ceres Inn, which offers a good range of traditional and live music, with food and drink sourced from local suppliers.
For those who like to take a wee dram or two with their history, look no further than the Lindores Abbey Distillery at Newburgh on the Firth of Tay. Founded by Tironensian monks in the late 12th century as a daughter house to the abbey at Kelso, Lindores was visited by several kings in its day. It was here in 1306 that three knights – Sir Gilbert Hay, Sir Neil Campbell and Sir Alexander Seton – met at the high altar to make their famous vow to defend Robert the Bruce “to the last of their blood and fortunes”. It was also here that the Tironensian brothers distilled an alcoholic drink called ‘Aqua Vitae’ – what we know today as whisky.
In 2017 – after a gap of some 500 years – the fine craft of whisky production returned to Lindores. The modern distillers use Fife-grown barley and water from the very same borehole that supplied the medieval monks. You can learn more about whisky-making both past and present during a tour of the abbey distillery. Book yourself a sharing platter or a whole hamper and you can enjoy a picnic among the ancient ruins, too. To get there, just pick up the hourly 94/94A bus from Ladybank railway station to Newburgh.
Like whisky, fishing has been a vital part of the Fife way of life since time immemorial. A tour of five East Neuk fishing villages that dot the northern shore of the Firth of Forth makes for both an enchanting adventure and a chance to step back in time. You could cycle, walk the coastal path, or hop on the hourly 95 bus which links all five villages. Heading from north to south, the first stop is the pretty village of Crail, with its picturesque harbour, Museum and Heritage Centre and historic parish church making an ideal spot to explore. Enjoy a seafood lunch from The Lobster Hut, where fresh, local seafood is cooked while you wait. Although celebrations will look a little different this year, the Crail Food Festival is a feast of local Scottish food and drink.
The largest of the fishing village is Anstruther, which is home to the Scottish Fisheries Museum and offers boat services to the Isle of May, a stunning national nature reserve where you can visit the island’s bird observatory.
For an eco-friendly retreat nearby the cosy Wigwam Holiday cabins at Montrave Estate offers a comfortable glamping experience for couples or families.
Just along the coast at Pittenweem you’ll find the mysterious 7th-century St Fillan’s Cave, once home to the eponymous miracle-working holy man. Nearby, the Pittenweem Chocolate Company and Cocoa Tree Café provide the chance to indulge in a coffee and some artisan chocolate (and pick up the key to get into the cave).
On the way to St Monans, you can go inside the windmill that once pumped seawater into the village’s salt pans. Then finish your tour on the glorious sandy beach at Elie, overlooked by a delightful lighthouse. At day’s end you can catch your breath at one of Catchpenny Elie’s eco-friendly shoreline safari lodges. You might find yourself gazing out over the sea and pondering what delights the Kingdom of Fife has waiting for you in the morning.
For more information on visiting Fife, see: welcometofife.com
Please check the latest government guidelines before travelling: visitscotland.com/about/practical-information/covid-19-recovery-phases/