Planning a coastal retreat to the East Neuk of Fife? Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Pittenweem…
Nestled in the north east coast of Fife, fishing village Pittenweem is picture-postcard pretty. With colourful houses, coastal walks, and even a cave carved out of the rock down one of the narrow winding streets, this town is characterful AND cute. It may be pocket-sized, but trust me, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on a long weekend away.
If you’re looking for a calming coastal bolthole to escape to that also has cafes, restaurants, and a little bit of a buzz to soak up then Pittenweem really ticks all the boxes. Breathe in that fresh sea air, relax, and enjoy!
Where is Pittenweem?
Pittenweem is a small fishing village that’s located in the north east area of Fife. The area is otherwise known as the East Neuk. The East Neuk is a little off-grid as there’s no railway line nearby, but that’s probably part of the reason why it’s retained so much of its character and charm.
Still not sure where I am? Here’s a map…
Travel to Pittenweem
If you’re looking to travel to Pittenweem then here are some of the travel times you might want to know about. There’s a direct bus from Edinburgh which is handy, although it’s not particularly quick.
As I said, it isn’t the easiest to get to, but it sure is worth it!
How far is Pittenweem from Edinburgh?
It’s 26 miles in total. It’ll take you just over two hours to go from Edinburgh to Pittenweem by bus, or just over an hour if you drive.
How far is Pittenweem from Glasgow?
It’s 64 miles from Glasgow to Pittenweem. It’ll take you four hours to get to Pittenweem if you take the bus, and an hour and a half if you drive.
How far is Pittenweem from St Andrews?
Pittenweem is just over 10 miles from St Andrews. It’ll take you half an hour to get there by bus and 15 minutes if you drive.
What is Pittenweem famous for?
Well, it’s famous for being part of the East Neuk and all the pretty fishing village vibes that come with that. Pittenweem is also well-known for its working harbour. You can even see the catch of the day brought in by the local fishermen. Fresh means fresh around here!
It’s also well-known for the Pittenweem arts festival. You’ll see nods to that creativity all around the town with small galleries showcasing the work of local makers, designers and artists. During the festival, the town opens up with work being displayed in various locations. And I mean in galleries, garages, and even people’s houses!
With those big questions answered let’s get on with what to do in Pittenweem…
Things to do in Pittenweem
I didn’t get to do everything I wanted this time around. However, there are definitely a few things I’ve noted for next time. 1) I’ll be packing a wetsuit and 2) I’ll be crossing my fingers that it’s warm enough to eat ice cream.
So without further ado, here are my top picks for Pittenweem…
Walk the coastal path
If you like brisk walks with lots of lovely coastal scenery then the coastal path at Pittenweem is perfect. Pittenweem is located in between the nearby fishing villages of St Monans and Anstruther, and the Fife coastal path connects them all. According to the guide book at the Airbnb in Pittenweem, the walk each way is around half an hour, so you can walk Anstruther one day and then walk to St Monans the next.
We opted for the latter, and headed to St Monans. That involved turning left and going past the beach and all of the cute houses the lie on the fringes of it. Imagine waking up to those views each day!
And if you thought the walk peaked there you’d be mistaken. When you get to the top of the hill there are spectacular views of the shoreline. Look out for the wildlife – I spotted a heron hanging out in the water!
There are also some great pieces of history to see. Keep going and you’ll be greeted with the sight of the St Monans windmill, which powered the St Monans salt pans – the ruins of which you’ll also pass on the walk. If you’re wondering what a salt pan is, you and me both! The salt pans – or pan houses – were industrial buildings in which salt was made back in the 18th century. It was super cool to see a trace of St Monans industrial past.
Now onto another one of the surprises from the coastal walk…
Do some wild swimming
One thing I hadn’t read about in any of the blogs or tour guides about Pittenweem is the amazing outdoor swimming pool. Wild swimming is pretty fashionable right now and so I was surprised not to see this get some more column inches! As it turned out, the saltwater pool was a great surprise as we walked along to coastal path.
The pool itself is stunning. It’s carved out of the rocks on the shore so it feels completely harmonious with its coastal surroundings. It was also glass-like and still when we saw it in the early evening. It actually reminded me of one of my favourite book series, Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books.
I did have my swimming costume with me but the weather didn’t really play ball. Not only was the weather really chilly for the time we were there, but it also rained most of Saturday. In fact, the only one of us who made it into the outdoor swimming pool at Pittenweem was my golden Labrador pup Casper. But it’s safe to say he absolutely loved it!
This one is earmarked for my next trip here in the summer months!
Simply wander the streets
One of the things I love most about the East Neuk of Fife is simply wandering around. Everywhere you turn there are charming cottages to admire. They’re instantly recognisable by their red pan tiles and crow stepped gables, which are apparently inspired by the low countries of Europe. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg to you and me!
You also can’t not notice the cute colour scheme in Pittenweem. It’s not many places that the houses are painted in shades of green, blue, and pastel and pink, but that’s what it’s like in Pittenweem! The sash windows of the houses are also traditionally framed by bright colours, which look lovely against the whitewashed buildings in the mix.
Definitely build in some time to explore the narrow wynds that connect the high street to the harbour area. Those little nooks and crannies throw up some brilliant really views.
Drink hot chocolate at The Cocoa Tree Café
If you’re a chocolate love then The Cocoa Tree Café in Pittenweem is going to be a little slice of heaven. When you enter you’ll be greeted by pretty much every kind of artisanal chocolate you can imagine. That’s because The Cocoa Tree Café is the café side of the famous Pittenweem Chocolate Company, a family-run independent chocolatier.
Expect to see chocolate brownies, chocolate biscuits, mouth-wateringly large chocolate bars that are just asking to be broken into slabs, chocolate fish, candied oranges, and even blonde chocolate buttons, which looked like Caramac chocolate. All so tempting!
So what should you order at The Cocoa Tree Café? Well, it’s ALL about the chocolate here. They even do a bean stew made with cocoa! I’d heard great things about the hot chocolate here so I wanted to try that. We went twice, of course. I got the hazelnut chocolate the first time and the rose hot chocolate the second time – both dairy-free. They were so good, with the rose one in particular was like a liquid version of a Turkish delight chocolate!
You can sit in and enjoy your lunch or get a takeaway hot drink and wander around the harbour with it, which is what we did. Nothing says seaside like hot chocolate on the beach!
This is also the place where to get the key to St Fillan’s Cave, which I’ll talk more on below.
The Cocoa Tree Café address: 9 High Street, Pittenweem, Anstruther, KY10 2LA
Visit St Fillan’s Cave
This is one thing you definitely want to do when you’re in town! Set in rock in one of the many narrow winds in Pittenweem, St Fillan’s Cave has a pretty intriguing story behind it…
St Fillan was a 7th century missionary who wanted to convert the local Picts to the Christian faith and hid out in the cave during this time. However, the poor light in the cave meant that he was unable to read his scriptures. According to legend, when St Fillan discussed his problem with God, the latter bestowed him with a glowing arm so that he could read. Since then, the cave has had a number of functions. It was incorporated into a nearby monastery, and was once used as a prison during the witch trials in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Unfortunately, when I visited Pittenweem the cave was closed due to Covid restrictions, but at the very least we were able to peep through the bars and see what it was like.
I will definitely be swinging by here next time I’m in the area!
St Fillan’s Cave address: 12 Cove Wynd, Pittenweem, Anstruther, KY10 2LE
Explore the harbour in Pittenweem
As I mentioned earlier, one thing that’s interesting about Pittenweem is that it has a working harbour. That meant that as we were wandering along the harbour area on the Sunday morning during our trip, crates of live crabs were piled up on the seafront by the local fisherman, all wiggling legs and beady eyes.
My boyfriend had just had crab linguine the night before so I did feel a little bit bad, but at least you know any seafood you eat in the local restaurants is as fresh as it comes.
Crabs aside, there’s also the gorgeous harbour to take in. There are actually two harbours in Pittenweem and both are, of course, crowded with colourful painted boats. Oh, and just in case you get through too many cold drinks, you’ll also find public toilets to the left of the harbour – which were super handy for us and our 10am Airbnb checkout time.
Eat ice cream in Pittenweem
A confession: I didn’t actually get ice cream at the ice cream shop in Pittenweem during this trip. Let’s just say I’d had a tub of ice cream whilst freezing my bum off in Musselburgh, just outside of Edinburgh, the other week and I’d had enough of cold ice cream and cold weather.
However, that’s not to say it was easy to walk past their menu every time we meandered back and forth along the harbour area at Pittenweem. They sell 12 flavours of St Andrews’ favourite Jannetta’s ice cream. Choose between rum and raisin, chocolate and even Scottish tablet flavour. They also have a selection of traditional sweets for sale, which will give you all the nostalgia feels! Go for the proper old-fashioned seaside experience with sticks of rock or suck on soor plooms, fudge and tablet. Yummy!
Oh, and also keep your eyes out for the lovely chocolate brown Labrador that hangs out outside the shop here. They definitely became a familiar face over our trip!
One final thing, there is a sign on the door that they prefer cash so it may be good to have some ‘actual’ money with you rather than just your bank card or Apple Pay on your phone.
Nicholson’s Sweets & Ice Cream Shop address: 17 Mid Shore, Pittenweem, Anstruther, KY10 2NL
What I’ve loved about Pittenweem is that it constantly takes you by surprise. You’ll be walking along a street and see a colourful doorway or a house carved out of what looks like a wall, or a beautiful statue that just captures the essence of what Pittenweem is about. Here are some of the things you definitely want to take in…
- Memorial to those lost at sea on the harbour
- The cute objects outside people’s houses
- The sea – it looks different every day
- All the different house names are so charming!
- The quiet – it’s wonderfully peaceful here
My Airbnb in Pittenweem
If you’re wondering where to stay in Pittenweem then I’d highly recommend an Airbnb.
I stayed at the Old Net Store, 2 Gascon Close, Pittenweem, which I booked through Airbnb. It appealed because it was located just off the harbour area in Pittenweem and it was dog friendly – as someone who’s always travelling with a dog this is essential!
The décor is tasteful and contemporary, with a pale green and natural wood colour palette in the kitchen diner that echoed the rugged coastal location outside. The accommodation also nodded to that with an array of seagull mugs, which I loved!
I’ve written full review my Airbnb stay in Pittenweem which you can read about in my blog post, but here’s a whistle-stop review with all the key pieces of information…
What I enjoyed about the Old Net Store:
- The central harbour location
- Sociable open plan kitchen/diner
- The outside space was a real sun trap
- It had a dishwasher! No time wasted on chores!
- A cosy wood-burner is always a winner
What to pack
OK, here’s a couple of practicalities to take a note of. I noticed when we arrived in Pittenweem that my 3G signal wasn’t that great. I would therefore make sure you have any directions to your accommodation and a number for the host screenshotted on your phone.
I only say this because we struggled to find the entrance to our Airbnb and wandering around without being able to get a signal was not fun! If you want more tips for what to pack for your next Airbnb stay then check out my dedicated Airbnb packing list guide where I share my tips and tricks.
Let’s just say that slippers are an essential for any Airbnb stay in my eyes!
The other thing to consider when you’re packing for Pittenweem is the weather. We travelled there in May and you might have expected it to be spring-like and warm. Nope!
There were pockets of sunshine but for the most part it tipped with rain and whenever we stepped outside we were greeted with gale force winds. When in Scotland, you gotta be prepared for ANY weather.
Here’s my suggested packing list for Pittenweem…
- Waterproof coat
- Sturdy trainers for walking
- Hat and scarf
- More socks than you need
All in all, Pittenweem is an incredibly charming place to spend a few days. With its coastal location, cute colourful houses, and top spots to eat and drink, it’s pretty much everything you need if you want to go off grid for a couple of days! I’ll be returning asap.