The East Neuk of Fife has all the cute coastal charm you could ever need! Read on for my complete guide to the Fife fishing villages of East Neuk…
Everything you need to know about visiting the characterful East Neuk of Fife…
The East Neuk is a cluster of charming fishing villages in the region of Fife in Scotland. Picture pastel-hued houses, gorgeous harbours, and narrow streets that will lead you towards all sorts of undiscovered nooks and crannies. There are also cosy pubs, nice restaurants, and some of the best fish and chips around to be found.
The area is characterised by its cutesy cottages which are instantly recognisable by their red pan tiles, crow stepped gables, and sash windows, which are apparently inspired by the low countries of Europe. Add in the colourful doorways that comes in an array of pastel shades and it’s pretty much Instagram heaven.
My favourite memory of the East Neuk is sitting on the beach on a gorgeous day in Crail, watching the waves roll in the shore. I kept hearing an odd sound and it took me ages to figure out what is was. It sounded like gunfire but it was actually the pebbles on the beach being picked up and rolled back into the shore by the waves. I guess what this sound really got across was just how unique this charming little crop of villages are.
What does the East Neuk mean?
Neuk is the equivalent of “nook” in Scots and means corner. So East Neuk simple means eastern corner, which makes sense considering its location in the south east of Fife.
What actually is it though?
OK, gotcha. Is it a village? A town? A hamlet? No, the East Neuk actually refers to the coastline area on the south east of Fife, which comprises the a cluster of fishing villages.
The areas in the East Neuk are:
- St Monans
Where is the East Neuk?
As I mentioned, East Neuk is in Fife, a region on the east of Scotland. Fife is where I’m from, although I’m from a town called Kirkcaldy which is further along the coast and not quite so cute! It’s not half-bad though – you can read my blog post on Kirkcaldy if you’d like to find out more!
East Neuk of Fife map
Still not quite sure where I’m at? Here’s a map view…
How to get to the East Neuk
Now this is the important part of this post. The thing about the East Neuk is that it’s not that easy to get to. There’s no railway line in East Neuk so getting the train here is out. That’s a big part of its charm, though, as I’m sure the area is a lot more untouched than it would be if there was a train station in the heart of it.
How to get to the East Neuk from Edinburgh
Just a note I’m using Anstruther as an example here, as it’s the most central of the East Neuk towns and so it will give you a ball park number. It’ll be a little less for Pittenweem, St Monans and Elie and a little more for Crail.
You can get a direct bus to Anstruther from Edinburgh, which is great news! However, it’s also worth noting that if you don’t catch the direct bus you may have to change buses twice – which, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t want to do. The direct bus takes two hours 25 minutes and it’s the X60 bus headed towards St Andrews.
Driving to Anstruther from Edinburgh is via the A92 and it takes one hour and 33 minutes. If you fancy a break from driving my home town of Kirkcaldy is located about half way through – check out my blog post on the best things to do in Kirkcaldy.
How to get to the East Neuk from Dundee
Again, the bus to the East Neuk from Dundee is a bit of a faff, and what I mean by that is that you have to change buses at St Andrews. It does take a while as well. The bus from Dundee to Anstruther takes nearly an hour at its quickest, but it can be an hour 25 minutes!
Catch the 99 bus from Dundee to St Andrews then get the X60 or 95 bus to Anstruther.
By far the easiest option to to drive from Dundee to the East Neuk. The drive from Dundee to Anstruther takes 37 minutes so it’s pretty speedy in comparison.
What else should I know about the East Neuk?
Well, famous people live there. At least part of the time. It’s one of those places where people buy second homes, and I’ve heard rumours of comedian Phill Jupitus and Scottish actor Brian Cox popping up there from time to time. While they may not live there, Prince William and Kate Middleton visited the East Neuk recently. Apparently, they’re big fans of the fish and chips in Anstruther and used to go there when they were students in St Andrews, which is only a few miles away. If it’s good enough for Kate and Wills, it’s good enough for me!
What to do in East Neuk
So what is there to do in the East Neuk? It goes without saying that wandering around the narrow winding streets and soaking up the beaches and picturesque harbours are a must-do. The colourful painted doors of the local houses make for the perfect photo opportunity and there are so many hidden treasures to discover. There’s also the rugged Fife Coastal Path to explore and even local islands to visit via boat!
However, there are also some intriguing attractions to add to your itinerary. Don’t miss the Scottish Fisheries Museum, the nearby Cold War museum the Secret Bunker, and St Fillian’s Cave in Pittenweem – and that’s just for starters. I’ll be diving into more detail on what to do in each of the East Neuk villages over the rest of the post.
One final thing to note is the exciting events in East Neuk. From the Crail Food Festival to the Pittenweem Arts Festival, there are definitely some exciting events to time your visit around.
What to eat in East Neuk
As you would expect from a crop of fishing villages, seafood is very much the star of the show in East Neuk.
Head to the no-nonsense takeaway Reilly Shellfish for lobster rolls in Crail or dine in at The Ship Inn in Elie, which always gets rave reviews. While we’re on the subject, no visit is complete without fish and chips in Anstruther. The Anstruther Fish Bar is award-winning and, while you may have to queue for a while, it’s definitely worth it. Munching on a hot, salty fish supper on the shorefront is a must-do!
Read my in-depth blog post on fish and chips in Anstruther right here!
Let’s start with what is probably the most well-known of the East Neuk fishing villages. The first thing I noticed when we arrived in Anstruther was the buzz. It was a gorgeous day and there were people everywhere; perched on benches at the harbour, wandering along the cute shops on the main high street, and sprawled on the golden sands of the beach. After driving through so many sleepy villages on the way this was a welcome relief!
I’m a sucker for cute cottages with sash windows and Anstruther is packed with them – all lined up in rows and overlooking the beach. However, along with the ice cream shops and restaurants, there is also legit stuff to do. Dive into local history at the Anstruther Fisheries Museum, visit the mysterious Secret Bunker, or take a boat out to the Isle of May and see the rich variety of the birdlife that inhabit the island. You might spot a seal or two as well!
Things to do in Anstruther
- Take a boat trip to the Isle of May
- Visit the Secret Bunker
- Explore the Fisheries Museum
What to eat in Anstruther
One thing you definitely want to do is get fish and chips in Anstruther. The Anstruther Fish Bar is world famous and has been rated the best fish and chips in the whole of Scotland. It’s just as good as I remembered with deliciously crispy batter and lovely chunky chips!
Unfortunately, I’m so dozy that the second last time I went to Anstruther I actually went to the ‘wrong’ fish and chip shop – as in, not the world famous one. Either way, I wasn’t arguing with having to come back another time to try the Anstruther Fish Bar version. We ate our box of fish and chips on the harbour and it was so lovely! You can’t go far wrong eating a chippy on the pier with bobbing boats and sparkling seaside views, can you?
If you’re looking for restaurants in Anstruther, try The Dreel Tavern. Steeped in history, it’s got sack loads of traditional charm. Expect to eat surrounded by characterful features such as as wooden beams, lots of dark wood, and low ceilings. There’s a beer garden for those warm summer evenings and an open fire for when it’s a bit chillier. The food is also really yummy – the triple cooked hand cut chips with truffle made a big impression on me!
- Anstruther Fish Bar
- The Waterfront Chip Shop
- The Dreel Tavern
Did you know?
There’s a shell house in Anstruther (a house covered in shells) which is pretty famous – you’ll see it if you pass through the main street. In fact, the original owner charged people to see his shell-encased coffin!
Crail is the most northerly of the villages in East Neuk and is a stone’s throw from St Andrews. Its well-known for its picturesque harbour and the annual Crail Food Festival, which takes place in June each year. Expect to see local traders – many of whom will come from the nearby villages – and lots of fresh local produce to try. Delicious!
What else can you see in Crail? Well, there’s a lovely beach which combines golden sands and shimmering seaside views. There were even some artfully placed old fashioned crab fishing crates position on the beach when we were there, which finished off the scenic charm in style. It really does tick all the boxes for seaside cuteness! The harbour is also absolutely gorgeous – make sure you walk around to see it from every angle.
One of the more intriguing landmarks in Crail is the Crail Priory Doocot. From the outside I had no idea what it was – it’s a large white cylindrical structure, but there are no windows that would give any sort of clue to what’s inside. Step in, however, and it’s this hollowed out honeycomb space that used to house pigeons! Rather cool.
Things to do in Crail
- Time your visit around Crail Food Festival
- Explore the scenic Crail harbour – it’s a beauty!
- Visit the intriguing Crail Priory doocot
What to eat in Crail
Holding up my hands here, we didn’t stop for any food when we were here, so I don’t have any hands-on reviews on where to eat in Crail. However, Reilly Shellfish lobster shack on the harbour is definitely one that piqued my interest as a potential lunch spot. There were clusters of people gathered on the picnic benches near the shack munching on lobster and crab rolls, as well as the whole lobsters! Everything is cooked fresh and looks so tasty!
If you like to finish off your lunch with a sweet treat then you’re in luck – head just around the corner to Brodie’s Grannie’s ice cream shop, which wins for the name alone!
- Reilly Shellfish lobster shack
- Brodie’s Grannies ice cream
Did you know?
in medieval times Crail in Fife was considered to be so important to the Scottish fishing industry that in 1310 Robert the Bruce granted it the rare right to hold a Sunday market!
I recently stopped by Elie on a Saturday afternoon for a quick visit. I used to visit here a lot as a kid when we’d travel through to spend a day at the beach, and what a beach it is! Golden sands and cute-as-a-button beach huts make it a lovely place to spend a day – I was impressed this time around when we saw people taking a dip in the sea. It also appears that watersports in Elie are a big deal. There’s a place near the harbour where you can do pretty much any watersport you fancy, including my favourite – paddleboarding!
I loved wandering around Elie and couldn’t help remarking that it’s possibly the cutest out of all the East Neuk villages – dare I say it! We wandered around the narrow streets and I particularly enjoyed seeing all the quirky bits – from unusual carved doorways, to sweeping harbour views, to the cute boats bobbing around in the water. We even had time to stop at the food truck on the beach for a coffee. Top marks for the non-dairy milk options!
Things to do in Elie
- Paddleboarding in Elie looks fun!
- Beachside walks are a must
- Wander around the harbour
What to eat in Elie
I’d heard great things about The Ship Inn in Elie but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go this time around. I’m planning a longer visit here later on in the year so this will definitely be on the agenda. This time around we only had time for ice cream!
We visited Carol’s Shop, which had a big crowd gathered outside which hinted at its popularity. The service was really efficient and we were served in no time at all – however, I would recommend snapping a pic of the menu on your phone so you can pore over the menu in the queue. If you’re as indecisive as I am, this is! I went for the white chocolate and raspberry ice cream in the end, in a waffle cone and with a chocolate flake. Delicious!
We also stopped off for a coffee at the Elie Beach Café on the beach, which is a charming chantilly blue food truck parked up on the sand. It serves up ice cream, hot dogs, and drinks. Oh, and they even have some little dog treats for sale if you want to treat your pooch.
- The Ship Inn for nice seafood
- Carol’s shop for ice cream
- Elie Beach café for coffee
Did you know?
In the 1750s Lady Janet Anstruther employed a bell-ringer to warn residents that she was going for a skinny dip in Ruby Bay in Elie. There’s now a tower in the village in her honour.
Pittenweem may be pocket-sized but it really does pack a punch! As soon as you rock up and see the working harbour then you get a real sense as to what it’s all about. We even saw boxes of live crabs on the harbour being brought in by local fishermen, and it doesn’t get much more on-brand for a local fishing village than that.
What should you do in Pittenweem? Well, I go into this in detail in my dedicated blog post on the subject but here’s a quick overview. You definitely don’t want to miss the charming coastal walks – and if you head in the direction of St Monans there are a few surprises along the way. The beach is gorgeous and St Fillan’s Cave is well worth seeing. There’s an annual arts festival in Pittenweem too and you can definitely feel that creativity in the air!
Things to do in Pittenweem
- Coastal walk to St Monans
- St Fillans Cave
- Pittenweem Arts Festival
What to eat in Pittenweem
Well, there’s the Dory Bistro on the waterfront which looks lovely – so lovely in fact that we couldn’t get a table when we tried to book! There’s also the ice-cream and retro sweet shop Nicholson’s, which is perfect if you have a sweet tooth. On a slightly chillier day, however, then take a wander up to The Cocoa Tree Café. The hot chocolate is AMAZING and there’s more chocolate here than in Willy Wonka’s factory – I actually went twice!
- The Dory Bistro for the freshest seafood
- The Cocoa Tree Café for decadent hot chocolate
- Nicholson’s Sweets & Ice Cream Shop for a sugar fix
Did you know?
In 1704 five Scottish women were accused on witchcraft in the village of Pittenweem. Known as the Pittenweem witches, the accusation by a local boy led to two deaths.
St Monans has a gorgeous harbour, more incredibly cute pastel-hued houses, and a couple of places I would love to stop by for some food! Is this getting a little repetitive now? However, aside from that, St Monans actually throws up a few surprises. If you take the coastal walk between Pittenweem and St Monans then you’ll see the St Monans windmill and remnants of the old salt houses, which are such a cool part of local history.
Things to do in St Monans
- Walk the coastal path
- See the St Monans Windmill
- Eat at the East Pier Smokehouse
What do eat in St Monans
I didn’t get a chance to grab a bite to eat the last time I was in St Monans. However, there is a lovely restaurant right on the shore that caught my eye when we were there, which is called the East Pier Smokehouse. As you can imagine seafood is pretty high on the radar with crab cakes, Cullen skink, lobster and prawn tempura on the menu. Yum!
Did you know?
St Monans is named after a 9th century hermit of the same name. He was killed by Vikings and a shrine was built in his honour. This shrine later become St Monans church.
Where to stay in East Neuk
There are a number of charming places to stay in East Neuk – although they don’t hang about for long. As I was travelling with our golden Labrador pup Casper I opted for an Airbnb over a hotel. For me, I much prefer having a bit more space to lounge about in.
We stayed here: The Old Net Store, 2 Gascons Close, Pittenweem
It’s a lovely townhouse which has all the charm and cuteness you’d expect from its location. I loved the soft shades of the sea that are used throughout the accommodation, but particularly in the kitchen. With the light green wall, natural wood counter, and white shelving it nods to its seaside location without going full steam with shells and anchors. Although I love a bit of that anyway, I’m not gonna lie! All in all, this cottage is lovely!
The Old Net Store is located at the end of the harbour road so just a stone’s throw from the harbour and the centre of Pittenweem. That means it’s the perfect base if you want to explore the coastal path and walk to the nearby villages of St Monans or Anstruther. It really is the perfect cosy bolthole for a long weekend in Scotland.
You can read my complete review of my stay at the Old Net Store in Pittenweem here