This post is part of a paid partnership to explore Dunfermline and West Fife, and write about my experience.
For anyone interested in Scottish history, I recommend a visit to Dunfermline. It is the burial place of arguably Scotland's most famous king, Robert the Bruce, who rests among six other Scottish kings and two queens. This fact alone should give you a clue that Dunfermline was once a pretty important place. Its status as an ancient capital of Scotland and a historic seat of power might also convince you that it needs to be on your Scotland itinerary.
Approx 30 minutes from Edinburgh and an hour from Glasgow makes it an easy destination to reach from either city. You could just visit for the day as the town centre is easily walkable but it would be a shame to miss out on some of its neighbouring West Fife gems, including the charming village of Culross which has become famous as an Outlander filming location over recent years.
I recently spent 2 days exploring the area taking in historic attractions and pretty coastal villages. I have shared my itinerary below and I think it provides a great taster for a part of the country that often flies under the visitor radar despite having loads to offer and many interesting stories to tell.
For example, did you know that Andrew Carnegie, once the world's richest man was born here? You can even visit the family cottage he spent the first years of his life in. Just one of the places I've covered in my suggested 2 day itinerary below.
DAY 1 - DUNFERMLINE
STOP 1 - WELCOME WALK AROUND THE HERITAGE QUARTER
The main historic attractions in Dunfermline are located in the Heritage Quarter, a compact area that is easily walkable. You could just dive right in and start exploring it by yourself but I decided to join one of the free Welcome Walks, led by Marcus, one of the volunteer town ambassadors.
The tour was a brilliant introduction to some of Dunfermline's history and Marcus covered stories that I wouldn't have found out about otherwise. It also gave me a better appreciation of the sites I planned to visit later that day and a few pointers of things to look out for.
I think it is brilliant that passionate locals give up their time to welcome visitors and tell them about the town. It also gave me the opportunity to ask for some for expert tips and recommendations - a great way to discover hidden gems!
The walk is easy going and lasts 45 minutes, at the moment they only run on Wednesday mornings. Although they are free, you can donate at some of the visitor attractions if you want to leave a contribution and as I always advocate giving more than you take when you visit a place, this is one way you can do that in Dunfermline.
STOP 2 - DUNFERMLINE CARNEGIE LIBRARY & GALLERIES
When I last visited Dunfermline, they had only just started constructing the Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries. The modern building incorporates the world’s first Carnegie Library dating back to 1883 and as mentioned there are also galleries with art collections and touring exhibitions.
However, the title of library and gallery doesn't quite capture everything that is packed into this bright new space, I guess because the name is already quite a mouthful! It also houses a fantastic free museum with exhibits covering Dunfermline's long history and more recent industrial heritage. There are actually 6 themed areas - industry, leisure & recreation, transport, conflict, homes and royal Dunfermline. I personally felt that the museum provided a natural follow on to the walk as it provided a more in-depth look at some of the topics Marcus had mentioned.
I also got to spend some time in The Reading Room which is packed with fascinating history books and references, including photos and maps, that can be used for local studies and ancestry research. There is a mine of information housed here and the quiet, calm room is equipped with all the facilities you need to work away - if you don't get distracted by the amazing view of the abbey that is!
If you want to trace your Fife family tree, this is the place to contact, although they can also research other areas of Scotland for you too. The highly knowledgeable staff know just where to look to find any missing pieces of your ancestry puzzle.
I got to read some of the family trees in progress and the amount of detail included was incredible as you can see in the photo above (this was only a small part of a very large document). I can tell you that the fee they charge for doing the research on your behalf and putting this together is extremely reasonable. I was really impressed by the service and access to resources.
Although not open when I visited there is also a café in the building and a pretty little landscaped garden with abbey views.
STOP 3 - DUNFERMLINE ABBEY & PALACE
A must visit and a highlight for me, was a trip to Dunfermline Abbey which is actually 2 buildings stitched together. Originally a priory for a community of Benedictine monks from Canterbury , it was given the status of an abbey by David I who built a grand new church using stonemasons from Durham Cathedral. It later became a royal mausoleum for Scottish kings and queens prior to Iona.
Today it is a building of two halves. The original abbey was damaged during the Reformation and is now joined to the newer Abbey Church which dates to 1821. Historic Scotland look after the medieval abbey nave and the ruins of the surrounding palace and there is an entry fee unless you are a Historic Scotland member.
The newer Abbey Church next door is an active church run by the Church of Scotland and your Historic Scotland ticket also permits access to tour the exhibition and the tomb of Robert the Bruce.
When the foundations of the new building were being laid in 1818, his tomb was discovered and his remains were reinterred within the new church. Today there is a display detailing the find and his tomb is marked by a full-size brass plaque on the floor. The discovery also led to the words 'KING ROBERT THE BRUCE' being added to the stone design at the top of the tower.
Did you know his heart is actually buried in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders?
In the grounds surrounding Dunfermline Abbey there are another couple of points of interest worth looking out for - The shrine of St Margaret, a Scottish queen who was Scotland's only royal saint, and the grave of William Wallace's mother.
STOP 4 - ANDREW CARNEGIE BIRTHPLACE MUSEUM
Andrew Carnegie, once the richest man in the world, was born a stone's throw from the abbey, and the cottage he was born in still stands today. Now preserved as part of the free to visit Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, visitors can step inside his home and learn about his humble beginnings before heading next door to follow the story of hard work and entrepreneurship that led to his rise in fame and fortune. His many philanthropic ventures are also listed in the excellent visitor centre.
I've visited a few times now and I always learn something new as there is so much detail to take in. The staff also have some 'secret' stories about Dunfermline's most famous son that they might share if you ask them nicely!
While the exhibits are mainly a celebration of his life, I think it is important to also acknowledge that he had his flaws and his rise to the richest man in the world sometimes came at the cost of others. His employment practices brought about confrontation, disputes, strikes and even deaths during a gun battle at the Homestead Strike. I do think we are at a point in time when the public want to learn the unedited history of the people we put on pedestals and museums are the ideal place to start those conversations so we not only get the full story, but also learn from the past.
Andrew Carnegie's legacy lives on around the world and perhaps, most importantly, also in his home town in buildings like the Carnegie Library, Carnegie Hall and his first gift to Dunfermline, swimming baths that became the current Carnegie Leisure Centre. The Carnegie Dunfermline Trust has continued to fund many public buildings that benefit the people of the town.
Inside the Abbey Church you can view The Carnegie Tiffany Window, made by Tiffany Glass and commissioned over 100 years ago by Andrew Carnegie as a memorial to his family.
One of his other great local legacies is Pittencrieff Park which was my final stop in the town...
STOP 5 - PITTENCRIEFF PARK
After a history-packed day, going for a stroll in Pittencrieff Park seemed like the ideal way to add some nature and relaxation into my itinerary. Finding a green space in any town is a bonus but Pittencrieff Park takes things to another level.
The extensive 76-acre park known locally as 'the Glen' incorporates gardens, woodlands, historic features and play areas. There is also a café in a beautiful Art Deco pavillion. I don't think I've ever been anywhere else where you get besieged by hoards of cheeky wee grey squirrels and wood pigeons looking for nibbles like you do here!
This was perhaps Andrew Carnegie's most personal gift as he and some of his family had been excluded from what was once Pittencrieff Estate and Glen when it belonged to Colonel James Hunt. Andrew Carnegie’s grandfather, Thomas Morrison, was a founder-member of a campaign to gain public access to Dunfermline Abbey and Palace which were located within the private estate. A court decision led to public access being granted for one day each year but Colonel Hunt declared that "no Morrison be admitted to the Glen" which through family lineage included Andrew Carnegie. A special court order was obtained to uphold the ban.
When Carnegie could afford to buy the estate from Colonel Hunt in 1902, he gifted it to the people of Dunfermline the following year ensuring the park could be now be accessed by anyone, so I have Mr Carnegie to thank for a lovely end to my time in the town.
STAY - THE OLD SCHOOLHOUSE B&B, CULROSS
At the end of day 1, I made the short drive to the village of Culross for an overnight stay at The Old Schoolhouse, a beautiful B&B owned by Elaine and her husband - I highly recommend you do the same!
They have only owned the house for a couple of years but they have created the most beautiful period 'home from home'. Not only is the decor sumptuous and stylish, it is full of little nods to its Scottish roots. There are also a few nods to its previous school life with the menu written in a homework jotter and a report card for reviews.
I could tell a great deal of thought had been put into every little detail from chocolates at the bedside to the toiletries and scented diffusers made by local businesses. If I thought I couldn't be wowed anymore, Elaine's cooking left me with an even bigger smile on my face. She cooked up some Scottish tapas, all gluten free as requested, and it is one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Not surprisingly, breakfast was also a winner.
What is Scottish tapas I hear you ask? I thought exactly the same but think Scottish baked brie with homemade chilli jam and oatcakes, mushrooms stuffed with haggis and topped with whisky sauce, local chicken breast stuffed with wild garlic pesto and wrapped in pancetta among many other equally as delicious dishes and you might get the idea that this was restaurant quality cooking in a homely environment.
I slept like a baby and was genuinely sad that I only had 1 night there, especially as it was a working trip and time to relax was in short supply. I have made a note to return for a proper break in the future and with the charming Culross on the doorstep - the house is actually next door to Culross Palace - I didn't even have to wander far from the front door to experience one of Scotland's prettiest villages the following morning.
STOP 1 - CULROSS
I love Culross and the benefit of staying there was being able to get out early and explore before the day-trippers arrived which meant I pretty much had the place to myself for a couple of hours.
The white and pastel houses with distinctive pan-tiled roofs are full of historic character and although I've visited many times, I never get tired of wandering the cobbled streets. In more recent years it has become a top destination for Outlander fans as some of the scenes from the TV series were filmed here.
It is Scotland's most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries and if you can find a street with no cars and block out some of the more contemporary fixtures, it does feel like you have stepped back in time. However, it is worth remembering that although it often feels like a living museum, it is a residential community where people live and work.
My first stop was at the ruins of Culross Abbey which was founded in the early 13th century for the Cistercian monks of Kinloss. Although not much remains, it is still possible to get an impression of how substantial the building once was.
Similar to Dunfermline, there is an intact working Abbey Church still standing which was closed during my visit but I have been inside in the past to see the stained glass windows and memorial to Sir George Bruce who built Culross Palace.
It is a beautiful spot and other than birdsong, there were no other sounds to disturb the peace. I was also quite fascinated at the flowers and shrubs growing through the brickwork, nature always finds a way to take over eventually. For great views, you can climb the ladder to the first floor.
A must-visit is Culross Palace and I found it as atmospheric as ever. The distinctive yellow building is unmissable as you walk around the village and the period palace gardens at the rear are a stunning place to sit and relax, filled with flowers and herbs covered in butterflies and bees.
Built between 1597 and 1611 by Sir George Bruce who made his fortune from coal mining, inside you will find original painted woodwork and beautifully restored 17th and 18th century interiors. Quite a few Outlander scenes were filmed here and the relevant rooms have information about which episodes they featured in.
Under current Covid guidelines, you need to book your visiting time slot in advance through the National Trust for Scotland website - your ticket provides access to the palace and gardens.
STOP 2 - LIMEKILNS
Although there are some lovely cafes in Culross, I wanted to travel a bit further along the coast for lunch to a place I'd never been before - yes, believe it or not there are still plenty of places in Scotland that have eluded me thus far!
My B&B owner, Elaine, had recommended Coorie by the Coast in Fife village of Limekilns and I took the chance to visit somewhere new. Admittedly, I didn't venture beyond the harbour and the café but it seemed like my kind of place with a laid-back coastal vibe.
As the name suggests, the village was once involved in the limestone industry, although it was also involved in shipbuilding, soap making and brewing too. As I ate my delicious open sandwich with crispy halloumi, harissa tomato jam and roasted peppers, I made a mental note to return and explore properly next time.
STOP 3 - INVERKEITHING
Next up was the town of Inverkeithing, another first for me. Before visiting I have to be honest and say I had no idea what there was to see or do in the town. The historic buildings in the centre were a pleasant surprise, although I feel the town could do a lot more to promote them and make the area a bit more visitor friendly as information and access is lacking.
Within a short stroll is the Parish Church with a tower partly dating back to the 14th century, the 17th century Fordell Lodging town house, the 18th century Tolbooth and the 17th century Thomsoun's House.
In the same area is one of Scotland's oldest mercat crosses dating back to circa 1400 and a short walk away is the 15th century Franciscan Friary building with 14th-century monastic remains in the public garden. The views from the garden are superb.
Another great find near to the Mercat Cross was 'Maker', a shop specialising in local artists and makers which I love to see in town high streets. It was in here that I got a tip-off from the lady in the shop to also visit the local community garden which is another pretty spot and she informed me of plans to upgrade the high street and some of the sites mentioned. This made me really happy to hear as the historic buildings in particular are a great asset to have.
What I did see was enough to inspire me to find out more about the history of Inverkeithing and I'll be interested to return in the future to see the planned changes.
STOP 4 - ABERDOUR
As the day got hotter, a trip to the beach seemed like a good call so I headed further along the coast to Silver Sands at Aberdour. This is one of the loveliest beaches in the area but it can get rather busy on a sunny day so I opted to catch some Vitamin Sea at the nearby Black Sands which was much quieter and is adjacent to the harbour which was fringed with colourful flowers.
I did intend to walk some of the Fife Coastal Path from here but a collapsed footbridge persuaded me that sitting soaking up some rays on a bench overlooking the Forth was a great plan B!
Aberdour is another picturesque seaside town in Fife that is packed with history. Aberdour Castle dates back to the 13th century and although it was closed during my visit, I can tell you from a previous trip there that it is worth a visit. It also featured in Outlander if you're looking to tick off filming locations in the area.
Had the castle been open, I could have easily have spent a few more hours in Aberdour , taking the tour and wandering around the pretty shops. As it was, I finished off some beach time with tea and cake at the cute Cafe at Number 16 before heading to my final stop.
STOP 5 - NORTH QUEENSFERRY
Since I was passing close by on the way back to Glasgow, it would have been a shame not to make the short detour to North Queensferry. I may have mentioned once or twice how much I love the Forth Bridge and I could quite happily gaze up at it all day.
This time I took in the view from inside the world's smallest working lighthouse, built between 1812 and 1817 by Robert Stevenson. I only had time for a brief visit but what a fantastic way to end to another amazing Scottish adventure!
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