IT is the ancient hometown of arguably the most influential economist in the world, with a fascinating history, handsome buildings, a sweeping seafront, lovely parks and some excellent places to eat.

Yet Kirkcaldy, which counts Adam Smith among its famous sons and daughters, remains a neglected and under-appreciated part of the Kingdom of Fife.

Granted, the Lang Toun may not have the immediate attraction of its East Neuk neighbours, and the last 40 years have not been kind to the local economy, which is reflected in the fabric of the town. But it remains a great place to visit for culture buffs, families, sports fans and walkers alike, and has a pride and community spirit that shines through.

Historical highlights

The area around Kirkcaldy – thought to mean “fort on the rocky hill” – has been populated since the Bronze age, and the town was first mentioned in a document in 1075, when King Malcolm III gave the settlement to the church in Dunfermline. It only gained independence in 1644, when granted Royal Burgh status by Charles I.

A key trading port, the Lang Toun (so-called in the 16th century for the length of its high street, then around a mile) was built on the salt and coal mining industries. It also produced textiles and floor cloth, and in 1877 linen manufacturer Michael Nairn turned to linoleum, which became the town’s biggest and most famous export, eventually employing more than 4,000. Nairn Forbo now employs just 200 people – but the distinctive smell of linoleum can still be detected. The closure of the coal mines in the 1980s also hit Kirkcaldy hard. Today, the townspeople work mostly in service industries and public services.

Famous faces include the aforementioned Adam Smith, whose father had been the town’s customs controller. Enlightenment architect Robert Adam, who brought the grandeur of Rome to Edinburgh and London, is also from the town, as is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and darts champion Jocky Wilson.

Bestselling crime writer Val McDermid also flies the flag for her hometown, not least by sponsoring a stand at her beloved Raith Rovers FC.

What to do

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for Lang Toun is to walk the oldest section of the High Street (the full four miles might be a bit much) taking in Kirk Wynd and the beautiful Old Parish Church. The Tower dates back to the fifteenth century, while the graveyard, which has stones going back hundreds of years, makes for a fascinating insight into the life of the town.

For a different view, walk along the Esplanade, which runs parallel to the High Street and – weather permitting – has stunning views to Edinburgh. During the Easter holidays the annual Links Market, Europe’s oldest and longest street fair, going back to 1304, still draws thrill-seekers from around Fife, including teenagers, for whom the market is a right- of-passage.

Keep walking north and you’ll pass the pleasant harbour, then on to Ravenscraig Castle a ruined fifteenth century fortress built for Queen Mary of Gueldres. Free to visit all year round, it is mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s poem Lay of the Last Minstrel. Right next to the castle is Ravenscraig Park, a long-time favourite with those who appreciate coastal paths.

Beveridge Park, the town's other favourite green space, sits at the other end of the town and has a cute boating pond, as well as woodland walks, tennis and putting. There's also a wetlands area teeming with tadpoles, frogs and birds which is a great place to introduce young children to wildlife.

Starting out from the southern end of town, Fifer David Greig recommends the two-mile walk along the coast to the village of Kinghorn. “Finish off your out and back with a coffee and bun in Morrisons, then a wander past the San Starko.” For those not in the know, San Starko refers to Stark’s Park, home of Raith Rovers.

Sport fans, meanwhile, should also make time to see the town's other big team compete. Fife Flyers are the oldest ice-hockey squad in the UK, playing home matches at Kirkcaldy Ice Arena, an art deco gem that opened in 1938. There is regular public skating availability there, too.

Back in the town centre, the Art Gallery and Museum, next to the railway station, has an excellent collection of Scottish art – including works by the Colourists, William McTaggart and local boy Jack Vettriano – and a captivating multi-media exhibition taking in the history of the Lang Toun. The Adam Smith Theatre, which its vibrant and diverse schedule of theatre, music, film and children’s events, is just across the way.

Where to eat

For a fabulous breakfast bagel, Kangus on Victoria Road is hard to beat. This cool café also has delicious cupcakes and excellent coffee, and hosts community events such as walks.

Greens ‘N’ Beans, on Hunter Street, serves up homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps.

Koku Shi, on the High Street, has won a legion of fans with its fresh and healthy Japanese menu. Linda Barnes says: “Wonderful sushi, fantastic miso soup and tasty bento boxes. Plenty of vegetarian options, too.”

There are also two excellent Italian restaurants, Pane Vino on Hunter Street and Giovanni’s on Dunnikier Road.

Overlooking the harbour, The Waterfront rivals more expensive eateries over the water in the capital with its expertly cooked seafood and game.

Turkish newcomer Eda, meanwhile, on the High Street, is wowing locals with its authentic, aromatic food. Expect superb mezze, grilled kebabs and chops, plus an imaginative range of vegetarian dishes, all at very reasonable prices.

When it comes to the top fish supper in town, Valente’s on Overton Road and Rinaldi’s on St Clair Street divide the audience.

Where to drink

Crime writer and pub enthusiast Ian Rankin, who grew up in nearby Cardenden, recommends traditional “proper howff” the Harbour Bar on the High Street, and also the Wheatsheaf Inn on Tolbooth Street for its pop memorabilia (fans of The Rolling Stones and The Temptations will enjoy a look on the walls). There's also regular live music here.

Betty Nicol’s, also on the High Street, has a vintage interior and serves good food, including a lovely afternoon tea.

Where to shop

Originally part of a linen factory, the Olympia Arcade was once home to Mentiplays, the iconic music shop where people from all over Fife came to buy instruments, accessories and sheet music. It closed years ago, but the arcade still has a quirky selection of shops and hosts a regular makers' market.

Eloise on the High Street has an appealing selection of handmade jewellery, while nearby Forth Music is now the place to go for musicians. Homes and gardens emporium Rejects, on St Clair Street, remains a local institution and has a great café to boot.

On the outskirts of town, The Buffalo Farm, on Boglily Road, sells home-reared buffalo meat, not to mention beef, lamb, pork venison, haggis and puddings. Try the buffalo taster box for £30.

There’s also a Farmer’s Market on the last Saturday of the month in the Town Square from 9am to 1pm.

Where to stay

Traditional: With its beautiful gardens, parkland setting and luxurious bedrooms, Oswald House has the feel of a country retreat. Rooms from £77.

Historic: John McDouall Stuart View, in Dysart, is an elegantly restored fisherman’s cottage and birthplace of the intrepid Australian explorer of the same name. Wonderful sea views, too. Sleeps three. From £65 a night.

What to do nearby

Now officially part of Kirkcaldy, Dysart nevertheless retains an independent spirit and feel. The ancient harbour was used in the Outlander TV series, while the Dutch-influenced architecture of this beautiful conservation village speaks of a time when Scotland was independent seafaring nation. A must-visit.

Just an hour north from Dysart on foot along the Fife Coastal Path is the former mining village of East Wemyss, home to an extraordinary network of ancient caves, not to mention the ruin of MacDuff’s Castle, which is thought to date back to the time of King Macbeth.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting Stromness, Fort William and Falkirk. Send your hints and tips to: marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk