In need of a quick break from the urban hustle? Looking for something fun and memorable to do over the weekend? Scotland’s gardens and parks are a fantastic way to enjoy our beautiful outdoor spaces while experiencing something just a little bit different!
We’ve pulled together 10 of the more unusual things to see and do in some of Scotland’s country parks – whether you’re looking for action-packed group activities, or a dive into the curiosities of history. With around 40 country parks in Scotland conveniently located near cities and towns, there are plenty of options to choose from!
1. Gain essential bushcraft survival skills at Dalkeith Country Park
Think you’ve got what it takes to be Bear Grylls? Tap into your wild side and learn the essential survival skills that might just come in handy when you need them most! This is a perfect chance to get away from the distractions of the modern world and embrace your inner hunter gatherer in the beautiful surroundings of Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian, just a short drive outside Edinburgh. The park is also a great place for wildlife spotting, fishing and cycling.
2. Ride the miniature railway around Craigtoun Country Park
Among several interesting things to do at Craigtoun Country Park, just four miles from St Andrews in Fife, is the Rio Grande Railway – a fun way to take in the park with ease. Built in 1973, the train is a replica of a North American steam locomotive of the epic Rio Grande Railroad which cuts across the length of The U.S. and the Rocky Mountains, and it’s been running on a circular track at Craigtoun since 1976. While you’re there, you could also take a tractor ride, play crazy golf, go rowing in the boating lake or jump around on the bouncy castles!
*Please note, some attractions are seasonal and only operational from April – October.
3. Discover a ‘lost masterpiece’ at Haddo House & Country Park
As well as beautiful terraced gardens and miles of country park walks, the stunning 500-year-old Haddo House in Aberdeenshire is home to the ‘Haddo Madonna’. Featured in the BBC programme ‘Britain’s Lost Masterpieces’, it was thought the painting was an undiscovered work of the great Italian Renaissance Master, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, who is regarded as one of the most influential artists of all time. Take a tour of the house and enjoy its stately design, interiors and artwork. Haddo House also regularly runs a variety of exciting events, from outdoor yoga to summer forest school and music concerts, so keep an eye out for what’s coming up!
4. Play footgolf in Vogrie Country Park
Whether you’re a football fan, a golf lover or just fancy trying something new, the addictive combination of footgolf is a must! This interesting sport is played on a golf course using a football, with the aim of the game to get the ball in the hole with as few shot as possible using (you guessed it!) only your feet. Vogrie Country Park is located 12 miles south of Edinburgh at Gorebridge in Midlothian – and remember to book your spot at least 24 hours in advance. Vogrie Country Park also offers horse riding, orienteering and children’s activities for a guaranteed fun day out!
5. Learn how to sail at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park
Just 20 miles to the west of Glasgow, Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park has many activities to try, including sailing courses for both children and adults. The two-day courses can build your skills from a total beginner right up to being race-ready. The experienced team, calm waters of the Castle Semple Loch and light dinghies on offer make this an ideal option for beginners. You could also try paddle sports, powerboating, sea navigation or archery, among other activities, with accessible options available for sailing and cycling.
6. Have an owl encounter at the Scottish Owl Centre in Polkemmet Country Park
Get up close and personal with these beautiful birds at the Scottish Owl Centre in Polkemmet Country Park, approximately 20 miles from both Glasgow and Edinburgh in West Lothian. Learn how to handle and fly the owls, get in a photo opportunity while holding one, or take a photography workshop with the owls under expert tuition for some incredible shots that you’ll definitely want to show off. Set in 168 acres, Polkemmet Country Park also has its own golf course, driving range and other activities including horse riding, orienteering and cycling paths – so there’s something for everyone!
7. Explore over 40 buildings and secret follies at Culzean Castle and Country Park
Culzean Castle sits atop the cliffs of Ayrshire and boasts one of the largest collections of British military flintlock pistols in the world, as well as a fascinating collection of military swords. Its opulent interiors and impressive oval staircase are a must see – and you can even stay for the night! Located on the upper floors of the castle, The Eisenhower Hotel (named after its former resident) is one of the most exclusive places to stay in Scotland. Also within the park is an amazing array of outbuildings, from glasshouses to Home Farm, and the Adventure Cove and Wild Woodland play areas make it a brilliant day out for families.
8. Uncover the intrigues of Rosslyn Chapel at Roslin Glen Country Park
Cited as one of Scotland’s most remarkable buildings and only a short distance south of Edinburgh in Midlothian’s Roslin Glen Country Park, a trip to Rosslyn Chapel will leave you appreciating both its beauty and its mysteries. Made famous more recently by Dan Brown in his book The Da Vinci Code, the entire building was intricately carved in stone over 550 years ago, with links to the Freemasons and Knights Templar. Set along the banks of the river North Esk, Roslin Glen Country Park is a walkers’ paradise. It offers free parking, paths meandering through woodlands, wildflower meadows by the river, and historical features to take in too, including Rosslyn Castle.
9. Go treasure hunting with Geocaching® at Crombie Country Park
Join the Geocaching® craze – the world’s largest treasure hunt! Download the app to your device and navigate your way to a variety of geocaches. On finding a geocache, sign the logbook and leave the geocache where you found it. Crombie Country Park in Angus has over 30 to find, however geocaches are dispersed Scotland-wide, so your hunt doesn’t have to stop here. You could also enjoy a picnic or BBQ, do some bird watching in the bird hides, or feed the squirrels in the feeding area en route. The park also has a children’s play area and offers fly fishing for stocked brown trout.
10. Make some furry friends at Calderglen Zoo in Calderglen Country Park
Get up close and personal with Scottish wildcats, meerkats, kookaburras, snakes, monkeys and more. The Calderglen Country Park zoo is around 12 miles south of Glasgow in South Lanarkshire, and is home to 50 different species of animals. You can even be a zoo keeper for the day or join the animals for breakfast before the zoo opens, among other close-up encounter experiences available. Within a scenic wooded glen forged by the Rotten Calder River, Calderglen Country Park boasts an 18-hole golf course, adventure play areas, craft workshops, and stunning walks past waterfalls and geological features.
Scottish Natural Heritage have a helpful map of country parks in Scotland if you’d like to find out which country parks are located nearest you.
Whatever your ideal kind of day out is, make the most of our stunning countryside and explore more of Scotland’s fabulous landscapes. Whether its gardens and parks, national parks, or unleashing your adventurous side with outdoor activities.