Dalkeith Country Park is located near Edinburgh in Midlothian. The historic estate features large grounds that include woodland and farmland where visitors can walk for several miles on rough tracks and tarmacked roads.
Restoration Yard is a visitor centre that includes a children’s adventure park, gift shops and a restaurant. Entrance to Dalkeith Country Park is free but there is an admission fee for the play park.
Review of Dalkeith Country Park
The historic county of Midlothian seems to be permanently out of favour with visiting tourists – mainly due to the fact that it borders Edinburgh and most sightseers have already got their hands full trying to fit in as many city attractions as possible before hopping on the coach to their next destination.
That, of course, means there are lots of attractions in Midlothian that aren’t constantly besieged by camera-wielding tourists and therefore offer a relatively peaceful family day out.
One of these is a bit of a favourite of mine as it covers all the bases – lovely countryside walks, a decent place to eat, quality shopping and a play park to keep the kids busy – while also being easy to get to and having no entrance fee.
The attraction in question is Dalkeith Country Park, an attraction that’s definitely worth a look if you ever find yourself in the area and stuck for something to do.
The park is part of the Buccleuch family estate which covers a not-inconsiderable 1,000 acres encompassing forestry, farmland, a grand house, a river, a shopping and restaurant complex and an enormous adventure playground.
To get to Dalkeith Country Park drive north through Dalkeith high street on the A6094 to the far end, just before the road turns into a tight 90-degree corner.
You can’t really miss the park as the spire of St. Mary’s Church can be seen straight ahead behind a large gated entrance surrounded by a thick coppice of woodland.
From this point you can park up in a small parking area that has space for around 20 cars and walk into the estate, or drive through the grounds to the old laundry house which has parking for another 40-ish vehicles.
If you park at the laundry house you’ll find yourself in the centre of the main attractions with the Restoration Yard shopping area to one side, the adventure play park dead ahead and Dalkeith Palace behind, all surrounded by woodland, farmland and criss-crossed by a web of paths and single-track roads.
Entrance to the park is free and there are plenty of spaces to sit down with a picnic which makes a visit a potentially very cheap day out, but if you’ve got children you’re going to have to open your wallet for the Fort Douglas play park (although it’s not a bad price for a couple of hours peace and quiet).
The playpark is very well-equipped, the café is first-class with a delicious assortment of locally-sourced food, and the shops are excellent with an eclectic mix of quality Scottish food and clothing, so you could quite easily spend all your time in this one area of the estate.
But for me, a visit to Dalkeith Country Park is all about the outdoor space and with huge open lawn areas, riverside walks, cycle routes and woodland trails I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be in Midlothian on a warm summer day.
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Things to do at Dalkeith Country Park
While your first instinct after arriving might be to make a beeline for Dalkeith Palace I’m afraid you’ll have to content yourself with looking at it from the outside as it’s (unfortunately) off-limits to the public.
This is a real shame as it’s a stunning building and I can only imagine how grand it must be inside but it’s currently used by an American university so other than taking a few photos there’s not much you can do there.
The expansive lawn in front of Dalkeith Palace is totally open for use though and it’s a great spot for a picnic, but if you’d rather go for a walk you’ll find tarmac roads that join the palace to Restoration Yard.
These single-track roads are in a good condition and they offer accessible routes through the park that anyone can enjoy, whether on two feet, pushing a pram or in a wheelchair.
You’ve got a couple of options from Dalkeith Palace. If you follow the road west you can enjoy a large woodland that has several footpaths and two large open parks – Westgate and Howlands – or you can follow the road north which will take you to the River Esk and onwards into the estate’s farmland.
Alternatively, or you can stop at Restoration Yard and herd the kids into Fort Douglas adventure park while settling back with a cuppa.
This retail space features wee boutiques that sell a range of men’s and women’s clothes along with books, games, homeware and furniture, so if you’re looking for a gift you’re bound to find something suitable inside.
Across the courtyard you’ll find a selection of workshops aimed at bringing a little peace into your life where you can enhance your wellbeing with yoga, pilates and lifestyle coaching, while bellies can be filled in the adjoining restaurant.
Fort Douglas, meanwhile, is situated behind Restoration Yard on the other side of the River Esk. A bridge allows access to a collection of treehouses, tunnels, climbing walls and suspension bridges that are divided into two play zones – one for toddlers and the other for ages five and up.
As it’s quite a new attraction the equipment is in tip-top condition and from what I’ve seen it’s very sturdy so there shouldn’t be any problem letting children go wild in there.
If you’d rather not leave them unattended you’re allowed to join in the fun – but I’m afraid your four-legged friends will have to wait outside while you’re clambering around in the treehouse.
Elsewhere on the site you’ll find the remarkable 12-sided Orangerie that has been renovated from years of neglect into an atmospheric wedding venue, and the Montagu Bridge that was created by the celebrated Scottish architect Robert Adam in 1792.
The last big draw for Dalkeith Country Park are the walking routes and you’ll find several waymarked paths in the estate ranging from an easy 20-minute ramble to a decent two-hour hike through farmland and woodland.
The longer walk is highly recommended as it offers 5 miles of unspoilt countryside where there’s a good chance you’ll see roe deer, otters, squirrels, foxes and buzzards.
The history of Dalkeith Country Park
The parkland has been owned by the Buccleuch family for over 300 years and it’s still managed by the Duke of Buccleuch to this day, though it can actually trace its roots all the way back to Roman times.
In fact, the woodlands are so old they’ve been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and some of the trees are over 900 years old! That’s pretty incredible considering so much of the area surrounding Edinburgh has been developed to accommodate farmland and housing.
But it’s not just the parkland that’s old as Dalkeith Palace has a lot of history too. While it’s not officially a palace it’s still a stunning building and takes the accolade of being one of the finest early classical houses in Scotland thanks to renowned architect James Smith who designed it to replicate the Dutch palace Het Loo.
The palace was completed in 1711 and was sited to replace a much earlier medieval fort, with additional buildings like the Orangerie, the bridges and the laundry house added over the course of the next 100 years.
You’ll find lots of historic attractions in this region of Scotland but two nearby ones that I highly recommend are Seton Collegiate Church which lies to the north of Prestonpans and Rosslyn Chapel which lies a few miles south-west of Dalkeith.
If you’d like to visit somewhere that’s even older, check out Crichton Castle which is a 13th-century fortification set deep within in the Midlothian countryside.
- The walking routes through Dalkeith Country Park are superb. Long enough for a decent walk but also paved so they’re easy to access.
- Restoration Yard has a good selection of shops and the restaurant offers great food at a reasonable price.
- Fort Douglas is one of the best children’s play parks in Midlothian and it’s more than big enough to keep children occupied for an hour or two.
- Looking for another attraction nearby that the kids will love? Try Edinburgh Insect & Butterfly World.
- If you’re a frequent visitor to Fort Douglas you can join their loyalty programme and earn points to spend in the cafe.
- Enjoy fishing? Permits are available from the Fort Douglas kiosk that permit fly-fishing on the River Esk.
Dalkeith Country Park,
Via King’s Gate,
Click the map for directions
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near Dalkeith Country Park
- Gilmerton Cove. 16 Drum St, Gilmerton, Edinburgh EH17 8QH. 10-minute drive. A subterranean labyrinth of caves and passageways that are believed to be hundreds of years old but have an unknown purpose. Visitors are taken underground on a guided tour that explores the history of Edinburgh and the secrets of the caves.
- Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World. Melville Nurseries, Lasswade EH18 1AZ. 7-minute drive. An indoor tropical attraction that is home to a collection of animals from across the globe including giant spiders, snakes and jungle insects. A visit includes presentations and displays by expert handlers.
- Vogrie Country Park. Gorebridge EH23 4NU. 13-minute drive. Expansive country park deep in the heart of the Midlothian countryside. Vogrie features a maze of paths for woodland walks as well as a playground, café and miniature railway.
- Carberry Tower mansion house. Carberry Tower Estate, Musselburgh EH21 8PY. 9-minute drive. Grand 18th-century country house set in 35 acres of countryside. The house is open both as a hotel and as a restaurant. The grounds are free to visit and paths run to Queen Mary’s Mount where Mary Queen of Scots is said to have rested after her defeat in Edinburgh.
- National Mining Museum Scotland. Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange, Dalkeith EH22 4QN. 10-minute drive. A colliery museum located in a converted coal mine. A visit allows visitors to experience a replica coal mine on a guided tour, presented by ex-miners who worked at the site.
More places to visit in The Lothians
- The Bass Rock – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideThe Bass Rock is absolutely enormous and reaches 107 metres above sea level at its highest point, with most of the sides of this 320 million-year-old volcanic plug standing almost vertical above the pounding waves of the Firth of Forth.
- Seton Collegiate Church – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideSeton Collegiate Church, known locally as Seton Chapel, is a collegiate church south of Port Seton in East Lothian. The church is situated next to the magnificent Seton House – which can be glimpsed through the trees at one end of the site – and the grounds are a total oasis of peace and quiet.
- Hailes Castle – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideLocated a mile and a half from East Linton in East Lothian, Hailes Castle sits in a beautiful riverside setting that’s perfect for an afternoon of exploring followed by a picnic next to the gentle River Tyne that flows behind it.
- North Berwick Law – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideStanding 187m above sea level, North Berwick Law dominates the landscape around the popular town of North Berwick.