Things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms
With forests pepper-potted with deep green lochans, a seemingly endless Arctic tundra where the temperature can drop as low as -27 degrees in the depths of winter, and home to ospreys, reindeer, pine martens and red squirrels, the Cairngorms National Park is one of Scotland’s true wildernesses. Here’s how to get outside and explore the lochs, glens, and Munros of the Cairngorms National Park.
Welcome to the Cairngorms…
The need to know before you go:
- The Cairngorms National Park is the UK’s largest national park covering over 4500 sq km (over 1100 sq miles) stretching from Blair Athol to Ballater and Glenlivet to Grantown on Spey.
- Aviemore might be the national park’s ‘capital’ but the Cairngorms are home to 18,000 people living in the villages of Ballater, Braemar, Grantown-on-Spey, Kingussie, Nethy Bridge, Newtonmore, and Tomintoul.
- The Cairngorms National Park is made up of over 150 estates – from the mountainous Mar Lodge to Glenfeshie, the royal estate at Balmoral, whisky at Glenlivet and the forests of Rothiemurchus, along with those managed by the National Trust for Scotland and the Forestry Commission.
- The national park contains five of the UK’s highest mountains – and the tallest, Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in Scotland – only pipped by Ben Nevis. Cairn Gorm gives the national park its name.
- The Cairngorms plateau is the highest and wildest in Britain – despite being called the ‘green hills’ it can snow here all year round and white-out blizzards are common. The Cairngorms even has it’s own famous ‘snow road’ which stretches for 90 miles through the highest parts of the national park.
- Much of the park is only accessible by foot or bike, ensuring that the park is a safe home for red squirrels, golden eagles, crested tits, crossbills and, of course, hikers and bikers.
Short on time? Here are my favourite things to do in Aviemore.
- Stroll up to the ‘green lochan’ – try to spot the fairies at the beautiful Lochan Uaine, a great walk for all the family
- Feed the birds at RSPB Loch Garten – made famous by BBC Winterwatch, go early before the crowds, stand by the feeders – very still! – hold out some sunflower seeds and you might get a visitor to your hand! The coal tits seem to be the bravest.
- Visit the Highland Wildlife Park – with the UK’s only baby polar bear, red pandas and wildcats, the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park is well worth a visit
- Go behind the scenes of Glenlivet- the Glenlivet Estate produces one of the oldest whiskies in Scotland and you can go on a tour by argo-cat.
- Go to the beach at Loch Morlich – did you know the UK’s highest beach is in the Cairngorms National Park? Go for sunbathing, water sports or to walk around the loch.
Got longer? From hiking to biking, here are my favourite ways to get outside and explore Aviemore and the Cairngorms National park.
Map of things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms
My favourite walks in Aviemore and the Cairngorms
Looking to get a taste of the Cairngorms National Park? Here are my favourite walks in the Cairngorms suitable for all the family.
Visit the fairies at Lochan Uaine, the green lochan
Deep in the heart of the ancient Glenmore Forest and surrounded by huge Caledonian pines is the beautiful Lochan Uaine – where it is said the waters get their green hue from the local fairies washing their clothes in it. As you explore the path up to the loch keep an eye on the crags above you, for the fairies are most likely to appear on Sithean Dubh da Choimhead (the black fairy hill of the two outlooks) where they keep a watch over the National Park…
The 3.7 miles / 6 km walk up to Lochan Uaine is a popular walk for families. If you are looking for a more strenuous walk, hike up to the Ryvoan Pass. Walk Lochan Uaine
Watch out for the wolf at Loch an Eilein
To the east of Aviemore is the beautiful Rothiemurchus Estate and 10,000 hectares of Caledonian Forest. In the heart of the forest is Loch an Eilein (Loch of the Island). There is a gorgeous 4.5-mile circular walk or cycle around the loch – look out for Ospreys and red squirrels.
The castle in the middle of the loch was built by the grandson of Robert the Bruce, Alexander Stewart. Known as the Wolf of Badenoch, Stewart was known for setting fire to his domain, including Forres and Elgin cathedrals, mostly due to not being allowed to marry one of his many mistresses. Later the castle on Loch an Eilein passed to Dame Grizel Mor Grant who sheltered Jacobite fugitives from the battle of Culloden in 1746. Walk Loch an Eilein.
Visit Big Donald at Loch Morlich
Scotland’s highest beach at Loch Morlich is a huge draw on a summer’s day – and the 4-mile circular walk around the loch takes you along the beaches with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
Visitors to the loch should watch out for Big Donald, the King of the Fairies. However, if you remember to leave no trace of your visit to Loch Morlich then there is no need to fear, for Big Donald appears to protect the landscapes and wild animals which live around this beautiful loch. Do you dare to provoke him? Walk or cycle Loch Morlich.
Hike a great trail in the Cairngorms
Looking for a longer walk?
- Farleitter Crag and Uath Lochans – hidden away in Glenfeshie are the Uath Lochans and above the lochs is a great view – climb up to Farleitter Crag for an incredible view across to the Monadhliath Munros – the grey mountains. Climb Farleitter Crag.
- Glen Tilt Circuit – Starting from Blair Athol, the Glen of Tilt circuit takes you around one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens. The circular walk will take you 5 hours and is 9.5 miles in total. Walk the Glen Tilt Circuit.
- The Ryvoan Pass – Hike from the Glenmore Lodge to Nethy Bridge along the remote Ryvoan Pass hiking through the beautiful Abernethy Forest and past the Green Lochan. The one-way walk will take you 5 hours and is 9.5 miles in total. Walk the Ryvoan Pass.
- The Dava Way – From Forres to Grantown on Spey, this one way 24-mile walk follows the Highland Railway line to Dava. Walk the Dava Way – there is a B&B at Dava if you want to break the walk into two sections.
- Badenoch Way – walk 11 miles one way alongside the River Spey from Ruthven Barracks to near Aviemore through RSPB reserves and forests. Walk the Badenoch Way
- Cateran Way – taking you 64 miles through Perthshire and the Angus Glens, the Cateran Way is a circular walk, best walked in 5 stages. The trail is named after cattle thieves from the middle ages who raided Strathardle, Glenshee and Glen Isla. Walk the Cateran Trail.
- The Deeside Way – on the east side of the national park, the Deeside Way will take you 41 miles from Aberdeen to Ballater. Follow the route by bike or by foot from Ballater to Aboyne and visit the Burn O Vat and Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. Walk the Deeside Way.
…and for a really big walk…
The Speyside Way – Follow the River Spey from Aviemore to Buckie on the Moray Firth coast on one of Scotland’s four official walking routes on 65 miles of waymarked paths and tracks. Usually walked north to south, the Speyside way is broken down into 8 sections – within the national park you can walk from Grantown to Aviemore via Nethy Bridge and Boat of Garten. Walk the Speyside Way.
The East Highland Way – Stretching 82 Miles / 132 KM from Fort William to Aviemore, East Highland Way takes you past Ben Nevis to Newtonmore and along the River Spey to Aviemore where the route joins up with the Speyside Way. The route is best walked in 7 sections over a week-long trip. The East Highland Way is an unofficial route so it is not waymarked. Walk the East Highland Way.
Winter in the Cairngorms – Skiing in Scotland
The main centre for winter activities in Scotland is Aviemore where you have access to the ski slopes. The largest ski resort in the UK is at the Glenshee Ski Resort in the Cairngorms National Park, with 22 lifts and 36 runs – check out the huge Glenshee piste map. Other ski centres can be found at The Lecht and Cairngorm Mountain.
Explore the Cairngorms by bike
Whether you like to cycle up mountains or prefer things a wee bit more leisurely, here is how to see the best of the park by bike:
- Like long distance riding? National Cycle Route 7 takes you from Glasgow to Inverness through the national park
- Mountain bikers will love the purpose built tracks at the Glenlivet Estate, the Lecht Ski Centre and Laggan Wolftrax.
- Hire a bike and cycle around the gorgeous Rothiemurchus Estate
- More ideas for mountain biking in the Cairngorm
Go Munro Bagging in the Cairngorms
There are 282 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000ft) to bag and 55 of them are in the Cairngorms National Park. Four of the Munros – Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine) are in the top five highest hills in the UK – after Ben Nevis. Cairn Gorm is one of the most famous Munros in Scotland (and gives the national park its name) and Bynack More one of the most visible in the Park.
Here are some of the more lesser known Munros to climb:
- The Glenshee 9 – often bagged by beginners in good weather, these Munros have a very high start point – try the Cairnwell and Carn Aosda.
- Dreish and Mayar – climb up the stunning Corrie Fee to the Cairngorm plateau where you can climb to the summits of Mayar and Driesh, a pair of Munros.
- Beinn a Ghlo – made up of three Munros, Beinn a Ghlo can be climbed in one very long day out in the hills.
- Drumochter Hills, near Dalwhinnie – climb up the slopes of Geal Charn for a view over to Loch Ericht to Ben Alder or if you are feeling energetic, you can complete both Munros Geal Charn and A Mharconaich on a round trip.
- Monadhliath Munros – the grey mountain is made up of a series of peaks including The four Munros of Carn Dearg (945m) , A’Chailleach (930m), Geal Charn (926m) and Carn Sgulain (920m)
- Lochnagar – one of Scotland’s best mountains, bagging Lochnagar (otherwise known as the White Mounth Munros) takes you around five high-level circuit Munros above Loch Muick and the dark coire.
Note – If you haven’t hill walked before, or if you are visiting the national park in winter, please consider whether you have the correct gear and you are walking in weather conditions you can handle. Check MWIS for the latest forecasts.
Hill walking in winter / in the snow is only for the very well experienced and prepared. Read more about the Munros in the Cairngorms National Park
Things to do in Aviemore & the Cairngorms
- Discover RSPB Loch Garten – home to Ospreys, crested tits and red squirrels, RSPB Loch Garten was made famous by BBC winter watch – stand still enough and the coal tits might feed out of your hand! Visit RSPB Loch Garten
- Visit the Highland Wildlife Park – with the UK’s only baby polar bear, red pandas and wildcats, the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park is well worth a visit. Visit the Highland Wildlife Park.
- See Cairngorm Reindeer – did you know the Cairngorms have their own reindeer herd? You can visit the reindeer in their mountain wilderness, walks start every day at 11 am.
Things to do in Aviemore in the rain…
- Strathspey Railway – re-opened in 1978, the Strathspey Railway takes you on a steam train adventure north from Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Broomhill along 10 miles of track. Join the train fro afternoon tea or dinner, or get off an explore at each station. Prices from £23 return. Book your tickets online at Strathspey Railway.
- Highland Folk Museum – with 30 houses from the 1700s to the 1950s, the Highland Folk Museum gives you a taste of life in the Highlands including a 1700s Township (featuring 6 houses) and a 1930s working croft. The museum is free entry and is open April to November. The museum also had a role in the TV series Outlander! Visit the Highland Folk Museum.
- Ruthven Barracks – Built to house soldiers fighting against the Jacobite rebellion, Ruthven Barracks is an impressive fortress when viewed from the A9 – and it is well worth pulling off the road for a visit. Ruthven Barracks is open all year round and is free to visit. Visit Ruthven Barracks.
Whisky in the Cairngorms…
- Visit Dalwhinnie Distillery – Scotland’s highest whisky distillery sits at 1,164 ft (355m) above sea level. Dalwhinnie is a Highland whisky and tours of the distillery run every day throughout the year. The Distillery Tour (£12) includes a 45-minute tour and two drams with a complimentary glass, the Tasting tours (£25) includes 4 single malts. Make sure you try the Distillers Edition – a double sherry casked whisky of loveliness! Visit Dalwhinnie Distillery.
- Glenlivet Hill Trek – take a tour behind the scenes of ‘the single malt that started it all’ with the fantastic Glenlivet Hill Trek. The One Life, One Livit tour will take you around the Glenlivet Estate in an all-terrain Argocat (basically a mini tank) before lunch in a bothy and a tour of the distillery. Read more: Glenlivet Hill Trek.
How to get to Aviemore and the Cairngorms
- Driving – the Cairngorms National Park can be assessed from both the A9 to Inverness and the A93 to Glenshee. The A9 is one of Scotland’s most notorious roads and is really busy with traffic all year round – so if you can, take the Glenshee road and drive the dramatic Snow Road north through the heart of the national park.
- By train – you can get to the Cairngorms direct from Edinburgh and Stirling. There are train stations at Blair Athol, Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore or Carrbridge. The mainline trains to Inverness stop at either Kingussie or Aviemore.
- By the Caledonian Sleeper – the sleeper train will take you all the way to Aviemore on its way to Inverness from London.
- By bus – daily intercity buses running from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Inverness stop at lots of places in the park including Aviemore and the Highland Wildlife Park – check out the CityLink timetable for more details.
Where to stay in the Cairngorms
- Lazy Duck, Nethy Bridge – If you dream of retreating to a tiny log cabin in the woods, then I have the perfect spot for you. With an 8-bed hostel, a beautifully quiet 4-pitch campsite and three romantic eco-huts, the Lazy Duck is a little piece of off-grid heaven. Stay at the Lazy Duck. Stay at the Lazy Duck.
- Balsporran B&B, Dalwhinnie – a luxury B&B with real heart (and Dalwhinnie whisky!) deep in the Drumochter Pass in the Cairngorm National Park. Upstairs are four simple, but luxurious, guest bedrooms and downstairs, owners Fiona and Geoff serve up lovely communal meals. Stay at Balsporran B&B*
- More places to stay in Aviemore and the Cairngorms*
Hungry after all that? The Mountain Cafe serves up some of Scotland’s best breakfasts – it’s worth the queue!
Love, from Scotland x