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Loch Morlich, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Loch Morlich, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Things To Do In The Cairngorms

"It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world. The history is fascinating...and the whisky is delicious." JK Rowling

Have a Highland Fling You’ll Always Remember

You don't have to go abroad for majestic mountains, a pristine landscape, and amazing wildlife because it's all waiting for you in the glorious Cairngorms. The Cairngorms National Park stretches north to Grantown-on-Spey and south to Pitlochry, and from Kingussie to Ballater. It's an enormous natural playground you will never tire of, and the ideal choice for your self-catering Highland holiday. Trust us, or trust National Geographic Traveller Magazine, whose readers voted it one of the top 20 places to visit in the world.


Discovery Days

Loch Insh
Loch Insh, Nr Kincraig

Blair Atholl

Blair Atholl is the ideal base for a Highland walking holiday, being surrounded by a landscape of ever-changing colour which has inspired artists and writers for centuries. The Blair Atholl Estate offers 145,000 acres of natural playground. At its centre is Blair Castle which has been the family seat of 19 generations of Stewarts and Murrays, and which has played a role in many key events in Scottish history. The castle gardens are a lovely place to stroll, while more energetic visitors can cycle, hike, fish, go wildlife spotting, take a tractor tour, or go on a Land Rover Safari.


Sitting on the banks of the River Spey, Kingussie is another town that is small in size but big on activities. You can try virtually any sport you can think of, including a tricky 18-holes on the hillside golf course, but it's also fantastic if you want to do nothing more than sample the local whisky and admire the view. Kingussie hosts Strathfest, an annual music festival, every March, but there is often live music in local pubs like The Tipsy Laird. The town and surrounding area were used for filming the popular BBC series 'Monarch of the Glen', and this map is handy for a self-guided tour for fans.


Golden Eagle
The Golden Eagle

Walkers and climbers will love Laggan for the easy access to The Grampians and the Monadhliath Mountain range. The unspoilt scenery is home to deer and osprey, golden eagles, and pine martins. Many activities take place on the Ardverikie Estate, and the mountain biking at the Laggan Wolftrax Centre is some of the best in the country. Laggan Outdoor Centre is hugely popular with families who love the variety of activities on offer.

Discover the local Reindeer!

Cairngorm Mountain is also wonderful all year round. Animal lovers can spot hares, deer, rabbits, foxes, voles, and red grouse. Cairngorm Mountain is the only place in the UK with a herd of reindeer. Guided walks will give you the best chance of seeing these local residents. See here for details.

Cairngorms Reindeer
Cairngorms Reindeer

Royal Deeside

Braemar, Ballater, and the surrounding area are known as Royal Deeside. It has been a popular summer holiday destination for the British royals since Queen Victoria discovered its charms and turned Balmoral Castle into the ultimate self-catering Cairngorms holiday cottage. The queen favours Balmoral while Price Charles is a frequent visitor to nearby Birkhall Estate.

What you will see depends on the time of year you visit, but the best way to discover it is on a guided tour with a company like Hidden Deeside Tours. You'll be amazed at what you can find when you step off the well-trodden tourist trail and see the beauty and history through the eyes of a knowledgeable local.

Ballater itself is close to Lochnagar, Loch Muick and Balmoral and has a literal royal seal of approval! It sits at the foot of Craigendarroch Hill which offers an array of wonderful short walks, and is a long-time favourite with royals and friends of royals meaning that some of the restaurants in the area are first rate. Rothesay Rooms in Ballater (open Wednesdays to Sundays) showcases the finest of Scottish fare and has more than a royal warrant, it has royal ownership, having been set up by Prince Charles.


Home of the Highland Games, the small village of Newtonmore explodes with vibrancy and life on the first Saturday of every August. From 100m sprints to tossing the caber, and even a pipe band competition, the Highland games have been a feature of the community here for generations.

Highland Dancing
Highland Dancing

Another typically Scottish sporting event is Shinty, which is played between March and September. It is not played anywhere else and, while you may not understand the rules, you can't avoid the excitement. Just stand near a friendly local who will be happy to explain what is happening. A match between reigning Premier Division Champions Newtonmore and their fiercest rivals Kingussie is not to be missed! If sport is not your thing, pay a visit to the Highland Folk Museum and the Clan MacPherson Museum.

Rainy Days

Red Deer
Red Deer Stag

Badan Mosach Falls

Don't let rain keep you indoors. Get your wet weather gear on and make your way to the Badan Mosach Falls near Kincraig. This series of falls are at their most impressive during or after rain, and can be seen whilst taking an easy four kilometre circular walk leaving from the Glenfeshie carpark.

Strathspey Railway

Stay warm and dry while you sightsee from a vintage carriage on the Strathspey Railway. In addition to sightseeing tours that last around an hour and a half, you can book a special tour and tuck into a delicious dinner, Sunday lunch, or morning or afternoon tea on your journey, and family friendly events take place during the school holidays.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle, Cairngorms

Between April and July, when the royal family are not in residence, it is possible to explore Balmoral Castle, including the Garden Cottage Queen Victoria used as a peaceful hideaway and office. The Castle's ballroom is nothing short of magnificent, and where the reigning monarch has hosted Ghillies Balls every summer since Queen Victoria's days. No visit to a stately home would be complete without a visit to a great cafe and gift shop, and Balmoral is no exception.


There is an old Scottish saying that today's rain is tomorrow's whisky. See why at the Dalwhinnie distillery. If you have a few hours to spare, book a tour and enjoy sampling world-class single malt whiskies with delectable chocolates made to complement the flavour of the spirits. If you don't have time for a tour, you can still stop by the shop and enjoy the samples.

Highland Wildlife Park

Bears Playing
Bears in the Highland Wildlife Park

Not the most obvious choice for a rainy day but the main reserve of the Highland Wildlife Park is a drive-through, allowing you to see the animals from the shelter of your car or a guided Land Rover Tour. Come rain, sleet or snow, there's plenty to see with bison, deer and even polar bears. Make sure you bring wet weather gear as you won't want to miss the parks other highlights. Zip up your rain coats and wander through Wolf Wood or visit the Amur tigers and snow leopards. It's a great day out whatever the weather and a good opportunity to see Scottish wildlife up close, as well as endangered species from around the world.

Adventure Days

Snowboarding in Aviemore

The Scottish Highlands are all about The Great Outdoors, and there is no shortage of ways to enjoy it in the Cairngorms. Here are some popular choices for adventure days in and around the national park.

The Scottish Highlands are all about The Great Outdoors, and there is no shortage of ways to enjoy it in the Cairngorms. Here are some popular choices for adventure days in and around the national park.


As one of the largest towns in the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore is a busy hub for all sorts of exciting activities and somewhat of an adrenaline junkie's paradise. With skiing, snowboarding, and ice caving in the winter, and hiking, fishing, canoeing, golf, and mountain biking when the snow melts, it's absolutely gorgeous in whatever season you visit.

Aviemore is easy to reach via public transport with regular trains (some direct) from London Kings Cross taking approximately seven and a half hours. Surrounded by stunning scenery, Aviemore is the perfect spot for a day's shopping and leisure. Browse the shops for souvenirs and locally produced items, stopping for a restorative pot of tea (or pint) at one of several excellent cafes, pubs, and restaurants serving traditional hearty Scottish fare. An impressive calendar of events includes skiing and snowboarding competitions, a motorbike rally, golf tournaments, and a fantastic parade every Christmas Eve.

Skiing and Snowboarding

CairnGorm Mountain is one of the UK's leading ski resorts. Adult, child, and family day passes make it fast and simple to access the slopes for non-stop skiing and snowboarding. There is a good snow school for beginners and those who want to improve their skills, and a funicular railway for anyone who just wants to appreciate the view from the restaurant at the top.

Cairngorm Adventure Guides & Rothiemurchus

A warming dram of whisky in front of a roaring fire will be even more welcome when you've spent the day winter walking or ski mountaineering. Cairngorm Adventure Guides are based in Aviemore and run a variety of courses and guided events throughout the year. In summer you can go canoeing, rock climbing, or hill walking. The best way to experience the natural beauty of CairnGorm Mountain is while you are on it, and Cairngorm Adventure will allow you to do it in safety.

Also running from Aviemore is Rothiemurchus. This fantastic venue offers quad biking, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, ranger tours, pony trekking, Segway expeditions, archery, walking, cycling, off-road 4WD driving, and treetop walks. It's impossible to be bored at Rothiemurchus!

Loch Morlich

Loch Morlich
Watersports on Loch Morlich

The quality of the beach at Loch Morlich is more what you'd expect to find in the Caribbean than the UK. The sandy bay nestles in the protection of the Cairngorms and is expertly managed by the Forestry Commission, with sailing and canoeing just two of several watersports you can try. It's a strange but pleasant feeling, sitting on a beach and looking at mountains, especially in winter when they are covered with snow.


Embrace the complete mountain experience at the Cairngorm Sleddog Centre. There are only a few places in the UK you can enjoy the exhilarating experience of being pulled along at speed by huskies and other dogs who love to run. The Cairngorm Sleddog Centre offers a range of experiences all year round, including the ability to get involved in the care of these engaging animals.

Ice Caving

The Cairngorms are full of amazing sights. In recent years, these have included caves and tunnels formed from ice and snow - some of which are large enough to walk through. The safest way to see the phenomenon, as well as find other stunning views to enjoy, is with a professional guide like those at Cairngorm Adventure Guides and Talisman Cairngorm Guides.

Mountain Biking

The Cairngorms have so many awesome mountain biking trails that you won't know where to begin! Beginners and less confident cyclists may want to start with the Speyside Way, which runs between Aviemore and the Boat of Garten. The six-mile trail is well defined and mainly flat, so it is suitable for children, and the views are very pretty. Rothiemurchus Forest has a variety of trails to suit all levels of experience. It is a good place to go with your family or a group of friends where there is a mix of abilities.

The Old Logging Way in Glenmore will test your downhill skills (and your uphill strength). It's not hugely technical in that it does not have an abundance of turns and obstacles, but it is possible to pick up a fair amount of speed which is either fun or hair-raising, depending on your point of view! Nearby is the Ryvoan Pass, which is more technically challenging. It is not suitable for beginners or those who struggle with their fitness as there are some steep climbs and uneven stretches along the 26-miles between Glenmore and Aviemore.

If you really want to build up an appetite, the Burma Road will do it. Nearly 25 miles of punishing climbing takes you across a landscape which can feel remote even by Highland standards. In addition to wild mountain biking, Cairngorm has several trail centres including WolfTrax, Glenlivet, and Lecht.

Lazy Days

Loch Morlich
Relax at Loch Morlich

Whether your idea of a lazy day is snuggling up in front of a roaring fire with a wee dram, skimming stones across the crystal clear waters of Loch Morlich or sitting quietly spotting wildlife, make sure you build in time for simply relaxing in the Cairngorms.

Potting Shed Tearoom Inshriach

A morning spent with tea, cake, and pretty gardens is good for the soul. Inshriach Nursery and Potting Shed is ten minutes from Aviemore and serves some of the most delicious cake in the area. All the cakes are freshly made on the premises, and they have whole cakes available to order - just the thing for a special picnic. Whether you make a special trip or detour via there on your way to or from Aviemore, it is worth the drive.

Play a Round of Golf

It's impossible to talk about a great holiday in Scotland without including golf. Scotland is the game's birth nation, and the Cairngorms has a dozen wonderful courses set against breathtaking mountain backdrops. Kingussie course is so well designed that it has barely changed in over a century, while Newtonmore's 18 holes run along the banks of the River Spey. If you don't want to play a full 18 holes, Craggan's nine-hole course is well laid out and has great views, as does Abernathy.

Other courses include MacDonald Spey Valley, Braemar, Grantown on Spey, Dalmunzie, and Carrbridge.

Speyside Wildlife


Hunker down in a hide and let nature entertain you at Speyside Wildlife. Opt for a day trip, a dusk watch, or an experience tailor made for you to witness rare and shy creatures in their natural habitat. The guides are hugely knowledgeable and even a novice will leave feeling like an expert under their helpful guidance.

Sublime Spas

While the scenery lends itself to adventure and excitement, no one will think any less of you if you spend the day doing nothing more energetic than booking a spa day. Cairngorm Beauty Therapy and Spa creates treatments to suit the needs of its clients with a choice of spa days to meet your budget and preference. Soak, steam, and have your cares massaged away in a peaceful and serene environment

Weekenders' Guide

Essential Guide to the Cairngorms
A whirlwind tour!

We have given you a comprehensive overview of the many delights awaiting you in the Cairngorms, but here are a few of those we think are absolutely unmissable.

See the Highland Games

Highland games are far more than athletics. The custom has been part of Scotland's tradition for thousands of years and remains as popular today as ever, despite being outlawed between 1746 and 1822. The games bring Highland Communities together and allow old rivalries to be contested in strength, speed, dancing and piping. Highland games are as Scottish as it's possible to be without being a thistle dipped in whisky and wrapped in tartan.

The Cairngorms host Scotland's largest and most prestigious games in Braemar on the first Saturday in September, as well as smaller events in Blair Atholl, Tomintoul, Newtonmore, Ballater, Abernathy, and Ballater between May and September.

Marvel at the Northern Lights

You don't have to travel to Scandinavia to see the Northern Lights. An autumn or winter visit to the Cairngorms could leave you witnessing the magnificent Aurora Borealis. The best place to view them is from an elevated position removed from light pollution, and as the Cairngorms are on the same latitude as Norway and Alaska, it offers perfect conditions for the lucky few who are in the right place at the right time. You can increase your chances of seeing the glorious spectacle by looking at the Aurora Alerts website or following @aurorawatchuk on Twitter.

Find your Family Tartan

Do you have Scottish ancestry? If so, why not find your Scottish tartan. You can search the official Scottish Register of Tartans to see if your family is part of a Scottish clan with its own pattern. If not, you can commemorate your visit with an item made in The Cairngorms National Park tartan which you can buy online, or find in shops like the Harris Tweed and Highland Shop on Main Street in Newtonmore.

Wild Swimming

Discover the pleasures of wild swimming at Cambus O'May in Ballater. With a bridge, shingle shore, and depth of up to four metres, it's a lovely spot to swim in the River Dee. Other wild swimming spots in the Cairngorms include Loch an Eilein near Aviemore, the river and rock pool near the bridge at Feshiebridge, and the gorge at Strathmashie on the western border of the Cairngorms National Park which is near a car park just off the main road.

Fall in Love with Loch an Eilein

The crystal clear water of Loch an Eilein (Loch of the Island) reflects the beautiful pine forest and hills that surround it. A clearly defined path wends its way through the forest and around the foreshore towards the romantic ruins of a 13th Century castle on the island after which the loch is named. If you are feeling especially energetic you may want to climb Ord Barn for more stunning views. The path leads from the barn in the corner of the car park.

Last Minute Offers in The Cairngorms

Thinking of a break in The Cairngorms? Let us tempt you with a selection of our best last minute offers. Remember, we don't charge a booking fee, so the price you see is the price you pay.

Did you know?

The Cairngorms National Park is larger than Luxembourg, measuring more than 4,500 square kilometres. It includes four of the UK's five highest mountains: Ben Macdui (1309m), Braeriach (1296m), Cairn Toul (1291m), Cairn Gorm (1244m).

Many famous people have been seduced by the beauty of the Cairngorms. Bob Dylan owns Aultmore House near Nethybridge, though the locals have never seen the reclusive poet and musician.

Relics of Scotland's patron saint, St Andrew, were buried in Braemar before being moved to St Andrews. Other relics of the saint are stored in Patras in Greece.

Highland games may have originated in the Scottish Highlands (or Ireland, depending on who you ask) but the largest annual games are hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco and attract up to 50,000 competitors and spectators. You'll see trees and rocks thrown, but never haggis - that's just a waste of food!

You'll certainly get a chance to stretch your legs in the Cairngorms National Park. Not only does it cover 6% of Scotland, but it also has 55 peaks above 900 metres.