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Location Guide: What to Do in the Cairngorms

The Cairngorms National Park is in the heart of the stunning Scottish Highlands. At over 4,500 square kilometres, the Cairngorms is Britain’s largest national park. And what’s more, it contains the widest area of arctic mountain landscape in the UK.

Whether you’re looking for adventure or simply searching for stunning scenery, you’ll find plenty of things to do in the Cairngorms to ensure you have a wonderful trip.

Our Top Places to Stay in the Cairngorms

From B&Bs to bunkhouses and log cabins to chalets, there’s something for every taste and every budget when it comes to finding places to stay in the Cairngorms National Park. Pitch your tent in the wilderness and get back to nature or choose a luxury guest house or hotel in Aviemore, one of the Cairngorms’ main towns. There are loads of things to do near Aviemore, making it a great base for your stay in the Cairngorms.

Winter sports resort in the Cairngorms National Park

Looking for a winter sports resort in the Cairngorms National Park? Cairn Gorm is Scotland’s most popular snow sports destination, with 30km of ski runs designed for all levels and abilities of skiers and boarders. As the highest resort in the country, Cairngorm ski conditions tend to be more reliable than at other resorts. The season lasts from December to April, although this is not guaranteed – the mountain is often forced to close due to high winds. With parking on site and most equipment available to hire, Cairn Gorm is a great place to try out skiing or snowboarding for the first time.

But the fun doesn’t stop at Cairn Gorm. Did you know there are three ski resorts in the Cairngorms National Park? Perfect for beginners and experienced skiers alike.

Cairngorms National Park Hiking

The area is well known for having some of the best walking opportunities in Britain. And it’s no surprise: five of Scotland’s highest mountains lie within the boundary of Cairngorm National Park. Scenery is a mixture of lochs, open grasslands and remnants of the original Caledonian pine forest including a rare kind of pinewood found only in Scotland and Norway.

Remember though, even in the height of summer the air can be chilly if you’re climbing. Make sure you’re prepared with plenty of fleece layers including warm hats and gloves.

Cairngorms National Park: walks you mustn’t miss

While there is a funicular railway* that can whizz you to the top of Cairn Gorm in 8 minutes, once you reach the top you’ll find you’re not allowed to leave the Ptarmigan building unless you have pre-booked a guided walk. This is for valid reasons of conservation, but it means that Cairngorms National Park walks are better found elsewhere.

Scale the peaks
Want to walk the highest peak in the park? At 1,309m, Ben Macdui holds that crown. It is in fact the second highest mountain in Britain after Ben Nevis. There are several challenging routes you can take. Our favourite is heading to Lochan Buidhe and then south across the frozen landscape to the summit with a return via Cairn Lochan. Whichever way you choose you’re looking at a good seven or eight-hour hike.

If long distance is your thing, walk all or part of the Speyside Way, a beautiful route taking in pine forests, lochs and stunning vistas everywhere you turn. Or take on the Lairig Ghru – 19 miles of challenging mountain pass. You can join a guided walk if you don’t fancy going it alone, although tickets sell out fast.

Circle the lochs
If you love a loch, there are plenty of shorter walks that will take you down to the banks of the water. Try Loch Garten within the Abernethy Forest – look out for ospreys soaring above your head, circle Loch Morlich enjoying the snow-covered peaks in the background or take a short walk on good footpaths around Loch an Eilein in Rothiemurchus.

While you’re there, take some photos of the intriguing ruined castle perched atop the island in the middle of the water. You’ll find plenty of spots to cool off your toes on a summer’s day.

Wildlife spotting in the Cairngorms

Amazingly, the Cairngorms National Park is home to a quarter of the UK’s endangered bird, animal and plant species, which makes it the perfect place for wildlife lovers and amateur photographers. Keep your eyes open for sightings of rare species like golden eagles, red squirrels, wild cats and Crested Tits as you wander leisurely through the forests. You might even catch a glimpse of the Scottish Crossbill – the only bird that’s unique to the UK.

Other (Less Active) Things To Do in the Cairngorms

When you’ve tired of skiing, walking, fishing, shooting and stalking, why not investigate what the rest of the park has to offer? There are plenty more things to do in Aviemore and the surrounding areas.

Here are a few of our favourite ideas:

Visit the Queen’s Scottish Residence
Balmoral castle has been the holiday home of the royal family since 1852. As a private family estate, the stunning turreted castle is open to the public from to July, and closes while members of the Queen’s family are in residence. See art exhibitions, a collection of quartz crystals found in the Cairngorms during the 1800s and three acres of formal walled gardens.

If you’re a keen royalist, don’t miss out on the opportunity to dine at Prince Charles’ restaurant, The Rothesay Rooms in Ballater just a few miles up the road.

Ride the Strathspey Steam Railway
Winding its way from Aviemore to Broomhill, the Strathspey Steam Railway offers you the chance to step back in time, relax and take in the views around you.

Visit a Distillery
When you’re in the Scottish Highlands, a distillery tour is a must. And with a number to choose from, you needn’t worry about there being things to do in the Cairngorms when it’s raining. You’ll learn the history of making whisky as well as tasting plenty of it and discover the story of Queen Victoria bestowing the royal warrant of approval on Royal Lochnagar Distillery. Choose from this, Glenlivet in Ballindalloch, or Dalwhinnie to the south west.

Do Some Sightseeing
From 16th century Corgarff Castle to the picturesque Bridge of A’an, built in 1754 to provide a route over the Avon, you can’t fail to be impressed by the history of this area. And why not visit us at our Pitlochry store while you’re passing? You can stock up on outdoor clothing to keep you snug on those chilly Cairngorn summits.

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland and wondering what to do in the Cairngorms we hope we’ve given you some inspiration. No matter what you get up to, just make sure you open your eyes and your heart to the breathtaking beauty that surrounds you. And breathe all that clean, fresh air into your lungs.

*At the time of writing, the funicular railway is closed due to structural issues. Check here for updates when you’re planning what to do in the Cairngorms on your next trip.

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