Are you planning to visit Aviemore and the Cairngorms on your trip to Scotland? There is more to the area than skiing, although the skiing is pretty fantastic I admit. If you are looking for things to do in Aviemore and the surrounding Cairngorm National Park then look no further. This extensive list will help you plan all your adventures and give you plenty of choices to add to your Scottish Travel Itinerary.
The Cairngorms is home to four out of five of the UK’s highest mountains. It’s also the UK’s largest national park. During the summer months the area is a mecca for outdoor sports with 1750 square miles to explore. Whether you prefer a hike, a cycle, horse riding or canoeing anything is possible in this stunning part of the Scottish Highlands. If you are still looking to book accommodation Aviemore is the ideal town to base yourself in. At the foot of the famous Cairngorm mountain itself, surrounded by mystical lochs (60 of them!), ancient forests and breathtaking scenery it’s a town containing everything you need. There are independent shops, a supermarket, lovely little cafes and a massive range of accommodation of all types.
I’ve put this blog into my Perthshire section as the road I take to get there goes through Perthshire (the A9) but the Cairngorms are so huge the boundaries actually stretch into Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus and the Highlands.
The most obvious activity to do in theCairngorm Mountain Range is of course skiing and here there are over 30km of ski runs on the Cairngorm mountain to keep you busy. If you prefer to snowboard there is a snowboarding fun park too. You can hire equipment, take a class at the ski school or go cross country in the forest below.
The Cairngorms Mountain Range isn’t the only ski centre in the Cairngorms, there is also Glenshee which is home to one of the most challenging black runs available - The Tiger or The Lecht which is brilliant for beginners and families with lots of nursery slopes and lots of jumps and runs for skiers and snowboarders.
Sir David Attenburgh once said Rothiemurchus was one of the glories of wild Scotland and his is definitely an opinion I’d trust. It’s a place where you could easily spend the day, if not longer, exploring. If you are looking for things to do in Aviemore and have the whole day this one is for you. Beautiful scenery, walks, wildlife and a massive range of activities such as Segway, archery, pony trekking and fishing. The jewel in the crown of Rothiemurchus is the incredible Loch An Eilein. Take a leisurely walk around the Loch and take in the Highland Castle on the island. Look out for an abundance of wildlife such as Ospreys, Otters, Roe deer and Pine Martins. You can take a photography tour or head to the hides with Speyside Wildlife for a close up look.
Loch Morlich Watersports Centre
Surrounded by the Northern Cairngorms this beautiful loch is home to Loch Morlich Watersports. The team offer sailing lessons for individuals and families as well as windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing. You can also try your hand at the latest craze, Paddleboarding. I have never tried this but it’s on my bucket list, it looks amazing! If you are confident out on the water you can just hire the equipment and go solo or you can have a guided mountain bike trial if you fancy getting out of the water and exploring the Glenmore Forest Park.
Loch Insh Outdoor Centre
This centre is ideal for active families who are looking for a few days holiday without the need to go anywhere else. You can stay in one of their gorgeous chalets and spend your days learning everything from Watersports like paddleboarding and kayaking to land based sports like mountain biking, archery or even skiing or snowboarding on their dry ski slope. You can learn how to build rafts, have a leisurely afternoon in a pedalos exploring the loch or take a river trip in a canoe. A quick lesson is offered before certain sports like the paddleboarding and windsurfing but you are then free to enjoy the sports on your own.
History in the area
The Royal family’s Scottish home was bought by Prince Albert for his wife Queen Victoria after she fell in love with the Scottish Highlands on a previous visit. It’s still loved by the Royal family today who visit every year on their summer break. Although the majority of the castle is not open to the public the grounds, gardens and exhibitions can be explored as well as the magnificent Ballroom. There is also a 9 hole golf course, safari tours, guided walks and salmon fishing on the River Dee.
One of four barracks built by the government after the first Jacobite rising these remains are the best preserved. Commanding a lofty position atop a hill with rushing streams and fantastic views these barracks are eerie and fascinating. Ironically they were last used by the Jacobites who were awaiting the return of Bonnie Prince Charlie who never arrived and instead sent word that it was time every man fought for themselves. The Jacobites set fire to the barracks and left and the remains today are left in much the same condition. Now run by Historic Scotland if you visit on a quiet day you might even hear the ghosts of the chess players.
If you are looking for things to do in Aviemore and love a bit of history Blair Castle is a fantastic place to start. The beautiful white washed Blair Castle is the ancestral home of Clan Murray and was once home to the The Duke of Atholl. You can easily spot it from the main A9. It was occupied twice during the Jacobite rising of ‘45 by Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites until they were forced out by Government forces to fight at Culloden. Queen Victoria and Albert also stayed and gave permission to form the Atholl Highlanders which today are the last private army in Europe. You can take a self guided tour of the castle, dine at the Tullibardine restaurant and explore the acres of garden and grounds. Don’t miss the whimsical gothic folly or the Hercules walled garden, or the field of Highland cows.
Highland Folk Museum
One of my favourite places to visit and not only because Outlander was filmed there in the 17th century township. A massive outdoor museum showing how families in the Highlands lived from the 1700’s to the 1960’s. There are over 30 buildings including bothies, a school house, a post office and a 1930’s working croft. The stunning Cairngorm mountains provide the backdrop. If you are staying in the Newtonmore/Kingussie area you could visit here and also the nearby Wildlife Park (below) and Wildcat Experience. If you are lucky you may even catch a game of Shinty on the playing fields.
Literally in the middle of nowhere at the head of Strathdon you can see why this castle was used by Redcoats looking for the Jacobites and also whisky smugglers, it’s remote and you can see for miles although while it’s gorgeous now must have been bleek for the soldiers stationed there. See the reconstructed barracks to see how the Redcoats spend their day and check out the star shaped perimeter wall.
Strathspey Steam Railway
Leaving from just outside Aviemore the Strathspey Steam Railway travels on the original Highland railway line between Boat of Garten, Broomhill and Aviemore itself. What better way to see the scenery than from a Restored 1950’s steam train? Have an afternoon tea or a light lunch or you can even have a whisky tasting!
Landmark forest adventure park
If your kids don’t quite appreciate the beautiful landscapes as much as you do and are getting slightly bored then a day at Landmark is guaranteed to cheer them up. This is just one huge adventure land and is packed with excellent activities to excite the kids and you might just enjoy some too. There are three water raft rides, a roller coaster, a high wire challenge course with fully qualified trainers to help you along, a labyrinth with mud pools and waterfalls, a climbing wall and loads more, you can even try a skydive if you are feeling brave. There is also the world’s first “Bamboozeleum” which is weird, wonderful and completely unique magical land and just has to be seen.
Cairngorms Reindeer Centre
If you are visiting the snowy mountains of the Cairngorms it would be a shame to miss visiting the reindeers. These friendly chaps have been roaming the hills freely since 1952, in fact they are Britain’s only free ranging herd. There are daily walks up the hill to see them and they aren’t afraid of a little human contact, they will happily munch food from your hand and let you give them a stroke.
The Wildcat Experience
If you have kids and are looking for things to do near Aviemore this treasure hunt is a must. 131 colourful and individually designed painted wildcats (not real!) are hidden across Kingussie. Head to the Wildcat Centre on Main Street and pick up your TrackPack, in it you will find photos, maps and a pen to jot down which ones you find. There’s a certificate if you find 25 and a prize if you manage to find 50. If you are lucky (and fit) enough to find them all then....well you’ll just have to wait and see.
Cairngorms Sleddog Centre
For an exhilarating ride through the mountains head to the Sleddog Centre. Get hands on with those gorgeous dogs who are a top class team training for European competitions. Take a tour of the yard, learn all about them then take a ride with the dogs to a remote camp. Here you get the chance to help feed and water the dogs (and yourself) before heading back. You can also take part in a training session with an onboard voice over explaining the techniques used. For an extra little something how would you fancy doing all that but in the dark? Newly added this would be a once in a lifetime experience for anyone brave enough.
Highland Wildlife Park
There may be an abundance of wildlife to see in the Cairngorms but for a guaranteed sightings you can head to the Highland Wildlife Park, just north of Newtonmore. See Amur tigers, artic foxes, polar bears, wildcats and snow leopards as well as a huge range of other exciting animals. There are photography tours and keeper experiences as well as cafes and gift shops.
If you want a spectacular drive with some of the most amazing scenery this wee country has to offer then you could take a leaf out of Top Gear’s book and tackle the snow roads. 90 miles driving along the highest roads in Britain pretty much guarantees stunning views but drive carefully, the roads are winding and narrow in places so don’t rush. Take your time and take the opportunity to stop when you can to take photos. There are now three scenic route installations along the route named “Connecting Contours” “The Watchers” and “Still” and there are also several Photo-posts which offer superb views and the chance to see the changing landscapes.
If you want to get even higher stop off at the highest point on the route, the Cairnwell Pass just past the Glenshee Ski Centre. You will now be precisely 2199ft above sea level! To get higher jump on the Cairnwell Chairlift which will take you up a further 244 metres.
When people talk about things to do in Aviemore the Funicular Railway will usually get a mention. If you want to get to the top of the Cairngorm mountain but don’t want to put in any effort then this is a pretty fab solution. Perfect for any age or ability this funky mode of transport will whisk you up 1097 metres above sea level to a height most people wouldn’t be able to climb to and it only takes 8 minutes. When you reach the top you can have a cuppa in the Ptarmigan Restaurant and enjoy the panoramic views from the viewing platform. You can even send a postcard from the highest post box on the British Isles.
When you disembark from the Funicular Railway look out for the black timber building nearby which houses the mountain’s Camera Obscura. Designed to help visitors understand more about the mountains the camera rotates slowly projecting a real time image of the surrounding landscape onto the table in front of you. It’s free to enter and stands 635 metres above sea level.
Distilleries and Breweries
Glenlivet Distillery and visitor centre
If it’s good enough for King George IV, who visited in 1822 and demanded a taste even though it was illegal, then its good enough for us. If it’s good enough for Charles Dickens, who wrote to a friend, recommending they tried the “rare old Glenlivet”, then it’s most certainly good enough for us. Founder George Smith found the isolated and remote Livet Valley ideal for distilling whisky when it was banned in Scotland and once it became legal again began to build the brand into what it is today. Take a tour, learn their story and taste the famous whisky st the distillery near Nerhybridge.
In Aviemore the Cairngorm Brewery was established in 2001. Now their beers are on almost every supermarket shelf in Scotland and have won multiple awards. The names are typically Scottish like Wildcat, Stag and even Nessie’s Monster Mash. Take a tour of the Brewery, taste the beer and shop for merchandise or if you are having a night out in Aviemore several of the bars have the beers on tap including The Winking Owl, Macduis and the Cairngorm Hotel.
Persie Distillery at Auchanflower
The Persie Gin brand is all about the nose. Did you know if you removed the smell you wouldn’t be able to tell which gin is which? Your sense of smell accounts for 75%-95% of flavour impact. Persie Gin’s three aromatic gins smell amazing! A refreshing citrus gin with a burst of lime and blood orange, a herby gin with a whiff of basil and rosemary and a sweet almond gin with a hint of nuts, vanilla ice cream and butterscotch. The distillery is in Blairgowrie and you can visit for a free sample and a chat or a tour with three glasses in their tasting room.
This distillery has the enviable position as the highest and coldest distillery in Britain. Situated on a remote plain between two mountain ranges the large white washed buildings are unmissable from the main A9. Recently named the “Best Distillery tour” this one is a true gem. The Whisky gives a distinctive hint of honey and heather, with the Winters Gold adding a bit of spice. You can take tour of the distillery for £12 which includes sample and chocolates or if you are short on time you can pop in for a whisky and chocolate tasting.
If you like a soft, fruity whisky then a dram of Tomatin will be right up your alley. Situated just off the A9 south of Inverness and north of Aviemore they produce a range of award winning single malts and blended whisky. Take a Legacy tour, discover the history and sample three whiskies or a Taste of Tomatin with a tutored nosing and tasting of six whiskies. Discover the “softer side of the Highlands”
So there you have it, my recommendations for things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms. A quick note though, many of the sites and activities above are only open in the summer months so check out their websites to make sure they are open when you need them to be. What are you looking forward to the most? Do you love to ski or want to learn? Let me know in the comments below.