Cairngorms National Park

 Rothiemurchus Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Rothiemurchus Estate, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland –© Visit Scotland

The Cairngorms National Park is located in north east Scotland, designated a national park in 2003, Cairngorms is the largest national park in the UK attracting many visitors each year. The park is located in the Aberdeenshire, Angus, Highland, Moray and Perth and Kinross regions and is known for its famous mountains, forests, natural scenery and rich cultural heritage. The national park is managed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and includes a number of charming small towns and villages within its borders, providing a place of tranquillity and calm in north east Scotland.

The park has a number of areas including the Aviemore and Cairngorms, Angus Glens, Atholl and Glenshee, Tomintoul and Glenlivet and the Royal Deeside and Donside areas. The park is largest national park in the UK, twice the size of the Lake District, offering visitors with plenty of things to see, do and experience. The area has a wealth of history and heritage and includes 60 scheduled ancient monuments, 4 conservation areas and includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) noted for both their biological and geological importance and National Nature Reserves including Corrie Fee and Glenmore.

The area is popular with visitors showcasing Scotland at its finest, popular activities climbing, skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, sailing, white water rafting, horse riding, quad biking, orienteering, bungee jumping and walking and cycling with a number of routes to explore. Visitors can enjoy the spectacular scenery and inspiring landscape, varied wildlife, forests and lochs and take part in a range of activities whilst enjoying the tranquilly and peace of the area.

Quick Facts

Cairngorms National Park:

Year of Designation: 2003

Population: 17,000

Scheduled Ancient Monuments: 60

Conservation Areas: 4

Size in square kilometres: 4,528

Main Settlements: Aviemore, Ballater, Braemar, Grantown-on-Spey, Kingussie, Newtonmore, and Tomintoul.
Located in: Aberdeenshire, Angus, Highland, Moray and Perth and Kinross in North East Scotland.
Highest Point: Ben Macdui at 1,309 metres.


The Cairngorms National Park is located in the north east of Scotland, it became the second national park in Wales after Snowdonia. The Cairngorms National Park is located approx 100 miles to the north east of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Time permitting visitors to Cairngorms could combine a visit here to the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Cairngorms provides a place where visitors can enjoy some of the finest natural scenery in Scotland including forests, moorland and mountains, away from the traffic and congestion of large towns and cities, making it a great place to get away from it all and reconnect with nature. Historically the Cairngorms have been inhabited since prehistoric times and over the years a number of archaeological finds give an insight into the history of the area including remains from Celtic and Pictish times.

Over the years settlements have been built in the are; there is evidence of Celtic and Pictish eras from the 10th to 18th centuries with a number of castle remains. During the Victorian era the railways came to the Highlands and tourism in the area was established whilst during the Windsor era, larger houses and lodges were built along with an increase in tourism to the area that has continues since.

The rural and remote location in north east Scotland means Cairngorms is a popular place for visitors looking for activity breaks and for those after a rural getaway with peace, quiet and tranquillity. The park attracts many visitors especially in the summer months with visitors coming from across the UK and beyond on short breaks and holidays. Cairngorms is located around 2 hour 30 minutes to 3 hours drive from the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, 4-5 hours drive from Newcastle and Carlisle, 6 hours drive from Liverpool and Manchester and 9-10 hours from London.

The area is famous for its spectacular natural scenery, some of the finest in the UK, mountains, lochs, forests and a number of local towns and villages known for their warmth and hospitality. In common with most national parks in the UK, the Cairngorms does not include any major large cities or large towns within its borders, the town of Aviemore is a popular destination for visitors, the tourist resort provides a number of facilities, amenities, accommodation and activities. The other main settlements include Ballater, Braemar, Grantown-on-Spey, Kingussie, Newtonmore and Tomintoul with a number of smaller villages and hamlets.

There are a number of cities and towns that are located outside the official border of the park, these include Inverness, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee. The city of Inverness seen as the gateway to the Highlands is located less than 30 miles from Aviemore. Scotland’s largest city Glasgow and capital city Edinburgh are located 2.5-3 ours drive from the park, offering a choice of accommodation, local amenities and local transport links to travel to and from the national park.

The Special qualities relating to the areas challenging landscapes, natural beauty including the mountains, forests, lochs, archaeology and diversity of wildlife ensure Cairngorms is a special place. The qualities include the park being a haven for peace and calm, a rural and remote setting with wide open landscapes and clean air providing a place for visitors to relax, unwind and appreciate the natural environment. The park has a great variety of wildlife and is home to many endangered species in the UK. The rich history of the area, way of life, traditions and strong local communities in the local towns, villages and hamlets mark the area out as special.

Cairngorms Facts & Figures include the large size of the park covering 6% of the total area of Scotland. Five of the highest mountains in the UK lie in the Cairngorms and there are 55 mountains over 900 metres in the range. The Cairngorms includes the finest collection of glacial landforms outside of arctic Canada ranging from granite tors to deposits from the Ice Ages. The park is home to 25 percent of the UK’s threatened animal, bird and plant species.

Local accommodation includes a choice of hotels ranging from inexpensive budget hotels, mid range hotels and luxurious hotels, cosy B & B’s and inns, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, cottages, camping facilities, log cabins and time share stays; there is accommodation available in Aviemore, Grantown on Spey, Ballater, Newtonmore and Braemar within the park boundaries and also in Inverness, Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen that are all conveniently located for further exploring the region.

Visitor Information Centres are located at various locations in the Cairngorms. Visitor centres are located at Aviemore, Ballater, Braemar, Crathie Tomintoul, Newtonmore and Grantown on Spey, each has knowledgeable staff with local knowledge on local attractions, things to see and do, local tips and advice. The centres include books, maps, gifts, stationary, leaflets, brochures and more. A visit to the visitor information centres provide a good first port of call for visitors and can help to better plan, organise and enjoy your trip.

Cairngorms Towns & Villages include the town and tourist resort of Aviemore, the main centre in the Cairngorms is a popular destination for visitors throughout the year. The town is surrounded by stunning scenic beauty where visitors can experience the wonder of the Scottish Highlands. Aviemore is one of the leading ski resorts in the UK and is a popular destination in the summer for families. There are a range of shops, restaurants, pubs, eateries and local amenities. There is a range of accommodation on offer from budget to more luxurious including hotel chains, cosy B & Bs, chalets and lodges. The town is popular for hill walkers, skiing, winter sports and adventure sports.

The facilities and amenities in Aviemore make it an ideal place for visitors to base themselves from when exploring both the Cairngorms and the wider Highlands region.

Ballater is a town located 50 miles south east of Aviemore. The town is a gateway to the Cairngorms and is the largest settlement on the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park. The location in the east of the national park makes the town an ideal base from which to explore the area. There are a number of outdoor activities available including skiing, golf, fishing, shooting, mountain biking and more. The town is popular with visitors and is noted for its natural beauty best illustrated by its scenic mountains and lochs. There is a choice of accommodation available in the town including, hotels, gusts houses, B & Bs and chalets. Facilities include a number of retail outlets where visitors can find gifts, souvenirs, outdoor clothing and much more. The town includes a number of cafes, bars and restaurants.

Grantown-on-Spey is located 15 miles north east of Aviemore in the north of the national park. The town provides a convenient base from which visitors can explore the Strathspey area and possible alternative to staying in Aviemore. Local attractions include a 18 hole golf course, Grantown Heritage Museum and the Revack Estate that includes an orchid house, adventure playground, nature trails and scenic gardens for visitors to explore. The town offers a range of outdoor activities including skiing in and snowboarding in the winter months and climbing and various walks along with wildlife watching. Visitors with a penchant for whisky can visit a number of distilleries where there are personalised tours and tutored tasting sessions. The town includes a range of accommodation options.

Blair Atholl is a town located 50 miles south of Aviemore in Highland Perthshire, located at the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains, it is seen as the southern gateway to the Cairngorms National Park. The town includes an extensive programme of events throughout the course of the year, including village markets, traditional entertainment and family orientated programmes. Local attractions include Blair Castle, Atholl Country Life Museum, Pass of Killicrankie and the House of Bruar that is located close by, where visitors can find an impressive range of Scotland’s finest produce, a choice of clothing and rural artworks. Local activities include golf, mountain biking, gorge walking, pony trekking and much more. Local accommodation includes hotels, cottages, chalets, guest houses and camping and caravan sites.

Cairngorm Mountain Railway is located close to Aviemore, it is the highest in the UK, opened back in 2001, the railway has quickly established itself as a top local attraction. The railway is Scotland’s only funicular railway. Visitors can enjoy a ride on the railway and upon reaching the top will be able to be wonderful panoramic views from over 3,500 feet. At the top there is the Ptarmigan Restaurant along with a exhibition, shop and viewing terrace along with the highest post box in the UK.

Kildrummy Castle is located in Aberdeenshire, a few miles from the national park boundary. The castle is in ruins, but shows a great example of a 13th century castle in Scotland, that was once the seat of the Earls of Mar. In its prime back in the middle ages, the castle would have dominated the local area and has been described as the ‘the noblest of northern castles’. Over the years the castle has featured in historical events during its rich and long history.

The Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre is located approx 30 miles from Aviemore on the northern edge of the national park. A firm favourite for visitors with a penchant for whisky, there is a visitor centre that including a coffee shop serving a range of snacks, drinks and light refreshments. There is an exhibition that outlines the history of Glenlivet and a gift shop that includes a number of gift ideas, souvenirs and a range of whiskies. Visitors can go on a number of tours, one is the free glenlivet tour that includes a guides tour of the warehouse and the distillery. Paid tours include the spirit of the malt tour and the legacy experience that include detailed tours and in depth tasting, popular among whisky connoisseurs and aficionados.

Wildlife at Cairngorms benefits from the varied landscape and environment ensuring the largest national park in the UK is also a wildlife haven. The park includes a mosaic of habitats that are high quality and impressive in scale and size. The park is home to many of Britain’s endangered species and including golden eagles, red squirrels, crossbills and capercaillie.

Walks & Activities are available in Cairngorms, with a number of walks ranging from gentle in scenic countryside walks to moderate, energetic and much more challenging mountain routes. Visitors can set off on a self guided walk, join an organised walk or set off with a qualified walking guide. There are a number of local path networks around the park providing a great way to see Aviemore, Deeside, Angus Glen, Highland Perthshire and more.

There are a number of walking routes including the East Highland Way, a challenging 82 miles route that goes from St Andrews to Aviemore in the national park. The Speyside Way is a 65 mile route that goes from Moray Firth coast of north eastern Scotland, south westwards to Aviemore. There are guided walks available from qualified walking guides, visitors can benefit from local knowledge and expertise. The walks are a great way to learn more about the park and see the wildlife, archaeology and ecology up close.

Cycling is a popular activity in the park with 64km of off road routes offering plenty of opportunities for cyclists including touring and mountain biking with a number of mountain bike trails and National Cycle Network routes. Cycling in the Cairngorms offers an environmentally friendly way to tour the area, get closer to nature, get fit and appreciate the park from a different perspective. There are a number of touring routes where visitors can see historic sites, castles and stop off at a local pub or inn.

Other activities in the park include water sports including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rafting, river tubing and canyoning. Other popular activities include horse riding, skiing, snowboarding, climbing, golf, quad biking, bungee jumping and bird/wildlife watching . The activities provide visitors with an enjoyable way to further explore the national park and see the best in the varied wildlife and landscape of the park up close. The activities and walks cater for people of all abilities, with a number of things to see and experience, there is something for a wide range of interests and tastes.

Visitors to Cairngorms will find there is a wide variety of things to see, do and enjoy in the park, the size of the park along with the varied landscape and wildlife means there is something to appeal to most tastes. The park is a well established and popular destination among day trippers and visitors on weekend, short breaks and longer breaks. The park enjoys good road and public transport links including to local centres such as Aviemore, making it assessable from much of Scotland and England. The range of landscapes including mountains, forests and scenic lochs, open spaces along with the historic towns and villages makes Cairngorms an ideal place to relax and get away from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

How to Get There

The Cairngorms is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

From Glasgow, Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park is located 140 miles away via the M8, M80, M9 and A9, with an approx journey time of 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours. From Edinburgh, Aviemore is located 125 miles away via the A90, M90 and A9 with a journey time of 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on traffic and time of day. Aviemore is located 530 miles from central London, via the A5, M1, M18, A1(M), A1, A66, M6, A74(M), M74, M73, M80, M9 and A9. The journey time is approx 9 hours 30 minutes to 10 hours depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Aviemore has regular services from King’s Cross rail station with a journey time of approx 7 hours 30 minutes. There are regular services to Aviemore from Glasgow and Edinburgh, the approx journey time is 2 hours 40 minutes to 3 hours, depending on service and time of day.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular coaches available from London Victoria coach station to Aviemore. The approx journey time is 12 hours to 12 hours 30 minutes, depending on service, traffic and time of day. From Glasgow, there are coach services available to Aviemore, the journey time is around 3 hours 30 minutes. From Edinburgh Coach services are provided by National Express

Contact Details

Cairngorms National Park Authority
14 The Square
Grantown on Spey
PH26 3HG

Telephone: +44 (0)1479 873535

Website: Cairngorms National Park


For Local Search and Directions see: Cairngorms National Park Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to Cairngorms ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the national park, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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