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High mountains and beautiful glens typify the Cairngorms, a lonely mountainous plateau southeast of Inverness. Much of this wild landscape is protected by the Cairngorms National Park, the UK's largest. Hikers, climbers and mountain bikers flock here to make the most of the untamed scenery, which is mostly only accessible on foot.

Ancient woodland, castles, legendary salmon rivers and whisky distilleries skirt the park, while the interior is untouched and home to a huge diversity of flora and fauna, and many endangered species. 

The Cairngorms occasional bleakness is part of its appeal. The craggiest, wildest national park in the UK, when the mist rolls in it’s an atmospheric, boreal place. It’s ideal for active people as well as whisky devotees.

UK & Ireland specialist Jasmine

Things to see and do in the Cairngorms

Mountain scenery

The raw and unforgiving beauty of the Cairngorms comes from the magnificent peaks formed from a large, elevated plateau of rounded glacial mountains. Five of the six highest peaks in Scotland are here with Ben Macdui, Britain's second highest mountain at 1,309 m (4,295 ft), at the heart of the plateau.

A wild and lonely peak, the lack of road access ensures Ben Macdui is a far less visited place than Ben Nevis. From its summit, you gain sweeping views over the surrounding mountains and valleys as well as the impression of being very far from the rest of the world.

Interior of the Cairngorms National Park

Red squirrelAlthough the outer edges of the Cairngorms National Park are home to thriving villages, farms and outdoor activity hubs, the wild mountain tops, heath moorlands and peat bogs of the interior are remote and far from any road.

By way of traditional but often unmarked walking trails, this part of the park is particularly scenic and utterly tranquil. It’s home to some of Britain's much-loved but endangered wildlife species, such as the Scottish wildcat, golden eagle and red squirrel. You can also see ospreys, pine martens, grouse and capercaillies here, along with a wide variety of subarctic vegetation.

Outdoor activities

The Cairngorms are a wonderful natural playground, popular for hiking and climbing as well as mountain biking and fishing. The majestic mountain scenery offers a challenging and eye-catching terrain for experienced hikers and climbers, while the river valleys provide more sedate surroundings for gentle walks and rides.

In winter, Cairn Gorm mountain transforms into Britain's biggest ski area, though snowfall is notoriously unreliable. The River Spey, which crosses the northeast of the national park, is renowned for its salmon fishing. Here too is the Speyside Way, a riverside walk through glorious wooded scenery.

Whisky distilleries

Speyside, the region around the River Spey, is whisky distillery country. You’ll find over half of all Scottish stills in the area. Big names such as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are based here as well as numerous smaller distilleries, many of which are set in historic stone buildings in remote but scenic glens.

On a distillery tour, you learn about the traditional whisky-making techniques passed down over generations, the influence of the environment on the finished product and the history of whisky smuggling in the area.

Aviemore, leaping-off point for the Cairngorms

Gateway to the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore is a lively little town with a large number of outdoor equipment shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It's the natural hub of the area, where walkers, climbers and cyclists often assemble before taking off into the surrounding mountains.

The town was first developed as a ski resort in the 1960s and still suffers from some of the bad planning decisions of that era. It still makes a convenient base with good transport links, plenty of information and advice, and all the services visitors need for a trip into the wilds of the nearby national park.

Grantown-on-Spey

A planned town on the gushing River Spey, Grantown-on-Spey was founded in 1765 and its streets are lined with Georgian and Victorian houses built from the steely local stone. The area is the ancestral home of Clan Grant, a major Highland family. Their ancestral seat, the baronial Castle Grant, still stands to the north of town, though no longer in the family’s hands.

Grantown makes a good base for exploring the Cairngorms and the Speyside whisky trail or for fishing on the internationally renowned River Spey. A small town museum tells the history of the area, while the surrounding ancient Anagach Woods offer good walking and mountain biking.

Rothiemurchus Estate

A vast private estate, owned by the Grant family since the 1540s, Rothiemurchus protects one of Scotland's largest remnants of the Caledonian Forest. This ancient Scots pine woodland once covered most of the country but now only exists in small pockets, supporting a range of wildlife from red squirrels to wildcats, ospreys and capercaillies.

The estate offers a network of walking trails as well as ranger-guided walks, trout fishing, clay pigeon shooting and biking. Its rich history combined with the scenery and excellent wildlife viewing, makes it a popular place to explore.

Loch an Eilein

Part of the Rothiemurchus Estate, Loch an Eilein (Loch of the Island) is a natural lake surrounded by ancient pine trees. A small island rises romantically from its heart, the ruins of a medieval castle visible through the thick vegetation. You can complete a circuit of the lake on a path that weaves along the shore, lending views of both the island and the surrounding mountains.

A castle was first built on the island in the 13th century, and over the years it was embellished and rebuilt and was once joined to the lakeshore by a causeway. The castle was in use until the 18th century and then slowly fell into disrepair.

Speak to someone
who's been there
Audley Travel Specialist Brian

Start planning your tailor-made trip to the Cairngorms by calling one of our Scotland specialists at 617-223-4752

Suggested itineraries featuring the Cairngorms

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in the Cairngorms, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of the Cairngorms

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near the Cairngorms

    Accommodation choices for the Cairngorms

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit the Cairngorms. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing the Cairngorms

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting the Cairngorms, and which use the best local guides.