Visit the Cairngorms, Scotland
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.
UK & Ireland specialist Jasmine
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.
Things to see and do in the Cairngorms
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
Although 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Suggested itineraries featuring the Cairngorms
This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in the Cairngorms, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this 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
- Speyside 32 miles away
- Loch Ness 39 miles away
- Inverness 40 miles away
- The Highlands 46 miles away
- St Andrews 58 miles away
- Fort William 61 miles away
- Glencoe 64 miles away
- Edinburgh 78 miles away
- Loch Awe 83 miles away
- Loch Lomond 83 miles away
- Oban 85 miles away
- Glasgow 89 miles away
- Isle of Skye 102 miles away
- Isle of Jura 108 miles away
- Isle of Islay 135 miles away
Photos of 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.
The Grant Arms Hotel is an attractive Victorian-era hotel that focuses on wildlife watching. It’s located within easy reach of both the heart of the Cairngorms and Speyside.
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.
Improve your photographic skills on a three-hour guided walk through the ancient forests of the Rothiemurchus Estate, a regular filming location for wildlife documentaries. With the help of a professional photographer you'll get up close to many of its rare species.
Learn how Scotland's smooth but complex single malts are produced on a tour of a historic whisky distillery set high in the Cairngorms National Park, and discover what gives each whisky its distinctive characteristics as you linger over several samples.
Explore the vast Rothiemurchus Estate on a guided tour around ancient Caledonian forest well-known for its wide variety of wildlife. You'll also learn about the history of the estate and the Grant family who have lived here for 450 years.