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Cairngorms National Park picture in Scottish Highlands
Cairngorms National Park picture in Scottish Highlands
Loch Morlich picture in Scottish Highlands
Cairngorms National Park picture in Scottish Highlands
Cairngorms National Park picture in Scottish Highlands
Loch Morlich picture in Scottish Highlands

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Details

  • Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation Type
  • Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.6
Overall
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  • Value
    5.0
  • Facilities
    4.5
  • Atmosphere
    4.5

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Cairngorms National Park is its own world. You could easily spend days exploring the many mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and villages that comprise the United Kingdom's largest national park. Measuring 1,748 square miles, Cairngorms not only boasts four of Scotland's five tallest mountains but also five of the U.K.'s six tallest peaks. In addition to plenty of hiking, biking and skiing trails, the park also features unique attractions. Here you'll find ancient castles – including Balmoral Castle, a favorite of Queen Victoria – and an impressive number of breweries and distilleries, as well as Britain's only free-grazing reindeer herd, the Cairngorm Reindeer.

With so much to see and do, the park may be overwhelming for first-time visitors. The most popular activities in the park are hiking, seeing the Cairngorm Reindeer and riding the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, which transports passengers 3,500 feet up into the park's mountain range. For a low-level trek, try the 5-mile-long Kingussie to Newtonmore trail, which weaves along the base of the Monadhliath Mountains and the peaceful River Spey.

You'll also want to take advantage of the park's beautiful lochs. Loch an Eilein is favored by recent travelers for its tranquil landscape and intriguing 13th-century castle ruins, which sit on a small island in the middle of the loch. Another popular spot is Loch Morlich, which has its own beach and water sports rental center. 

Getting around Cairngorms National Park is fairly easy. The park features multiple accessible highways and railways throughout. If you aren't renting a car, you can take the ScotRail train into Blair Atholl, Kingussie, Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Carrbridge and Aviemore. Lots of visitors, however, choose Aviemore as their base. As for getting around the park itself, you can travel by train to the above stations or take the bus to other towns. Certain routes are operated by different bus companies, so it's best to check out the Cairngorms National Park's website before you go. Cairngorms National Park is free to visit, though some attractions inside the park do cost a fee. The park has no set hours, however you should not hike at night without a local guide or venture off marked trails.

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#1 Isle of Skye If you only had time to visit one part of the Scottish Highlands, let it be the Isle of Skye. Located on the west coast of the Highlands, Skye is ... Read more » sara_winter / Getty Images

#2 Glencoe You may hear the word "glen" a lot during your trip to the Scottish Highlands. A glen is another word for a narrow valley and the Highlands is filled with ... Read more » Shaiith / Getty Images

#3 Cairngorms National Park Cairngorms National Park is its own world. You could easily spend days exploring the many mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and villages that comprise the United Kingdom's largest national park ... Read more » Louise Heusinkveld / Getty Images

#4 Eilean Donan Castle Of all the castles to visit in the Scottish Highlands, Eilean Donan Castle is the one worth taking the detour for. Located near the small town of Dornie in the ... Read more » Petr Meissner / Flickr

#5 Glenfinnan & the West Highland Line The "Harry Potter" movies were filmed throughout the Scottish Highlands (the location of Hagrid's hut can be found in Glencoe), but the most recognizable location is in Glenfinnan. Remember ... Read more » miroslav_1 / Getty Images

#6 Loch Ness You can't leave the Scottish Highlands without visiting the infamous Loch Ness, Scotland's largest loch (by volume). Loch Ness is known worldwide for housing the mythical, dinosaur-like monster ... Read more » LordRunar / Getty Images

#7 Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Scotland's first national park houses Loch Lomond, Britain's largest loch. The park is much smaller than its northern neighbor (Cairngorms National Park is 1,748 square miles while ... Read more » coleong / Getty Images

#8 Beaches If you really want to take in the full spectrum of the Highlands' geographical grandeur, make time for its beaches. Some of the beaches feature waters so clear and sands ... Read more » VWB photos / Getty Images

#9 Golf If you're a golfer and happen to be in the Scottish Highlands, you'll want to take advantage of the region's beautiful courses. In fact, the Scottish Highlands ... Read more » ImagineGolf / Getty Images

#10 Duncansby Head England has the White Cliffs of Dover, Ireland has the Cliffs of Moher and the Scottish Highlands has Duncansby Head. Located on the northernmost tip of Scotland's east coast ... Read more » marcoisler / Getty Images

#11 Ben Nevis The most popular trail in the Scottish Highlands is also one of its most challenging. Ben Nevis, the U.K.'s tallest mountain, sits just 7 miles southeast of Fort ... Read more » StevanZZ / Getty Images

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Cairngorms National Park picture in Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle picture in Scottish Highlands
Glenfinnan Viaduct picture in Scottish Highlands
Boat tours in Loch Ness picture in Scottish Highlands
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs picture in Scottish Highlands
Beaches in Scottish Highlands picture in Scottish Highlands
Golf in the Scottish Highlands picture in Scottish Highlands
Duncansby Stacks picture in Scottish Highlands
Ben Nevis picture in Scottish Highlands
Isle of Skye picture in Scottish Highlands
Glencoe picture in Scottish Highlands
Cairngorms National Park picture in Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle picture in Scottish Highlands
Glenfinnan Viaduct picture in Scottish Highlands
Boat tours in Loch Ness picture in Scottish Highlands
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs picture in Scottish Highlands
Beaches in Scottish Highlands picture in Scottish Highlands
Golf in the Scottish Highlands picture in Scottish Highlands
Duncansby Stacks picture in Scottish Highlands
Ben Nevis picture in Scottish Highlands

The Quiraing found in the Isle of Skye (pictured) was once a mountain, but experienced a massive landslide that made the natural wonder look as it does today.  sara_winter / Getty Images

Glencoe is one of travelers' favorite destinations in the Scottish Highlands. Visitors say the best way to take in the area, especially if you're short on time, is to drive along the A82 Highway into Glencoe Village, where you'll run into the pictured peaks.   Shaiith / Getty Images

Cairngorms National Park's abundance of forests make for a perfect trip during fall.  Louise Heusinkveld / Getty Images

Eilean Donan Castle is lauded for its beautiful location, acting as the junction between three different lochs. It also offers up some fascinating history, serving as a point of contention during the Jacobite era.  Petr Meissner / Flickr

If you're a "Harry Potter" fan, you will no doubt recognize the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is the same viaduct that the Hogwarts Expresses passes on its way to the school in the "Harry Potter" movie franchise.   miroslav_1 / Getty Images

The most popular thing to do in Loch Ness is take a boat tour. While recent travelers say they didn't spot Nessie, seeing the loch from the water made their Scottish Highlands experience all the more memorable.  LordRunar / Getty Images

Autumn is a particularly beautiful time to visit Loch Lomond & The Trossachs.  coleong / Getty Images

To experience the full spectrum of the Scottish Highland's geography, you must visit the beaches. The best beaches can be found on the islands, though if you don't have time to island hop, the northwest coast also has a reputation for beautiful shorelines.  VWB photos / Getty Images

The Scottish Highlands are home to some of the most scenic golf courses in Scotland.  ImagineGolf / Getty Images

England has the White Cliffs of Dover, Ireland has the Cliffs of Moher and Scotland has the cliffs in Duncansby Head. You can find Duncansby Head, with its striking sea stacks, in the northernmost region of Scotland's mainland.  marcoisler / Getty Images

Ben Nevis is the U.K.'s tallest mountain. The hike to the summit is a little more than 10 miles round-trip and takes about seven to nine hours to complete depending on conditions and your fitness level.  StevanZZ / Getty Images

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