Cairngorms National Park

#3 in Best Things To Do in Scottish Highlands
Cairngorms National Park picture1 of 3
Cairngorms National Park2 of 3
Louise Heusinkveld/Getty Images

Key Info

Grantown on Spey

Price & Hours

Free

Details

Beaches, Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.6

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 4.5Facilities
  • 4.5Atmosphere

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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Isle of Skye1 of 10
Glencoe2 of 10
Type
Time to Spend
#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 the largest island of the Inner Hebrides. The island is filled to the brim with otherworldly landscapes. There's a lot to see on this island, but travel experts and visitors say you can't leave without peeping these gems: the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr, Neist Point and the Fairy Pools.

The Quiraing is the perfect introduction to Skye's spellbinding geography. As you descend down the Quiraing, you'll be greeted with sweeping views of stunning geography: Cracked plateaus with craggy cliffsides lead the way to an expansive valley of verdant rolling hills, stately rock formations and alpine lakes. Situated 13 miles south is the Old Man of Storr, a single, pinnacle-shaped rock which stands out for its looks; it's so tall and distinct, it can easily be spotted from sea level miles away.

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