Cairngorms National Park On a BudgetThe Cairngorms National Park is an over 1,700 square mile park in the center of Scotland and is home to some of the most beautiful sights in the country. Voted one of the top 20 places to visit in the world by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, the park features everything from castles to wildlife tours to white water rafting. There is really no bad time to visit the park, as you will always have something to see and do here! In the winter, from late November-March, you can ski the slopes and go on snow treks. Summer, from May-September, is fantastic for walking, hiking, and canoeing.
SightsThe natural beauty of the Cairngorms is a sight to behold; from ancient forests to waterfalls and mountains that were formed by the ice age, the beauty is breathtaking. One of the best places to enjoy the landscapes is at the Wild Mountain Garden on top of Cairngorms Mountain where you'll find incredible, rare, flowers and sweeping views of the surrounding area. The park is also home to quite a few castles and mansions, including Blair Castle, Balmoral Castle, and Braemar Castle. Balmoral is actually a residence of The Queen of England and was considered a paradise by Queen Victoria. If you're a fan of the show Monarch of the Glen, you can visit Monarch Country where they filmed the majority of scenes for the show. Even if you're not familiar with the show, Monarch Country is a lovely place to tour.
VillagesThere are quite a few small villages located along the ring road that runs through the park, ranging from larger resort towns with all of the amenities to small villages with just one store. One of the biggest villages is Aviemore, a major resort town and one of the top ski areas in the park. Aviemore is a great basecamp for exploring the rest of the park since it has a number of shops and supply stores to stock up for your adventure. Braemar is a scenic town located in the heart of the park and is the east gateway to the mountains. It is also home to Braemar and Kindrochit Castles as well as shops and restaurants. Kingussie is the capital of the Upper Spey Valley and is one of the best places to start outdoor adventures as there are many companies there to set you up with all the gear you need.
ActivitiesThe Cairngorms are one of the best places in the UK for outdoor fun, with miles and miles of trails and countless lochs and rivers, there is something for everyone. Whether you are a novice walker or a hiking enthusiast, you can select one of the dozen trails to follow based on difficulty level and landscapes. The most popular novice walk is the trail through the ancient and mysterious Caledonian pine forest in Glenmore while the Speyside Way is a more advanced trail that stretches 65 miles. In the village of Kingussie, you'll find all of the resources you need to set up outdoor adventures including horseback riding, whitewater rafting sailing, canoeing, and cycling.
Food and DiningThe majority of restaurants in the park are attached to the inns and hotels and serve mostly Scottish cuisine with lamb and potatoes being the focus of many dishes. The majority of restaurants are in Aviemore where you'll also find more cuisines such as Indian and Italian. Keep in mind that most restaurants that are found away from the ring road tend to be canteen style with limited options, so it may be helpful to bring your own lunch on day trips in the park. What the Cairngorms lack in restaurants, they make up for in distilleries, with a total of 5 distilleries throughout the park. One of the most famous is the Dalwhinnie Distillery which is the highest elevated distillery in the country. You can book tour of all of the distilleries and even walk the whisky trail which connects all of the distilleries.
TransportationTraveling to the park is easiest via car, bus, or coach as the nearest airports are Aberdeen and Inverness. Once inside the park, you can use the Heather Hopper bus service that runs across the hills from Braemar to Aviemore. There is also the Strathspey Steam Railway and electric lifts throughout the park to help you reach each destination. If you want to find the best hidden gems in the park though, you may need to rent a car as public transport does not reach every part of the park.
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