Cairngorms National Park

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The spectacular Cairngorms National Park is Britain’s largest National Park which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2013. It's a living, working landscape with wild land at its heart, and an unrivalled range of outdoor attractions and activities to enjoy in a compact and accessible area.

The following four-day itinerary picks out a selection of highlights to explore.

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  • Looking towards Blair Castle on a summer's evening, the seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, north west of Blair Atholl
    Blair Castle, dating from the 13th century and the seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, north west of Blair Atholl
  • A group walking into Corrie Fee in the Angus Glens
    Corrie Fee
  • One of the Strathspey Steam Railway trains passes the outskirts of Aviemore with the River Spey and mountains beyond
    The Strathspey Steam Railway near Aviemore, Highlands
  • Two walker stop to take in the Punch Bowl and the Linn of Quoich on Mar Lodge Estate
    The Punch Bowl and the Linn of Quoich, Mar Lodge Estate
  • Canoeists and kayakers take to the water at Loch Morlich in the Glenmore Forest Park, Highlands
    Watersports at Loch Morlich, Glenmore Forest Park, Highlands

Cairngorms National Park logoThe CairnGorm Mountain Centre is an essential part of any visit to the park, no matter what time of year...

CairnGorm Mountain car park is 9 miles south east of Aviemore.  From Aviemore, take the B970 and follow the signs to CairnGorm Mountain past Glenmore.

In the winter season, CairnGorm Mountain is Scotland’s most popular ski resort and offers a variety of runs for skiing, snowboarding and sledging. You can check out the snowboard park or ski down the seven green, six blue and eight red runs or test your skills on the black piste.

The Ptarmigan Restaurant on the summit of CairnGorm mountain, the UK's highest restaurant

Getting to the top of the mountain couldn’t be easier. A funicular railway runs to the Top Station just 400 m from the summit, from where visitors can walk to the top of the mountain from the car park or join a guided walk (please book in advance).

To warm yourself up, pop into the Cas Bar at the summit and try a reviving hot chocolate or grab something to eat in 1097, formerly the Ptarmigan Restaurant, which at 1,097 m above sea level is the UK’s highest restaurant.

There are also plenty other ways to enjoy the great outdoors within Cairngorms National Park, so be sure to have your camera at the ready and look out for many fascinating and rare animals including capercaillies, mountain hares and pine martins along the way.

Set amid the picturesque Alvie estate south of Aviemore and near the village of Kincraig, Alvie Stables offers a programme of horse riding and trekking for all ages and abilities. Take a lesson, or simply enjoy rides or hacks of up to an hour and a half.

A short distance away, another popular Highland estate, Rothiemurchus, is home to a multi-activity centre where you can try your hand at everything from clay pigeon shooting and archery to 4x4 driving, gorge walking and white-water rafting.

If you're looking for more active adventures, the Glenlivet estate near Tomintoul covers 90 sq m and offers great fishing opportunities and many miles of waymarked walking and cycle trails.

Cairngorms National Park logoFor a great day out for all the family, the Highland Wildlife Park is a popular choice and is only 7 miles south of Aviemore on the A9/B9152 at Kincraig.

Boasting a wide range of species in a spectacular setting, the park includes native Scottish wildlife and endangered animals from the world's mountains and tundra. Look out for wildcats, red deer and beavers and especially the musk oxen, tigers and polar bear. You can relax in the café and visitor centre, but if you would like a more hands-on experience, over-18s can participate in the Keeper for a Day scheme to get up close to the animals.

On leaving the wildlife park, it is only a short 10-minute drive to the historic Ruthven Barracks. These ruined barracks are now peaceful but since the first fortified structure stood on this spot in the 13th century, the site has been at the heart of many conflicts.

A reconstruction of a traditional Highland stone croft at the Highland Folk MuseumAnother fascinating historic attraction is the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore. This free interactive museum provides a glimpse into a way of life once common throughout the Highlands and includes a townstead from the 1700s and the reconstructed Aultarie Farm, highlighting what life was like in the 1930s.

Also in Newtonmore, children in particular will love following the Wildcat Trail which is a set of 100 wildcat models sited around the town.

For some real-life wildlife, visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre near Aviemore and learn more about the UK’s only herd of reindeer. Further north at Loch Garten, you’ll find the RSPB Osprey Centre where visitors can follow the progress of these endangered birds via the popular webcams.

As well fascinating history and wildlife, there are also great opportunities to enjoy many watersports in Cairngorms National Park including water skiing, windsurfing and kayaking. Two of the best locations within the park are Loch Morlich south of Aviemore and Loch Insh near Kincraig.

Later in the day, head to Dalwhinnie Distillery, only a 20-minute drive south from the Newtonmore along the A9/A889 and one of the highest distilleries in the country. Take a tour and find out how the whisky has been made using traditional methods since 1897 before enjoying a dram.

Cairngorms National Park logoRoyal Deeside is an area bursting with grand homes and castles and as Balmoral Castle and Braemar Castle are only separated by a 15-minute drive along the A93, exploring them both makes for the perfect day out. Situated within Cairngorms National Park, they form part of Scotland’s Castle Trail which boasts 17 castles across Aberdeenshire.

The outside of Balmoral Castle, AberdeenshireThe Balmoral Castle and Estate was purchased by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria and it is still used as a royal residence today. You can see selected rooms inside the castle such as the ballroom and take a guided tour of the extensive grounds, or try a tour with a difference on a luxury Land Rover safari. The gardens, exhibitions and grounds will be open every day until 31 July 2013.

Located in a beautiful mountain setting, Braemar Castle has sat here since the 17th century and visitors can enjoy a tour and learn more about the castle’s tempestuous history which includes the Jacobite uprisings.

A 15-minute drive away is the wildlife haven of the Mar Lodge Estate. Make sure to have your binoculars at the read for a chance to see an unrivaled range of species. Look out for red deer, golden eagles, crossbills, ospreys, pine martens, red squirrels and more in this stunning natural environment.

Head east and you’ll find Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserves (NNR), one of nine reserves in Cairngorms National Park which features a mix of woodland, wetland and moorland. One of the reserve’s many highlights is the impressive Burn O’Vat, a large pot hole carved during the last Ice Age by a massive melt water stream.

Another excellent way to experience the beauty of Royal Deeside is by enjoying a mountain hike up Lochnagar. The long walk up this Munro offers spectacular views across the countryside. Reward yourself at the end of the hike in Ballater with a tour of Royal Lochnager Distillery and Visitor Centre and sample a dram of its distinctive malt.

To find out more about the history of this area, why not follow the Victorian Heritage Trail?

Cairngorms National Park logoThere is a great choice of activities for all the whole family to enjoy on the southern edges of the Cairngorms National Park which includes parts of Perthshire and Dundee & Angus.

The white-fronted facade of Blair Castle in rich green surroundingsBlair Castle on the Atholl Estate in Pitlochry sits in one of the most picturesque settings in Highland Perthshire. Take a tour of the impressive 30 rooms and discover the history of this ancient seat of the Dukes of Atholl.

Following the tour, why not explore the castle’s extensive grounds and gardens including an adventure playground and a deer park. Another great way to soak up the beautiful countryside and surrounding wildlife is on a land rover safari or pony trekking which is available for all abilities.

While in Blair Atholl, you can visit the information centre and ranger service, where you can learn more about the Cairngorms National Park and the work the rangers do including guided tours and information sessions.

Take a break from exploring the area with some retail therapy at the prestigious House of Bruar department store and indulge in delicious Scottish produce in the food hall. Stretch your legs after lunch with a walk to the magnificent Falls of Bruar and admire the picturesque vistas from the viewpoints.

Head east where you’ll find Glenshee, one of the UK’s largest ski and snowsports centres. The area also offers excellent outdoor activities all year round including mountain biking and walking.

If you’re looking for a more active challenge, why not climb one of the Munros in the Cairngorms National Park? Glen Esk in the Angus Glens is home to the most easterly Munro, Mount Keen. One of the best places to start your ascent is at the Queen’s Well which commemorates the visits of Queen Victoria to the region.

Also in the Angus Glens, Corrie Fee National Nature Reserve is home to beautiful alpine flowers which survive the rocky landscape that was carved by ice and glaciers. Popular with hillwalkers, it is an ideal location to spot golden eagles and peregrines.

Just outwith the park boundary in Pitlochry, the newly open John Muir Trust Wild Space includes a gallery, exhibition space and shop which highlights the landscape and wildlife of the surrounding area and the importance of preserving it.