Aviemore is the main tourist hub of Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, the largest national park in the UK. Only three hours away from Edinburgh and Glasgow by train or car, Aviemore is ideal for a short excursion away from the hustle of the city. The closest city to Aviemore is Inverness, only 45 minutes by train or car, Inverness is more convenient for people coming from further in the UK, as it has an airport with connections to other nearby cities. Read below to find an itinerary for 3 days in Aviemore.
This itinerary is great for first-time visitors to the area during the summer season as it covers key places of interest and takes advantage of extensive daylight. A decent amount of physical exercise is required, as the focus of the itinerary is hiking in Scotland. The itinerary is based on my short trip to Aviemore from Edinburgh in May 2019 with my boyfriend Christos.
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3 Days in Aviemore Itinerary: Useful Information
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How to move around?
Anyone who does some research on the Scottish Highlands will come across that they are best explored by having your own wheels. However, for many cases, this is not always possible. For example, students with limited budgets who can’t afford the car rental young driver’s surcharges, people without a driving license, etc. Luckily the Scottish Highlands are in *eye roll* Scotland, which means (in general) good public transport links (at least in cities and big towns).
On the first look, public transport seems to be a good choice, as it is very easy to reach Aviemore from many places in the UK. However, this is not always true for moving around, as buses are not very frequent. To be honest, it hit me hard when I realised that, as I had to reschedule the whole itinerary to fit with the bus timings. In the end, it was possible to visit most of the places that I wanted without renting a car.
TOP TIPS FOR USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK
- Research the bus routes and timetables in advance.
- Arrive at the bus stop at least 15 minutes earlier (note that the stops are not always signed).
- Wave at the bus to stop once you see it coming.
- Greet the bus driver and buy a ticket when getting on the bus. (Daily tickets are usually cheaper when you are planning to use the bus at least three times within the day).
- Keep an eye on the route (having Google Maps open on your phone is a good idea to keep track of your location) as the next stop is not always announced on the bus.
- Signal the driver to drop you off once you get closer to your stop.
- Thank the bus driver when getting off the bus.
Continue reading to find out what this 3 days in Aviemore itinerary includes and how to follow it without a car.
Note that the timings mentioned below are based on the bus timings which were correct at the time of writing. Also, they were different from what they used to be when I visited as there were more bus services within a day which made the itinerary below work better. Remember to double-check the bus schedules before starting your trip. Of course, if you have a car, you can still follow this itinerary without worrying about buses. Most places have a paid car park.
Where to stay?
Aviemore has plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets and needs. You will find hostels, hotels, resorts, rental apartments, RV camping spaces and more. For our short trip, we wanted something cheap and ensuite, so we settled for a room in High Range Lodge Hotel [AD]. It is a nice place, only a short walk from the bus and train stations. The rooms are clean and spacious (we even had a sofa), but they lack a small kitchenette which would be very convenient considering that there aren’t many eating options after 9 pm / 10 pm. Why is this important? As summer days in Scotland are long (sunset at around 9 pm), it is very easy to lose track of time on a long hike.
- Cairngorms National Park Official Website
- Aviemore Official Tourism Website
- Stagecoach Bus for Aviemore Website
Day 1 – Aviemore – Strathspey Railway – Craigellachie
Take a morning to arrive in Aviemore and get to your accommodation. Then, put on your hiking boots and get ready to board a steam train and explore a nature reserve!
11:30 Aviemore Town Centre
Before starting your day activities head to the Tourist Information Centre to grab some maps of the area and of the trails you will be following. If you have more time available, then you may want to check out the few shops there and buy some snacks for the road. In addition, you can walk to the Aviemore Ring Cairn and Stone Circle, a historical side featuring a stone formation.
13:00 Strathspey Steam Railway
For your first activity in Aviemore, take the steam train from the train station and follow a historic route along Strathspey. The train stops at Boat of Garten and Broomhill before returning to Aviemore. There are different ticket types available depending on which stop you will get off (if any) and whether you want to have lunch or afternoon tea on board. Even if you choose to not get off at any station you can still get out of the train to see the steam engine at any of those stops before getting back on board. However, I suggest you do get off at least in one stop and walk a bit around the area.
Broomhill is more remote and is the starting point of a hike to Nethy Bridge. Nevertheless, I only recommend following this hike if you catch the first train of the day there so that you have enough time to return before the last service of the day.
Boat of Garten
Boat of Garten is another small picturesque village but with relatively more things to do than Broomhill. You can still go on a hike, albeit not very long for the same reason as above, and you can also find a place to have lunch. When we visited, we had lunch at the Boat Country Inn & Restaurant, a traditional pub with nice food (and the only place that was open). Then, we walked a bit around the village and finally, we tried to follow a part of this walking trail along the River Spey before heading back to the train station.
Note that the Strathspey Railway does not operate daily. Check the website for the latest timetable and if you really want to go, then you may want to change the order of the days in this itinerary. Otherwise, you can spend more time in the following activity.
Find out more about the Strathspey Railway here.
How to get there?
The Strathspey Railway departs from Aviemore train station.
18:00 Craigellachie National Nature Reserve
Craigellachie National Nature Reserve is a green oasis close to the centre of Aviemore. There are four walking trails of various levels that allow you to have a relaxing walk in the woods. You can wander along the Loch Puladdern, Old Reservoir or you can enjoy the views over the Spey Valley and the Cairngorm Mountains. If you want to do all of the above, then I suggest following the Viewpoint Trail (red trail) which has some common parts with the other trails. Note that the Viewpoint Trail is the longest (4.4 km) and the most challenging one as you will need to ascend a hill. The Scottish Natural Heritage provides a handy map of the trails here.
Find out more about Craigellachie National Nature Reserve here.
How to get there?
You can find the entrance to the National Nature Reserve by the Aviemore Youth Hostel.
Day 2 – Cairn Gorm Mountain – Loch Morlich – Loch an Eilein
If you want to get to every place in the list for today, get ready for lots of walking. You will climb a mountain, rowboat in a lake (I mean loch) and discover the ruins of a castle.
09:30 Cairn Gorm Mountain
The first activity of the day is to hike the Cairn Gorm Mountain at 1245 m. A fairly easy hike, although a bit long for beginner hikers. There are two routes to get there: one that follows the old funicular route and the ski pistes and one that follows the northern corries. The first one is easier, while the other offers better views. I suggest you, use the easy one for your way up and the other one for your descent. Be prepared for chilly weather at the top, even in the summer. For a map to the peak, follow this walking route up to the point it reaches Gairn Gorm. Keep in mind that the highlighted route follows the northern carries path.
Alternative: If you are an experienced hiker, then you may prefer to hike to Ben Macdui. Ben Macdui is the highest peak in the Cairngorms National Park and the second highest peak in Scotland and the UK at 1309 m. There are different hiking trails to the top and one departs from the base of Gairn Gorm Mountain. However, keep in mind that you will need the whole day for a round trip. Follow the walking route linked above for directions.
Find out more about Cairngorm Mountain here.
What is the difference between Cairngorms and Cairn Gorm?
Although these two names are almost identical, there is a small difference. The two words are used to describe the mountain peak called Cairn Gorm. In contrast, the single word format, Cairngorms, is used to describe the mountain range that Cairn Gorm mountain is a part of. The national park took its name from the mountain range that covers a large part of it. Hence we have Cairn Gorm mountain, which is part of the Cairngorms mountain range that is located in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Note that the ski resort at Cairn Gorm mountain is known as Cairngorm Mountain ski resort.
How to get there?
Take bus 31 from Aviemore bus station at 9 am towards Cairngorm Ski Centre. Get off at the car park of the Cairngorm Ski Centre.
11:30 Loch Morlich
Are you ready to head to the beach after climbing a mountain? As contradictory as it sounds, it is possible. One side of Loch Morlich is filled with sand and has a kiosk that rents out water sports equipment. There is also a small cafe, where you can have a warm drink and some snacks. If you prefer to stay away from the water, there is also a walking trail that loops the loch. My suggestion is to sit down at the beach and have a picnic. Then, rent a rowboat for half an hour to spend some time in the water. Finally, head inside the Boathouse cafe for a warm drink before catching the bus for the next stop.
Find out more about Loch Morlich here.
How to get there?
Take bus 31 from the car park of the Cairngorms Reinder Centre at 11:20 towards Aviemore and get off at the Visitor Centre.
16:00 Loch an Eilein
Loch an Eilein was definitely the highlight of my day, even though we had to walk for an hour to get there! A ruined castle on an island in the middle of a lake hidden in the Rothiemurchus forest with backdrop the Cairngorm mountains! This pretty much sums what you will find there! Once you reach the loch, you can take some time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Then you can take a walk around the loch (and even pass from the nearby Loch Gamhna).
Find out more about Loch an Eilein here.
How to get there?
Take bus 31 from the Visitor Centre at 14:55 towards Aviemore and get off at the Rothiemurchus car park. Before starting your walk to the loch pass from the Rothiemurchus Centre to become a Rothiemurchus Explorer. This will give you a map with walking trails that lie in the Rothiemurchus. The trails start from the visitor centre and include the route to the Loch an Eilein. The cost is less than £2 per person, and the funds go towards the protection of the forest.
Day 3 – Rothiemurchus Estate – Glenmore Forest Park
As this is the last day, take a slow morning to embrace your surroundings and then head to a reindeer adventure!
10:00 Rothiemurchus Estate
Rothiemurchus forest is cited to be one of the most beautiful areas in Scotland. The Rothiemurchus Estate manages the protection of the forest and its wildlife. To raise funds, they provide various activities to the public, such as pony trekking, fishing, archery and river adventures. You can book all these activities in advance through their website. In fact, I recommend you do this during high season. If you are not sure, you can check with the Rothiemurchus Centre on any last minute availability. Each activity has a different schedule, so not all activities may be available when you visit. If you end up not booking an activity, you can still support the Estate by having a delicious breakfast at the Drui Cafe or buying something from their shop selling locally produced goodies.
Find out more about Rothiemurchus (including booking for activities) here.
How to get there?
To get there from Aviemore you can either walk or take the bus. For the latter option, you should take bus 37 at 9:30 am from Aviemore bus station towards Coylumbridge. Then you should get off at the Rothiemurchus car park.
14:00 Cairngorm Reindeer Centre
Another unforgettable activity of this trip was to interact with some deer. The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre takes care of the only free-ranging Britain deer herd found in the area. The Centre arranges daily special Hill Trips to the mountains at 2:30 pm (and 11 am) where visitors can meet some of the deer. There, you will get the chance to get really close with the reindeer and you will even have the chance to hand-feed them. Note that a short amount of physical exercise is required to reach the herd and sturdy shoes are necessary. Besides the Hill Trips, you will be able to find some deer in the Paddock, where you can also find more information about the centre.
Hill Trips need to be booked on the day, so as soon as you get off the bus get in to book your slot. Then, you can wander in the Paddock, walk around the area (you can find a map of trails here), or go to the nearby Glenmore Forest Visitor Centre. There, you can also find a cafe where you can have a quick lunch.
Typically, to participate in the Hill Trip, you need to have a car. However, the guides can drive a limited number of people with them in their vehicles. This is true for both directions, even though there is the option to return to the Centre on foot by following one of the walking trails within the Glenmore Forest. The guides will be able to give you more instructions on the route to follow.
Find out more at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre here.
How to get there?
Take bus 31 from the Rothiemurchus car park at 11 am towards Cairngorm Ski Centre. Then get off at the Visitor Centre.
If you have more days…
If you have more days in Aviemore, then you may want to visit the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, Loch Insh and the Highland Folk Museum. The Highland Wildlife Park is part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and takes care of Scottish animals as well as endangered species from around the world. Loch Insh offers various outdoor activities, while, the Highland Folk Museum is an open-air museum about the life of local people. Both of them are a short drive away from Aviemore and reachable by public transport (bus 32).
Have a nice trip!
P.S. After Aviemore, we continued our Scottish Highlands adventure in Inverness and Loch Ness. Read everything about it here: 3 Days in Inverness: An itinerary for first-time visitors.
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