Forget about commercialised, so-called ‘Magic Kingdoms’, there is truly no more enchanting, beautiful a place to spend winter than the bewitching Cairngorms. Whatever the weather, with so many things to do for all the family, this wonderland will soon have you under its (cold) spell.
Our top 10 picks:
1.Walking: feel like you’re in Narnia and walk up to the Lily Loch, on Rothiemurchus, which has been used to depict C.S Lewis’s fictitious land on TV. Other particularly magical walks, especially with a dusting of frost or snow, include: Loch an Eilein with its water-locked Castle, the Uath Lochans with its breathtaking ‘boulder’ viewpoints and An Lochan Uaine, otherwise known as the ‘Green Loch’, where the fairies allegedly do their washing… if the snow is not too deep a walk round the magical Loch Muick near Ballater is a firm favourite. Walk the Queen’s Drive route in Braemar for lovely views before descending through the pine woods. If you’re feeling more adventurous, then a winter hike up the corbett Meall a’Bhuachaille (Glenmore), Creag Choinnich (Braemar) or Craigellachie (Aviemore) is do-able in a few hours.
2. Biking: the Cairngorms offers a huge range of trails to suit everyone from the beginner to the experienced single track rider. For beginners, the wide easy-ride tracks around Loch Morlich and the logging trail are a great option. As is the circular 5km route around Loch an Eilein and the child-friendly Deeside Way . For steeper, narrower trails which weave through pine forests head to High Burnside, in Aviemore, or the Uath Lochans near Kingussie. If it’s graded trails you’re after, wheel your way to Laggan or Glenlivet. But take care, especially if icy, as trails can be slippy. Alternatively, hire a fat bike, perfect for snowy conditions.
3. Ski: as well as skiing at Cairngorm, Glenshee and the Lecht, cross country skiing is a fantastic way to escape the crowds and enjoy the snowy serenity. Areas around Glenmore and Braemar are especially scenic and suitable, with hire shops nearby. For the more adventure-seeking skiers, touring is an increasingly popular choice with fans citing it as a fun way to work-out and take in the hilltop views.
4. Sledge: the park boasts plenty of prime sledging spots such as the Hayfield near Loch Morlich, the playpark in Braemar and the steep hill by the GP surgery in Kingussie. The many golf courses in the area are also firm family favourites. Read our blog for the best places to sledge.
5. Visit a distillery: there’s no better way to warm your cockles this winter than a trip to one of the Park’s premier distilleries. Wherever you’re staying, world class whisky is bound not to be far away. Dalwhinnie, for example, has been awarded ‘Best Distillery Tour in Scotland’ and is offering FREE tours throughout the winter! Other popular distilleries are the Glenlivet, Tomatin and Balmenach (also home to Caorunn Gin) and Speyside. If you travel the SnowRoads be sure to call into the friendly Persie Gin distillery on the old military road between Blairgowrie and Glenshee.
6. The Highland Wildlife Park: come and meet our furry friends who feel quite at home in the winter chill, from the polar bears (including new cub arrival Hamish) to the snow leopards. Renowned,not only for its rare residents, but also for its stunning views, remember to wrap up warm because most of the park is outdoors. It’s shut Christmas Day but open every other day in winter, weather permitting. Visiting the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is also a must. The reindeer take a well earned break throughout January but are open for visitors again from February half-term.
7. The Strathspey Steam Railway: at Boat of Garten’s railway station, you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time, or onto a Christmas card scene, and kids will love hearing the toot of the train and waving at the passengers. Trains run all winter and under 5’s ride free.
8. Adventure play: Kids and adults alike love Landmark in Carrbridge because of the vast range of activities on offer to suit all ages and tastes, from waterslides to nature walks to tree top climbs. If you can’t spare a few hours (which Landmark definitely merits) then bear in mind that the Hilton Coylumbridge has a soft play, The Funhouse, with adjoining cafe.
9. Travel adventurously: if you like a burst of adrenaline with your sight seeing, then jump on a quad bike, in a Land Rover or hang off a zipwire to see the park’s most stunning views. Alternatively, if you fancy a more sedate, stylish way to travel, then step on a segway. Treezone at Rothiemurchus is a great way to get a feel for heights. Or fly through the trees at speed at the zip park at Alvie Estate!
10. Buy the best outdoor gear: with such a large concentration of specialist winter sports stores and experts, there is no better place than Aviemore to kit out for this winter and years to come. Not only can you be assured of quality advice from locals, but they’ll give you insider tips on the best places to put your gear to the test, too.
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