To celebrate the arrival of the new year and intentions for a prosperous year ahead, we’re celebrating the wealth of riches here in the magical Cairngorms by compiling our bucket-list inspired top 20 things to do in 2020.

After all, who needs far-flung destinations and long, expensive flights to satisfy a craving to live your life to the full when you have all these treasures on your doorstep? Use this as inspiration to create your own Cairngorms list – we’d love to hear about them!


1.A stay in the brand new, luxury hotel The Fife Arms 

This former Victorian coaching inn situated in the historic village of Braemar is top of our want-to-experience list because it is so uniquely Scottish and is guaranteed to give any guest a Highland stay they will never forget. The attention to detail is what makes this hotel so unique with, for example, bedrooms dedicated to celebrating great Scottish characters, from poets to scientists. Set in the stunning landscape of Royal Deeside, as well as the beautiful bedrooms, you can while away your time in the bar, restaurant, cocktail bar, library or garden, all lovingly crafted to give you a distinctive experience celebrating its local roots at every turn. Homogenous hotel chain experience – this is not!


2. A taste of ski touring

Ski touring has soared in popularity lately, no doubt due to the feeling of delicious escape into the wilderness of the Cairngorms’ hidden nooks and crannies that it provides. What feels like freedom more than floating down a Scottish mountain, turns flowing through powder snow?

If you haven’t tasted the joys of this sport, then there is no better place to try it than under the expert, passionate guidance of a Glenmore Lodge instructor. The centre is world renowned for its teaching, having been in the business for over 60 years, and a course on ski touring would cover the blend of mountaineering and skiing skills necessary for touring. Check out Glenmore Lodge’s website and book an experience to look forward to! Courses of all levels, from beginner to expert, available. As Adrian Wood, who did Glenmore’s ‘Discover Ski Touring’ 2 day course says: “One of my best days on the hill.”


3. Experience a Highland Games and delve into this Scottish tradition at Braemar’s new centre

A Highland Games gathering is a ‘must see’ if you’re in the area in the summer season and, with ten Highland Games across the region, there’s plenty to choose from.

Gatherings feature Highland traditions such as traditional dancing, tossing the caber and tug o’ war, to rousing Scottish music and formidable marches from clans across the globe. As an added bonus in spring 2019, the Braemar Highland Games Centre opens, dedicated to exploring and preserving these traditional Scottish sports.

Housed in the striking Duke of Rothesay Highland Games Pavilion, the new exhibition offers up history, a gift shop and a fittingly elegant cafe. A definite must-do for anyone interested in history and the links between the Braemar Gathering and the Royals.



4. Dare to dip; wild swim in a Cairngorms loch!

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Kirsten, 42, Police Officer “I was brought up in the Cairngorms and embrace everything outdoors. All you need to do is look at the scenery we are so blessed to have around us to realise why we wild swim, not forgetting the camaraderie, screams and shrieks of how cold it is and the cake afterwards. I took to swimming at a challenging time in my life, words do not start to describe the rush of endorphins while swimming, it is such a calming and mindful experience, you just feel so alive” Loch Morlich November 6th Air temp 9c Water temp 8c #wildswimmingscotland #wildswimming #lochmorlich #swimscotland #swomen #swimwildandfree #winterswimming #thisgirlcan #visitcairngorms #coldwatertherapy #wonderfulwildwomen #getoutside #naturetherapy #scotspirit #swimspiration

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If you are looking for experiences that really make you feel alive, then wild swimming in the Cairngorms should be right at the top of your bucket list. If you’ve never done it before, the buzz will continue long after your first dip – the colder, the better, according to Cairngorms Wild Swimmers club members! For more inspiration see this blog.


5. Broaden your culinary horizons with a cookery workshop with Ghillie Basan

If you’re looking to add an exotic flavour to your Cairngorms experience, then this is for you. With her years of travel and research all around the globe, Ghillie brings her knowledge to life in her relaxed cookery workshops at her own home, in the wilderness. Cooking with spices from Istanbul while taking in the stunning Scottish views as you journey through your ‘food safari’ will be a standout memory for your 2019. Day or residential workshops are available, for more information see Ghillie’s website.


6. Drive the SnowRoads

This is a good one to satisfy those that like to break records because this stunning, scenic 90 mile route traverses the highest public road in Britain, the highest point being at Cairnwell Pass, 670m above sea level, by the Glenshee Ski Centre. The SnowRoads cuts through the Cairngorms from the market town of Blairgowrie to Grantown on Spey and takes in some of the park’s most striking landscapes, taking in Braemar, Ballater and Tomintoul on the way.


7. See the Northern Lights from two of the best spots in the world

The Cairngorms now has two official Dark Skies Park awards, after Tomintoul received the accolade in November, joining existing park at Glenlivet. This means that it is recognised as one of the best places to see the Northern lights due to its crystal clear skies and lack of interference from light pollution. The new Tomintoul park has been handed ‘gold tier’ status in acknowledgement that it’s the darkest in the UK and the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world, so for aurora-hunters in particular, a definite must-do.


8. Stand by the hanging tower of Blair Castle (on Hallowe’en, if you’re brave enough)

The ‘hanging tower’ of Blair Castle, otherwise known as Balvenie Pillar was erected in 1755 by the Second Duke of Atholl to mark the spot where public executions took place up until 1630. This landmark is part of the Blair Atholl Historic Trail which takes in a host of other highlights such as the Witches Rock, Blair Atholl Watermill and Queen Victoria’s Grotto.


9.Bag A Munro

With 43 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft) situated in the Cairngorms and 5 out of the 6 highest mountains having their home here, there is no shortage of routes to tackle. No matter what your experience level or scale of the expedition you want to undertake, you are guaranteed the most spectacular views. For more inspiration on what to climb see this blog.

Check out Wilderness Scotland for bespoke tours.



10.Have a tipple

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Open day at Persie Distillery for #worldginday!

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The Cairngorms has long been associated with world class whisky but is fast becoming famous for its gin too. If you’re a fan, or just fancy a different distillery experience, why not visit the new Caorunn gin distillery at Balmenach, or the family run Persie Distillery near Glenshee, in the south of the Cairngorms.


11.Step back in time

There are plenty of places across the National Park that allow you to step back in time and escape the hub-bub of modern day living. Castles, museums, historic sites and even a walk through the spectacular countryside can leave you wondering about those who have gone before. If you want to learn more about Highland history then turn off your phone and immerse yourself in bygone years at the Highland Folk Museum (the setting for many of the scenes in Outlander).


12.Meet the locals

From red squirrels, Highland coos and Scottish wildcats to osprey, ptarmigan, Cairngorm reindeer and even the UK’s first polar bear cub in 25 years born at our very own Highland Wildlife Park, there are plenty of creatures great and small to put on your must-see list this year.



13.Follow in the steps of the Outlaw King and other movie stars

Create your own movie memories and walk in the footsteps of some movie giants. From Disney Pixar’s ‘Brave’ to the gruesome ‘Centurion’to the World War II set ‘Outlander’, and most recently, Netlfix’s Outlaw King, the Cairngorms National Park has long been a magnet for the silver screen. It’s not hard to see why the area has provided film directors with inspiration – sweeping landscapes, ragged mountain tops, rolling hills and picturesque villages – we have it all. For more inspiration see our movie blog here.


14.Take a selfie

Where do we even start? Selfie opportunities could be a list in its own right! What’s more exciting is that you don’t need to go far to get a photo that celeb photographer Annie Leibovitz would be proud of! A short walk from any town or village will take you to the shores of a Loch – the perfect romantic backdrop. Alternatively, head to the top of CairnGorm Mountain to snap breath-taking views across all five corners of the Park.


15.Love it like a local

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Heading back home to the hounds. #scotland

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There are plenty of places to head to ‘off the beaten track’ and when you live within the Cairngorms National Park there is nothing better than finding that quiet, untouched place – whether that be cutting the first tracks in fresh snow on a winter’s day or mountain biking out to a lonely bothy for some wild camping. To find out about the best places to discover head to the local and get chatting over a pint of Cairngorm beer – you’re certain to glean all manner of nuggets of information! The Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore is a perfect spot.


16.Go on safari

We’ve already mentioned some of the unique wildlife residing here and what better way to get as close as you can than a safari? Many of the estates run behind the scenes tours introducing you to the work they do on the land and the animals that make the area their home. On the Rothiemurchus Estate safari you can even feed the deer – a truly magical experience.


17.Watch the sun go down

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Sun dance. Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms

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There’s no better bucket list experience than snuggled under a blanket or basking in the evening Summer heat and watching the sun dip down behind the mountains, sending the skyline a brilliant shade of coral. Lochs, mountains, valleys and even verandas of some great eateries provide the perfect opportunity for you to watch the day head to bed!


18.Visit the Queen

The Cairngorms has long been a favourite retreat with the Royal Family (as well as historically being the scene for some right Royal rumbles!). Throughout the year (except for August, September and October when Her Majesty is in residence) Balmoral Castle is open to the public and you can literally walk in the footsteps of our Queen.


19. Stay in a Shepherd’s Hut

After so much adventure to be had in the Cairngorms, lay your weary limbs down in a cool wee Shepherd’s Hut. The ultimate glamping experience, embrace the slower Highland pace of life.


20.Eat cake!

After all this activity you have a license to treat yourself, and the one thing you can always guarantee is that Cairngorm cake is delicious and they don’t scrimp on the size of the slice! What you’re also guaranteed is a cuppa and a cake with a view like here at Taste Braemar. Enjoy, after completing your Top 20 for 2020, you’ve earned it!


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