The Cairngorms in the Highlands of Scotland is an ancient landscape of stern beauty. One of the last wild places in the British Isles, you'll find a magnificent unspoilt wilderness of brooding mountains, rare wildlife and sweeping, romantic views.
The Cairngorms are the closest thing the UK has to the Arctic. Located in the eastern Highlands it's tough and awe-inspiring terrain, with rearing granite mountains, freezing lochs and rugged moorland. You can even ski here in winter - but underestimate the weather at your peril, the climate can be unforgiving to the under-prepared.
At 1,748 square miles - twice the size of the Lake District - the Cairngorms is the largest national park in the British Isles. It’s home to a quarter of all the rare and endangered plants and animals in the UK – red squirrels, wild cats and golden eagles roam the hillsides. You’ll also find some of the last remaining areas of the Caledonian forest, the legendary ancient woodland which once covered much of Scotland.
If you want to escape the crowds, this is the place. You can tramp for miles here without seeing a soul. The air is full of the green scent of pine and you'll have vast mountainsides, hundred-mile views and endless forests of old Scots Pine, birch and heather all to yourself. The peace is profound.
And if you do want to seek out your fellow humans, you'll find the fringes of the mountains dotted with remote villages of traditional, pretty cottages and handsome granite houses. The area's biggest town is Aviemore, a neat little place of sturdy grey and white buildings, with a useful scatter of shops and restaurants.
Things to do in the Cairngorms
Our pick of some of the unforgettable experiences on offer in the Cairngorms.
Visit the Cairngorm reindeer herd
Around 150 reindeer roam free across the Cairngorms. You can drive out across the hills from the Reindeer Centre at Glenmore to pay these hardy, stately creatures a visit, or see a few of them up close in the paddock. As the Reindeer Centre so rightly say on their website, reindeers aren't just for Christmas!
An Lochan Uaine (the Green Loch)
This loch in Glenmore with its jewel-like green water is a magical place. Legend has it the water is green because the pixies wash their socks in it. The real explanation could be the loch water reflecting the colour of the surrounding trees. Or it could be pixie socks. Whatever the reason, it's a glorious spot for an easy stroll from Glenmore Visitor Centre along the Ryvoan Trail and round the mysterious loch.
The Dark Sky National Park
The Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park is the northern-most dark sky park in the world and has International Dark Sky status. The almost total lack of light pollution makes it an amazing place to star-gaze and if you're lucky, maybe even see the Northern Lights. The best time of year to visit is the winter months, when the skies are at their darkest. Wrap up warm, bring a flask of hot chocolate and maybe a wee dram of whisky and settle down to watch this awe-inspiring natural show.
Nature watch at Loch Garten
Loch Garten Nature Reserve in Abernethy is home to one of the last significant chunks of the ancient pine forest which once covered most of the Highlands. Among the old, gnarled pines and purple heather there is a wealth of amazing wildlife. You might see an osprey dipping into the loch - the UK's only colony nests here - while dainty roe deer and sassy red squirrels forage among the trees.
Where to stay in the Cairngorms
Coolstays has a wide variety of wonderfully warm and snug places to come back to after a long day out bagging munros. Whether you are looking for spectacular lodges and grand houses for big groups or cosy cabins for a wilderness retreat we're sure you'll find something to suit.