The best things to do in Aviemore
Aviemore must be one of my favourite places in Scotland. The town and surrounding area have so much to offer to visitors, and being part of the Cairngorm National Park it is surrounded by stunning scenery, the Rothiemurchus Estate and Glenmore Forest Park. The town's proximity to around eight fantastic lochs and expansive ancient Caledonian pine forests make it a prime site for outdoor activities such as gorge walking, mountain biking, wildlife watching and water sports.
I have many fond memories of my time in Aviemore as a child, staying at a caravan site next to the River Spey, walking up to the town to get a sweetie or some chips. Santa Claus Land was a big attraction, as was the swimming pool, ice rink, and gaming arcade.
Today Aviemore has changed significantly since the 1980s with the closure of Santa Claus land, the ice rink and the swimming pool... but is still a popular tourist destination in Scotland and I now take my own young family a couple of times a year and they love it too!
The article below covers many of the best things to do in the Aviemore area, I hope it's of some help to you if you are planning to visit the Highlands in 2022.
Cairngorms National Park
This national park is the largest in Scotland and the UK and Aviemore is an ideal base to explore all it has to offer. Cairngorms National Park has existed since 1999 and was one of the first orders of business upon the formation of the Scottish Parliament.
The main goal of the Cairngorm National Park was to create a protected area to conserve the areas unique natural beauty and wildlife.
Ski on the Cairngorm Mountain
Aviemore is of course famous for being a skiing resort town, and the main attraction here is skiing and other winter sports on the nearby Cairngorm Mountain. The snowsports centre is a short 20-minute drive from Aviemore and has excellent facilities open from mid-December to mid-April. There are 12 ski lifts and 34 runs available of varying difficulties. Skiers and snowboards are welcomed but sledging is not allowed. Cross country skiing is available in the winter months.
The funicular train to the top of the mountain has been out of commission since 2018, but plans are in place to have it operational again by the 2nd half of 2022. A trip up the mountain on the funicular is fun even if you don't plan to do any winter sports and there is a cafe where you can get a bite to eat, and look out at scenic mountain views.
Adventure Play & Tubing Park
A relatively new addition to the Cairngorm facilities is its new adventure play and tubing park. You jump on a rubber ring and slide down three different courses, The Spindrift, The Cliffhanger and The Snowflake. 30-minute sessions cost £10 and £5 for the "wee slide ".
Read more: www.cairngormmountain.co.uk
The Lecht Sky Centre
Not really near Aviemore, but a short 50-minute drive to the east/south-east from Grantown-on-Spey will take you to the Lecht Ski Centre which also has fantastic facilities and 13 different runs to suit beginners and more advanced skiers/snowboarders.
Read more: www.lecht.co.uk
Located directly next to Aviemore, this forest is part of the remaining Caledonian forest at the foot of the Cairngorm mountains. There are many forest trails here and it's great to be able to walk from Aviemore straight into this ancient forest and see some Scottish wildlife including wildcats, crested tit, crossbills and capercaillies.
The Rothiemurchus Centre offers many outdoors activities from their centre in the forest, including quad bike treks, aerial adventure courses, pony trekking and segways to name a few.
Read more: www.rothiemurchus.net
Quad bike trekking on the Rothiemurchus Estate
In summer 2021 we decided to have a go at the Quad Bike Treks available at the Rothiemurchus Centre. This was way out of our comfort zone and not something we would normally try but I'm so glad we did as it was amazing fun.
The instructor lead trek takes you through many picturesque areas of the Rothiemurchus Estate, with the chance to see some wildlife and scenic views too. The route passes some friendly highland cows who seem totally nonplussed at you speeding past them. Read more about our Aviemore Quad Bike Trek here. Push the boat out and give it a try, you won't regret it!
Visit Loch Morlich
Loch Morlich is the jewel in the crown of the lochs around Aviemore, surrounded by dense forests, and the skyline filled by the Cairngorm Mountains it is truly an epic place to visit. The loch has a unique sandy beach which lends itself perfectly to watersports which are very popular in the summer months. Please see my guide about things to do at Loch Morlich.
Visit the Green Loch
This is a curious loch that lies west of Aviemore past Loch Morlich and is part of the pleasant Ryvoan and Lochan Uaine walking route. Also known as "An Lochan Uaine", it is famous for its green coloured water and a local fairy legend. The Green Loch is a fun place to visit if you like walking and cycling or just a want nice place to go for a family picnic.
Go kayaking on Loch An Eilein
Although Loch Morlich is the major water activities attraction near Aviemore, Loch An Eilein is also well worth a visit and is just as beautiful as its more popular neighbour. Steeped in local history, there is a ruined castle on an island in the middle of the loch as well as lovely walks around the lochside. Late last year we went Kayaking on Loch An Eilein, it was a sensational experience and I highly recommend it. We also saw many red squirrels on our last visit to Loch An Eilein.
Treezone Aerial Adventure Course
As long as you don't have a fear of heights, Treezone near the Rothiemurchus centre is a fun day out for the whole family. There are two extensive aerial adventure courses high up in the trees, with various obstacles to traverse such as balance beams, gap jumps and scramble nets. The course ends with a brilliant zip wire which takes you back to the start of the course. Read more about our day at Treezone here.
Explore the ruin of Ruthven Barracks
Although not within walking distance of Aviemore, a trip out to Ruthven Barracks is well worth the 25-minute journey by car. The hill at Ruthven near Kingussie has been a prominent place in history for hundreds of years with a castle originally being there to project power throughout the Strathspey area.
Ruthven Barracks was built over the ruins of the existing castle to help police the area against Jacobite uprisings. It is an interesting ruin, full of informational boards about the barracks history and the panoramic views from the hill are breathtaking.
Race your friends at Aviemore Kart Raceway
If you like Go Karting, Aviemore has you covered at the Aviemore Kart Raceway. This is an excellent facility a short distance north of Aviemore just off the B9152. The dedicated circuit is well designed, and you ride on fully automatic carts with full safety gear provided. We had a great time here with my brothers and nephew in summer 2021, read more on the link above.
Cairngorm Reindeer Centre
East of Loch Morlich is a herd of 150 free-ranging reindeer at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. Take one of their organised hill walks and see them up close, a very special experience, especially in the Christmas season with kids. If you don't want to walk, some can be seen at the reindeer house at the centre.
Read more here: www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk
Highland Folk Museum
Highland Folk Museum is a FREE open-air museum based south of Aviemore, near Kingussie. Just because it's free doesn't mean it's bad, there is so much to see and do here, and you could easily spend the entire day here learning about how people lived in Scotland in days gone by. Available exhibits show life in Scotland from the 1700s to the 1950s. There are even members of staff "in character" who you can ask questions to, really educational for kids and adults.
Part of the museum includes a small village showing how people lived in the 1700s complete with thatched roofs. This area was used in season 1, episode 5 "rent", of the massively popular Outlander TV show as a filming location.
There is something of interest here for all the family, and even a fun kids play park and gift shop.
Landmark Forest Adventure Park
Landmark Forest Adventure Park is one of the best things to do in Aviemore. This extensive park is a short drive from Aviemore and offers many awesome rides and attractions from Butterfly Houses to rollercoasters and water slides. The Bamboozeleum exhibit is fun and educational, it's sort of like a science centre with different illusions and special effects. Their new dinosaur zone is impressive with full-size realistic-looking dinosaurs, it takes some guts to walk past the Tyrannosaurus Rex, it looks like it could come alive and gobble you up!
Entry to the park is quite expensive (£100 in summer for a family of 4), but as part of a holiday to the Aviemore area, it is really worth a visit. Bring your own picnic to save money and arrive early to make the most of your day and entry fee.
Highland Wildlife Park
20 minutes south of Aviemore lies Highland Wildlife Park, an expansive zoo with many endangered animals as well as species more common to the local area. The main draw to the park are the two polar bears, but the park is also home to tigers, monkeys, arctic foxes and snow leopards.
There are two main parts to the park, the walk-around area and a drive-through "safari" route. The park also has a large adventure playground, cafe and gift shop. A must visit on your trip to Aviemore.
Macdonald Aviemore Resort
The biggest hotel group in Aviemore take up the majority of the space in central Aviemore. There are a few different hotels here with many facilities on offer to guests, including a swimming pool, gym and restaurant. Their dedicated shop at Spey Valley Shopping centre has an extensive range of high-quality products and is well worth a browse if you are looking for a special gift. There is even a fantastic cinema here showing the latest releases.
Although the old ice rink no longer exists in Aviemore, a group named "Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust" have set up a temporary ice rink in the field near the Macdonald shopping complex and a short distance from Tesco's. The purpose of this temporary facility is to raise money so Aviemore can again have a full-size ice rink.
It's a little expensive, but at least the funds are going to a good cause, and it adds another activity the kids will enjoy to your stay in Aviemore.
Read more: www.aviemoreicerink.com
Watch Osprey's Hunt
Amazingly Aviemore has its own Osprey Hide, not far from the Macdonald Aviemore Resort. Located just near the Macdonald Morlich hotel, and next to the resort playpark there is a small body of water.
At water level, the hide gives the perfect vantage point to photograph Osprey's as they dive into the water to catch fish. It's crazy you can see this rare bird considering the close proximity to the hotels and the A9 motorway that runs alongside it to the west.
See Aviemore Ospreys for more information.
Loch Garten Osprey Centre
There is a dedicated centre for the Ospreys at Loch Garten which is about a 20-minute drive from Aviemore. Here you can learn everything you would ever want to know about Osprey and other birdlife in the area, including Capercaillies. Non-invasive CCTV systems show great views of the Osprey nests and knowledgeable staff are on hand to answer any questions.
There are also picturesque walks around Loch Garten itself - I was once here when it was frozen over, a truly wondrous spectacle.
Read more: Loch Garten, Abernethy
Grab a bite to eat at Aviemore's many restaurants
Aviemore has an abundance of places to eat. On the main street of Grampian road, there are so many nice restaurants and cafes you can stop for a quick snack or a full 3-course meal.
Our personal favourite place is the Cairngorm Hotel, just across the road from the railway station in central Aviemore. Their extensive menu has something for everyone, with a shout out to their first-class burger and the haggis bonbons!
A special mention must also go out to:
- The Winking Owl
- Macduis Speyside Inn Catering
- Smiffy's Chip Shop
- Miele's Gelateria (love the melon and pineapple flavours!)
- Skiing Doo
- Galaxy Chinese Takeaway (the spicy shredded chicken is so good!)
- The Balavoulin
- La Taverna
Where can I stay in Aviemore?
Aviemore's very own Brewery makes a selection of fine craft beers and won the award of Champion Beer in 2016 and 2017 with its "Black Gold" creation. Cairngorm Brewery can produce 6500 litres of beer/ale per day and offer 500ml and 330ml bottles.
Tasting sessions and tours are normally available but currently unavailable due to Covid-19, however, the brewery shop is still open and worth a visit if you are a beer connoisseur.
Read more: www.cairngormbrewery.com
The Fun House
The Coylumbridge Hotel has a soft play centre and American diner about 10 minutes out of Aviemore. This is a brilliant facility with a superb multi-level soft play frame, arcades and crazy golf. The hotel has come under new ownership in the last few years (it was previously Hilton Coylumbridge Hotel).
Unfortunately, the opening times seem to be very sporadic and it's difficult to plan a visit. The best place to check is their Facebook where they seem to post up a timetable of opening times, but this seems to be random and it can often be hard to find out when they are open... it can be disappointing for the kids to get to the door and find it to be locked, so be aware if you decide to visit spur of the moment.
Read more: www.funhouseaviemore.com
White Water Rafting
If you are the adventurous type, G2Outdoor offer white water rafting on sections of the River Spey, from their home base on the Alvie Estate. Needless to say, there are some world-class sections of the Spey for white water rafting if that's your thing! I quite fancy it myself but I haven't quite plucked up the courage yet. Also offered is white water river tubing, which looks awesome.
Read more: www.G2Outdoor.co.uk
What is a zip trek? Basically, you are attached to a wire that leads through the trees and over gorges and ravines you "zip" over the line on a pully.
Normally aerial adventure courses would end with a single zip line to finish, but Zip Trek Park Aviemore offer 3 km of zipline courses and is the UK's first zip park. This is a perfect day out for families with kids over 8 years old.
A recent addition to their service is a nighttime zip trek, with the forest and river illuminated with coloured lights, this is on my personal to-do list the next time I'm staying in Aviemore!
Aviemore is a marvellous place to visit in Scotland, surrounded by the majestic Cairngorm mountains, there is a palpable magic in the air that really adds to your stay at this mountain tourist resort town. Given its central location in Scotland, it is the ideal base to explore many areas of Scotland, pushing out to Moray, Inverness, and the Caledonian Canal / Loch Ness are all feasible options, but the local Aviemore area will have more than enough to keep you busy! I hope you have found some value in the article for the best things to do in Aviemore.