Free things to do in Aviemore

Written by Chris Thornton | 4th of October 2023
Free things to do in Aviemore

Nestled in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Aviemore is a picturesque town that has become a popular destination for nature enthusiasts and lovers of outdoor activities. Surrounded by breathtaking landscapes of forests, lochs and the Cairngorm mountains, Aviemore has a palpable magic in the air and has become one of my favourite places in Scotland for family holidays.

Aviemore can be expensive, but visiting this stunning location doesn't have to cost a fortune. There are numerous free activities and attractions available to visitors that showcase the area's rich culture, history, and natural beauty. In this article, we will explore the best free things to do in Aviemore, ensuring you can experience the charm of the Scottish Highlands without breaking the bank.

Travelling to Aviemore on a budget

Aviemore is connected well via road and rail, and Inverness Airport is only about a 1-hour drive away. Aviemore has a dedicated railway station with direct links to Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh, making it very accessible from Scotland's largest cities.

Train tickets can be as cheap as £12 one way from Edinburgh if booked in advance.

A dedicated bus stop also exists directly on Grampian Road, near the train station. A Megabus from Edinburgh to Aviemore will cost only around £10.

Aviemore Train Station.
Aviemore Train Station is very pretty in it's own right.

Outdoor Activities

Aviemore offers many outdoor activities located in the Cairngorms National Park (the largest national park in the UK). Activities include quad bikes, watersports, aerial adventure courses, zip lines and go-karts! But here are the best free options available that won't cost you a penny:

Loch Morlich

The pristine waters and sandy shores of Loch Morlich offer a unique and tranquil setting for visitors to relax and unwind. Take a leisurely walk along the sandy beach, bask in the breathtaking scenery, and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the diverse flora and fauna. This enchanting location provides ample opportunities for wildlife watching, with the chance to spot ospreys, red squirrels, and other native species with the stunning backdrop of the often snow-capped Cairngorms.

If travelling by car the car park is quite expensive - £2 for one hour, many cars park on the roadside to avoid the car parking charges. There is no charge to visit the loch or walk around it. The nearby Glenmore Campsite has a lovely kid's playpark in the forest; we saw a squirrel here in early April. The Pine Marten Bar is a stone's throw from the play park.

The northwest side of the loch has a flock of friendly ducks who love to eat bird seed, especially if provided in the winter months.

Loch Morlich.
Loch Morlich is truly stunning.

Loch Vaa

Loch Vaa is a hidden gem just north of Aviemore on the A95. It is located a short distance from the Laggantygown Cemetery car park. This loch is less busy than tourist hot spots like Loch Morlich and offers excellent photography options with the boat house and ancient crannog; it's also a great spot for bird photography. Loch Vaa has a beautiful picnic spot at the northeast shore.

Loch Vaa.
Me at the picnic bench at Loch Vaa.

Loch an Eilein

This loch is famous for its island castle, once owned by the infamous Wolf of Badenoch, known for burning down the towns of Forres and Elgin, as well as Elgin Cathedral.

kayaked on Loch An Eilein two years ago, and it was a fantastic experience. I got close to the castle but wasn't quite brave enough to get out and explore! The loch has a well-maintained path around its perimeter, toilet facilities and a dedicated camping zone. Highly recommended.

If visiting by car, there is a fairly expensive charge of £4.50 per car.

Loch An Eilein.
Kayaking to the island castle at Loch An Eilein.

The Green Loch

The Green Loch, also known as An Lochan Uaine, is a hidden gem near Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.

This enchanting loch derives its name from the distinct emerald-green hue of its waters, which is attributed to the reflection of the surrounding lush pine forests. Local folklore also says fairies wash their clothes here, turning the water green! Easily accessible via a well-maintained trail that meanders through the captivating Caledonian Pine Forest.

The serene atmosphere, combined with the picturesque scenery, makes it an ideal spot for leisurely walks, picnics, and nature photography, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

The Green Loch.
The green waters of An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch).

Loch Garten

Loch Garten is often sadly overlooked as it is a reasonable distance north of Aviemore, but it is one of the most beautiful lochs within the Aviemore locality. There is a lovely walk along the banks of the loch, and it's possible to see Osprey hunting over the waters.

There is no charge to park at the dedicated car park. The Loch Garten Osprey Centre is near the loch, but this paid activity costs £5 for adults and £2.50 for children.

Loch Garten.
Loch Garten is amazing to behold.

Exceptional wildlife

The mountains and forests around Aviemore are teeming with wildlife which can be seen free of charge on the many walking trails. Here are some of the most impressive species:

Believe it or not, seeing reindeer on the hills from the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is also possible. You can visit these reindeer via a guided tour or at the dedicated centre with enclosures but for a cost.

Loch Garten Osprey
An Osprey at Loch Garten.

Drive to the Cairngorm Mountain car park

This car park, part way up Cairngorm Mountain, is linked to the Ski Centre and Funicular Railway. Skiing and going up the funicular is quite expensive, but the car park has stunning scenery looking back towards Loch Morlich and Aviemore.

You can also follow many walking trails from the car park, but these are fairly high up the mountain, so dress appropriately and wear proper footwear.

Cairngorm Ski Centre car park.
The views from this car park are stunning.

The Strathspey Railway

The railway station in the middle of Aviemore is regularly visited by the Strathspey Railway, a steam train that runs between Aviemore and the Boat of Garten/Broomhill. While it costs money to ride on the train, you can go to the station, see the train, and watch it arrive and depart for only 50p each.

Strathspey Steam Train
The Strathspey Steam Train, viewable at Aviemore Train Station.

Feed the fish at Rothiemurchus

This is a great activity for kids at the Rothiemurchus Estate. Bags of food can be purchased for only £1 and then thrown into the feeding pond. Rainbow trout pop their heads out of the water to eat the food pellets.

Rothiemurchus Forest

Located directly east of Aviemore, Rothiemurcus Forest is the perfect place for a walk amongst the tall pines of the ancient Caledonian Forest. Fresh air and freedom.

Rothiemurchus Forest
Walking trails at Rothiemurchus Forest.

Historical and Cultural Sites

The area surrounding Aviemore has no end of historical sites to explore.

Highland Folk Museum

The Highland Folk Museum, located near the charming town of Kingussie in the Scottish Highlands, offers visitors a captivating and immersive experience of the region's rich history and culture.

This open-air museum spans an impressive 80-acre site. It features a diverse collection of historic buildings, artefacts, and exhibitions that provide a unique insight into the Highland people's daily lives, customs, and traditions throughout the centuries. As visitors wander through the meticulously restored buildings, which include a 1700s township and a 1930s working croft, they can engage with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, who are dressed in period costumes and eager to share their stories and demonstrate traditional crafts and skills.

There is no charge to visit this museum; it has a lovely play park and gift shop too!

Highland Folk Museum
Learn how people lived in Scotland, long ago.

Aviemore Stone Circle

In central Aviemore, a small stone circle can be found down a cul de sac in the middle of the suburbs. It's not the most impressive stone circle as the stones are quite small, but it's very intact and has an information board, a great place for a short walk in Aviemore.

Aviemore Stone Circle.
Aviemore Stone Circle. Photo Dave Bonta.

Ruthven Barracks

Ruthven Barracks is the ruinous remains of a government garrison, built in the early 1700s to quell future Jacobite uprisings. It's an impressive ruin south of Aviemore which gives remarkable views of the countryside and the neighbouring settlement of Kingussie.

There is a dedicated free car park, and entry is free to the ruin. You will also be welcomed by a fold of friendly highland cows. When visiting Highland Folk Museum, it isn't far by car to explore Ruthven Barracks on the same day.

Ruthven Barracks.
Ruthven Barracks - a free ruin to visit south of Aviemore.

Castle Roy

North of Aviemore and Loch Garten, you can find Castle Roy, which just opened to the public in 2022 after a 30-year renovation project. Parking and entry are free, and you are welcomed by a friendly Highland cow named Murdo!

The castle walls are impressively thick, and a gantry takes you up to a higher level, giving fantastic views of the countryside and Cairngorm mountains. Numerous picnic benches make it ideal for a family picnic.

Castle Roy.
The newly opened Castle Roy, near Nethy Bridge.

Old Pack Horse Bridge

In Carrbridge, north of Aviemore, you can visit one of the oldest bridges in Scotland, dating from 1717. A dedicated viewing platform is available with an information panel.

Old Pack Horse Bridge
Old Pack Horse Bridge at Carrbridge.

FAQs on free things to do in Aviemore

Here are a few frequently asked questions about saving money while visiting Aviemore.

Where is the cheapest place to buy food in Aviemore?

There is a large Aldi and Home Bargains in the centre of Aviemore; you will likely find the cheapest food here, as well as other items such as toiletries. The Tesco in the town centre has touristy prices and is more expensive than a standard Tesco. All of the chip shops and restaurants generally have inflated tourist prices. Self-catering is the cheapest way to eat in Aviemore.

Where is the cheapest accommodation in Aviemore?

The cheapest option is Aviemore Youth Hostel within their shared rooms. Not much privacy but only £25 per night for bed only. B&Bs will be more affordable than a hotel. The Cairngorm Hotel is lovely, but you will be looking at £120+ per night for their smallest room; even the new Premier Inn will be over £120 per night.

For groups, Scandinavian Village can be a great option if sharing the cost amongst multiple adults. For example, a villa will cost in the region of £800 for one week but split between six adults for seven nights, it works out significantly cheaper than a hotel, and you have a kitchen and washing machine/dryer.

Camping in Aviemore would be overall the cheapest option if you enjoy that.

Villas at Scandinavian Village.
Cheap accommodation for six sharing adults in Aviemore.

Is camping an option in Aviemore?

Yes, there are many great campsites all around Aviemore for around £15-30 per night for a tent pitch.

  • Glenmore Campsite

  • Oakwood Caravan & Camping Park

  • Rothiemurchus Camp & Caravan Park

  • Dalraddy Holiday Park

Dalraddy Holiday Park has the fantastic Alvie Forest Food, expensive but delicious!

Is wild camping allowed around Aviemore?

Generally, wild camping is allowed in most areas of Scotland, but authorities in Aviemore would rather you keep to the recommended camping sites. If you decide to find a quiet spot in the wild, please respect the forests and wildlife and bring home all litter.

Read my Midge Survival Guide if camping between May and September.

Are there any free playparks in Aviemore?

Yes, if you make your way to the Spey Valley Shopping Centre near the Macdonald Hotels, there is a large play park just southwest of the complex.

Aviemore Playpark
Ellie attempting the monkey bars at MacDonald Resort Play Park.

Is there at ATM in Aviemore?

Yes, you can access an ATM at the Tesco Superstore or at the Bank of Scotland, both on the main strip on Grampian Road.

Is there a swimming pool in Aviemore?

Yes, but it's connected to the Macdonald Resort, and unless you are staying at the hotel, it's costly to use. Some times of the year, locals and tourists are entirely blocked from using the pool. A day trip to Aquadome in Inverness is worthwhile, Inverness Botanic Gardens is next door too, and entry is free.

If I want to splash out on a paid activity in Aviemore, what is the best value for money?

Landmark Forest Adventure Park is probably the most expensive day out in Aviemore, but it offers plenty of activities within the park. Waterslides, butterfly house, treetop walks, climbing walls, forest tower, animatronic dinosaurs and houses of illusion are but a few of the attractions - there is something for all ages at Landmark. Expect to pay as much as £150 for a family of five; expensive, but you can spend the whole day there, and the kids will love it. Bring a picnic to save money on buying park food.

Landmark Dinosaur Kingdom
The Dinosaur Kingdom entrance at Landmark.

Another cheaper alternative could be The Fun House near Coylumbridge; this is a large indoor soft play centre. My kids love it at the Fun House, and we always visit when we are in Aviemore. The centre also includes crazy golf, arcades and an American diner. Prices: under two years £2.50; 2 - 4 years: £4.50; five years and over £5.50.

The Fun House
The soft play climbing frame at the Fun House.

If you are looking for more paid options, please read my article on the best things to do in Aviemore.

Key information on free things to do in Aviemore

  • Aviemore is perfect for outdoor activities.

  • Aviemore is surrounded by picturesque walks around many beautiful lochs.

  • Camping is the cheapest way to overnight in Aviemore, and there are many campsites available.

  • A youth hostel is available, with shared and private rooms.

  • Scandinavian Village can be a very affordable option if sharing costs with six adults.

  • Aldi and Home Bargains are the cheapest supermarkets for food.

  • Self-catering is much cheaper than eating at takeaways and restaurants.

The Cairngorm Mountains give Aviemore an air of magic.


Aviemore offers a wealth of free activities and attractions that cater to a diverse range of interests, making it an ideal destination for budget-conscious travellers seeking to explore the Scottish Highlands. I hope this article has given you some ideas for your visit.

Please visit my 5-day Aviemore Travel Itinerary for help planning your visit to this wonderful Highland town.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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