Having visited the wonderful Aviemore twice in the last year, and having stayed in the town itself (without a car) for a week, I like to think that I’m now something of an expert of what to do and where to eat and drink.
Aviemore is a small town in the Scottish Cairngorm National Park that is made for tourists. In the winter, it’s the home base for skiers who head up the mountainside for the best skiing in the UK, and in the summer it’s a popular destination for outdoor lovers.
How to get there
Ok – hear me out on this one. You can get the train directly from London King’s Cross to Aviemore in around 8 hours. We even managed to find tickets on a Saturday for £25 each with railcard discount! I think this was a massive fluke as most other tickets seemed to cost around £100 for a single, but definitely keep your eye out for bargains like this – and book around 2-3 months in advance wherever possible.
We opted to get the Caledonian Sleeper train home back to London. Although it was far less exciting getting the train down to London (I would rather wake up in the mountains!) it worked out well because it meant that we didn’t have to pay for another night’s accommodation.
As much as we would have loved to book a fancy cabin room on the sleeper train, we went for the cheaper seats instead (around £50) which were much nicer than I expected. You get more leg room and space than on a plane, your own tray and charging point, and they even give you eye masks and earplugs. Of course, with my ability to sleep anywhere, I slept the whole way back.
Overall, I’d recommend that you might want to have a car when visiting the National Park as that will give you scope to go further and do some more exploring. But there are things to do in the local area, and with our return tickets costing around £75 return each, it was certainly the cheaper – and quicker – option.
What to do
Aviemore is very much a base camp for seeing the rest of the Cairngorm National Park. With the Cairngorm Mountain, Highland Wildlife Park and various scenic hikes all within driving distance, there is much to see and do within the park. But I’d also like to highlight the things that you can do in and around the town that don’t involve driving.
From Aviemore, there is a footpath that will take you to the Rothiemurchus Visitor Centre in around 20 minutes. Here, you will find information about the activities available in the Rothiemurchus area which include clay shooting, a treezone climbing centre and quad trekking. There’s also a wonderful cafe which offered me shelter (and very necessary scones and tea) from a snow storm after a long walk, as well as a cute local farm shop.
From the Rothiemurchus Visitor Centre I walked along a trail towards Loch an Eilein which is a beautiful and popular lake. It takes around an hour to walk around Loch an Eilien and it is a pleasant and well-marked wooded path where you’re likely to bump into families and dogwalkers.
When we visited in warmer weather, there were places to picnic and a shop where you could buy ice creams. But in the middle of winter last month, it was far quieter and beautiful in a different kind of way.
If you fancier a quieter and more secluded walk around a loch, the nearby Loch Vaa is a good alternative. When we went last year, we did the most amazing walk around the loch and surrounding woodland, and saw nobody but one or two deer!
I would also recommend going on the Strathspey Railway which runs between Aviemore and Broomhill. You can get a normal return on the steam train, or you can even book compartments for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner! We just got the train there and back to Broomhill and it was lovely to sit back and watch the world go by.
In Aviemore itself there are plenty of outdoor shops to browse (you will end up buying a coat or an unnecessary hat) but it’s not really somewhere you can spend all day – unless you’re like me and writing a novel, in which case the Costa in the retail park was my best friend!
Where to stay
We love the Ravenscraig Guest House which we’ve now stayed out twice. It’s reasonably priced, cosy and serves an excellent breakfast which is included in the room rate. Plus the owners Scott and Helena are super friendly and helped us with recommendations of things to do, let us check in early and store our bags during the day before we got the night train home. FYI: it’s usually cheaper to book through the Guest House directly, as opposed to Booking.com.
If you are after your own space and don’t mind being a little further away from the town centre, we stayed at this Airbnb studio apartment for five nights and it was the perfect place for us to do our own cooking and hang out in the evenings. Plus, I used it during the day to do my writing!
It’s about a 25 minute walk into Aviemore from the apartment, but there’s a direct footpath that means you can avoid the main road. Plus, with a local golf course, chip shop, pizza place and Co-op, we found it very well equipped for staying locally and avoiding the town centre.
Where to eat
Aviemore itself is fairly small. You’re not going to find any Michelin Star restaurants, but there are some tucked away gems that are worth a visit.
Top of the list is always going to be the glorious Mountain Cafe. Serving a range of breakfast, lunch, soups and salads, plus amazing coffee and homemade cakes, you will have to be prepared to wait for the Mountain Cafe as there is usually a buzzer system in place. An hour’s wait for the Cafe might seem like a long time, but it is definitely worth it, believe me. We’ve eaten there twice now and both times I’ve absolutely loved the atmosphere and the food – especially the massive portions of cake!
Recently opened in the retail park is a big Tiso outdoor store which houses the Explorer Cafe on the first floor. It was very busy when I popped in, but served an assortment of salads, jacket potatoes and grilled food, and is open in the early evening if you fancy dinner.
To kill the time before our train departed at 9.30pm, we set up camp in the pub at the station which is called the Highway Line. It’s the perfect place to fall into when arriving or departing Aviemore – and gets bonus points for literally being on the platform!
There are other coffee shops and restaurants around the town and some would definitely be described as cheap and cheerful. You can also eat and drink at the many hotels in Aviemore. The Cairngorm Hotel is just opposite the station and has live music and events every night if you’re looking for somewhere a bit more lively.
Overall, Aviemore and the surrounding area has a lot to offer and we really love the small town community spirit combined with magnificent mountain backdrop. I’m sure we will be back again soon!