Janice Hopper

Aviemore and the surrounding area is one huge outdoor playground for kids (and big kids), offering exhilaration, exploration and relaxation. Whilst it’s popular all year round, here are ten good reasons to get the family to Aviemore pronto.

1 Feed the Aviemore Reindeer Herd.

Britain’s only free-range herd of reindeer is around 150 beasts strong, and what can be more festive than meeting Santa’s special helpers in the run up to Christmas?

Daily guided Hill Trips up into the Cairngorm mountain are a huge attraction, but for those with young children or mobility issues, the reindeer paddocks offer easy access to Rudolph and his friends.

The animals come down from the hills to the paddocks for 1-2 weeks at a time, making it possible to admire these majestic beasts up close and learn some unexpected facts. For example, reindeer don’t have any top front teeth, this is because they pull tender leaves from trees or shrubs, rather than graze grass - that factoid provides a quirky Christmas party conversation starter if ever there was one.

Over the winter months it’s possible to see the male reindeers’ quite tatty, bloodied antlers as they shed them, ready for new growth to flourish in time for next year’s autumn rut. Meanwhile the females maintain their antlers, dominating the males over food during the cold months, which is essential as the females are usually pregnant over winter.

End the outing within the educational exhibition, make little antlers for children in the craft corner, read stories in the warm barbecue hut, and look out for ‘Christmas Fun’ weekends that include Santa Claus himself, and the opportunity to make your own Christmas tree decorations.


2 Getting Steamed up Aboard the Strathspey Steam Railway

Board a beautiful old steam engine and puff through ten miles of countryside at a gentle pace. Departing from Platform 3 of Aviemore train station, the steam engine stops at Boat of Garten, then continues onto Broomhill, before returning to Aviemore. The round trip takes just over one hour and fifteen minutes. This experience is relaxing for all ages, and an excellent rainy day option. Look out for ‘Santa Express’ and ‘Mince Pie Special’ services.


3 Go Nuts at Landmark

For a family day out featuring an Ant City, Forest Safari Rides and a Growing-Shrinking Room, it’s got to be the epic Landmark Forest Adventure Park.

Whilst some attractions are suitable for those over 1100 centimetres (start measuring your children now), there’s still so much on offer for little ones. The Lost Labyrinth is a maze of exploration, seeking out a pirate’s lair. The Tree Top Trail takes visitors into the forest canopy to find red squirrels nibbling at feeding stations. Or climb to the top of the Fire Tower for great views over the countryside.

Whilst Landmark is best served dry, if rain showers do threaten there are multiple indoor activities. Venture inside the mind-bending Bamboozeleum where nothing is as it seems, face bewilderment inside the three Wonder Wood cabins where the laws of physics don’t apply, and be enraptured by butterflies and birds within the very cosy Tropical Hot House.

From March onwards rides such as the Runaway Timber Train, Wild Water Coaster and Sky Diver reopen for the season. The Wee Monkey Trail allows tots to harness up and attempt ‘My First Rope Trail’, whilst older siblings and brave parents dangle from the Tarzan Trail or Ropeworkz.


4 Look for the Bear Necessities at the Highland Wildlife Park

Whilst wildlife parks across the UK may covet a cute, white bundle of fluff, animal-lovers have to head to the Cairngorms to meet young Hamish, the first polar bear cub born in the UK for 25 years. He calls the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig his home, along with his parents, Arktos and Victoria, and another male polar bear called Walker. His mother is special in her own right, as she’s Scotland’s only female polar bear, and Hamish will share her enclosure until he’s approximately two years old.

Upon Hamish’s birth the public were invited to vote over the cub’s name, choosing from a list of names suggested by the keepers. Over 36,000 votes were cast, and more than 21,800 of these votes were for Hamish! (Polar McPolarBear Face was not an option in this instance.)

Hamish will be celebrating his first birthday on 18 December 2018, so happy birthday Hamish.


5 Grab a Piste of the Action

Catch Scotland’s only funicular railway up to 3,500 feet, take in the views, send a postcard from the highest postbox in the British Isles, grab lunch in the Ptarmigan Restaurant, then hit the slopes. Cross-country skiing can also be organised at ground level.


6 Eat & Drink

A good break includes good food, and there are multiple family friendly cafés and restaurants in Aviemore. Highlights include the renowned Mountain Café, La Taverna, Giovanni’s, the Druie Café or Macdui’s. For a foodie experience take a tour of the Cairngorm Brewery, children aged 12 and over are welcome too.


7 Take a Hike

There are many walks and trails in the Aviemore area, but a relatively straightforward option for families is the circular route around Loch an Eilein. It’s scenic, achievable with a sturdy buggy, and takes roughly two hours. Admittedly it may take longer due to little legs, snack stops, toilet stops and occasional tantrums.


8 Get Active

Families are spoiled for choice when it comes to outdoor activities around Aviemore. The Rothiemurchus Estate offers archery, bike hire, Hairy Coo safaris, clay pigeon shooting, pony rides and quad bike treks, to name a few options. Or nip to the Craggan Outdoor Activities Centre for climbing, abseiling, laser tag, gorge walking or kayaking. Alternatively, cheer the kids on from the sidelines.



9 Book a Family Friendly Hotel

It’s a bit of a no-brainer but staying at a resort that caters for families can make life so much easier. Hilton Coylumbridge is one solid option, but the Macdonald Resort drives kids potty with its choice of an Activity Centre, three storeys of soft play, a pool complete with flume and wave machine, and a huge cinema. Free wifi also means teenagers can communicate with their pals back home, and pretend they’re not on a family break at all.


10 Get Folky

The Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore reopened for the season earlier this month. It’s an immersive experience, featuring historical buildings encapsulating Scottish rural life from the 1700s to the 1950s. The mile long site provides ample room for youngsters to run off steam, as they dash from a smoke house, sweetie shop, schoolhouse and church, to a clockmaker’s workshop, post office, railway halt and joiner’s shop, as well as a explore mix of outhouses. Other buildings not to miss include a 1930’s working farm ‘Aultlarie Croft’, a Hebridean Black House, a Shepherd’s Bothy, Sheep Fank and Dipping Trough, and the Museum’s reconstruction of an early 1700s Highland Township ‘Baile Gean’. Interpretation staff in period dress bring the buildings to life.

Walking into each property, taking in the sights, smells and sounds is evocative, suggesting how our forefathers once lived, ate, worked and played in the Scottish countryside.



Aviemore has its own railway station connecting it with much of Scotland, and includes services from London.

Discover more at visitcairngorms.com