The best places to stay in the Cairngorms

Accommodation, Nature, Destinations

Posted by Kate W on 8th April 2024

View across the Cairngorm mountain range on a sunny day with a blue sky

The Cairngorms are renowned as one of the most beautiful and unique destinations in the UK, with magical castles, Dark Sky sites, varied local wildlife including wild reindeer and osprey, and snow-capped mountains where you can take part in ski trips with the family.

With so much on offer, it can be tricky figuring out which are the best places to stay in the Cairngorms National Park, so we’ve looked into it for you and listed out the top destinations and what makes each one special. If you want even more holiday inspiration, you could browse through our guides to the best places to stay in Scotland and the best places to stay in the Highlands.

Read on to learn more about the enchanting towns and villages of the Cairngorms or click the button below for our beautiful range of Cairngorms holiday cottages.

Cairngorms cottages

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About the Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park was established in 2003, and this national park was extended further in 2008 to include Blair Atholl and the Spittal of Glenshee. It’s a region bursting with a multitude of spectacular beauty spots all backed by epic views, and at its centre sits the magnificent Cairngorm mountain range.

They certainly are! From snow-tipped mountains offering winter sports galore to remote villages with mountain trails, the magnificent Cairngorms National Park boasts a huge amount of things to do and see.

Visitors usually head to the Cairngorms during the winter for ski season, and during the summer to go walking and get lost in nature. Whisky connoisseurs head to the Cairngorms for great quality Scottish whisky made using the spring water that runs through the River Spey. With so many popular towns and villages in the Cairngorms, family-friendly attractions have popped up throughout the region too.

Inverness is the closest city to the Cairngorms National Park, and is located 44 miles away. Many people choose to drive to the Cairngorms, however, you can also take the train and there’s a bus service from Inverness to the town of Aviemore.


Out of all of these fantastic places to stay, we believe Aviemore and Carrbridge are the best places to stay for getting outdoors on an adrenaline-pumping holiday, while Boat of Garten and Grantown-on-Spey are a couple of our favourites for a more relaxed break. Every town and village in the Cairngorms offers something slightly different so you can find a destination that perfectly suits you.

Whether or not you need a car depends entirely on where you’re staying. If you stay in Aviemore, there are regular transport links up Cairngorm Mountain and you can hop on the Strathspey Railway to visit other towns and villages. If you are staying in a town or village that’s not on the railway line, you’ll need a car to visit some of the more remote and impressive attractions and beauty spots near you.

Read our guide to the Cairngorms

The ski slopes of Cairngorm Mountain by Aviemore

Aviemore: best for adrenaline-pumping snow sports

First up is the fantastic Aviemore, a wonderful town in the Cairngorms noted for its skiing and winter sports opportunities. Even in the spring and summer when the snow has gone and the wildlife returns, it’s a stunning place to visit and it is renowned as one of the best places to stay in the Cairngorms – it even features in our guide to winter activities that you never know you could do in the UK.

Is Aviemore in the Cairngorms?

Yes, Aviemore is right in the heart of the Cairngorms mountain range, and is best known for being the town that serves visitors to Cairngorm Mountain.


Aviemore cottages

Cabins at the Highland Folk Museum

Newtonmore: best for hunting down history

A tranquil and enchanting little village in the heart of the Highlands, with majestic backdrops all around, Newtonmore is a perfect escape within reach of great attractions while offering a peaceful place to stay in the Cairngorms. The entire region is full of history and heritage, but Newtonmore may be the best place to uncover it, with the Newtonmore Heritage Trail that runs past the biggest areas of interest in this lovely village, including Loch Imrich, Newtonmore Golf Club, and Craigellachie House.


Newtonmore cottages

Carrbridge's 18th-century packhorse bridge

Carrbridge: best for cycling excursions

If you are wondering where to stay in the Cairngorms for a real sense of peace, this riverside village might be the answer. Named for the elegant, ancient bridge in its centre – the oldest packhorse bridge in the Highlands – Carrbridge is another historic village filled with quaint and characterful cottages and is set right on the River Dulnain. It’s right below the Monadhliath Mountains offering plenty of hiking opportunities. Whether you’re a keen cyclist or a family planning a day out, the Sustrans Inverness – Perth Cycle Route 7 passes right through Carrbridge, so you can plan a bike ride backed by monumental scenery.


Carrbridge cottages

Osprey on a branch and view of Loch Garten

Boat of Garten: best for birdwatching and wildlife

Otherwise known as The Osprey Village, due to the nearby RSPB Osprey Centre, the Boat of Garten is a stunning place to stay, bursting with beauty and wildlife. This is where to stay in the Cairngorms National Park if you are a keen nature lover, with many walks and ways to get up close to the landscape. You might spot an osprey soar overhead without leaving the village, you could stake out the Strathspey Badger Hide to see nighttime inhabitants out and about, or set out on a walk into the Abernethy Reserve for spectacular mountain trails and panoramas. If you’re a keen twitcher, we’ve got a guide on the best times of year to birdwatch in the UK.


Boat of Garten cottages

Kingussie - Ruthven Barracks and snowy mountains behind

Kingussie: best for foodies and whisky connoisseurs

A fantastic town in the Cairngorms for drinking and dining surrounded by the region’s outstanding scenery, Kingussie is home to the much-loved Speyside Distillery, where they use the method of hand distilling and local spring water to create its quality whisky. Kingussie itself is a vibrant market town with a high street home to a collection of charming dining establishments – from Indian-style food to classic pub grub, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for dinners out during your Cairngorms holiday.


Kingussie cottages

Red panda at the Highland Wildlife Park and view of Loch Insh

Kincraig: best for family adventures

Bustling, vibrant and full of charm, Kincraig is a Cairngorms village that offers plenty for families and groups of friends looking for fun-filled days out together. It’s set on the edge of Loch Insh ensuring days filled with water sports in the spring and summer – try windsurfing, SUP, or hop aboard a pedalo. The Highland Wildlife Park is a real draw here too with a host of wonderful animals, many endangered or threatened in the wild. The village of Kincraig is only small, but when you fancy a bite to eat, why not pop by the charming Old Post Office Café Gallery for foodie options and artwork?


Kincraig cottages

View across the rooftops of Grantown-on-Spey

Grantown-on-Spey: best for shopping and stargazing

This popular town in the Cairngorms has a quaint high street at its heart, home to gift shops, cafes and a museum. You’ll find plenty of delightful places to step into to purchase special gifts for friends and family (or yourself), and a selection of independent restaurants and bars too. The Cairngorms also features in our top places for stargazing in the UK guide and Grantown-on-Spey is a 14-mile-drive from Tomintoul, a remote and secluded destination that’s renowned as the best place in the Cairngorms for stargazing.


Grantown-on-Spey cottages

Cyclists on a trail riding past Loch Nagar, and photo of Balmoral Castle

Ballater: best for castles

A charming Victorian village in the heart of Royal Deeside, this is an all-round wonderful place to stay in the Cairngorms for shopping, culture, walking – but it’s by far the best for castles! The most famous castle nearby is Balmoral, where the royal family often spend their summer, while Braemar Castle, Crathes Castle and Craigievar Castle are all within 26 miles of Ballater. If you need any more castle inspiration, read our guide listing some of our favourite Scottish castles. In Ballater village itself you could stop by Deeside Books, Dee Valley Confectioners or Larks Gallery for a relaxing morning looking around.


Ballater cottages

The scenic ruins of Castle Roy

Nethy Bridge: best for unforgettable views

With a close relationship with the immense Abernethy Forest which spills into the village, this holiday destination is a truly beautiful place to stay in the Cairngorms. The River Nethy cuts through its heart and is crossed by the old three-arched Nethy Bridge that the village is named after. The visitor centre is a great place to begin your holiday and if you time your holiday right, you could see the Highland Games that take place in this village too. Surrounded by the forest and snow-capped mountains, you’re sure to be amazed by this enchanting location.


Nethy Bridge cottages

Clunie Water and rural view in Braemer

Braemar: best for escaping it all

While this village is full of charm, with a duckpond, sweet shops and castle ruins to explore, it’s a true place to get away from it all as it’s located in a remote and tranquil region of the Cairngorms, far from the bustling ski resorts! When staying in the Cairngorms, we recommend this delightful little village where you will really feel like you’re in the heart of wild Scotland. Best of all, there are six walking paths popular in the village allowing you to explore every day of your Cairngorms break – visit our guide to Scotland’s most remote places for more inspiration on where to escape into nature.


Braemar cottages

Map of the top places to stay in the Cairngorms

Check out our map of wonderful places across the Cairngorms National Park to plan your holiday. 

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Stay in the Cairngorms National Park

Now that you’ve determined where the best place is to stay in the Cairngorms for your next break, get inspired by browsing through our collection of holiday cottages in this wonderful region.

With a lovely choice of retreats – from hot tub cottages to mountainside lodges – you’re sure to find a Cairngorms holiday let to suit you.

Cairngorms cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.