Cairngorms National Park by train

Cairngorms National Park by train

How to get to the Cairngorms National Park by train and why you should definitely go there.

Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park is, unbeknownst to many, the UK’s largest national park, its highlands and lowlands covering a vast 4,528km2. This is almost twice the size of the Lake District National Park but with a lot fewer visitors. In fact the Lake District National Park, in all its loveliness, gets 16.4 million visitors every year, but the Cairngorms’ deserted mountains, icy river valleys and Caledonian Forest are peppered with a mere 1.5 million people per year. 

Taking the train to the Cairngorms National Park

There are two gorgeous gateway stations that take you into the heart of the park, on its west side: Aviemore and Kingussie. If you are coming from the south of England, one of the most adventurous ways to reach these mountain outposts is by sleeper train, leaving London Euston station at 21.15 Monday-Friday, or at 20.59 on Sundays. It arrives at Kingussie at 07.20 and Aviemore at 07.45m. Leave the ‘Old Smoke’ with a whisky in hand and wake up to the monros, mists and fine malts. 

You can also take a daytime train of course, one of the latest being on board the snazzy and speedy Azuma train run by LNER between London’s Kings Cross and Inverness. Since the end of 2019, the Azuma takes you direct to Kingussie and Aviemore in just over 8 hrs. Other stations along the way include York, Darlington, Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Edinburgh, Stirling and Perth. 

Travel in comfort into the heart of Caledonia with Azuma trains boasting state-of-the-art cleaner energy, high-speeds of up to 200km/h, excellent legroom, under-seat storage and ergonomic seating. Leaving London at 12.00 midday, you pull into Kingussie at 19.16 hrs and Aviemore at 19.29. There are other services during the day on board Azuma trains but they involve one or two changes at Edinburgh and Perth. 

You can also take a direct Azuma train direct from London to Aberdeen, which is the nearest station to the Royal Deeside area in the east of the National Park. From London, for example, this takes 7 hrs 4 mins, leaving London’s Kings Cross station at 10.00 and arriving at 17.04. 

Things to do in the Cairngorms National Park

The outdoor adventure scene in the Cairngorms National Park is well established and a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, canoeists, skiers, wildlife watchers, photographers, painters mountain bikers and skiers. It is home to five of the UK’s highest peaks, the most extraordinary sprawling wilderness areas and also a fine array of local mountain guides to take you to the likes of Ben Macdui, the highest peak in the park (1,309m), Càrn a' Mhàim (1,037 m) or Derry Cairngorm (1,155m). Those favouring lowlands can take on easier circuits of some of the park’s lochs such as Lochs an Eilein, Garten or Morlich. Cycling trails also abound, one of the most popular being through the Ryvoan Pass and you can hire bikes in Aviemore

You can also book a guide locally, which is highly recommended for mountain newbies, or opt for an organised self-guided or guided holiday with the likes of eco experts Wilderness Scotland or Scot Mountain Holidays. The Cairngorms Tourist Board is also a font of information on where to stay, local guides and, of course, trails to be sought out. 

Image credits top to bottom: Reindeer on Cairngorms iStock ©Richard Paksi, Kingussie station iStock ©Lucentius, Loch Morlich iStock ©Leamus, skiing on iStock ©Derek McDougall

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