Car-free Guide to the Cairngorms National Park
Our guide to travelling to and around the Cairngorms National Park without a car.
Getting to the Cairngorms without a car:
By Train: The East Coast mainline service from London to Inverness passes through the Cairngorms, stopping either at Kingussie or Aviemore. This service also connects the park with Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, Peterborough and various other stations for onward connections across the country; there is also a sleeper service from Euston. There are also direct trains on the Glasgow – Inverness line that stop in the National Park at Kingussie and Aviemore. Alternatively, the Eastern part of the National Park, known as Deeside, is close to Aberdeen, which is also connected from London and the East Coast by regular mainline trains, including a sleeper service. Other railway stations in the Park are Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, and Carr-Bridge, served by trains running between Perth and Inverness.
By Coach or Bus: Citylink, the Scottish long distance coach network, links various destinations across Scotland to the Cairngorms: the Edinburgh – Inverness and Glasgow - Inverness routes stop at several settlements in the Cairngorms, including Aviemore. National Express provides an express service from London’s Victoria Coach Station to the Cairngorms (Aviemore), as well as various other services from across the country. There are also megabus services to destinations in and around the National Park. Stagecoach now runs a sleeper service to the Cairngorms from London and ten other Scottish destinations.
B. Getting around without a car:
By Train: Within the park, the railway service is limited, but for journeys along the Spey valley between Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore and Carr-Bridge, there are regular services. For a vintage travel experience, you could take the Strathspey railway, a traditional steam service, from Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Brommhill, near Nethybridge.
By Bus: The Cairngorms’ bus network is more comprehensive than its railway coverage, however this is mountainous terrain with few major roads and not every peak and hidden dell is within a five-minute stroll of a bus stop! The Cairngorms Explorer has a useful map of the different local bus services around the National Park. The buses connect the National Park’s principal settlements and attractions along the valleys, but no services actually cross the peaks of the range, which have to be enjoyed on foot (or perhaps by bike, see below). For those coming from the east, the newly extended route 201 runs from the centre of Aberdeen (Union Square), up through Braemar, up against the mountains, and down to Blairgowrie to the south. For more detailed information on individual routes and timetables check out the Stagecoach Highlands website.
C. Cycling: The vast wilderness areas of the Cairngorms offer miles of quiet roads that often offer spectacular views of the rugged highland scenery. There are also 64km of dedicated off-road routes, allowing you to explore the National Park at your leisure without fear of other vehicles. Whilst there are many well-maintained roads and routes, the Cairngorms are still a wild and rugged landscape, with weather that can turn quickly. Whilst cycling in the mountains can be a great pleasure, attention should always be paid, and before you embark on a ride, check out the weather forecast, as well as the quality of the trails, and the gradient and number of slopes involved.
If you wish to bring your bike with you, spaces for bikes can be reserved on trains, you should call up the train operator or head to your local station to reserve these in advance and avoid problems or disappointment on the day of travel. Stagecoach has a network of long-distance bus services across the North East of Scotland on which you are allowed - even encouraged - to take your bike, including on the 201 Abdereen - Braemar service ('The Royal Deeside'), giving fantastic access for cyclists to the Deeside part of the Cairngorms National Park. Have a look at the Stagecoach Aberdeenshire Bikes on Buses document. Citylink bus services also allow you to bring your bike, but only in an approved bag. These can be purchased from Citylink at Buchanan bus station, Glasgow, otherwise it is advisable to get in touch in advance to confirm that your bag is acceptable. Traveline Scotland also has additional information on taking bikes by public transport in Scotland.
The Cairngorms National Park also have a list of cycle-friendly accommodation providers in the Cairngorms National Park. Taking some of the strain off your legs, the Cairngorms National Park has recently launched a flagship electric bike hire scheme. Various charging points are located around the park, and the website offers a range of downloadable leaflets and maps of different routes and charging points across the different areas of the National Park. You can find a full list of electric bike hire points here.
The Crown Estate is opening a much anticipated cycling centre for the Cairngorms this autumn, the Glenlivet Mountain Bike Trail Centre. There are numerous different businesses that offer biking facilities, cycle hire, and general information for cyclists in the Cairngorms, including several close to the railway station at Aviemore. A full list can be found on the Cairngorms cycling website. The cycle hire centres at Aviemore are: Mikes Bikes, close to the station; Bothy Bikes; and Cycle Wild Scotland.
For maps and more detailed information on bike routes in the Cairngorms National Park, head to one of the cycle centre (above), or visitor centres listed below. Alternatively, VisitScotland offers a dedicated cycle route finder page on its website. For more information for cyclists and sustainable travellers in the Cairngorms and the rest of the country, see Sustrans Scotland.
Maps and further information In addition to the places listed in this guide, the Cairngorms National Park have their own visitor transport website with a range of links, maps, and information. You can also head to one of their nine visitor information centres within the park, to ask for advice or pick up maps and information.
The centres are located at: Crathie, Ballater, Glenmore, Braemar (two), Aviemore, Tomintoul, Newtonmore (Ralia Café), and Grantown on Spey.
For more information on where to stay and eat, and what to see and do in the Cairngorms National Park, check out the Visit Cairngorms website.