Highland Fling: Two nights in Aviemore, Scotland

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Island castle ruins on Loch an Eilean, Colyumbridge, Scotland

M and I recently spent a week in Scotland. Our itinerary involved a night in Edinburgh, two nights in Aviemore, two nights in Ballachulish, and a final night in Edinburgh. We drove around Loch Ness, spent an afternoon on the sea in Oban, visited mid-evil castles, and stopped to sip Scotch in Pitlochry. We had so much fun it’s difficult to put into one post, so I thought I’d break it down into a few highlight sections. Our time in Aviemore felt like a good place to start.

Aviemore is a town in the Eastern highlands in Cairngorms National Park. It has the feel of a classic mountain resort town- local eateries, lots of outdoor outfitter shops, and recreational opportunities for all ages and ability levels. In the winter the focus is downhill skiing, but in summer months warmer weather activities dominate.

Getting There

We got a rental car on arrival in Edinburgh and set off fairly early in the morning. We stopped at Scone Castle in Perth where Robert the Bruce was crowned in 1306 and walked the grounds. About an hour later we stopped in Pitlochry and had a fantastic lunch at Port-na-Craig Inn. M had the haggis burger and we both delighted in eating along the river. Following this, we did a scotch tasting at the Bell’s distillery across the river. About an hour later we arrived in Aviemore. M had planned the route and stops the night before and it worked out perfectly. 

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Lunch Stop, Port-na-Craig Inn, along the river at Pitlochry, Scotland

One interesting thing about driving in Scotland was the roadways. We expected multilane highways we have seen in many international destinations like New Zealand, Ireland, and Spain. Instead, major cities and towns are connected by two lane streets with minimal shoulder. Don’t expect to drive 70mph between sites. We embraced the driving by building in entertaining stops along the way.

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Scotch tasting at Blair Athol distillery, Pitlochry, Scotland

Hotel

We stayed at the Hilton Coylumbridge. I would not recommend it for those traveling as a couple. It is a great place for families but not ideal for romantic escapes. The rooms are dated and cuisine caters to families. Unbeknownst to us when booking dinner was included in the rate. Convenient for families but restrictive in our circumstance.

Highlights

Aviemore had incredible recreational options. We started with a quintessential highland hike around Loch an Eilein. It is frequently photographed and popular because of the ruins of a 15th century castle located on a small island within the Loch. It was an easy 4 mile hike with a well developed trail. (Walkhighlands.co.uk was a detailed resource broken down by region, hike distance, and skill level required.)

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Bog areas on hike around Loch an Eilein

The other hike we did was around the elevated part of the Cairngorms near Ben Macdhui. Close to the funicular, this trail offered the best views we saw of the eastern highlands. The trail overlooked the valley containing Loch Morlich. At the start of the hike a herd of wild reindeer crossed our path. 

For some variety we decided to try a 4 wheeler tour of Rothiemurchus forest. After a quick tutorial we set off with our guide through forest trails crossing streams  and rivers. We saw highland cattle and great mountain views. We had a blast and would highly recommend it!

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Sometimes it’s fun to let the gasoline engine do some work!

We didn’t spend a ton of time in Aviemore but did venture in to try the Mountain Cafe for lunch, a local spot suggested in an Outside magazine article I had read. They had solid local and international cuisine at reasonable prices. We also stopped in to the Cairngorm brewery to try craft beer in Scotland. The scotch ale was served warm and cask pulled. (Not sure M was sold on warm beer.) If you are a whisky fan, the Speyside whisky trail has several nearby distillery stops. 

Lessons Learned

One activity we felt was a bit of a letdown was the fishing. They had a bait fishing well stocked pond and rental equipment ideal for children. Then they had a Loch devoted to fly fishing. The day we were there the water was still and fish were not biting. The only fish we saw caught were in the children’s bait fishing area. I’m sure Scotland has fantastic fishing but Rothiemurchus was not the spot. [M note: perhaps the fact you took a hook in the eyebrow when I was teaching you to fly fish influenced the “letdown” judgement…]

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Had we had another day we would have rented bikes. They had an extensive trail system connecting Aviemore, Rothiemurchus forest, Loch Morlich, and the Cairngorms.

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Loch Morlich, near Aviemore, Scotland

Must Dos

-Loch an Eilein hike

-Cairngorm mountain hike

-Mountain Cafe

-4 Wheeler tour of Rothiemurchus

-Speyside whisky trail

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7 thoughts on “Highland Fling: Two nights in Aviemore, Scotland

  1. Looks like a great time. The wife and I are considering some destinations for a 2 week trip next year. Your post but Scotland high on our list. Nice pics too, wild reindeer, very cool. I’ve heard the cost is reasonable both travel and around Scotland. Safety also seems like it’s not a concern.

    I know this is cliche, but if you grew up watching braveheart (we’ll make spears twice as long as a man….hehe) there is probably always a desire to see Scotland.

    I’ve always admired your family ability to take time off both medical careers and with kids. My wife is a PA and I’m a doc and we have 2 young kids so your blog inspires wonderlust. I usually forward her the posts to get her over the fear of traveling with young kids.

    1. Thanks for the kinds comments! I can’t say enough good things about Scotland. Edinburgh is an amazing city and the western highlands are more beautiful and interesting (more posts to come). Traveling with kids has been fun but I also greatly enjoy a trip such as this as a couple. That being said, Scotland would be an ideal trip with young kids given the ease of transportation, safety and infrastructure.

  2. I agree with the uncertainty about warm beer. I know that it is a thing over there, but it is something that my tastebuds do not comprehend.

    I have only been to Scotland for a few days and spent most of my time in Edinburgh. Your pictures inspired me to make a trip back to see more of the country. Can’t wait to hear about the rest of the trip!

    1. Edinburgh was great fun. Amazing food, beautiful castle and parks and a perfect size for a couple of days. The beer temperature is confusing…even their “Guinness extra cold” was still a bit warmer than our standard “normal cold”. What they lack in their beer temperature they make up for in their scotch for sure! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. We had a great time in Scotland when we visited about 10 years ago. Edinburgh is a great city, and I will not soon forget eating dinner and watching the late summer sunset from Arthur’s seat.

    I try to like whisky. I really try. But not matter how much I love the smell, I can’t stop the grimace and shudder when I try to down a dram. Beer, on the other hand, has no problem going down.

    Did you guys get eaten alive by the midges? 🙂

    Excited to hear about the rest of your trip!

    1. Midges, yes…I’m still scratching. Being from bourbon country (and almost earning my bourbon trail Tshirt) I learned at a young age to down some rough stuff. Easier than warm beer imho. By the way, I read your blog post about the thanksgiving tasting menu with wine pairing and it influenced our picking an amazing final dining experience in Edinburgh. Please tell me you’ll be selling tickets to t-giving dinner 2018?!

      1. I’m not too far from bourbon country, so maybe you can give me a tour some day. I need to build an appreciation before I try Pappy Van Winkle!

        Ha, Thanksgiving is sold out my friend! Actually, after that meal we have dialed back our ambitions and our family’s expectations. It was too much cooking and not enough enjoying for the chefs. Much better to do the wine pairing meals at a nice restaurant like you two.

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