Cairngorm Mountain is home to Scotland’s only funicular railway which offers spectacular views of the Scottish Highlands from its highest point at 3,500 feet (1.07 km). The Cairngorm mountain range is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts and year-round hill walkers, but many visitors go there just to experience the funicular. Discover this exciting attraction in this complete guide which features an overview and useful visiting tips.
|Address:||Cairn Gorm Ski Area,
|Opening Hours:||The site is open 24/7
Cairngorm Café & Mountain Shop 9.30 am - 4.30 pm
|Admission Price:||Free entry to the site
Tickets are required for some activities. See https://www.cairngormmountain.co.uk/
|Parking:||Paid car park on-site
£3 per vehicle
|Contact:||+44 (0) 1479 861 261
|Facilities:||Toilets, cafe, restaurant, shops, sports activities, guided walks, campervan site|
Cairngorm is the UK’s sixth-highest mountain, and it’s well-known for being Scotland’s premier snowsports destination. But this mountain isn’t just about skiing and snowboarding because visitors can explore it at all times of the year thanks to the Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway that runs to its summit.
This is the highest railway in Britain and a journey in one of the carriages will elevate you 462 metres over the length of its 1,970-metre track. The funicular is the only one in Scotland and a trip to the top of Cairngorm is likely to be the high point (no pun intended…) of any visit to the Scottish Highlands.
Although it was meant to replace the ‘White Lady’ chairlift in 2001 as a mode of transport for winter skiers, the funicular has become a popular tourist attraction in its own right due to the breathtaking views that can be seen during the 10-minute journey from the base station to the top of the mountain.
1: The Cairngorm funicular railway offers some of the most breathtaking views in the UK. As you ascend to the top of Cairngorm Mountain you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas of the stunning Scottish Highlands. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles.
2: The Cairngorms National Park is home to a variety of wildlife and from the funicular you might spot deer and golden eagles. The park is also home to semi-natural forests, moorlands, peatlands, and lochs, providing incredible opportunities for nature photography.
3: The Cairngorm Mountain Centre has a couple of excellent cafes. There’s the Cas bar (open in winter only), and the Cairngorm Cafe. Both offer tasty snacks and drinks at a reasonable price.
1: Single tickets are expensive for what you get so buy the annual pass instead which is much better value – but only if you plan on returning throughout the year.
2: Head down to Loch Morlich after you’ve been on the funicular. How often can you say you’ve sat on a beach and the top of a mountain in the same afternoon?
3: The Cairngorm range is a great destination for hiking, but make sure you have a decent map with you. Phone signals are patchy on Cairngorm so a paper map is essential for walks into the mountain range. Buy OS Explorer Maps directly from Ordnance Survey.
The railway starts in the Coire Cas area where there’s a restaurant, shop, ticket office, sports hire shop, mountain ranger office and the Disability Sport UK office – all of which means the area is busy at all times of the year.
If you’re visiting the Cairngorm Centre you need to be aware that peak times have huge amounts of tourists visiting the site with an average of 150,000–160,000 non-sports visitors and a further 50,000–120,000 sports enthusiasts during the winter.
The funicular is best used as a means for getting to the top station in double-quick time, but it also makes for an enjoyable ride if you don’t fancy getting your boots on to explore one of Scotland’s most scenic wilderness areas. But perhaps more importantly, it also opens the mountain up to people with mobility problems, which somewhat compensates for the environmental concerns the railway has raised since opening in 2001.
As you arrive at the peak of the northern slope of Cairngorm you’ll likely want to stop and take in the glorious scenery that stretches for miles around in all directions. Loch Morlich is clearly visible below and the beautiful mountain ranges of the Cairngorm National Park stretch out into the distance.
Cairngorm has some remarkable walking routes that are the main draw for most visitors outside of the winter months, although the conditions can be difficult so you’d be well advised to take part in one of the professionally guided excursions hosted by the mountaineers at the Top Station.
You aren’t permitted to leave the Top Station without a professional guide, and it won’t take you long to realise why, with challenging paths leading out into the wilderness that a novice walker could easily get lost on. The guides are excellent, though, and they make a point of being very supportive and teaching you how to get the best out of your walking gear, how to pace yourself, and how to monitor the ever-changing conditions.
If you choose not to take the funicular to the Top Station then you can walk from the base to the summit in around three hours if you’re a slow hiker, while someone who’s reasonably fit should be able to complete the journey in half that time.
It’s quite a simple route as the path is well-trodden and there will almost certainly be other people within eyesight, but even so, I suggest packing extra clothes for the Top Station as well as making sure you’re wearing decent walking boots – especially in winter as the trail gets very boggy in places.
As well as being your destination for walks up the mountain, the Top Station has an excellent café and the Ptarmigan restaurant which serves up good-quality food after an energetic hike. The restaurant is particularly noteworthy as it has a viewing terrace that provides amazing panoramic views, and in winter the terrace becomes an attraction in its own right with visitors finding it exciting to stand in 60mph+ winds!
There’s also a gift shop and a mountain gear outfitter at the Top Station if you fancy taking home a memento, and if you have a postcard you can mail it from Britain’s highest post box.
Things to Do
Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway: One of Scotland’s most unique attractions, the Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway offers a mesmerizing journey to the mountain’s peak. The railway is the highest in the UK and provides unbeatable views of the Scottish Highlands. At the top station, you can enjoy warm drinks and meals at the Ptarmigan Restaurant which is the highest restaurant in the UK.
Skiing and Snowboarding: Cairngorm Mountain is renowned for its winter sports, offering an exhilarating experience for both novice and experienced skiers and snowboarders. The mountain boasts world-class ski runs, a fully equipped ski school, and state-of-the-art equipment rental facilities.
Guided Hiking Tours: Explore Cairngorm Mountain’s beautiful landscapes with a guided hiking tour. Experienced guides will lead you through the winding trails and provide a fascinating insight into the mountain’s flora, fauna, and geology. The hikes are suitable for all fitness levels and offer a great opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most picturesque parts of Scotland.
Wildlife Spotting: Cairngorm Mountain is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. The mountain and its surroundings are home to a diverse array of animal species including red deer, golden eagles, and the territorial ptarmigan. Guided wildlife tours provide an opportunity to learn about these animals and their habitats, offering an enjoyable experience for all ages.
Stargazing Nights: Due to its remote location and minimal light pollution, Cairngorm Mountain offers fantastic stargazing opportunities. On clear nights, visitors can join guided stargazing sessions where experts will help you navigate the night sky, pointing out constellations and planets, and you might even be lucky enough to see the stunning Northern Lights.
Things to Do Nearby
Loch Morlich. 7-minute drive.
A large freshwater loch situated at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains. Loch Morlich has a large golden sand beach on its eastern edge that has a café and a watersports equipment hire shop. It is surrounded by a forest that has multiple footpaths running through it.
Glenmore Forest Park Visitor Centre. Glenmore, Aviemore PH22 1QU. 7-minute drive.
One of Scotland’s largest forest areas. The visitor centre is the starting point for most excursions into the forests around Cairngorm whether it’s on foot or mountain bike. There is a café and a visitor information point on-site.
Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. Reindeer House, Glenmore, Aviemore PH22 1QU. 6-minute drive.
This attraction takes visitors on daily guided tours to see Britain’s only free-ranging herd of wild reindeer. There are also a small number of reindeer that can be visited in the centre’s paddocks.
An Lochan Uaine. Aviemore PH22 1QZ. 12-minute drive plus a 20-minute walk.
A popular lochan that sits alongside one of the most-used walking trails in Glenmore Forest. The tree-lined body of water has open areas suitable for picnics. It is known as the ‘Green Loch’ due to the unusual green colour of the water caused by the trees reflecting off it.
Strathspey Steam Railway. Dalfaber Rd, Aviemore PH22 1PY. 18-minute drive.
Restored steam train with traditional carriages that follows a timetabled route from Aviemore to Boat of Garten. The 10-mile track offers stunning views of the Highlands as it passes through woodlands and heather moorland.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the Cairngorm mountain railway?
The Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway is 13 kilometres (8 miles) from Aviemore and can be reached by travelling along the B970 and C38 roads to Glenmore.
Address: Cairn Gorm Ski Area, Aviemore, PH22 1RB.
Can you drive up the Cairngorm mountain?
Visitors can drive partway up the Cairngorm range to the Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste car parks. The lower Coire Cas car park has space for more than 400 vehicles. There is a camper van parking area in the Coire na Ciste car park.
Is the Cairngorm funicular open?
As of 2023, the Cairngorm funicular is out of service. To see when it reopens, visit the official website for the latest updates.
Is Cairngorm a Munro?
Cairn Gorm is a Munro with an elevation of 4,084 feet (1,245 metres). Cairn Gorm is part of the Cairngorm mountain range in the Scottish Highlands.