Cairngorm Mountain is home to Scotland’s only funicular railway, which offers spectacular views from over 3,500ft at the top of the mountain range. The Cairngorms are a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts and year-round hill walkers.
Review of the Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway
Cairngorm mountain is the UK’s sixth-highest 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 up to its summit.
This is the highest railway in Britain and a journey in one of the carriages will take you up an incredible 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… or was it?) of any visit to the Scottish Highlands.
Although it was intended 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.
Find more places to visit with my Guide to the Best Attractions in the Scottish Highlands.
Things to do at Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway
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 150,000–160,000 non-winter-sports visitors and a further 50,000–120,000 during the winter. Those numbers mean it can get pretty crowded at times, so don’t go expecting to have the mountain to yourself.
So what can you expect to see at this popular tourist destination?
The funicular is best used simply 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 best wilderness areas.
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But perhaps more importantly it also opens the mountain up to people with mobility problems and I think that slightly 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, with Loch Morlich clearly visible below and the beautiful mountain ranges of the Cairngorm national park stretching 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 that are hosted by the mountaineers at the Top Station.
You aren’t actually permitted to leave the Top Station without a professional guide anyway – 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 really 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 bit of a slow hiker, but 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 also has an excellent café and the Ptarmigan restaurant serves up good-quality food after an energetic hiking session.
The restaurant is particularly noteworthy as it has a viewing terrace that provides amazing panoramic views as you munch a plate of chips over 1,200 metres above sea level, 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 or stocking up on clothing and if you have a postcard you can mail it from Britain’s highest post box.
Find other places to visit in the area with my Scottish Tourist Attractions Map.
- The view on your way to the top of the mountain is incredible. Take your camera.
- It makes a memorable addition to your visit to the Cairngorm range and the Top Station is a good final destination for a coffee and what could be the best views in Scotland.
- As of 2020 the funicular is closed but keep an eye on the official website for details of re-opening times.
- Single tickets are expensive for what you get so buy the annual pass instead which is much better value – if you plan on returning often.
- Head down to Loch Morlich after you’ve been on the funicular. How often can you say you’ve sat on a beach and a mountain top in the same afternoon?
- The Cairngorm range is perfect for hiking but make sure you’ve got a decent map with you. Buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
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.
CairnGorm Ski Area,
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near the Cairngorm Mountain centre
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
More places to visit in The Highlands
- Ben Ledi – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideBen Ledi is an 879-metre high mountain in the lower Scottish Highlands. It can be found 5 miles north-west of the popular country village of Callander in the Trossachs National Park. The Trossachs are famous not just for their mountain ranges but also for their lochs which include the mighty Loch Lomond – one of the most scenic bodies of water in the United Kingdom.
- Muir of Dinnet – Aberdeenshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Muir of Dinnet is a national nature reserve located on the eastern border of the Cairngorms national park in the Scottish Highlands. The reserve features a wealth of different habitats including heath, woodland and wetland, but it’s perhaps best known for ‘the vat’, a natural gorge formed by glaciers over 10,000 years ago.
- Glen Etive – Inverness: Complete Visitor GuideWhat if I told you there’s a 12-mile stretch of road where you can see those mountains, rivers and forests in a single relatively small area, where gob-smackingly beautiful vistas open up around every corner on a secluded, frequently tourist-free single-track road?
- Faraid Head – Sutherland: Complete Visitor GuideWhile Scotland’s west coast islands usually take first prize for the number of amazing beaches you’ll find (hello Isle of Tiree) you shouldn’t be too quick to discount Scotland’s mainland either, especially in the far north where it’s relatively tourist-free compared to the rest of the country.