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The Out About Scotland complete guide to Cairngorm mountain funicular railway
Category: Landscape, Mountain, Sport or activity, Walk or cycle route
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 8 out of 10
About Cairngorm mountain funicular railway
The Cairngorm mountain is the UK’s sixth-highest and is 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 peak. 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 1970 metre track.
The funicular is the only one in Scotland and a trip to the top of Cairngorm is likely to be a high point of any visit to the mountain range.
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.
Things to do at Cairngorm mountain funicular railway
The railway starts in the Coire Cas area where there’s a restaurant, shop, ticket office, hire shop, rangers’ office and 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.
But perhaps more importantly it also opens the mountain up to people with mobility problems and I think that more than outweighs the few potential 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 gorgeous 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.
As well as being your destination for walking guides the Top Station also has an excellent cafe 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 sit over 1200 metres above sea level, and in winter the mountain is truly spectacular with many visitors finding it exciting to stand on the terrace in 60mph winds!
There’s also a gift shop and a mountain gear outfitter if you fancy taking home a memento – and if you have a postcard you can even mail it from Britain’s highest post box.
What I liked about this attraction
- The view on your way to the top of the mountain is incredible
- It makes a memorable addition to your visit to Cairngorm
My top tips
- 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?!
Address and map
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,
Prices and opening times
Note: as of Jan 2019 the funicular railway is temporarily closed
|Student||Family (2+2)||Family (1+2)|
|Adult||Junior (6-16)||Senior (65+)|
Getting there: Car park on-site
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access (at the ground station and top station); Uneven paths (on the mountain)
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant or cafe, Snacks, Toilets
Planning a trip to Scotland?
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- Find hotels in Scotland and book your rental car.
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- Learn about Scotland with a range of Amazon books and prepare for hikes with
Ordnance Survey maps.
- Before you explore the great outdoors get your rain gear in place and don’t forget to buy Smidge anti-midge repellent!