Welcome to the breathtaking Cairngorms National Park, where winter comes to life and transforms this already stunning landscape into a twinkling wonderland. Located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and on the route of the SnowRoads, the villages of Braemar and Ballater (only 25 minutes by car apart) offer the perfect escape for those seeking serene natural beauty, outdoor adventures and a cosy Highland experience.
These charming villages nestled amidst the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park have plenty of places to stay but do be sure to book ahead, with both the Glenshee & Lecht Ski Centres nearby most tend to book up very quickly, especially when the weather conditions are excellent for snowsports.
Make it Cosy
Whether it’s a stay at the Cranford Guesthouse, (famed for their delicious home baking) a night or 2 in luxury at Fife Arms Hotel, a suite at the Balmoral Arms where you can enjoy a lovely spa break, glamping at the dog friendly Braemar Glamping Pods or a night gazing up at the stars at Howe of Torbeg there’s so much to choose from, including many cozy self-catering options too. Wherever you choose to locate yourself be it Ballater or Braemar, you are guaranteed a warm welcome.
Make it Magical
Head out for the day or head for the hills, you choose! Hillgoers offer a number of guided walking tours-take in the famous Balmoral Cairns (erected by the Royal Family to mark historic occasions) or perhaps a night under the stars. There’s very low light pollution here in the Cairngorms which makes it perfect for stargazing, especially on a cold, crisp winter’s evening with clear skies. Discover the magic of the night sky with Mountain Skies Braemar. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of the Northern lights, now that would be a night to remember!
Much of the eastern Cairngorms is steeped in royal history, although Balmoral Castle itself is closed during the winter months, the gardens are open on certain days, you can take your 4 legged friends with you and view the splendor of the gardens and the castle itself, you can also have lunch at the Mews Cafe and browse the gift shop. Nearby is Royal Lochnagar Distillery which carries the Royal Warrant seal of approval, open for tastings and tours throughout winter, a great way to warm your cockles!
Not all wildlife wants to hibernate in winter, there are red squirrels to see, red deer to spot and if you’re really lucky you might catch a glimpse of a pine marten. Two great places to visit with many waymarked paths and a great chance of spotting some wildlife are the NNR Mar Lodge Estate and the Glen Tanar visitor centre. Hire a bike and explore further, 2 wheels is a great way to get around. Check out our series of digitally mapped routes , download your favourites and set off on your adventure. Further information plus cycle and e-bike hire is available at Bike Station Ballater. After an invigorating day out on the bikes, recharge your batteries with a session at Stavaig Sauna which offers panoramic views of Lochnagar.
Make it Delicious
Of course there’s nothing more warming than a hearty meal on a winter’s day and there are lots of options to choose from. In Ballater you have the Balmoral Bar offering traditional pub fayre, the newly opened Fish Shop Restaurant serving up its seasonal menus and the family run Alexandra Hotel serving lunch and dinner in cozy surroundings or the 1852 Brasserie offering a choice of options from the grill. Over in Braemar, for something a little bit special try the Fife Arms Hotel where you can dine in the mesmerizing surroundings of Clunie Dining Room, sample traditional Scottish fayre in The Flying Stag Bar or try some traditional Swiss Fondue in the Fondue Hut (available from late November).
If you are doing some last minute Christmas shopping, there are many independent retailers in each village selling often unique and handmade items which would make ideal gifts. Check out the Braemar Chocolate Shop for some delicious handmade chocolates, all with a Scottish twist or a visit to the Horn Shop where many items are made from stag antler or cow horn, makes for a truly unusual gift! For traditional highland gifts head to Lamont Sporrans.
Make it Memorable – Festivities & Events
Download the free SnowRoads App, follow the 90 points of interest treasure trail, and fully immerse yourself into your surroundings. And remember, the SnowRoads are the SLOW roads, make sure your vehicle is winter ready!
Did you know Braemar is famous for having recorded a spine tingling low of -27.2°C back in 1995, the coldest ever recorded in the UK? It rarely gets quite so cold, the average daytime temperature is around 6°C. It’s important to wrap up warm on chilly winter days.