Why would you schlep to Lapland, when you have a Highland winter wonderland on your UK doorstep? That’s the question on many a visitor’s lips after a Christmas break in the Cairngorms.
Besides, everyone knows that Santa and his reindeer have a second home here, which is why there are so many magical opportunities to meet him in the valley during the festive season. With snow already in the hills in early November, this year looks set to be a great (dare we venture ‘white’?) Christmas too.
Here are our pick of the best places to meet Santa and his reindeer….. some dates to be confirmed for Christmas 2023.
Kids are enchanted by this experience, where they can marvel at the “Elf house” complete with miniature toys and beds, before getting stuck into crafty Christmas activities and quizzes. They can poke around Santa’s own bedroom and the gentle, jolly man himself will be on site every weekend in December bearing gifts, on the run up to Christmas.
But the real gem is the hillside trip to meet the reindeer on Cairngorm Mountain. These set off daily at 11am (but places are limited and offered on a first come, first served basis, so get there in good time). After a five-minute idyllic drive up, adventurers embark on a 20-minute guided walk to the herd, where they can hand-feed the reindeer. You’ll be amazed how friendly the animals are, as they nozzle into you, full of character and mischief.
The trip lasts about an hour and a half. Winter woollies are highly recommended, as is a steaming hot chocolate with marshmallows at the café afterwards.
Abernethy Santa Fun Run
Nethy Bridge hosts this event, the most merry in the Cairngorm calendar.
There’s something magical and exhilarating about being surrounded by so many smiling people in festive dress, which is why everywhere you go you’ll hear the chorus of “ho ho ho” from kids, grannies and parents alike.
What better way to embrace the Christmas spirit?
The Macdonald Aviemore Resort
Macdonald offers special “Santa Weekends” throughout December excluding Christmas, designed to eke the magic out a bit longer and create lasting memories. On arrival on the Friday night, families are invited to welcome Santa at his “grand arrival” which consists of a seasonal buffet dinner, followed by a show full of festive frolics.
Then over the course of the weekend, guests can book a visit to meet Santa in person. In excited anticipation, children are led through the woodland forest path to Santa’s grotto in the glen. There they can sit on Santa’s knee and tell him what’s on their wish list before leaving with a present.
These Santa visits are very popular and offered first to hotel guests in advance. However, there are a limited number of tickets available on standby to non-residents 24 hours before.
Hotel guests have another opportunity to meet Santa and bid him goodbye as he boards his sleigh on Christmas Day back to Lapland. After a traditional highland breakfast (that Santa himself will be having after his busy night) guests can come and wave to him and his reindeer, who will be at the Resort packing up.
Grantown Does Christmas
Grantown does Christmas where you can enjoy a Food & Drink Street Festival, live music sessions, tours of the new Cairn Distillery and of course meet Santa & his Reindeer!
Badaguish Christmas Fayre & Santa’s Grotto
Badaguish returns with their very popular Christmas Fayre and Santa’s Grotto on the 3rd December.
In attendance will be many local crafters and producers with stalls full of Christmas gifts to buy for your friends and families.
A special visit to Santa’s Grotto will make memories for the wee ones.
If it’s community, camaraderie and Christmas cheer you’re after, then you can’t beat a Highland street parade, which feels more like a party because of the famously friendly reception you’ll get from the locals.
One of the most legendary parades is the Aviemore Christmas Parade on Christmas Eve. This free event starts at around 6pm at the primary school/health centre car park and makes its way along the main Aviemore strip to finish in a fanfare at the Cairngorm Hotel.
There’s nothing that will get you in the mood more than sipping mulled wine and taking it all in, as the array of festive floats goes by, with special guests Santa and his reindeer taking up the rear. Fireworks and piping mark the finale outside the Cairngorm Hotel, where the party can continue for those who have the stamina.
It’s going to be a busy night for Santa and his reindeer because they will also be parading through the streets of Newtonmore and Kingussie on Christmas Eve. The day before, too, Santa, his reindeer and a pipe band will be marching through the streets of Grantown by torchlight to the Square for 8pm for carol singing and mince pies.
On the 23rd Grantown on Spey put on a fantastic parade too where you can join Santa and his reindeer through the streets to celebrate the festive time of year. Torches (both flame and battery) will be available to purchase and will accompany your atmospheric stroll through the town to The Square. Here there will be some carol singing to end the evening on fine song.
Another aspect of a Cairngorms Christmas which makes it so bewitching is the enthusiasm with which all the village communities embrace the festivities. Most villages will run their own events, such as craft fairs, fireworks and parades. You’ll also see Santa and his reindeer at some of these events, too.
Watch out for Santa who will be picking up some last-minute presents at Kingussie’s shopping day on the 3rd December (you might even spot him at the light switch on in the village later on).
For more details on all of December’s events please have a look at the Visit Cairngorm’s online calendar. Keep an eye on the VisitCairngorms facebook page for updates too. Also look out for our Hogmanay in the Cairngorms blog with a few suggestions to get you in the mood for the most memorable of celebrations.
Aviemore Annual Winter Launch
Get into the festive and winter spirit at this free annual community event at the Aviemore Ice Rink, located within Macdonald Aviemore Resort on Friday 15th December.
They will be celebrating all there is to love about the winter chill season in the Cairngorms National Park.
There will be BBQ * Music * Gluhwein & Mince Pies * Fire Pit & Marshmallows * Ice Hockey Display * Skate Party * Reindeer and Much Much! Make sure you follow the Aviemore Ice Rink event page for further updates.