Looking for the perfect place for a short stay in the Highlands? Badenoch is a hidden gem in the Cairngorms National Park and offers everything you could wish to experience in Scotland. Here are 17 things to do in Kingussie, Newtonmore and co and lots of practical tips for the perfect trip to Badenoch.
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This blogpost was commissioned by Badenoch The Storylands.
Badenoch is a hidden gem in the Scottish Highlands that hides in plain sight. But if you’re planning an escape to the mountains, you simply need to know about it!
Located within the Cairngorms National Park and just south of Aviemore, the villages of Badenoch – that’s Kingussie, Newtonmore, Kincraig, Laggan and Dalwhinnie – are just off the busy A9 road from Inverness to Edinburgh. Still, most people don’t make the effort to stop here… and that’s their biggest mistake!
On my trip with Badenoch The Storylands, I spent three days based out of Kingussie and was absolutely blown away by just how quintessentially Scottish the area is – the scenery, the sights and the cultural heritage of Badenoch deliver so much of what Scotland is about. It just goes to show that you don’t have to race around the country – you can tick off many experiences on your Scotland bucket in one area!
This Badenoch travel guide will help you plan a trip to this part of the Scottish Highlands. It contains:
- An introduction to Badenoch and what it has to offer
- Suggestions for things to do in Kingussie, Newtonmore, Kincraig and beyond
- A practical travel guide including how to get there, where to stay and vegan-friendly eateries
- And advice on how to fit Badenoch into your wider Scotland itinerary
Table of Contents
Badenoch the Highland Gem
Badenoch means “the drowned land” and indeed there is water everywhere in this region – from the magnificent River Spey, which has its source in the mountains above Laggan, to its tributaries which flow through Kingussie, Newtonmore and many other local settlements. There are marshes and lochs, plenty of snowfall in the winter and therefore even more water during the melting in spring.
Badenoch is also known as the homeland of shinty (remember this Outlander scene?), the uniquely Scottish sport that developed from the Irish game of hurling. Its clans have played an important role throughout Scottish history – including the Jacobite risings. And yet, many people would probably struggle with pointing it out on the map… it’s a Highland gem hiding in plain sight.
Its central location just off the busy A9 means that it’s easy to get to, and still few people stop as they rush from the northern Highlands towards the central belt (or vice versa).
And yet, Badenoch is full of surprises. It’s a land of stories and lore, history and heritage, wildlife and serene natural beauty. Not to mention the welcoming villages that are dotted throughout the area.
A few nights in Badenoch are the perfect way to extend my Best of Scotland itinerary!
To celebrate VisitScotland’s Year of Scottish Stories 2022, the Badenoch Heritage group have launched a new campaign to promote the area. Badenoch the Storylands shines the light on the abundance of stories, music and history you can discover across the region.
The group organises a heritage festival and supports local writer Merryn Glover and musician Hamish Napier with their monthly Storylands Sessions at Loch Insh Watersports Centre to share folktales and songs.
There is also a free app that provides the perfect soundtrack for a trip to the area with music and stories – I loved listening to the podcasts for context and some of the music was specifically composed by local musician Charlie McKerron.
The app also contains suggested itineraries, walks and bike routes to help you plan your trip.
Hear stories about Badenoch on the Wild for Scotland podcast – listen to The Land of Stories!
Things to do in Kingussie, Newtonmore & co
Wander through Kingussie
Kingussie was nothing more than a handful of crofts, until the Duke of Gordon decided to build a woollen mill that would bring industry to the area. He built the village you can still see today and harnessed the power of the Gynack Burn for his entrepreneurial venture.
Today, Kingussie is the largest village in Badenoch and well worth a wander. Enjoy the beautiful Victorian architecture, see local art at Eleven41 Gallery and Iona Gallery, follow the Gynack Mill Trail. There are also a few cafes and shops along the High Street and a monthly market at Gynack Gardens.
Walk up Creag Bheag
Badenoch is nestled between the Cairngorms mountains in the east and the Monadhliath Mountains in the west. The first of these “grey mountains” is Creag Bheag, a small hill just behind Kingussie. The walk from the village from the top takes only about 45 minutes – it’s a little over a mile and leads first through the woodlands, and then across the heathery hill to the top.
It’s a short, but rewarding hike that offers stunning views of the area. From the summit, continue along the trail towards Loch Gynack and descend through a light birch tree forest towards the Kingussie golf course. From there, take the Gynack Mill Trail back to the village.
The entire hike takes about 2.5-3 hours and unless the weather is bad, you can do it in regular trainers.
Watch a shinty game at The Dell
Shinty is a traditional sport from the Scottish Highlands and while it is played all over the country (and among communities with Scottish roots around the world), Badenoch is often considered the home of this sport.
Shinty has been played in Badenoch for hundreds of years and the local teams in the area contributed significantly to the early development of the sport and also its modern shape. There are two teams who play each other with sticks that are bent on one side – called caman – and the goal is to hit a ball in the opposing team’s goal – a little bit like field hockey (but more contact) or ice hockey (minus the ice).
The Storylands app contains a few episodes on the history of shinty which is a great introduction to the sport.
The best way to learn about shinty is to attend a game – for example at The Dell pitch in Kingussie. I was here for the final game of the Camanachd Cup (the top shinty competition), but there are frequently other games held here too.
Another great place to learn about shinty is the Shinty Pavilion at the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore – more on that below.
See a gig at Badenoch Centre
The Badenoch Centre is a community centre in Kingussie. There are fitness classes and a gym, but from time to time, the sports hall turns into a music venue. I got to see Julie Fowlis here, a Gaelic singer from North Uist. It’s worth keeping an eye on their events calendar!
You might also like: How to engage with Scottish Gaelic culture as a visitor
Visit Ruthven Barracks
Ruthven Barracks is a military outpost that sits on a small hill just outside of Kingussie and offers stunning views of the wide valley.
There was actually a castle here before and its most notorious owner was Alexander Stewart, also known as the Wolf of Badenoch. His reign over the local area was said to be gruesome – in the Badenoch app, you can listen to a story about the Wolf’s encounter with the devil.
After the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, the British government decided to build these barracks and 120 soldiers were stationed here to police the area.
The barracks were besieged by the Jacobites in 1745, but they only managed to take them after a second attempt in 1746. After the Battle of Culloden, some surviving Jacobites gathered here, but never launched another attack. Instead, they destroyed the building and dispersed into hiding.
Today, you can visit the ruins of Ruthven Barracks for free. Not much is left apart from the outer walls, but you can still see where there would have been fireplaces, stairs and beams across the ceilings.
Top tip: There is often a herd of Highland coos below Ruthven Barracks. You can park here (there is space for 1-2 cars in a small lay-by) and walk through a gate at the other side of the underpass to reach the cow field. Note that the cows might be moved to other fields in the area though – so no guarantee you’ll see them.
Walk at Insh Marshes Nature Reserve
Insh Marshes is a floodplain of the River Spey between Kingussie and Loch Insh. As is often the case with such wetlands, the marsh is a great place for wading birds and supports many species such as curlew, lapwing, redshank and snipe.
There are trails throughout the nature reserve and with a bit of luck, you’ll spot some of these birds – the best time for birdwatching is in spring.
Top tip: On the edge of the Insh Marshes, where the B970 road crosses the River Tromie, you can explore a small gorge with waterfalls and pools which can be great for a swim.
Newtonmore is Kingussie’s closest neighbour and fiercest rival – at least when it comes to shinty! While there had always been some scattered townships in this area, the village grew dramatically with the arrival of the railway – and the tourism it brought along.
Today the village is nestled between the train line and the hills. There is a generous high street with many shops and cafes and a handful of must-see attractions – more on those below.
Pop into Coorie Home & Gifts to pick up some locally made souvenirs, learn about conservation efforts at the Scottish Wildcat Centre and take a look at the Newtonmore Art Project that brings the area’s rich shinty heritage to the town square.
If you have a bit more time, pick up directions for the Wildcat Trail from the Wildcat Centre. The 6-mile loop trail leads around Newtonmore, up into the hills and down along the banks of the River Spey. But note that this trail is not about spotting Scottish wildcats. They are incredibly rare and shy creatures who tend to live much further away from villages and keep their distance from humans.
Visit the Highland Folk Museum
The Highland Folk Museum is a living, open air museum on the outskirts of Newtonmore. The buildings come from all over Scotland and range from the early 1700s to the 1950s. Visiting this museum will give you a sense for the lives of early Highlanders.
There is a Blackhouse township (which has been used as an Outlander film location), a traditional croft with farm animals, an old school house, an old-timey sweetie shop, craftspeople’s workshops, a shinty pavilion with a small pitch (that is still being used) and more.
Throughout there are staff members in period dress who can tell you more about the time period and history of the buildings. The museum also plays host to local enthusiasts like the Badenoch Waulking Group who keep historic traditions well and alive – you can watch them in action on Men in Kilts.
The museum is run by the local council and is thus free to visit, but donations are very welcome to contribute towards the upkeep of the village. This is a seasonal attraction, open from Easter to late October.
Visit the Clan MacPherson Museum
Badenoch is the traditional home of the Clan MacPherson and the Clan MacPherson Museum in Newtonmore is a great place to learn about its history.
While it’s quite an old-fashioned museum, it’s a fab place to visit and add context to the stories you may have heard about the clan – or some of its famous members. You’ll learn the meaning behind the clan’s wildcat motto, hear about the life of romantic writer James ‘Ossian’ Macpherson (of Fingal’s Cave & Staffa fame) and find out about the clan’s Jacobite ties.
PS: The Badenoch the Storylands app contains great stories about the Clan MacPherson – look especially for the ‘Battle of the Clans’ chapters within ‘Badenoch History’.
Explore Kincraig village
Kincraig is a small village between Kingussie and Aviemore, and really close to Loch Insh. Exploring it is not so much about wandering down a high street or hopping between shops and cafes, but rather an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature.
Explore the Riverside Walk with fab views of the River Spey, head down to the beautiful wooden bridge over Loch Insh and stop by the Old Post Office Cafe & Gallery for locally created art and delicious cakes.
Walk at Uath Lochans
Uath Lochans is a beautiful woodland near Kincraig and Feshiebridge. It’s a wonderful short walk in the Cairngorms National Park, great for scenic walkers, families and beginners.
The Uath Lochans Trail is a gentle woodlands trail around the lochans. The Farleitter Crag Trail takes you up higher into the forest and to some stunning views of the Cairngorms. I like to combine both (about 4 miles) and explore both the woodland paths and the view points.
Visit the Centre of Scotland Stone
There are many ways to calculate the true geographical centre of Scotland, which makes it a controversial issue. But Badenoch is one of the areas that claims to lie at the centre of Scotland – and they even have a stone marking the spot!
The Centre of Scotland Stone lies just a few miles south of Newtonmore, at a spot that is most distant from the North Sea and the Atlantic. It’s a short drive from the A9 which makes it an easy bucket-list place to visit.
It’s a novelty activity – but now I can say that I’ve stood at the centre of Scotland!
Hire (e-)bikes at Laggan Wolftrax Centre
Laggan Wolftrax is a mountain bike centre in the heart of Laggan Forest. There are over 20 miles of purpose-built trails waiting to be explored on two wheels. Routes range from easy-going and beginner-friendly to challenging and technical rides.
If you don’t have your own bike, you can hire them at the Bike Bothy – they even have e-bikes!
And if you’re not a biker, there are also a number of walking trails here.
Explore the Pictish fort Dùn da Làmh
Dùn da Làmh is a Pictish hill fort on Black Craig with views of Strath Laggan, the long glen carved by the River Spey.
Even though the fort has long been ruined, you can still clearly make out several of the structures. I was particularly impressed with the stone walls built into the hill slopes. It’s not hard to see why the Picts chose this impenetrable vantage point for their fort – but entirely unfeasible how they managed to build such imposing structures up here.
I actually cycled to the top of the forestry track and continued from there on foot. It’s a nice bike & walk adventure for beginners.
Walk to Pattack Falls
There are two waterfalls on the River Pattack, a little deeper down Strath Laggan. One is right next to the mainroad, and you may think it’s enough to see that one. The other is hiding a little further up the gorge and is definitely worth the walk!
The trail to this picturesque waterfall and back is about 3 miles. The best view is from the upper section.
Nearby, you can find the ruins of Drum an Aird, a village that was abandoned during the Highland Clearances.
Learn more about this time period & visit a Highland clearance village with me on the Wild for Scotland podcast.
Go on a Storywalk with Sarah Hobbs
I’m a big fan of listening to stories about the places I visit – it adds a layer of context and familiarity that makes every trip even more exciting. A great way to combine walking and storytelling is to book a Storywalk with Sarah Hobbs.
Sarah lives in Aviemore, but also knows the Badenoch region really well. She is full of stories, myths and lore. On my walk with her, we followed parts of the Speyside Way as she told me stories about local people, folklore and the natural landscape.
Sarah hosts regular group walks and is available for private bookings. Get in touch here!
Learn more about Sarah Hobbs in this interview on Wild for Scotland!
Tour Dalwhinnie Distillery
There are several distilleries in Badenoch and like many others, the region has a rich history of whisky making – if not always legally…
The first distillery you’ll spot – at least if you drive north along the A9 – is Dalwhinnie Distillery. While it’s not quite the highest distillery in Scotland – that goes to Braeval distillery near Glenlivet – it is the highest distillery with a visitor centre.
The standard tour lasts 45 minutes and includes a tasting of 3 Dalwhinnie single malts paired with chocolate.
Another whisky distillery is tucked away along the scenic B970 road. Speyside Distillery is housed in an old barley mill and croft from the 1700s and draws its water from the River Tromie.
The distillery offers exclusive private tours and tastings to let you in on some of their artisan secrets.
Alternatively, try some local gins: Daffy’s from Laggan, Kinrara from Aviemore or Byron’s from Kingussie.
If you love whisky, you might also enjoy a trip to the Speyside!
Badenoch Travel Guide
Getting to Badenoch
Badenoch is really easy to get to by car or public transport.
Driving to Kingussie
From Glasgow and Edinburgh it takes about 3.5 hours to drive to Kingussie, the largest village in the heart of Badenoch. You simply follow the A9 north towards Inverness – if you’ve passed Aviemore, you’ve gone too far!
From Inverness, it takes less than an hour to reach Kingussie going south on the A9.
If you’re on a Highland road trip, the drive from Fort William to Kingussie takes just over an hour, mostly along the scenic A86.
Public transport to Kingussie and Newtonmore
The villages of Badenoch are well connected by public transport. The train line from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Inverness stops in Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore and Kingussie. There are multiple trains per day.
For tips, check out my guide about travelling Scotland by public transport.
Getting around Badenoch
Travelling by car will give you the greatest flexibility. Especially if you are a little short on time and want to visit multiple locations in one day. That’s how I got around Kingussie, Newtonmore and co. If you have an electric car, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are multiple ev-charging points in the region.
That said, Badenoch is a great area to explore by public transport. From the villages with train stations, there are buses operated by Stagecoach which allow you to reach places such as Kincraig, Laggan Wolftrax and Feshiebridge.
For a more active approach, there are bike hire shops in Kingussie from where you can explore the paths and trails in the Cairngorms as well as along the quieter back roads.
Where to stay in Kingussie
I stayed at McInnes House Hotel in Kingussie, a small boutique hotel with just 9 rooms. All rooms have recently been renovated, without losing any of the charm of the grand Victorian building they’re in.
My generous room on the top floor had fantastic views. There was plenty of space, a tray with treats and a spa bath for a relaxing night in.
The hotel also has a bar and a popular restaurant which serves delicious meals, including vegan options.
In the morning, the lounge makes for a bright and comfortable breakfast room. Staff is super friendly and full of recommendations for the local area.
For more hand-picked accommodations in Badenoch, check out this site.
Vegan-friendly places to eat in Kingussie, Newtonmore & beyonds
I was positively surprised to find plenty of vegan options available in Badenoch! Here are some of the places I check out:
Day-time lunch options
- The Sugarbowl in Kingussie is a lovely wee cafe with several vegan options. I had a hearty soup with a vegan cheese toastie.
- The Old Post Office Café & Gallery in Kincraig is a great spot if you like art and cake. They also serve small meals and light lunches, but I opted for a mouthwatering slice of vegan chocolate cake. What a treat!
- The Wild Flour in Newtonmore was one of my favourite finds – especially because of the large picture windows in the back of the cafe. I had a plant-based soup and an avocado toastie.
- The cafe at Laggan Wolftrax, the mountain bike centre, has a few vegan bites to eat as well.
Restaurants that serve evening meals
- I highly recommend booking a table at McInnes House Hotel in Kingussie – it’s a popular spot among locals and they have various vegan options.
- The Old School in Kingussie a small B&B that serves evening meals to guests, but non-residents can also book ahead for a two-course evening meal. Everything is freshly prepared by the hosts and vegan options are available. Private dining (3 courses) is also available on request for groups of 4-10 people. The hosts are both musicians and from time to time, Pete will play the piano while Louise plays the fiddle. BYOB, advance booking is essential
- The Balavil Hotel in Newtonmore has a separate vegan menu with more than just the usual options – great to see and absolutely delicious!
- The Boathouse Restaurant near Kincraig is probably the most scenic dinner spot – although, they’re only open until 7 pm! I came for their weekly curry night (Fridays) and the vegetarian curry was completely plant-based. The restaurant overlooks scenic Loch Insh.
Badenoch on your itinerary
If you’re planning a trip to Scotland and wonder how to fit Badenoch within your itinerary, don’t worry – it’s actually really easy to have a short stay here.
Badenoch’s central location means that it is very easy to combine a trip here with other destinations – and even most of my Scotland itineraries! If you’re heading to Inverness, Badenoch is basically on the way!
Badenoch is ideally located between Inverness and Glasgow/Edinburgh and offers a fantastic place to spend a few days between those destinations.
If you’re keen to visit the Cairngorms National Park, Kingussie, Newtonmore & co are a great homebase to explore the western part of the park. Many popular trailheads are within easy reach of the villages and the peaks of the Cairngorm mountains are always in view.
Along with Perthshire, Badenoch is particularly beautiful in autumn / fall. Here you can see the changing colours of the season and spot wildlife that is extremely rare in other parts of Scotland, including native red squirrels and capercaillie.
With all this in mind, I hope you feel inspired to plan a trip to Badenoch and use this guide to things to do in Kingussie, Newtonmore & co to create your itinerary.
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