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A Christmas Journey to the Scottish Highlands

The Strathspey Railway offers visitors the chance to take part in the magical experience of a traditional steam train ride through the stunning Scottish Highlands. Recently, we were fortunate to go on one of their special festive steam trains. So, join us as we make a Christmas journey to the Highlands aboard the Santa Express followed by a wee visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre!

Strathspey Railway’s Holiday Steam Train


I’ve always appreciated the beauty of train travel. In fact, I prefer it over other modes of transportation. I find it incredibly soothing to just be able to relax to the rhythm of the train and watch the scenery unfold outside the window- it’s often better than most movies! I’ve been fortunate to have been on some amazing trains throughout Europe. However, I had never ridden on a steam train, and certainly not while travelling through the iconic Scottish Highlands; it was a bucket list event.


We had been wanting to go on one of the Strathspey Railway steam trains for years, and when we finally were able to make it happen, I was positively thrilled! Perhaps my excitement seems childish to some. However, I suppose that’s the beauty of it- letting yourself enjoy the moment as if you were a child again. Afterall, this is a common theme that comes up in our adventures on this blog. One of my favourite quotes (which you can find in our article on the Museum of Childhood) is by Tom Stoppard and it goes, “If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.” Therefore, I hope you can tap into your inner child as we head to the Highlands and Aviemore, Scotland.


Words will probably not do justice to the amazing experience we had, but I will do my best. As soon as we pulled into the car park at the Aviemore train station, I excitedly spotted our steam train by the platform- ‘greeting’ everyone with puffs of steam. Sami and I giddily took photos and video- eager to capture the moment.


As we entered the station, we were greeted by Santa and the friendly staff. The sound of Christmas music filled the air, adding to the festive atmosphere. The excitement that accompanies the holiday season was palpable among both children and adults. Railway staff guided us to our boarding location, and we climbed aboard- smiling from ear to ear.


The Strathspey Railway's vintage carriages were beautifully decorated with festive garlands and decorations. On the Santa Express, they offer a variety of options for their festive services, and we chose the first-class compartment with hot drinks and treats. I happily took my seat and waited for our journey to begin.


There's something truly enchanting about riding on a steam train, especially during the Christmas season. As the train chugged along the tracks, I was transported back in time to a bygone era. The gentle hiss of steam, the smell of coal, and the rhythmic clatter of the wheels on the tracks created an atmosphere of nostalgia and wonder. The journey takes passengers through the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Cairngorms National Park, passing snow-capped mountains, glistening lochs, and ancient forests.

Along the journey, Santa stops by to say hi to everyone as he makes his way through the train.

The train stops only briefly along the route- once to refresh supplies and another time for the steam engine to switch ends so that it could pull us back to Aviemore station. It was fascinating to watch the steam engine chug along next to the train as it went from one end to the other (see photo below).

Before we knew it, we were entering Aviemore station once again and our delightful journey had come to an end. However, I’m not exaggerating when I say that our holiday ride on the Santa Express stream train will leave me with memories that will last a lifetime.

If you are in the Highlands near Aviemore, we highly recommend you take one of the Strathspey Railway’s train rides. They also offer services in the spring and summer. Be sure to check out their website for more information. However, don’t go away just yet, because our Christmas fun with Santa continues with a visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre!


The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre


Since we were in Aviemore, we decided to continue celebrating the holiday season with a visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. Now, we plan on covering this amazing place in much more detail in a future post (including historical and current information), but for now, we would like to share a bit of our wee visit to their Paddocks.


Being from Finland, Sami’s experiences with reindeer were quite common. After all, they can be found throughout the Finnish landscape. Therefore, it was quite exciting for him to get a feeling of ‘home’ again and pay a visit to the famous Scottish Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in Aviemore.


The Centre’s reindeer herd normally roam free through the Cairngorms National Park, but they also rotate spending a week or two in the paddocks. The Centre offers a hill walk for visitors to see the reindeer in the Cairngorms. However, for those who don't have the time or are not able, you can visit their paddocks. This was a nice option for us as we only had time for a brief visit before heading back to Edinburgh.


It was so much fun to see some of the cousins of Santa’s reindeer as they relaxed in the paddocks and greeted guests. Of course, Santa's main reindeer team is currently prepping for their big night in Rovaniemi, Finland.

Here are some pictures we took from our visit to the paddocks:

Before we knew it, it was time to leave, and we sadly said goodbye to our new reindeer friends. Be sure to head over to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre website to best plan your visit as we highly recommend you go and experience it for yourself.


Well, that’s going to do it for this Christmas journey to Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands. If you’ve enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of our other experiences we’ve been fortunate to do this season- Christmas at the Botanics, Monteviot Lights, Five Sisters Zoo Illuminations, and Festive Celebrations in Aberdeen. It's been a whirlwind holiday season, and it was exciting to close out the year with this post. However, be sure to subscribe to our blog as we have a lot of exciting articles we will be publishing in 2024- including a wee surprise to open up the New Year!

Happy Holidays and Season Greetings to all!


Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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