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Itineraries
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07 March 2022
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Kim Pierce

7 Day Highlights Itinerary of the North Coast 500

With so many beautiful scenic spots and nature walks, great local restaurants, as well as castle and distilleries there is no reason to rush the North Coast 500 and the slower you go, the more hidden gems you’ll find.

Here’s our recommended 7 Day Highlights Itinerary with plenty of activities to pick and choose from so you can make the most of your Scottish adventure.

Day 1 – Inverness to Dornoch

Route: Inverness > Beauly > Dingwall > Tain > Dornoch

Distance: approx: 53 miles

Things to Do and See:

  • Culloden Battlefield – Visit the battlegrounds where the famous Battle of Culloden took place and explore the museum to learn all about the 1745 Jacobite Rising which led to this historic battle.
  • Glen Ord Distillery – Open year round, this is the perfect first stop if you have a taste for whiskey and looking to explore the national drink on your travels. Enjoy an hours tasting tour around the distillery with one of the expert guides.
  • Rogie Falls – A bit of detour but well worth it if you have time to spare, especially in August and September when you have a good chance of seeing wild salmon leaping upstream in the beautiful Black Water as you watch from the newly built suspension bridge just a short walk from the car park.
  • Black Rock Gorge – Featured in the Harry Potter film, the Goblet of Fire, this dramatic canyon has a 36 metre drop and is the place of legend and local myth. People claim to gear the cries of Lady Balconie, a local women who was lured to hear death by a man legend says was the devil.
  • Glenmorangie Distillery – If you haven’t had your fill of distilleries for the day then you must stop at the home of Glenmorangie. Be ready for a wild and wonderful ride as you learn all about the history and enjoy an optional tasting tour where you can experience their most popular whisky, Glenmorangie Original, Quinta Ruban and Nectar d’Or.

Places to eat:

  • The Storehouse – Serving up delicious breakfast, lunch, dinner or just coffee and cake, the Storehouse is a must stop what ever time of day. The menu changes daily to make the most of the local produce available and theres even a well stocked farm shop so you can take some of the local produce such as cheese, chutneys and cakes with you for later.
  • Greens Restaurant, Tain – Enjoy homemade baking, locally produced drinks as well as lunch and dinner menu’s created from the wonderful local produce. If you’re not in need of a full meal stop in for a spot of afternoon tea with a selection of cheeses, oatcakes and homemade chutneys.

Places to stay:

  • Grannie’s Heilan Hame Holiday Park – Next to the golden sands of Embo beach, this family and dog friendly campsite has a selection of pitches, heated pool and even a 9 hole crazy golf and adventure playground.
  • Dornoch Caravan and Camping Park – With beautiful scenic views this friendly campsite is just an hours drive from Inverness and has 120 pitches with electric hook ups.
  • Dornoch Firth Caravan Park – Two miles north of Tain is this popular and peaceful campsite is family and dog friendly with views over the beautiful Dornoch Firth.
  • Evelix Pods Dornoch – If you’re looking for a little glamping, the fully kitted Evelix Pods have all your creature comforts with comfy beds and furnished interiors as well as free wifi on site.

Rogie Falls – Image curtesy of VisitScotland

Day 2 – Dornoch to Wick

Route: Dornoch > Brora > Helmsdale > Dunbeath > Wick

Distance: approx. 62 miles

Things to Do and See:

Embo Beach – Start your day off with a walk down the golden sands of Embo beach with its views over Ben Bhraggie and Dornoch Firth. It can be a little tricky to find your way down to the beach so park up and ask some friendly locals for directions.

Dunrobin Castle – This beautiful fairytale castle resembling a French chateau dates back to the 1300’s, home to the Earls and later the Dukes of Sutherland. Take a look at the museum containing an important collection of archaeological relics or wander round the impressive gardens laid out in 1850 by the architect Sir Charles Barry.

Skelbo Forest Walk – A great walk family or dog walk following a trail through the woods with carved wooden animals to spot and a Scots Pine woodland to explore. You can also find the remains of a 2000 year old Broch as well as some beautiful sea views.

Golspie golf course – Take a break from the driving and enjoy a spot of golf on the varied and challenging course at Golspie Golf Club while enjoying its breathtaking sea and mountain views.

Big burn hike by Golspie – A short 1 hour walk up a gorge and ending with views over a beautiful waterfall with footbridges along the way. This little hidden gem is well worth a stop off.

Clynelish Distillery – One of the Four Corners distilleries of the Johnnie Walker, discover this rich, waxy whisky with notes of tropical fruit and honey. Choose between the 45 minute Clynelish Express Tasting or the full-sensory and tutored ‘Clynelish Flavour Journey’.

Dunbeath Castle Gardens – Explore the beautiful Dunbeath estate gardens with its ‘keyhole’ approach drive and two walled gardens. The South garden, created as a pleasure garden, was remodelled in 1999 by Chelsea Garden Gold Award winner, Xa Tollemache and the Northern garden originally planted as a vegetable garden now has ornamental grasses, roses, ponds and water features.

Grey Cairns of Camster – Don’t miss your chance to stand among two of the oldest stone monuments in Scotland. This pair of Neolithic tombs was first built more than 5000 years ago and although since re-built they still provide an insight into the Neolithic funeral practices.

Places to Eat:

Milk and Honey Cafe, Dornoch – Enjoy a cup of Inverness Coffee Roasting Co coffee before you head out of Dornoch. Breakfast rolls are served from 9 – 11:30, lunch from 12 – 3 and coffee and cakes all day!

Linda’s Cafe, Brora – A quaint restaurant in Brora with an amazing atmosphere and delicious cafe meals.

Thyme and Plaice in Helmsdale – An eclectic and ever changing menu using locally sourced fish, seafood and venison also catering to vegetarians and vegans.

The Bay Dunbeath – What could be better then amazing sea views with wood fired pizzas and gourmet burgers as well as a fully licensed bar. And dogs are welcome!

No 1 Bistro, at Mackays Hotel, Wick – Next to the Wick River and using the freshest ingredients, No 1 Bistro serves up mouth watering lunch and dinner dishes with traditional dishes such as the pan fried chicken breast, haggis, needs, Pattie cakes and buttered green beans with wholegrain whiskey sauce.

Places to Stay:

Ferry View Night Stop – A small and peaceful site surrounded by trees with beautiful views over to the islands. There’s just 5 electric hardstanding and grass pitches so book ahead.

Dunrobin Castle – Image via Twenty20

Day 3 – Wick to Durness

Route: Wick > John O’Groats > Thurso > Bettyhill > Tongue > Wick

Distance: approx. 106 miles

Things to Do:

Visit the Orkney Islands – Take a boat tour or ferry from John o’ Groats across to the Orkney island for a day out exploring just some of the 70 or so islands. A great spot for nature lovers with puffins, white-tailed eagles, seals, dolphins, whales and even the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights all seen from their shores.

Caithness Broch Centre – One of the most researched buildings in Scottish archaeology, Brochs are circular stone towers woven into the landscape and are the tallest prehistoric structures found in the British Isles giving them a long history of folklore, and academic investigation and excavation.

Castle Sinclair – Three miles north of Wick, the ruins of the early 17th-century Castle Sinclair and the 15th-century Castle Girnigoe are considered to be one of the earliest principal residence of the Sinclair Clan and today listed as a World Heritage site.

John O’Groats – Explore the village, walk the coast and discover the bays and beaches with their stunning coastal scenery. There’s also amazing wildlife to see in the area and of course no trip is complete without a photo at the famous John O’Groats signpost next to the old John O’Groats hotel.

Duncansby Stacks – These incredible sea stacks are believed to have stood as they are for the last 6000 years and a sight thats not to be missed. Just west of John O’Groats on the furthest most northerly reach of the Scottish Highlands.

Dunnet Head – the most northerly point of mainland Britain and also a nature reserve. Puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes can all be found around the stunning sea cliffs and coastal grasslands.

Places to Eat:

Stacks Coffee House and Bistro, John O’Groats – Quirky family run coffee house offering delicious comfort food and coffee using the best of the local produce.

The Northern Point – Committed to using high-quality, local produce, this new cafe and restaurant on the most northerly point of the UK mainland offers not just delicious cuisine but fantastic views across the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands.

Scrabster Seafood Bar and Takeaway – A changing menu based on seasonally availability, the menu alone will get your mouth watering. Depending on availability options include monkfish scampi, fish kebabs with rhubarb chill vinaigrette and fruit de mer.

Places to Stay:

Kyle of Tongue Hostel and Holiday Park – On the shores of of the picturesque Kyle of Tongue with panoramic views of Castle Varich, Ben Hope and Ben Loyal. There’s a fully equipped camping and caravan site as well as a licensed shop, heated toilet block and laundry facilities.

Sango Sands Oasis – Sat above award winning beaches, the campsite has incredible views towards the North West tip of Scotland. Next to the site is the Sango Oasis Restaurant and Bar where you can find great food and a full bar. Enjoy a meal while looking out for whales, seals and dolphins in the waters below.

The Duncansby Stacks

Day 4 – Durness to Lochinver

Route: Durness > Scourie > Drumbeg > Lochinver

Distance: approx. 53 miles

Things to Do and See:

Golden Eagle Zipline – Wake yourself with an exhilarating ride on the most Northerly zipline in the Uk with speeds up to 45 mph, from a coastal cliff 37 metres high above one of the most Scotlands most beautiful beaches. No bookings required, opening hours are between 10am – 6pm but it is weather dependent.

Smoo Caves – One of the most popular stops along the North Coast 500, Smoo Cave is a seriously impressive sea cave carved out of limestone cliffs with the largest cave entrance in Britain at 50ft high. Within the cave is a covered wooden pathway and bridge which leads you to a 25 metre waterfall which cascades into an 8 metre deep pool. Take the circular walk round or take one of the boat tours to enter the cave by water.

Balnakeil Beach & Church – A beautiful quiet, white sand beach backed by grassy dunes, a great place to take a break away from the crowds. Make sure to take a walk to the ruins of Balnakeil church across the road which was built in 1600’s and left to crumble over 200 years ago.

Cocoa Mountain chocolate shop – An incredible chocolate shop set in one of the most remote areas of Britain. Started in 2006, the two founders, Paul and James set out to produce “the most delicious, fresh and innovative chocolates on the planet” and with flavours such as chocolate with chilli and lemongrass, blueberry chocolate and rum and raison we thing they’ve done just that. Stop by for some of their famous hot chocolate or stock up on gift boxes for the family.

Hiking trail to Sandwood Bay – One of the most beautiful bays in Britain with its 1.5 miles of wide pink sand and steep cliff backdrop. The best part about it is that this beach is so remote there is no road leading to it, those who want to visit have to hike the 4 mile, fairly flat path through the John Muir Trust Sandwood Estate so you’ll only be sharing the views with those who make the effort.

Scourie village & Bay – This crofting village is famous for the surrounding rugged and unspoilt beauty situated in the heart of the North West Highlands Geopark.

Kylesku Bridge – This incredible bridge was designed to make the most of the stunning views as you cross it, the quiet village itself has a hotel and boat trips across to Eas-Coul-Aulin where there is the highest waterfall in Britain.

Clachtoll Beach – Another of Scotlands beautiful white sand beaches, at the South of the bay is Split Rock.

Achmelvich Bay – A sheltered beach popular with water enthusiasts, sports such as windsurfing, water-skiing and kayaking are enjoyed in the summer months. Enjoy the views from the top of the rocky outcrop, An Farad Bheag and walk to the now abandoned Hermit’s castle.

Places to Eat:

Inver Lodge Restaurant – “Exceptional quality without the fuss” this is a laid back restaurant which uses the freshest ingredients to serve up mouth watering dishes. The steaks, salmon and game come from the owner’s private estates for a truly farm to fork experience.

Shorehouse Seafood Restaurant – Enjoy a seaside meal looking out over the waters where the ingredients have been caught fresh. An authentic, local, family run business serving up shellfish they catch themselves and creating delicious dishes such hand dived scallops cooked in garlic and sea trout in almond.

Places to Stay:

Clachtoll Beach Campsite – Situated in Assynt, this small family and pet friendly campsite sits just 100 metres from the stunning Clachtoll Beach with the village of Lochinver just 5 miles away with its choice of restaurants, cafes and shops.

Inver Lodge – A family owned hotel with warm hospitality set amongst the unspoilt wilderness of the North Coast 500 and with a great restaurant to enjoy your evening meal.

The Mountain Coffee Company in Gairloch

Day 5 – Lochinver to Ullapool

Route: Lochinver > Inchnadamph > Elphin > Ullapool

Distance: approx. 36 miles or 46 miles if you do the full Achiltibuie route

Things to Do:

Hike Stac Pollaidh – At just 612 metres high, Stac Pollaidh is an achievable and relatively simple hike for the average walker in comparison to many of Scotlands hills. The views from the top are well worth the effort however there is a bit of a scramble up to the top but there is a nice circular route around the base of the pinnacle if you don’t want to face an upwards hike.

Ruins of Ardvreck Castle – On the shores of Loch Assynt is the remains of Ardvreck Castle set against the Sutherland Landscape. Just enough of it remains to know that it was once a three storey tower house dating back to 1490 when it was owned by the Macleods.

Bones Caves Walk – This 2.75 mile walk leads up a limestone valley to the impressive Bone Caves, there are three main caves called Badger, Reindeer and Bones, which were found to hold the remains to species such as lynx, reindeer and polar bear which once roamed the area. The track is easy to follow and the views make it all the more worthwhile.

Knockan Crag Geological Trail – A short 1 hour walk, just 1.25 miles with spectacular views over Assynt and its great for families with the trail having sculptures and poetry along the way.

The Summer Isles – Sitting off the Coigach Peninsula is a group of around 20 islands which sit in the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area. The island of Eilean a Chleirich is also a RSPB reserve and has over 2000 breeding pairs of storm petrels. The isles are a popular day trip from Achiltibuie with local boat tours offering trips where you can spot seals, otters and seabirds while cruising around the isles.

Places to Eat:

The Arch Inn, Ullapool – Recommended in Lonely Planets ‘Ultimate Eatlist’, The Arch Inn opened in 1973 on the shores of Loch Broom with beautiful views over the Fannich hills.

The Ceilidh Place – A lovely hotel, bar, cafe, restaurant, bookshop and music venue all in one. The bar is well stocked and there’s a carefully selected wine menu for you to enjoy, ingredients for the delicious menu is sourced as locally as possible.

Seafood Shack – A lovely little takeaway shack with some outside tables serving delicious, simple and quick seafood options from Monday to Friday from 12pm – 4pm. The menu changes daily, previous options have been hand dived scallops panfried herb butter with caramelised onion, Ullapool smoked trout and tempura haddock wraps.

The Seaforth Bar & Restaurant, Ullapool – Local charm with indoor and outdoor seating areas in the heart of Ullapool overlooking the boats in Lochbroom harbours serving up a variety of Scottish and Seafood dishes from local sourced ingredients. The mouth-watering menu includes Atlantic Haddock Fish and Chips, Mac and Cheese, and Aberdeen Angus Steak.

Places to Stay:

Westlea House Boutique B&B – Highland Overland tried and tested BnB, this lovely guesthouse is run by a lovely couple who look after their guests brilliant and serve up an incredibly delicious breakfast. The rooms are clean and very comfortable and you feel at home instantly throughout the guesthouse including the stylish lounge and small music room and dining area where you can bring your local takeouts to enjoy in the evening.

Ardmair Point Caravan and Camping Park – A relaxed and beautiful location with views out to Loch Canard and Ben Mhor Coigach mountain ridge, located 3 miles north of Ullapool. There’s a touring caravan site, self-catering lodges and chalets with excellent facilities including a small shop and coffee shop.

Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag seen from Stac Pollaidh – Image curtesy of Visit Scotland

Day 6 – Ullapool to Shieldaig

Route: Ullapool > Aultbea > Gairloch > Kinlochewe > Shieldaig

Distance: approx. 76 miles

Things to Do:

Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve – A box-canyon which was forged around 2.6 million years ago by Ice Age glaciers. Walk the woodland trail until you come across a Victorian suspension bridge which looks down over the 45 metre waterfalls of Falls of Measach.

Gruinard Bay – Even the drive down to Gruinard Bay is beautiful with its stunning views over Guinard Bay and out towards the Coigach Hills. There are three pink sand beaches which makes up Gruinard Bay, with spectacular views of An Tealach and the little islands where seals and dolphins can also be seen. The area is a popular fishing, hill walking and golfing spot.

Inverewe Gardens – Explore the rare botanical species including the California redwoods and Himalayan blue poppies at the award-winning Inverewe Garden, created by a father and daughter over 100 years ago. You can also spot Scotlands Big 5 wildlife in the red squirrel, red deer, otter, seal and golden eagle.

Village of Poolewe – A lovely little picturesque village just half a mile from the Inverewe Gardens on the south side of Loch Ewe

Gairloch – On the shores of Loch Gairloch with several sandy beaches such as Big Sand with stunning views out to Raasay, Skye and the Western Isles. Canoeing, kayaking and boating are all available however most choose to explore the areas beaches and mountains on foot. Make sure to stop off at The Mountain Coffee Co. for a delicious choice of coffees and cakes as well as explore the bookshop attached.

Victoria Falls at Loch Maree – A lovely little falls just a short way from the car park along an easy and disabled friendly track. The waters for the falls run from Beinn Eighe and there’s some beautiful views out to Loch Maree from the top as well as some ancient Caledonian Pinewood along the path.

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve – Britains first National Nature Reserve is in the heart of Wester Ross and is abundant with diverse wildlife which can be seen when hiking the numerous trails around the reserve. From mountains, to seas and lochs, there are some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain and with the ancient pinewoods, crossbills and golden eagles there’s plenty to keep an eye out for.

The Torridon Estate – An incredible 58 acres of idyllic Scottish country next to the beautiful Torridon loch. There’s places to stay, lots of choice for places to eat and a whole host of activities such as trails, mountain biking, archery, clay pigeon shooting, guided walks, coasteering, gorge scrambling and sea kayaking.

Places to Eat:

1887 Restaurant on the Torridon Estate – An exquisite restaurant looking out to the Torridon hills. Chef Paul Green creates an innovative menu using the freshest produce from the 2 acres Torridon Farm and Kitchen Garden as well as the surrounding land and lochs.

Bo & Muc on the Torridon Estate – a more informal dining experience to the 1887 restaurant, the Bo & Muc is in the estates former buttery and dairy for farm. Simple food from field to fork using the estates finest ingredients as well as Scottish producers such as local cheesemakers and serves up The Torridon own gin, Arcturus. It serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Mountain Coffee Co. – An offbeat cosy spot offering up delicious coffee such as my favourite salted Carmel latte. Drink it up in the coffee shops sunny conservatory or take away and browse the attached Hillbillies bookshop. The coffee here was so good I had to head back for seconds.

Shieldaig Bar and Coastal Kitchen – Highland Overland tried, tested and highly recommended bar and restaurant. The Shieldaig Bar is in the centre of the village with a lovely pub atmosphere downstairs and a delicious seafood restaurant serving freshly and sustainably caught seafood from the villages fisherman delivered straight from the jetty to the kitchen.

Loch Torridon Smokehouse – A family run business in the beautiful village of Shieldaig producing both hot and cold smoked salmon only farms who have excellent and sustainable rearing practices. Stocks may be limited to pre-order and pick up on your way through Shieldaig.

Places to Stay:

Shieldaig Camping and Cabins – A lovely, newly developed campsite overlooking Shieldaig island and just a few minutes walk away from the bars and restaurants in the village. There’s clean, heated shower and toilet facilities, washing up area and laundry as well as friendly staff to help with anything else you need. A Highland Overland tried and tested campsite and highly recommended.

Torridon Estate – A beautiful spot to spend a night or two, the 5 bed B&B on this stunning 150 acre estate on the shores of Loch Torridonn underneath the dramatic Beinn Alligin and Liathach mountain range.

Shieldaig Lodge – Set on a 26,000 acre estate nestled next to Shieldaig Bay this recently refurbished hotel is just a short distance from

The beach at Gruinard Bay, on the west coast of the Ross and Cromarty district – Image by Paul Tomkins Via Visit Scotland

Day 7 – Kinlochewe to Inverness

Route: Shieldaig > Applecross > Lochcarron > Achnasheen > Dingwall > Inverness

Distance: approx. 78 miles

Things to Do and See:

The Bealach Na Ba pass – A curvy, single-track mountain road with steep gradients and sharp hairpin bends which needs to be taken carefully and only in clear dry weather conditions. However, if the weather is right, you will be rewarded with the most incredible views from the top of Wester Ross, Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides.

Rogie Falls – During August and September this is a great spot to see wild salmon leaping upstream from the suspension bridge across the Black Water river. There’s a couple of short walking trails to enjoy from the car park.

Places to Eat:

Applecross Inn – The perfect pit stop for lunch before taking on the Bealach Na Ba Pass, make sure you book ahead as its the only eatery in the area and often full. Open 3pm – 10pm on Wednesday and 11:30 – 10 pm on Thursday – Mondays. There’s a wide ranging menu offering snacks, main meals and daily specials including vegetarian and vegan options.

Visit our guide to Inverness for places to eat and things to do

Bealach Na Ba Pass – Image curtesy of Visit Scotland
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