Driving the NC500 is an adventure in itself. From rugged mountains to sweeping seascapes, Scotland’s 500 mile trail of coastal beauty takes you through remote towns and villages with a sense of history that will stay with you for years after your journey has ended. With 7 days minimum recommended to explore this route, there are so many places to stop and beautiful sights to see. Here are just some of our favourites.
The North Coast 500 starts in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. It is not just a launching point for your road trip- it has plenty to keep you occupied for at least one day or two, explore Inverness Castle or the Highlands Museum, take a riverside stroll or try some of downtown’s mouthwatering Scottish cuisine!
Just over half an hour outside of Inverness, hidden from the road and a short half-a-mile on foot through woodlands is a suspension bridge hanging over the Black Water river, overlooking the stunning Rogie Falls. If visiting in August or September you may be lucky enough to see the iconic Scottish salmon leaping up the falls.
This iconic mountain of the Scottish Highlands standing at 613 metres may not be the quietest walk due to its popularity but the views from the unofficial peak are incredible. There is a clear path to mark the route up but only experience climbers can summit the official peak due to its deep ravines. If you’re not interested in hiking Stac Pollaidh then take a short walk to Loch Lurgainn where you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the mountain from the ground.
Often thought to be the most northerly point in mainland Britain, (which is actually Dunnet Head), a visit to the famous John O’Groats is still very worthwhile. This area offers plenty of things to do and wonderful array of wildlife to enjoy as well as rich in Scottish history and culture.
Considered to be one of the best spots in Britain to catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Puffins during breeding, which generally runs from May to July. The bird watching enthusiast can also see Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, razorbills and Oystercatchers.
Grey Seals and Orcas are also regularly seen off the coast, while sea otters have been spotted along the Caithness coast.
From here you can take a guided walk to Orkney or for the ultra fit its also start or end point for the End to End Challenge, the 874-miles connecting John O’Groats to Land’s End in Cornwall (the extreme south-west tip of England).
Bealach Na Ba
This is where your 4×4 Highland Overland truck comes into it’s own. The Bealach Na BA is a curvy, single-track mountainous road along the Applecross peninsular which is not for the faint-hearted. The third highest road in Scotland at heights of 626m above sea level with steep gradients and sharp hairpin bends, this drive requires complete concentration and not suitable for caravans or large vehicles and speeds after then 30mph are hardly allowed. However, once you have made it to the top, you are rewarded with stunning views of Wester Ross, the Isle of Rum, Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides.
Please be aware that the road is closed in the winter months so check your route before travelling.
On the most north-westerly tip of mainland Britain is the town of Durness. This is home to one of Scotlands main natural tourist attractions, Smoo Cave, the largest cave in Scotland with its 50ft high sea cave entrance. This spectacular sea cave is floodlit and can be explored by either boat or path from the car park on the cliffs.
Other must-sees are Balnaikiel beach and the ruins of the old Balknakiel Church, believed to have originally been built in 1619. A great campsite to park up for the night is just above the beautiful Sango Bay, which with its cliffs, rocks and sand dunes and good surfing offers a little something for everyone. Walk along to the west side of the beach and you’ll find a viewing platform which allows for beautiful panoramic views of the entire coast and a picture-postcard moment.
The gateway to the Summer Isles and a lovely destination in its own right. This scenic town has lovely local eateries and galleries as well as great wildlife cruises where you have the chance of spotting dolphins, seals and plenty of bird life.
A must-see while in the area are the Corrieshalloch Falls which are just a short walk from the car park but one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe, having been carved out over millions of years.
Shieldaig is a village filled with whitewashed cottages along the banks of Loch Shieldaig, a gorgeous loch with mountain backdrop and one of the most picturesque spots along the North Coast 500. Theres a few hotels and some excellent restaurants if you decide to park up for the night and make the most of the beautiful views of Shieldaig island.
A castle straight out of a fairytale, Dunrobin Castle is one of the most iconic castles in Scotland. Once home to the Dukes of Sutherland and used as a naval hospital during World War I and then a boys boarding school, this spectacular castle dates back to the early 1300’s and has seven centuries of history.
The most northerly of Scotlands great houses and also the larges in the Highlands with its amazing 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is on the east coast, overlooking Moray Firth and just north of Dornoch which is well known for the Royal Dornoch Golf Club and its famous cathedral. Guided tours are available as well as falconry displays and beautiful walks around the elegant, manicured gardens.
One of many highlights of the North Coast 500, the Duncansby Stacks are one of the most beautiful images of Northern Scotland. An easy walk from the car park will allow you a viewing of the Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby and if you venture further along the cliff tops you’ll get different and less busy view points of these gorgeous sea stacks.
Take your time and enjoy this stunning natural beauty. Bird watchers will love the variety of nesting birds that can be found along the cliffs so take some snacks and make the most of this stunning walk.