The NC500: Scotland’s Ultimate Road Trip

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The NC500 is Scotland’s ultimate road trip. This 500-mile journey takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in the country, from the rugged Highlands to the beautiful coastline.

The NC500 is a great way to explore Scotland at your own pace and discover some hidden gems along the way. In this blog post, we will share our top tips for planning your NC500 adventure!

What Is NC500?

NC500 is a stunning driving route located in Scotland, taking you past some of the most beautiful and iconic views the country has to offer. It is fast becoming known as one of the world’s top road trips, and after seeing what it has to offer, it’s not hard to understand why. 

NC500 covers 500 miles of Scotland’s North Coast, winding through villages and towns that vary from tranquil to bustling. With breathtaking sea views, picturesque lochs, and mysterious castles to explore, NC500 is the perfect way to explore Scotland’s beauty while discovering everything it has to offer.

What To See And Do In NC500?

Inverness Scotland

NC500 is a road trip circuit around Scotland’s rugged coastline and majestic mountains. Amongst its many attractions are some of Scotland’s most cherished castles, captivating loch-side vistas, and inspiring stories.

Active types will be spoilt for choice with NC500, boasting spectacular hikes in between stops, plus plenty of chances to go hillwalking or even try your hand canoeing along some of the lochs. 

For the nature lovers amongst us, NC500 is home to an abundance of wild seabirds and other incredible wildlife. Horse riding, surfing, and golf are all popular activities here too!

Planning Your NC500 Trip: Where Should You Start?

The NC500 is an incredible journey to take, with Scottish Isles and Highlands stretching out as far as the eye can see. With so much beauty to see in Scotland, it can be difficult to decide where to begin your NC500 voyage.

Fret not! We listed here our suggested itinerary to travel the NC500. Read along!

Day 1: Inverness to Applecross

Bealach na Ba Applecross

Drive from Inverness to the Applecross Peninsula to start your trip along the North Coast 500. Along the way, you’ll cross the epic Bealach na Bà, which is a mountain pass with the UK’s steepest climb.

Tip: Don’t try it in a motorhome because it’s too steep and turns sharply at 2,053 feet.

Stop at Rogie Falls, which are best seen after it rains but are also impressive in August and September when wild salmon jump upstream. Then, look at the whitewashed village of Lochcarron before heading to your campsite.

If it’s not too late in the day, pick up some fish from the Applecross Smokehouse to cook over the campfire as the sun sets over the North Minch strait.

Day 2: Applecross to Gairloch


The next day, head toward Torridon, passing by green meadows with Highland cows and getting off at the Countryside Centre to walk among the red deer.

Next, you’ll drive through big valleys with lots of walking paths. You can hike one of the lower-level paths or try to climb a Munro.

Lastly, end your trip at Gairloch harbour or on the pale yellow sands of one of the area’s beaches, like Big Sand or Redpoint, before setting up camp by a loch with iconic views of the Isle of Skye and the beautiful green Torridon Hills.

Day 3: Gairloch to Kylesku

loch ewe

You will drive along the edge of Loch Ewe, a deep-water sea lake, today on your way to Gruinard Bay. If the tide is out, you can go for a walk on the beautiful beach. Then, keep going to the Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve to look out over a mile-long canyon from a suspension bridge from the Victorian era.

Next, take a seat at a pub in Ullapool. If you can, choose one near the water so you can look out over the water as you eat a lunch made with food from the area.

Then keep going until you reach Loch Assynt, a lake surrounded by the dramatic peaks of Canisp, Quinag, and Beinn Uidhe, where you can explore the ruins of Ardvreck Castle by the water.

Your final stop for the day is the cute fishing village of Kylesku. At the highly-recommended Kylesku Hotel, have a seafood dinner, and then go to a campsite in the wild to drink malt whisky next to a blazing campfire.

Day 4: Kylesku to Durness

kylesku bridge

You could take a side trip to the beautiful beaches of Achmelvich and Clachtoll on the west coast to add a day to your trip. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to take some tricky roads to get there.

balnakeil beach

From Kylesku, drive over the famous bridge toward Scourie Bay, stopping for a moment to take in the beautiful views of the loch.

From there, it’s an hour to Durness. Get off the path for 10 minutes to see the white sands of Balnakeil Beach, or stop for a moment at the Sango Bay Viewpoint to look at the turquoise North Sea.

From there, it’s an hour to Durness. Get off the path for 10 minutes to see the white sands of Balnakeil Beach, or stop for a moment at the Sango Bay Viewpoint to look at the turquoise North Sea.

The huge Smoo Cave, a must-see on the NC500, is right outside of this town. Check out this sea and freshwater cavern with a 50-foot entrance, then move on to a campsite with a view of a nearby beach where you can swim in the aquamarine water when you wake up the following day.

Day 5: Durness to John o’ Groats

Ceannabeinne Beach

Make Ceannabeinne Beach your first stop of the day, even if it’s just to zipline down from the cliff top parking lot to the beach.

The next stop is the Kyle of Tongue, where you can take a short walk to the ruins of Castle Varrich.

Next, learn about the terrible Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries at Bettyhill’s Strathnaver Museum.

Pick up lunch at the village’s Store Cafe and have a picnic at Strathy Point, where you can see the old lighthouse.

If you’re feeling adventurous, hike down to Puffin Cove in hopes of seeing these rare birds in the cliffs (mid-April to early August).

After that, drive to Thurso and stop at one of the grocery stores to stock up on food. Then, visit the dunes of Dunnet Bay before taking a short trip to John o’ Groats.

If you set up a tent here, you can say you slept at the most northern point of the UK’s mainland. If you want to avoid the crowds at this popular spot, book a campsite in the middle of the area. 

This rural area has such dark skies that, if the conditions are right, you might even see the Northern Lights dancing above.

Day 6: John o’ Groats to Dornoch

Duncansby Head Lighthouse

After making a strong pot of tea over the campfire, go to Duncansby Head Lighthouse to watch the birds fly over the rocks

 From there, the Whaligoe Steps, your second stop of the day, is another 40 minutes away by car.

This steep set of stairs was built so that people could get to a natural harbour made by two cliffs. If you make it up all 365 steps, you deserve a treat in the café when you get to the top.

After getting gas, drive to Dunrobin Castle, a grand mansion that looks like something out of a fairy tale.

From there, go to Golspie, which is the starting point for fishing trips on the sea and in lochs, mountain biking trails, and the Big Burn waterfall walk.

You’ll spend the night camping near the beautiful town of Dornoch. Look for a site on the beach where you can see the waves from the North Sea hitting the sand from your pitch.

Day 7: Dornoch to Inverness

river shin

Back down to Inverness from Dornoch is a straight shot that takes an hour, but there are places to stop along the way. One is the pretty Falls of Shin, a 35-minute round trip to the west.

You could also drive to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle and look for dolphins. This would take an extra half hour. On this stretch, there are also a lot of distilleries that you can tour and taste to celebrate a good trip.

Since it’s your last night, you might want to stay somewhere fancy, like a glamping site. How about a whisky barrel-made pod that was made by hand?

When Is The Perfect Time To Tour Around NC500?

The best time to tour NC500 is from June to August. The weather is mild, and the days are long, making it the perfect time to enjoy all that NC500 has to offer.

From picturesque villages to dramatic cliff-side vistas, NC500 is an unforgettable journey.

Spring and Summer

View of Ben Stack NC500

In the spring and summer, the days are longer, and the nights are brighter, so you can stay active for longer. You can go for a walk in the evening, play golf until late, or just go out and see what’s going on.

You can also see seabirds nesting in the spring and summer, and you might even see dolphins or whales. Book a boat trip if you want the best chance of seeing these beautiful animals.

The North Highlands has a lot going on in the spring and summer, from traditional Highland Games to food and music festivals.

Autumn and Winter

Bealach na Ba in winter

Along the North Coast 500, autumn is a beautiful time of year… With a cool breeze, a crackling log fire, and bristly leaves floating softly to the ground, I’m in heaven. At this time of year, the colours around the NC500 are really beautiful.

Spring and summer are great times to see wildlife, but during autumn, you can see stags rutting in the Highlands. As the weather gets colder, they move down to the lower ground.

During this time of year, you can watch animals during the day and look at the stars and constellations at night. You might even see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, a fantastic nighttime phenomenon.

This time of year along the NC500 is truly magical. You can spend cosy nights in country lodges and cottages next to roaring fires, visit distilleries, eat hearty Highland food, and take pictures of the perfect winter light.

There are many things to do in the North Highlands that you can’t do in the summer, like kayaking down clear lochs or building a snow palace.

What Should You Know About Driving In The NC500?

The NC500, winding its way through Scotland’s beautiful landscapes, is an incredible experience for both beginner and seasoned drivers.

With stunning views and picturesque landmarks, it is no wonder this 500-mile route has become so popular amongst road trippers.

The NC500 can be completed in multiple ways – you can choose to go clockwise or anti-clockwise, drive as a day excursion, or take your time with multiple stops along the way.

When preparing for the NC500, there are a few key points to bear in mind: take care on the single-track roads (especially when passing another vehicle), plan your route around attractions that appeal to you, and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy each stop.

All of these things together will make the NC500 a truly memorable adventure!

Two Wheels Vs. Four Wheels: Which One Should I Use In The NC500?

Exploring the NC500 with two wheels or four is an adventure many people make yearly. With so much to discover and see, it’s important to pick the vehicle that best suits your needs.

Pros and Cons of Using Two Wheels in the NC500


One of the main advantages of using two wheels in the NC500 is that it allows you to stay connected with your environment.

Motorcyclists experience Scotland’s landscapes through all their senses – smell, sound, sight, and feel. Furthermore, enjoying the country on two wheels is often cheaper than renting a car or campervan for a few days.

On the other hand, riding a motorbike does have its drawbacks. Although it is an incredibly liberating experience, you are much more exposed to the elements than when driving in a car or campervan.

In addition, there’s no shelter from sudden changes in weather and limited storage capacity for luggage. For these reasons, motorbikes are more suitable for day trips than longer journeys around Scotland.

Pros and Cons of Using Four Wheels in the NC500


Using four wheels to explore the NC500 has its advantages.

Travelling by car or campervan means you can bring a lot more luggage with you, giving you much greater flexibility when it comes to experiencing Scotland’s attractions.

Furthermore, four-wheel vehicles offer more protection against the elements, making them ideal for longer trips and overnight stays.

On the other hand, travelling by car or campervan can be more expensive than two wheels due to rental fees, fuel costs and additional parking charges.

In addition, you are not as connected to the environment around you, meaning you may miss out on some of Scotland’s incredible sights and sounds.

Where To Book Your Accommodation In The N500?

delny glamping

When booking your accommodation for the NC500, it’s important to plan ahead and research from various directories.

Scotland is a popular tourist destination, and accommodation can get booked up quickly during peak season. To ensure you secure the best deals for your trip, book early or consider staying in smaller towns rather than larger cities.

You should also keep an eye out for special offers and last-minute deals. Many hotels and guesthouses offer discounts for midweek stays or trips booked at short notice.

By being flexible with your dates, you could save yourself a lot of money on accommodation.

Important Things To Pack On Your Trip To NC500

1. A Good Camera

The first thing you’ll want to make sure you pack for your trip to NC500 is a good camera.

The scenery in this part of Scotland is absolutely stunning, and you’ll want to be able to capture it all. Make sure to bring along extra batteries and memory cards, as you’re going to want to take a lot of pictures!

2. Comfortable Shoes

comfortable shoes

Another important thing to pack for your trip to NC500 is a comfortable pair of shoes.

You’ll be doing a lot of walking as you explore the many different towns and villages along the route, so you’ll need shoes that won’t give you blisters.

If you plan on doing any hiking, make sure to pack a pair of sturdy, comfortable boots.

3. Warm Clothes

Although the weather in Scotland can be unpredictable, it’s always best to be prepared for cold weather.

Pack some warm clothes that you can layer, as well as a waterproof jacket in case you run into any rain showers. And if you’re planning on spending any time in the Highlands, make sure to pack some extra layers as it can get quite chilly up there!

4. A Map

Another essential item to pack for your trip to NC500 is a route map because there are areas that have only 4G signal and you wouldn’t want to be stuck in an unknown place.

Pick up a map before you start your journey, or download one onto your phone or another mobile device.

North Coast 500 The Road Trip of a Lifetime
  • The ultimate ‘No Fuss’ NC500 guide book by Robbie Roams

5. A First Aid Kit

first aid kit

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so make sure to pack a first aid kit before setting off on your trip.

Include items such as bandages, antiseptic cream, painkillers, and anything else you might need in case of an emergency.

6. Snacks And Drinks

Since there are often long stretches between towns and villages along the NC500 route, it’s a good idea to pack some snacks and drinks for the journey.

Bring along some snacks that will tide you over until your next meal, as well as some water or other drinks to keep yourself hydrated.

7. Cash

Last but not least, remember to bring some cash with you on your trip.

While many places along the NC500 route do accept card payments, there are still some that only accept cash. Sometimes, the internet is too weak in some areas and it’s always best to have some cash on hand just in case!


To make the most of your NC500 adventure, it’s important to plan ahead. Consider the time of year you’ll be travelling and be sure to pack accordingly. The weather in Scotland can be unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to bring clothing for all seasons.

Additionally, research the towns and villages along the route and plan your stops accordingly. There are plenty of charming pubs, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts to discover, so take your time and soak up the local culture.

After exploring the NC500, it’s easy to see why it’s known as Scotland’s ultimate road trip. This 500-mile journey offers stunning views of Scotland’s natural beauty, from the rugged Highlands to the stunning coastline.

We're here to help you maximise your North Coast 500 experience with guides, tips, itineraries. Everything you need to know about your first or next NC500 adventure.
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