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Piloting Extremely Nicely In Scotland 287 Route In Scotland

Discussion in ' Touring ' started by MikeM93 , Jul 26, 2020 .


MikeM93 Thread Starter New Member

Hey folks. I have done the NC500 a couple of times now, and thought I'd do only the bits I like the best last week. It very closely follows the PENIS287 route set out by the top gear guys (piloting extremely nicely in scotland 287 miles for those who haven't seen it). I always found the East coast rather boring to ride although there are a few good things to go see such as whaligoe steps , Lybster harbour etc. However a must detour to the 287 is adding in Durness. Absolutely spectacular scenery and such fun roads. Standout roads: A890 to stromferry A837 Ardvreck castle A894 - Alp like fast bends I could simply list them all, but these stood out  


cookster A.R.COOK - MOTORCYCLE MOTS Subscriber

7 hours!! Fair play  
if you haven't seen it....  
cookster said: ↑ 7 hours!! Fair play Click to expand...


Broduc64 Well-Known Member Subscriber

Nice. Is there a way to put a link to the actual route/coordinates (sorry I'm not Techno geeky enough) so they can be uploaded straight into a Garmin. I'd really like to give that a go. Cheers  
Broduc64 said: ↑ Nice. Is there a way to put a link to the actual route/coordinates (sorry I'm not Techno geeky enough) so they can be uploaded straight into a Garmin. I'd really like to give that a go. Cheers Click to expand...
MikeM93 said: ↑ Sorry I used google maps. I use my phone as satnav all the time. Click to expand...


Sev Just waiting for my wooden suit.

Question... how did the multi cope with the stairs, and did you see Connor McLoud of the Clan McLoud at his castle?  


CAT3 Well-Known Member

What a beautiful place North Scotland is & on a sunny day, unbeatable  
CAT3 said: ↑ What a beautiful place North Scotland is & on THE sunny day, unbeatable Click to expand...


GarySN Well-Known Member Subscriber


Ducbird Mod & 2 i/c. Still no bike, even with stabilisers Staff Member Subscriber

Fab pics  


fatporker New Member

Try this link great for converting to the correct format https://mapstogpx.com/  


Sev said: ↑ Question... how did the multi cope with the stairs, and did you see Connor McLoud of the Clan McLoud at his castle? Click to expand...


Broduc64 said: ↑ Nice. Is there a way to put a link to the actual route/coordinates (sorry I'm not Techno geeky enough) so they can be uploaded straight into a Garmin. I did try exporting but doesn't let me in the phone. I'd need to log into a computer so.... Inverness to Muie Muie to Lairg. Stop here. Wee house on the loch is lovely and a great story behind it. https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/true-story-wee-hoose-loch-597662 Lairg to durness via A838. A stunning single track road with passing places. Beautiful scenery just gets better and better further north you go. In durness go to Sango sands beach. I'd really like to give that a go. Cheers Click to expand...


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The Grand Tour Season 3 – Well Aged Scotch – Episode Guide, Recap, Fun Facts

This episode starts with a conversation about money in the tent. Clarkson explains that by putting money in a savings account, you’re doing yourself a misfortune. You should rather invest in a classic car.

There are however, some classic cars that haven’t yet started to appreciate. So they go on an adventure to try and find the next best investment.

To Scotland…

They begin in a fishing port near Inverness, where Clarkson arrives in an Alfa Romeo GTV6. He bought it from an old man for £10,000, but before he talks too much about it, James May turns up in a Lancia Gamma Coupe. Clarkson says it’s one of the prettiest cars in the world, but doesn’t want to tell that to James who had bought it for £13,500.

James and Jeremy argue for a while before Hammond turns up in a Fiat X19 that he bought for £2,250. It’s starting to rust and has been painted a multitude of colours in its lifetime.

grand tour north coast 287 route

The trio decides to do the North Coast 500 road trip. It’s 500 miles around the North Coast of Scotland, but before they set off, Andy Wilman texts Jeremy. He tells him, if their cars don’t survive, they’ll be riding a bicycle home.

They set off, and straight away become disappointed with the scenery. Then one of James’ windscreen wipers falls off… This isn’t the only problem the car has, though. The car overheats, is prone to engine explosions, and, well, the main problem is the engine explodey bit.

Behind the scenes look at Scotland’s weather. #TheGrandTour (New episode tomorrow, etc etc) pic.twitter.com/HcOdaRRcE2 — The Grand Tour (@thegrandtour) February 21, 2019

On the way, Clarkson is having trouble changing gear in the GTV6, but he explains that he still loves it, despite its human-like flaws.

Hammond loves his Fiat, but isn’t a fan of the close proximity of the pedals.

Hammond decides they should have a drifting competition on a go-kart track. But unfortunately, none of them have the power to kick the tail out. And well… James’ car is front-wheel drive. He decides to cover his tyres in something very slippery to induce tail-happy handling. It eventually works, after quite a few attempts.

Hammond and Clarkson do the same to their tyres, but they try wrapping their tyres in some plastic they found – it doesn’t work. He crashes.

They do the same with Clarkson’s car, but there’s a bang. His prop-shaft is broken. Unfortunately this means Clarkson is on his bike back to the pub, just as it starts to get very cold and wet.

The Next Morning

With Clarkson getting safely back to where they were staying, overnight he removes Hammond’s roof, only for Hammond to accidentally reverse over it in the morning. And to top it all off, Clarkson got his car back, too.

Conversation Street

They begin by talking about James’ weird habit of putting insulating tape on the rear wheels of Scalextric cars to reduce their grip. But they quickly turn to how Clarkson fixed his Alfa Romeo – he didn’t, someone else did.

Onto the real news, firstly with Land Rover. They’ve developed a system to counter motion sickness automatically. They discuss sea sickness and their own horror stories. After that, they discuss a hover bike in Dubai. Hammond loves it, but Clarkson and May think it’s awful, complaining that it’s useless and dangerous.

Clarkson then goes on a rant about electric cars. For a long time…

The BMW M5 Review

grand tour north coast 287 route

Clarkson drives the M5 with an aim to find out if it’s actually what drivers want. It’s the fastest ever yet, so he has a drag race with a Mercedes AMG GT. The BMW wins by a long way, but Clarkson is put off by the four-wheel drive system and its turbo technology. But when driving it, he doesn’t feel like these are changing the driving experience. And when you turn off the AWD system, he loves it.

But there’s a competitor: the Alpina B5. It’s made to be comfortable and luxurious with a relaxed suspension and steering setup. It still does have a very 600hp V8 however. And that’s more than the M5. And because it doesn’t have a limiter, it will do 205mph. The M5 will pull away on a track, but the B5 will be the car that you’d want to take home.

Abbie Eaton takes the M5 around the Eboladrome and gets a time of 1:20.4, 4 seconds faster than the old M5. The Alpina gets a time of 1:21.6.

Back To Scotland

Back in Scotland, the trio start to travel through gorgeous scenic locations, but because Hammond is getting cold without a rood, they stop for a cup of tea. Hammond argues that they need to take another road because of its amazing views. They decide to do it, and are astounded by the incredible scenery.

In the next episode, #TheGrandTour heads to Scotland in 'Well Aged Scotch'. Watch on Friday only on Prime Video. pic.twitter.com/WBrE7zK5T2 — The Grand Tour (@thegrandtour) February 20, 2019

Clarkson tells the camera that it’s his birthday, but Hammond and May haven’t remembered. But while Clarkson pops into a local town to try and balance his prop-shaft, Hammond and May start to plan Clarkson’s birthday surprise.

grand tour north coast 287 route

They go ahead to set up his surprise party. Hammond cooks spaghetti bolognese, but goes on to deep dry it. During this time, May was organising the guests. Clarkson pulls up, can’t believe they’ve remembered, but is interrupted by James playing the bagpipes.

He quickly shouts that it’s the worst party he’s ever had.

The Next Day

Complaining that he’s not hung over and that the prop-shaft vibration was back, Clarkson continues through gorgeous Scotland, followed closely by Hammond and May.

Each presenter sums up their cars, explaining how they love each of them. Clarkson loves his Alfa so much that he takes it home to keep.

After an incredible drive, they arrive back at Inverness.

The Final Thought

Back at the tent, they explain that the drive around Scotland was possibly the best drive they’ve ever had. Since the film, James lost money on his car, as did Clarkson, and Hammond’s car blew up.

[button color=”white” size=”big” alignment=”center” rel=”follow” openin=”samewindow” url=”https://grandtournation.com/thegrandtour/season3/”]See Full Season 3 Guide[/button]

grand tour north coast 287 route

Scotland's Grandtour 287 FULL Now

Sat, 23 Mar

Scotland, UK

Scotland's Grandtour 287 FULL Now

Drive the Grandtours PENIS 287

Time & Location

23 Mar 2024, 08:00 – 25 Mar 2024, 18:00

About the event

Please note this trip is all about the roads and driving. 

Turning your head now and again to catch a glimpse of scenery. 

It is around 320 miles per day on some wonderful twisty scenic routes.

23rd March 2024  Leaving the North East early morning on 23rd Apr and heading up through Glencoe to our overnight stay in Fort William. Maybe a quick photo stop on the 007 Skyfall road. Evening meal included.

24th March 2024 Early start then after breakfast we head up the West coast, stopping for the odd photo before heading through the heart of the highlands and to our overnight stop in Stathpeffer. Evening meal included.

25th March 2024 Another early breakfast before heading across the Cairngorms to Glenshee. Then depending on time we either head back South via Kielder or Carter Bar.

This is a trip for those who just want to drive, eat and sleep. The roads are superb with plenty of scope for some progressive driving.

Please call for prices for a single room with Breakfast & Dinner included or for 2 sharing a twin room. 

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Independent Travel Cats

Savvy Travel Advice

Comprehensive North Coast 500 Road Trip Planning Guide

Last updated: March 27, 2024 - Written by Jessica Norah 177 Comments

The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile scenic route along Scotland’s northern coast that begins and ends in the city of Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. We’ve put together this comprehensive North Coast 500 guide to help you plan the perfect North Coast 500 road trip in Scotland.

The NC500 route offers visitors the opportunity to see rugged landscapes, frolic on sandy beaches, spot wildlife, visit museums and heritage sites, stay in castles, sip whisky, sample the local produce, and get to know the people who live there. The route was designed to encourage more visitors to visit this sparsely populated region of Scotland and it has been very successful.

Laurence and I have driven the full route several times and we have put together this guide to help others who are planning their own North Coast 500 road trip. We’ll explain the North Coast 500 route, what you can expect to see, the best time of year to plan a road trip, how many days you need to drive the NC500, suggestions on where to stay and eat along the route, what to pack, and tons of other tips and advice on driving the North Coast 500.

NC500 road North Coast 500 route guide

Table of Contents:

North Coast 500 Road Trip Planning Guide

Planning a North Coast 500 road trip can be a bit overwhelming as it is a relatively new route and there isn’t as much information available online or in guidebooks compared to other top road trips around the world. But not to worry, we’ll provide all the information you’ll need to plan your NC500 road trip.

In this first section we’ll try to answer the most common questions such as: what is the route, how many days do you need to drive the North Coast 500, when is the best time of year to drive the route, where should I stay along the NC500, how far ahead to starting booking, and other common questions.

Then the second section will explain how to find and stay on the North Coast 500, provide driving safety tips, list local car and campervan rental agencies , and discuss guided tour options. The last section provides packing tips and a list of supplies you may need for your NC500 road trip. So let’s get started!

loch sunrise North Coast 500 route guide

What is the North Coast 500 Route?

The North Coast 500 (NC500) was created in 2014 by the North Highland Initiative , which is a non-profit organization that was established by Prince Charles in 2005 in an effort to develop economic growth across the North Highlands. Following its creation, private investment was raised and the route is promoted by a for-profit corporation called North Coast 500 Ltd. The company provides a number of resources for both visitors and local businesses.

The NC500 is not an actual single road or highway like Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway , but is a series of existing roads that form a loop around the northern Highlands.

The route is just over 500 miles and mainly hugs the northern coast of Scotland, hence the name. It was designed to showcase the natural beauty and local businesses in this part of Scotland which has previously received a relatively low level of tourism. It has become a major tourism success in Scotland with tens of thousands of people having already driven the route.

The North Coast 500 route runs 516 miles to and from Inverness, forming a loop around the northern Highlands. So if you drive the full route, you’ll end up where you started which can be very convenient if you are flying in and out of Inverness or renting a car.

However, you can of course start and end your drive wherever you please. The route runs through a number of loosely defined areas or historical counties in northern Scotland including Inverness-shire , the Black Isle , Wester Ross , Easter Ross , Sutherland , and Caithness .

What Will I See Along the North Coast 500 route?

The North Coast 500 route follows the main roads across the coastal edges of the North Highlands. The largest city (by far) is Inverness with a population of close to 50,000 people and the next biggest places are towns and villages like Ullapool, Durness, Dornoch, Wick, Thurso, and Lochinver which each have a population of under 2,000 people! So expect to spend time in lots of small villages and rural areas.

The highlights of the route for many people are the scenic views along the coast and the feeling of “being away” from it all for a while. Scenery includes rugged coastline, beaches, rural farmland, marshland, rivers, forest, lochs, and munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 ft high). You’ll also have the opportunity to see local wildlife such as deer, squirrels, pine martens, birds of prey, seabirds, and sea mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals.

Of course there are also loads of sheep and the iconic Highland coos which you’ll spot in the fields. In addition to nature and wildlife, there are loads of things to see and do along the route which include hiking, golfing, castles, heritage sites, prehistoric sites, a geological park, museums, beaches, whisky distilleries , and much more.

You can also sample the local food of the Scottish Highlands and stay in unique lodging from simple B&B’s and inns to grand family country homes to luxurious castles. If you want to know more about specific places to see and visit, you can check out Laurence’s post about some of the highlights of the North Coast 500 and our detailed North Coast 500 itinerary .

Smoo Cave North Coast 500 route guide

Is the North Coast 500 similar to Route 66?

The North Coast 500 is often called “Scotland’s version of Route 66”, especially by mainstream media. In some ways they are similar in that they are great routes for a road trip and both offer some great scenery and attractions along the way.

We have driven Route 66 , and we can say that there are a lot of differences between a historic route that spans over 2,400 miles and crosses 8 U.S. states and the North Coast 500. The NC500 is a mainly coastal route that goes through small villages and rural areas in a sparsely populated area of northern Scotland.

If you’ve driven Route 66, don’t expect the vastly varied landscapes, the range of small towns to big cities, quirky roadside attractions, or historic diners of Route 66. It is probably more similar to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way but every route has its own unique personality and charm!

Drive Route 66 for American roadside culture and drive NC500 for Scottish Highlands culture, historical sites, and scenic coastal views.

When is the Best Time of Year to Travel the North Coast 500?

The best time to drive the North Coast 500 for most people is between May and October as during this period you’ll find most attractions and restaurants open, the greatest variety of lodging, and the best chances for warmer weather. However, this also corresponds with the busiest time along the North Coast 500 which is from early May to late September.

If you are looking to drive the route during a quieter time of year, I’d consider April, early May, late September, or October, avoiding holidays, festivals, special events, and school breaks.

Winter can be a nice time for photography and solitude, although the weather can be bad and certain minor roads (e.g. the Bealach Na Ba) may be closed due to bad weather. If you plan to drive the NC500 out of season (e.g., October to March) just note that many businesses (including hotels, restaurants, tourist information offices, and attractions) in the Scottish Highlands are seasonal or have reduced winter hours.

Obviously, the best time to drive the North Coast 500 is the time you have available, and if you need to set out at a less than opportune time of the year, just be prepared and be flexible.

If you are trying to plan your trip around Scottish weather, weather conditions are fickle in Scotland and we experience rain, clouds, and chilly weather year round (that is what keeps Scotland green!). However, we also get these bursts of sunshine and warm weather than can occur any time of the year with probably May and September being two of the better months in our experience thus far.

Our first time along the NC500 we were lucky in August with a few days of sunny warm weather. Out of an 8 day NC500 trip in May, we had 2 particularly rainy bad weather days, 3 mixed days (rain part of day, sunny part of day), and 3 nice weather days.

During our 12 day winter trip in February most days were mixed (rain/light snow/clouds/some sun) and it rained at least a little on almost every day of the trip. During that time we had 2 bad days (snowed all day, roads uncleared, stayed inside) and 1 especially nice and sunny day.

Just come prepared for the weather and don’t let it stop you from enjoying your trip!

How Many Days Does it Take to Drive the North Coast 500?

This really depends on how much you want to see, how much you want to drive each day, and how many detours you plan to make. You could speed along the entire 500 miles in less than 24 hours if you don’t mind not sleeping or seeing anything along the way!

But the North Coast 500 is designed for touring, sightseeing, and taking things slowly. The minimum number of days we’d recommend to drive the North Coast 500 is 5 days, but 7 to 10 days would be ideal. If you plan to speed around, you could do it with 3 full days and night, but we’d recommend more time.

If you really want to explore the route slowly, relax, and maybe take some detours (e.g., visits to Loch Ness, Orkney Islands, Summer Isles, Isle of Skye), I’d recommend 2 weeks. For those with more time, you could easily fill up a few weeks and not run out of things to do, especially if you love hiking, nature, and historical sites.

lamb North Coast 500 road trip guide

I Don’t Have Time for the Full Route, What Section Should I Drive?

If you only have a 2 or 3 days, you can still get a taste of some of the things that the North Coast 500 has to offer without speeding along the entire route. I would focus on either a section of the route or focus on a special interest or theme (e.g., castles, historical sites, beaches, distilleries). For more reasons to drive the NC500 and themes read this article .

Below is but a short list of suggestions:

Castles:  There are a number of castles along the route, ranging from crumbled ruins to the former home of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother to picturesque Disney-like castles.

Some that you might want to consider visiting along or near the route (all open to the public, although some have seasonal hours) are Cawdor Castle , Dunrobin Castle , Castle Sinclair Girnigoe ruins, and the Castle of Mey which all lay along the eastern part of the route between Inverness and the small village of Mey.

You can enhance your stay by staying at a castle hotel such as Kincraig Castle Hotel , Tulloch Castle Hotel , or Dornoch Castle Hotel which are all also along the eastern part of the route.

For more on castle hotels along the route, you can see our North Coast 500 accommodation guide which has over 25 recommended places to stay along the route, from castle hotels to B&B’s and guesthouses.

Dunrobin Castle North Coast 500 road trip guide

Distilleries and Breweries. Scotland is well-known for its whisky and just about every visitor to Scotland wants to try at least a dram or two of whisky during his or her trip. But Scotland also has a growing craft beer industry and gin scene and you’ll find a bit of everything along the North Coast 500.

Whisky distilleries are more prevalent along the eastern part of the route between Inverness and Dunnet and include Glen Ord Distillery , Glenmorangie Distillery , Clynelish Distillery , Dalmore Distillery , and Old Pulteney Distillery . For non-whisky stops, consider Black Isle Brewery and Dunnet Bay Distillery (best known for its gin and vodkas). Most distilleries give public tours and tastings, but some you’ll need to book in advance. We expect more will continue to pop up as the tourism increases in this area.

For more on whisky, see our comprehensive guide to whisky distilleries in Scotland , which has everything you need to know. We also have a guide to whisky distilleries on the North Coast 500 specifically.

Wildlife:  Those interested in Scottish wildlife should be able to find some spots of interest. For those interested in sea mammals or seabirds I’d recommend the section between Inverness and Thurso. Chanonry Point (one of the most popular spots), North Kessock, Fort George, and Spey Bay are popular places near Inverness to spot bottlenose dolphins as well as potentially seals, porpoises, and whales. The Scottish Dolphin Center  at Spey Bay is a great place to stop for more information on dolphins and other area wildlife.

For whale watching, we were told that Duncansby Head, Dunnet Bay, and Strathy Point are popular spots for whale watchers as well as for dolphins, porpoises, and other sea animals. There are wildlife boat tours you can do in the Caithness area for a better chance to see the wildlife. The Orkney Islands (can be reached by ferry from John O’ Groats) is also a great place for wildlife, including sea mammals, voles, and sea birds.

For birdlovers, I’d highly recommend checking out the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website for information, and I’d also consider contacting them before your trip or visiting one of their centers for local information to find the best spots depending on the kind of birds you are most interested in (e.g., birds of prey, seabirds, waders).

The RSPB has several reserves around or near the NC500 that help protect the local wildlife. For seabird lovers, there are several spots along the route but I’d highly recommend the Dunnet Head Nature Reserve which is home to a number of species, depending on the season, including cormorants, puffins, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, and fulmars.

Deer lovers can spot red deer throughout the Scottish Highlands and the best time to see them is early in the morning in the fields away from villages. We saw loads of them, especially along the western and southern parts of the route. If you want to get really upclose to a large herd of deer, we can recommend a guided tour with gamekeeper Colin at Reraig Forest near Lochcarron.

puffin North Coast 500 route guide

Laurence personally favors the western side for landscape photography, but we found great photography spot throughout the route. Here is a guide to some of the photography highlights of the North Coast 500 .

Heritage Sites, History, Geology, Culture, & Museums:  Pictish stones, local history and heritage museums, cairns, crofts abandoned during the Highland Clearances, important geological and archaeological sites, churches, castles, old battlefields, and more can be discovered along the North Coast 500. If you have an interest in one (or all!) of these areas, I’d do a little research on sites of interest and plan your itinerary accordingly.

You’ll find interesting cultural and historical sites throughout the route, although you’ll find a higher concentration along the eastern coast between Inverness and Thurso as it is (and probably always has been) a more populated area than the north and west coasts.

There are a lot of great sites, depending on your interests, in and around Inverness such as Inverness Museum & Art Gallery ,  Fort George , Clava Cairns , Cawdor Castle , Culloden Battlefield , and Urquhart Castle . Heading north from Inverness, there are places like Beauly Priory , Hugh Miller’s birthplace , Groam House Museum , Tarbat Discovery Centre , Dunrobin Castle , Timespan Heritage & Art Centre , North Coast Visitor Centre (formerly Caithness Horizons Museum & Art Gallery), and tons of small relatively unknown sites like the Bronze Age stones at Hill o’ Many Stanes .

If your interests lie in historical sites (churches, museums, prehistoric sites, old homes), I’d highly recommend checking out the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland websites, as both manage many of Scotland’s historical sites.

To save money, I’d also take a look at the  Historic Scotland Explorer Pass  (includes entry into over 70 sites such as Urquhart Castle, Fort George & Edinburgh Castle) and/or the Scottish Heritage Pass (valid April to October, includes over 120 sites including Urquhart Castle, Culloden Battlefield, Brodie Castle, Hugh Miller’s Birthplace, and Edinburgh Castle). These passes may save you money if you are planning to visit a lot of historical properties during your trip.

For those interested in geology, I’d recommend heading to the North West Highlands GeoPark which covers a large section of the northwestern part of the route and includes sites such as Smoo Cave, Knockan Crag, and The Bone Caves near Inchnadamph. This is an internationally significant geological site that has been recognized by UNESCO, so is a must-see for any rock hound (and recommended for anyone driving the NC500!).

Fort George North Coast 500 road trip guide

Coastline & Beaches:  The route has coastline (and several beaches) along its western, northern, and eastern sections. Our favorite coastline in terms of views is probably the rugged western and northern sections. Our favorite beaches are around the northwest between Melvich and Sandwood Bay in the northwest, and then around Achmelvich Bay.

Melvich Beach, Durness Beach, Balnakeil Beach, Sandwood Beach, and Achmelvich Beach are a few of our favorites in the northwest. Closer to Inverness, you can also find some nice little local beach spots around Nairn, the Black Isle, Potmahomack, Dornoch, and Embo. There are lots of seldom visited sandy spots along the route, and you can discover your own spots by just asking a local villager.

Just note that the water is always cold, even in the summer so bring a drysuit or wetsuit if you want to spend some time in the water! Many Scottish beaches have limited or no facilities so be sure to bring anything you may need.

Golfing.  Scotland is the home of golf and attracts golfers from around the world who want to play some of Scotland’s best known courses. For golfers, I’d recommend driving the route between Inverness and Dornoch, and also detouring a bit from the NC500 to the Nairn area.

There are over 10 golf courses in this area but a few golf courses to consider are the Inverness Golf Club in Inverness, The Nairn Golf Club  in Nairn, Nairn Dunbar Golf Club in Nairn, Castle Stuart Golf Links near Nairn, Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Club  in Fortrose,  Invergordon Golf Club in Invergordon, and the  Royal Links Championship Course & Struie Course in Dornoch.

Least Crowded Areas. I’d probably head to the northwest section for the most wild and least crowded area. I’d also consider going to spots just off the route, such as Nairn and the Black Isle, spots along the minor roads of the interior like Lairg, a visit to the Summer Isles, and harder to reach spots that require some hiking such as Sandwood Bay or one of the munros.

The most crowded sections are probably around Inverness, the Inverness to Thurso section, around Ullapool, and the Bealach Na Ba road near Applecross. Of course, if you drive the route between November and March, you’ll find few visitors along the entire route except for during holidays and special events.

Sandwood Bay beach North Coast 500 road trip guide

Best Stops for Families with Children along the North Coast 500?

The North Coast 500 can be a fun trip for families. We’ve had several readers ask us if the North Coast 500 is appropriate for younger children and what stops we’d recommend for kids.

We haven’t traveled the route with kids, but we definitely think it doable and can make for a nice holiday for children of any age. I think you just need to do a bit more planning to make sure you allow more time for breaks and plan visits to places the kids will enjoy.

For those with younger kids, you might consider camping as a family (lots of campsites along the route for tent camping and motorhomes), planning picnics, or staying in self-catering accommodation. Not only can this save you money, but they are also great ways to accommodate picky eaters or early dinner times.

Crime rates in this region are low, so the main dangers to kids are cars and natural ones. Many of the scenic sites along the North Coast 500 don’t have any fences or safeguards and most beaches have no lifeguards, so always keep little ones in sight.

Here is our list of some children-friendly places that you might want to include in your list:

  • Beaches & Pools – There are dozens of beaches along the North Coast 500 and they are great places to stop and let the kids explore and let out some energy. The water is often too cold for much swimming, so I’d consider bringing wetsuits or drysuits if the kids want to spend a lot of time in the water. Remember there are no lifeguards at most beaches. There are also a number of public swimming pools along the route as well if the kids prefer indoor swimming.
  • Playgrounds – Many of the towns along the NC500 have community playgrounds and if you are camping, some of the campsites also have playground areas. There are also woodland playgrounds such as the ones in Evanton Woods (about a 10 minute walk from the free town parking area in Evanton) and Ben Wyvis Natural Playground near Garve.
  • Guided Activities – There are many opportunities to book some fun activities and tours along the route. Examples include wildlife boat trips with EcoVentures , Caithness Sea Coast , or Hebridean Whale Cruises , ziplining with Golden Eagle Zip Line , geology walks (kids 10+ only) with Deep Time , fishing with Assynt Fly Fishing , loch canoeing or kayaking with Kayak Summer Isles , pony trekking with the Gairloch Pony Trekking Centre , and deer spotting and ATV trip at Reraig Forest . Note many of the above activities have age limits and most require advanced booking.
  • Camping – Camping can be a fun family activity and allows you to prepare some of your own meals along the route. There are a number of campsites along the NC500 and most are very family-friendly.
  • Short hikes – There are hiking trails all over the North Coast 500 and you’ll likely find many suitable for your kids. If you have babies or infants that need to be pushed in strollers, look for all-ability paths which are suitable for wheelchairs as they also work for prams.
  • Robertson’s Farm Shop – In addition to being a farm shop, in the summer kids can go visit the farm animals and pet some of them (small fee). There are Highland coos, goats, sheep, etc. You can also pick up goodies from the farm shop to have a picnic later in the day.
  • Dunrobin Castle – This might be a bit expensive for taking really young kids if they are not that interested in the interior, but there is also a beautiful garden here and the falconry display (usually once or twice a day in summer, check times in advance) is also often appealing to kids.
  • There are many archaeological sites that are not far from a parking area and are easy to visit. For example, Càrn Liath (an Iron Age broch) is a short walk from the parking area. It is just a short drive past Dunrobin Castle. Free to visit.
  • Loch Fleet – This national reserve is a nice spot and there are plenty of walking trails, many flat and easy. Good chance for spotting birds. The Skelbo Forest Walk is an easy and mostly shaded option and there are some woodcarved animals along the walk.
  • Castle of Mey – Former home of the Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth) and it has a farm animal petting/viewing area that might appeal to kids even if the castle doesn’t.
  • Smoo Cave – An impressive cave. It is free to see the exterior. You can also join a seasonal tour to visit more of the inside of the cave that includes a geological tour on foot and a raft ride to reach the inner chambers. Tour requires appropriate footwear.
  • Cocoa Mountain – Located in Dornoch, this is a popular stop for hot cocoa for both kids and adults.
  • Rock Stop (has a small interactive indoor exhibition plus cafe) at Unapool and Knockan Crag stop (outdoors) are both good places to teach the kids a bit about the North West Highlands Geo Park and the amazing local geology.
  • Achmelvich Beach – This is a really pretty beach and fairly protected by the bay so a good beach for families.
  • Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve –  At this nature reserve, kids have the chance to walk across a “scary” suspension bridge and there is also hiking trails. Just be careful to keep hold of young children.
  • Interewe Gardens – Large gardens run by the National Trust for Scotland that include tropical plants, California redwoods, native plants, and wildlife spotting opportunities. Lots of walking paths and a cafe. There is a special family entrance price.

The above are just some suggestions, and there are many more places your kids are sure to love. With a bit of imagination, we think just about any stop, whether it be a historical site, museum, beach, or archaeological site, can be fun for kids.

You can see more about these places and a list of all the main sites around the North Coast 500 when reading our day-by-day NC500 itinerary .

Is the North Coast 500 Dog Friendly?

Many travelers, especially those who live in the UK, want to do the North Coast 500 with a dog. It is definitely a place that you can bring your dog, but a dog will limit some of the places you can visit or stay. Here are some tips for traveling the North Coast 500 with pets and how to find dog-friendly lodging.

If you are traveling from outside the UK you will need to make sure you check the laws and guidelines (papers, vaccinations, quarantine) for bringing a dog into the UK as it differs depending on the country of origin. You can find out more about that here .

When dogs are in a vehicle in the UK they need to be properly restrained for safety. Specifically, Highway Code, Rules 57 states: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage, or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

The main thing to know when bringing dogs to this area is that they will need to be kept on a lead (leash) in most places because of livestock and wildlife. April and May is lambing season in Scotland so lots of baby lambs will be around all spring and summer and you’ll want to keep dogs away from the sheep. Dogs can scare and cause harm to the baby lambs and other livestock.

Spring and summer is also bird nesting season and dogs can disturb ground nesting birds so good to be aware of if doing walks/hikes. Some of the bird and wildlife reserve areas do not allow dogs for obvious reasons.

Many of the indoor and paid attractions (museums, castles, guided tours, gardens) along the route do not allow pets. If you are traveling with a partner or group, you may want to take turns spending time with your dog and one going inside.

Although most restaurants don’t allow dogs inside, several have outdoor areas that allow dogs and some bars allow well-behaved dogs. There are also takeaway places in many of the towns. If you are staying at a dog-friendly hotel or campsite, someone there can probably give you recs for the best places to eat or get a drink with your dog.

Most parks, hiking areas, beaches, and wild places allow dogs, but not all of course so do check signs before setting out. Most ask that dogs be kept on a lead at all time.

Of course, it is required that dog waste be picked up by dog owners and then properly disposed of. At some places, there are places to dispose of it, but not in all places so be prepared to pack it out and dispose of it properly later.

For dog-friendly accommodation along the North Coast 500, you can see our North Coast 500 hotels guide  and  NC500 B&Bs guide as both note if each recommended hotel or B&B is dog-friendly or not at last check. Always be sure to double check pet policies before booking.

Most campsites along the North Coast 500 allow pets so camping is a pretty popular for pet owners who want to drive the NC500. You can see individual campsites mentioned throughout our suggested 1 week NC500 itinerary and you can also see our NC500 campsite guide for more information on camping along the route.

Many holiday home rentals and glamping sites also accept pets and are especially great for those wanting to base in one place for longer than a night or two.

If you are looking for dog-friendly accommodation in a certain town or area and can’t find anything, feel free to ask and we’ll let you know if know of any. From our readers who have traveled with dogs, we have a good list of dog-friendly places along much of the route.

How to Avoid the Crowds along the North Coast 500?

The busiest months are going to be the summer from June to August with some crowds in May and September. Festivals, special events (e.g., music concerts, bike races, car rallies), and holidays (e.g., Christmas, Hogmanay) also bring more people to the area. So avoiding these times of year can help but since they are also when there are the most daylight hours, most open attractions and lodging, and perhaps best chance of warm weather, chances are this is also when you plan to drive the route.

Even if you are planning to visit at the busiest time of year (say July or August), you can still avoid some of the crowds and find some peaceful spots along the route if you make an effort to do so. First, go out when fewer people are going to be around. Get up early or stay out late as most people don’t get onto the road until after 8:30am and stop for lodging around dinner time. Early risers will be rewarded by local wildlife sightings, especially the local deer and birds.

But even right along the route, few people get out of their cars to hike around lochs, hills, beaches, or fields so if you get out into nature you’ll probably find yourself relatively alone. Relatively few people even stop to visit the local museums and we’ve often had them to ourselves. You might also consider heading out on a boat to see the coastline from another angle.

To get even further away, head to towns and areas located just off the official route, such as Nairn, Borgie, Altnaharra, Portmahomack, Cape Wrath, Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve, or Bonar Bridge. Follow themed trails like the Strathnaver Trail, Pictish Trail, or Pebble Routes to learn about some specific subjects and get off the beaten path.

Head into spots that require some hiking such as Sandwood Bay or climb up one of the munros. The mountains are a great way to get away from the crowds.

If you plan to hike, just be prepared by bringing along good hiking shoes, rain gear, midge repellent (May to September), and hiking supplies so you are prepared to go off and find the peaceful spots along the route.

Knockan Crag North Coast 500 road trip guide

How Much Should I Plan Ahead?

This really depends on your style of travel, some people plan little in advance and others plan in great detail what they are going to see each day. I’d recommend that you at least make a loose itinerary of places you definitely want to stop before you leave so you have an idea of how much time you want to spend in each area so you can plan your accommodation.

Have at least a tentative itinerary can also help you identify and fit in places you really want to see that have limited opening times (e.g., a museum or attraction only open 3 days a week or a restaurant only open on weekends for dinner).

In terms of making reservations, very few attractions take reservations or pre-sell tickets, but I’d strongly recommend booking your lodging in advance and also any special dinners. You’ll also want to book most activities such as guided hikes, kayaking, boat rides, fishing trips, wildlife tours, surfing lessons, etc. in advance as many require prior reservations.

For the North Coast 500, we would recommend that you start researching lodging options as soon as you know your dates. I would book at least 3 months in advance if possible. Staff at several of the busiest properties recommended to us that travelers should try to book 6 months in advance to guarantee a room as they had some dates fully booked 6 to 9 months in advance.

Now, six months is a pretty long time in advance so don’t worry if you just decided to drive the NC500 and it is 2 months away, you’ll still find plenty of places with availability, but start booking now. Just note that the most in-demand properties and the best value ones often get booked up well in advance. See our prior article for more information on where to stay along the NC500 which covers some of our favorite hotels and B&Bs along the route.

If you are someone who hates planning ahead and wants to be able to stop and spend as much time in a place as you wish, I’d consider doing a camping or campervan trip along the NC500 . That way you won’t need to search for last-minute lodging each night which can be difficult on sections of the route. This way all you need to worry about in advance is your transportation and camping gear and you will have the flexibility of either traditional lodging or camping each night.

Highland coo North Coast 500 road trip guide

Dining along the NC500?

In terms of food, I’d expect fresh, rustic, and homestyle meals that rely on the local produce at most eateries along the NC500. However, whereas there are fewer options than you’d have in a large city like Edinburgh or Glasgow, there is still a wide variety of food stops that range from budget-friendly cafes serving simple salads and sandwiches to Michelin-starred restaurants serving four-course menus.

Lunch and coffee stops are generally easy to find along the route, but dinner options can be more limited (often at hotel restaurants) and some may require 24 to 48 hour pre-booking. Note that some cafes and restaurants, especially in the smaller towns and villages, are seasonal so be sure to check opening dates and hours in advance, especially if traveling outside of the main season (May to September).

Most towns have a small grocery store (not usually open late in the evenings so stop during the day) where you can pick up picnic supplies, snacks, and food to cook your own meals. There are also a couple of specialty food spots along the route such as Robertsons The Larder farm shop.

It is wise to think ahead each day about where you’ll be for meals as some hotels or campsites may be a 30 minute to 1 hour drive from a restaurant. It is also a good idea to also have some snacks and maybe a couple cups of pot noodles in your car just in case you arrive later than expected and there is no place to eat for dinner.

Some places we’d recommend checking out for sit down lunches or dinners include the Chez Roux restaurant at the Rocpool Reserve Hotel in Inverness, Mustard Seed in Inverness, Boath House hotel restaurant near Nairn (Michelin-starred),  Dornoch Castle Hotel restaurant in Dornoch,  Y-Not Bar and Grill in Thurso,  Kylesku Hotel restaurant (known for its fresh local seafood), The Ceilidh Place in Ullapool, The Arch Inn in Ullapool, and  The Torridon hotel restaurant in Annat.

If you follow our 7 day North Coast 500 itinerary , we provide a list of restaurants for dinner for each day along the route.

No matter where you dine, I’d highly recommend trying dishes using the local produce and products such as local seafood (e.g., salmon, crabs, scallops), lamb, game, Stornoway black pudding (from the Isle of Lewis), and fresh in-season vegetables. You can also find local whiskies, beers, and other beverages made in the Scottish Highlands offered on most menus.

If this is your first time in Scotland, you’ll probably want to try some traditional Scottish dishes like haggis, black pudding, Scottish salmon, cullen skink (smoked haddock, potato, & onion soup), stovies (potato dish), and a full Scottish breakfast.

Isle of Ewe Smokehouse North Coast 500 guide

Where to Stay on the North Coast 500?

Along the North Coast 500, you have a range of lodging options from hostels and campsites to inns and seaside cottages to historic castles and country homes. Lodging options cover just about every budget and lodging type, but don’t expect to find hotel chains or massive resort-style properties.

Staying in cozy bed-and-breakfasts, historical properties, and luxury castles was part of the experience we wanted on our North Coast 500 journey, and our lodging choices definitely added to the experience.

In terms of budgeting for lodging, it will depend a lot on your accommodation type and time of year. I would say average hotel costs on the NC500 for a basic double room at a hotel with private bathroom are around £75-£110  per night.

But you can spend less if you stay in simple B&Bs (£40-£80 per night for 2 people), hostels (£17-£25/person), or campsites (£5-£30). The least expensive B&B rooms usually have shared bathrooms. If you are looking for more luxury oriented properties, expect prices in the £160 to £350 range.

As noted earlier (worth repeating!), we’d recommended trying to book your lodging 3 months in advance (especially if you are thinking hotels, B&B’s or self-catering options) as the amount of lodging in some areas is currently not sufficient for the demand at the busiest times of the year.

Kincraig Castle Hotel North Coast 500 hotels where to stay along NC500 Scotland

Hotels & B&B’s

Hotels and B&B’s represent the most popular lodging option along the North Coast 500. Hotels range from simple budget options to luxury castles. We’ve written an article on lodging tips (what to expect, when to book) and created a list of over 25 North Coast 500 hotels  we recommend checking out.

Also check out this guide to bed-and-breakfasts along the North Coast 500 .

Self-Catering Options

Self-catering options are generally less expensive than hotels, allow for more privacy, and most allow you the opportunity to cook your own food. There are a lot of options in this category, from log cabins to beach villas to entire apartments and houses.

One option is of course  vacation rental sites like Vrbo , where you can book rooms, apartments, and houses. These types of property along the North Coast 500 are not as plentiful as they are in other parts of the UK since most of this stretch is through small towns and countryside but you will find them scattered along the route.

We suggest trying out Snaptrip which searches many of the major holiday cottage booking sites in the UK for the best deals, and often has good last minute availability and deals.

You can also check out our list of  Airbnb alternatives for other websites to check, as well as our guide to h oliday cottage booking websites in the UK . Another local booking website that specializes in holiday properties in Scotland is Cottages & Castles , and it offers hundreds of self-catering holiday homes and cottages in Scotland, including a number along the NC500.

Some self-catering properties in the area may not be on any of the aggregate booking websites, and the best way to track some of them down is to search for things like “cottage near Thurso” or “house rental near Inverness” online or check the local tourism office listings.

There are at least a dozen hostels located along the North Coast 500, and you can easily do an entire NC500 road trip only staying in hostels. Ideal for budget backpacker types of any age who don’t want to spend a lot of money on accommodation and like to meet other travelers.

To get started, I would check out the Scottish Youth Hostels Association , which operate over 60 hostels in Scotland. Their website also lists some affiliate hostels along the NC500.

Camping and RVing

If you are planning to camp, you have a lot of options and should be able to find facilities throughout the route from April to September. Since many campsites are seasonal, I’d be careful to check ahead if you are planning to go outside those months.

You can stay at campsites with a tent or campervan, do wild camping if you don’t need any facilities, or rent out camping huts, static caravans, or cabins if you want to travel with limited camping gear.

We haven’t stayed at most of these campsites so we can’t personally recommend them but this list should help you get started in your research if you are planning to stay at campsites along the North Coast 500.

Most of the campsites have facilities for tents, campervans, and RVs, and many also have structures such as camping huts, set up tents, static caravans, wigwams, or cabins you can rent if you want to “camp” but want to bring limited camping gear. Many also rent bedding and camping gear for the night.

Note that many of the campsites along the North Coast 500 are seasonal and close during the winter months. If you are traveling off-season you’ll want to really check ahead.

Some campsites (in order as they are located counterclockwise along the route) include  Bught Park Camping and Caravan Site in Inverness,  Bunchrew Caravan Park near Inverness,  Camping and Caravan Club Sites (multiple locations including Rosemarkie, Nairn, and Dingwall),  Fortrose Bay Campsite in Fortrose,  Black Rock Caravan Park near Dingwall,  Inver Caravan Park near Dunbeath, Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites (multiple locations including Inverness, Dunnet Bay, and Kinlochewe),  Sango Sands Oasis in Durness,  Clachtoll Beach Campsite in Lochinver,  Shore Caravan Site in Achmelvich Bay,  Sands Caravan and Camping Park in Gairloch, and  Applecross Campsite in Appelecross.

If you are planning to camp, you’ll want to check out this 1 Week North Coast 500 camping itinerary , which provides a 7 day itinerary geared towards campers, camping campsite recs, and camping related stops and resources along the route. We also have a comprehensive guide to campsites on the NC500 .

if you want to rent a campervan for the drive, we recommend using Motorhome Republic, They compare prices across the major rental firms in the UK to find the best price for you. You can book your RV for the UK through them here .

If you’d like a more robust camper vehicle, check out the four wheel drive camper trucks from Wild Camper Trucks. See their Scotland options here .

caravan North Coast 500 road trip guide Scotland

Guide to Driving the North Coast 500

In this section, we’ll assume you have decided to drive the North Coast 500, and we’ll discuss how to find the route, how to stay on the route, safe driving tips and laws you should know, and where you can rent a car, motorcycle, or RV for your North Coast 500 road trip.

We’ll also provide information about North Coast 500 tours you can book if you want to experience the NC500 without driving.

Where Specifically Does the Route Start and End?

The NC500 route officially begins and ends in the city of Inverness at Inverness Castle, forming a loop. However, you can begin and end the route anywhere you choose although Inverness, as the largest city along the route, is a convenient place to start and stop.

Inverness Castle North Coast 500 road trip guide

How Do I Find and Stay on the North Coast 500 route?

Since the NC500 is not a single road or highway like Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway , you won’t find it on a regular map and your GPS probably won’t know the route. So just to be clear, there is no actual road named North Coast 500 but it is a designated tourist route.

However, in recent years, they have added North Coast 500 brown tourist signs along the route to help people stay on the route. So it is much easier to follow the route now.

North Coast 500 route map NC500 Route Map North 500 Scotland driving route

The official North Coast 500 map is no longer being printed (we believe printing ended in 2020) and the organization said it will not be printing any further printed maps (although a digital one is available on their app). This is a shame as it was a great map and very popular and was given out for free at the Visit Scotland Tourism Information Centres along the NC500.

However, if you want a physical North Coast 500 map, there are two main other options. There is the Collins NC500 Pocket Map and the 500 Route around the Northern Highlands road map by Yellow Publications. Both are sold at the Visit Scotland Tourism Information Centre in Inverness, as well as in other places along the route. If you want a physical copy of a North Coast 500 map before you leave for your trip, you can sometimes also find them on eBay .

Since there are few main roads in the area, once you leave Inverness, you shouldn’t have any problems using the map to stay on the route. It is hard to accidentally stray too far from the route. If you are using your phone or GPS to help you navigate, I’d try to download any needed maps beforehand as you’ll likely lose satellite and Internet connections during parts of the road trip.

Note that many businesses don’t have street numbers in the Scottish Highlands but since the towns are so small, just keep an eye out once you are near and you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding them. Once you are in a town, any local person should be able to point you in the right direction if you do get lost.

Of course, getting a little lost is just part of the journey!

Which Direction Should I Drive the North Coast 500?

Since the NC500 route forms a loop, you have the option of driving it either clockwise or counterclockwise. Some of the official NC500 materials discuss the route as going counterclockwise and others clockwise, so there appears to be no “official” direction. The direction makes little difference and we’ve driven it from both directions with no difference in our trip experience.

There are small advantages to driving the NC500 in each direction though. One advantage of driving it clockwise (heading towards Garve and doing the west coast first) is that since the Scottish drive on the left side of the road, you’ll be driving directly alongside the coast during the coastal portions of the route. However, this is only a small advantage as you often need to park and walk a little to see the coastline along the route.

There are two main advantages of driving it counterclockwise (heading towards Invergordon and seeing the east coast first). The first is that if you are not used to single track roads, driving the route counterclockwise helps ease you into them better than driving it clockwise. So we recommend this direction for those tackling single track roads for the first time.

The other advantage of driving the route in the counterclockwise direction is that the most dramatic portions (to us anyway) are along the north and west coasts so you save those towards the end of the trip. So the ruggedness continues to increase along the drive which is nice.

However there is no right way to drive the route so head in the direction that makes the most sense for you! Lodging reservations is often an important factor in people’s route.

Planning a North Coast 500 itinerary?

If you are trying to plan your route and what attractions you might want to stop at along the route, we recommend that you take a look at our detailed 7 day North Coast 500 itinerary .

Our NC500 itinerary covers route advice for each day, a list of the main attractions along each section of the route, dining recommendations, and lodging recommendations for each day. For those with less time, you can also check out our less detailed 5 day NC500 itinerary .

If you are thinking about doing the route and tent camping or traveling by campervan or motorhome, we recommend checking out our North Coast 500 camping itinerary .

Can I drive the North Coast 500 with an electric or hybrid car?

Yes, as of 2016, there are now enough electrical charging points around the route for those with fully electric cars to drive the route safely. There are electrical charging points throughout the route, including rapid charge points.

You can find charging points using this interactive map  (list only free and public ones) and this website/app  (lists any kind of charging point, free, fee, and customer use only ones).

Can I do the NC500 without driving?

The most popular way to experience the North Coast 500 is by car, but it is also a popular route for motorcyclists and cyclists. If you have a lot of time, you can also traverse it by foot. Just note that some sections can be dangerous for bikers, horse riders, and pedestrians (e.g., blind turns, no bike lanes, one-track roads) so be sure to take proper safety measures and I would not recommend this route for inexperienced cyclists.

If you prefer not to be at the wheel or handles at all, you also have the option of booking a guided tour or hiring a private driver guide. See section on tours below.

You might also be wondering if you can do the North Coast 500 by train. The simple answer is no, there is no train route that approximates the route and an entire portion of the northwest of Scotland has no train connections.

However, if you really want to travel via train you can do a portion of the route by train and stop at several of the towns in the area. You can take the Inverness to Thurso train route (it also branches to Wick as well) train route and then head back to Inverness and take the train line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. Check the ScotRail website for the route details and to buy tickets.

Are NC500 Guided Group Tours or Private Tours Available?

Yes, if you prefer not to drive yourself you do have some options to book a guided North Coast 500 group or private tour. For those who don’t want to drive the route, this is your best option as public transit is spotty around the route.

Currently, the best guided tour along the NC500 is this 3-day tour from Inverness from Rabbie’s Travel. It is a fast-paced tour but allows you to see all the best scenery and highlights along the route while the driver guide keeps you safe on the single-track roads!

Rabbie’s also offers this 5-day Northern Scotland and Orkney Island tour from Edinburgh that both include 2 full days on exploring Orkney and a drive around most of the North Coast 500 so you see many of the highlights and scenery.

We haven’t done these tours but have done several tours with Rabbie’s and can definitely recommend the company. They also offer a 5-day Highlands and Isle of Skye tour from Edinburgh (this one we have done).

If you only have a day or two, you might consider doing a day tour from Inverness that explore some of the NC500 highlights, such as this day tour up north to John O’Groats , or this one which visits Torridon and Applecross.

For those wanting a private tour, you can arrange a private NC500 tour from  Rabbie’s or other local tour companies. Most Scotland-based tour companies should be able to arrange a guided NC500 private tour to suit your needs although you will pay a lot more than you would if you did a group tour or a self-drive trip. Inverness is probably the most convenient place to start a NC500 tour, but tours can also be arranged to depart and return from Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness.

Currently few companies are offering NC500 tours, especially group tours, but the options will likely increase as the popularity of the route increases. We’ll try to keep this list updated but if you know of any other group tours, please let us know!

Rabbies Isle of Skye and Scottish Highlands itinerary trip Scotland

Where Can I Rent a Car, Campervan, Motorcycle, etc.?

If you are not bringing along your own vehicle, you can easily rent one in Scotland. You can also rent motorcycles, bikes, cycling gear, campervans, and camping gear once you arrive. Depending on where you arrive and plan to leave in Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, and Aberdeen are the four largest cities and best places for rentals.

Along the NC500, Inverness has the largest selection and I’d highly recommend picking up your rental and any gear before you leave the city as there is much less opportunity to do so elsewhere on the route.

North Coast 500

Rental Cars for NC500

It is easy to rent a car from Inverness Airport or downtown Inverness. Main rental car companies include   Avis ,  Budget , Thrifty, Arnold Clark, Europcar , Hertz, Enterprise Rent-A-Car , and Focus Vehicle Rental. I’d recommend getting the smallest size vehicle you need and to be sure your rental is fully insured. A GPS unit can also be helpful for navigation. Enterprise are usually our favourite for car hire.

Each rental car agency has its own rental policies. But generally, to rent a car in Scotland (or elsewhere in the UK), you must be at least 21 to 30 years old (many have 23 as an age limit) depending on the vehicle category and car rental agency, have held a valid driving license for at least a year (some require up to 3 years), and the driver’s license must be in English or using the Latin alphabet. Surcharges may apply to drivers under age 25.

If the license is not in English or Latin alphabet, then you will need to get a validated English translation or have an International Driving Permit . If you need an International Driving Permit, you will need to apply for this in your home country prior to your trip.

NOTE . If you plan to rent a car in another country, please check your rental agreement as bringing a car to Scotland may be against your car’s rental terms (particularly any ferry crossings). For instance, even cars rented in Ireland can sometimes not be brought by ferry over to Scotland.

Renting a Motorcycle for the NC500

There are a couple of places you can rent motorcycles along the North Coast 500.  You can check out the North Coast 500 Moto Experience in Inverness and the Highland Motorcycle Hire in Muir of Ord (20 km west of Inverness).

If you are arriving elsewhere in Scotland or the UK, you’ll have additional options such as  Rent a Motorcycle in Edinburgh.

Renting a Campervan and Camping Gear

There are several places to rent campervans around Inverness, including GoBoony , Highland Campervans , Loch Ness Motorhomes , Outdoorsy , and Rover Rentals .

If you are arriving elsewhere in Scotland or the UK, you’ll also find plenty of options around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, London, etc.

We suggest taking a look at Motorhome Republic as a good starting point for comparing prices on campervan rental in the UK. They have listings for many of the major campervan rental firms in the UK. You can see their UK listings here .

If you are starting in Edinburgh or London, Spaceship Rentals  is another place to check for campervans and motorhomes.

We would recommend renting the smallest size campervan or RV that you need as the narrow roads of the Highlands are not designed for large vehicles and RVs are prohibited on some roads.

For camping, hiking, biking, and outdoor gear, we can recommend the following outdoors gear stores which are all located in Inverness: Go Outdoors, Blacks, Tiso, and Trespass.

Renting Bikes and Biking Gear for NC500

There are several places to rent bikes along the NC500. To get starated, you can check out Ticket to Ride and  Inverness Bike Hire in Inverness and West Coast Biking in Kinlochewe. Most bike companies also rent bike gear and accessories and some also can arrange for guided day or multi-day tours.

Driving Safety Tips for the North Coast 500?

If you have never driven in Scotland before, you’ll want to review some of the driving laws and road safety tips before your North Coast 500 road trip. This is particularly true if you are planning to drive a rental car, caravan, or motorhome.

Some things that may be new for you are driving on the left side of the road, driving on single-track roads, and driving in areas where livestock is unfenced. Increased tourism in the Highlands has led to more traffic accidents and complaints. We have a post full of tips for driving in the UK that you should check out.

The infrastructure of the Highlands in some areas is not fully ready to handle mass tourism, but most traffic incidents can be avoided by following the driving laws, knowing how to safely drive your vehicle, and being prepared.

To get started I’d advise first reading these general Scotland driving tips and laws and then these tips for  road safety along the NC500 . I’ll highlight some of the bigger issues below:

Single Track Roads

A large amount of the North Coast 500 involves narrow single track roads, so you’ll need to use designated passing places. Here’s a brief introduction to passing on single-track roads if you have never driven on one before.

If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind you wants to pass, pull into a passing place on your left, or wait opposite a passing place on your right until the car goes past you. Give way to vehicles coming uphill whenever you can. You may need to reverse to get into the nearest passing space which is why it is important to know how to safely reverse your vehicle which can be a problem for those in caravans or with rental vehicles.

Here is a guide to driving on singe-track roads in Scotland  with a relevant infographic explaining how to use passing places.

North Coast 500 route guide Scotland

Stopping & Parking

We noticed a lot of people who were stopping on the road, to the side of the road, or in passing places during our trip. This is unsafe and also illegal in some cases.

Do not use passing places for parking, these are needed for traffic to properly pass on single-track lanes. Stopping in the middle of the road to take in a view or photo is holding up traffic and may result in an accident.

If you want to stop, find a safe place to pull off in a designated parking space or lot. Pulling over onto the side of the road or into a field can be unsafe, lead to damage to the fragile environment, cause erosion, and mar someone’s private property.

Bealach Na Ba & RVs

The Bealach Na Ba is a narrow windy stretch of road near Applecross, and the most difficult and steepest stretch of the official NC500 route. This route often gets blocked by inexperienced drivers and also shut down by bad weather conditions, and you should not drive this route unless you know how to drive single-track roads, use passing places, and reverse your vehicle safely. Here is what the official NC500 website has to say about the Bealach Na Ba as well as the B869:

“The ‘Bealach Na Ba’ stretch however is not suitable for large motorhomes, caravans and inexperienced drivers due to its sharp bends and steep gradients so we would advise taking the slip road up at the A896 instead which will be much safer for you and your passengers. We would also recommend avoiding the B869 from Lochinver to Kylesku as this can be a tricky route to follow for large vehicles. If you take the A837 back from Lochinver on the main road you will be fine. As always, please take due caution on the roads and use passing places where possible.”

Bealach na Ba North Coast 500 road trip guide

Slow Drivers

You want to drive at a speed that feels safe and you are likely going to be driving slower if you are new to single-track roads or are driving a motorhome or caravan. However, you are likely going to be causing frustration to those behind you wanting to drive at a normal speed, especially those not on vacation. So be mindful and pull over into a passing place or parking area every so often to let faster traffic pass you. They will be very grateful!

Livestock & Deer

Large sections of the Scottish Highlands have unfenced livestock which include cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. It is not uncommon to see animals, especially sheep, on or right next to the road. Drive slowly around turns, follow the speed limits, and keep vigilant for livestock.

They will rarely run out onto the road in front of you, but it can be easy to miss a little lamb lying on the road until it is too late. Lambs are most vulnerable in the Spring and early summer.

Wild animals, particularly deer, may also be on the road and are much more likely to run out in front of you. Be extra mindful for deer in the early morning and evening hours when they are most active.

sheep North Coast 500 route guide

The North Coast 500 is not a route for those who want to drive fast. The speed limits are often low and single-track roads mean a lot of slowing down and stopping. If you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry, you’ll be frustrated and you’ll frustrate other drivers. Even if you are an experienced driver and know the route, you can be sure that you are sharing it with less experienced drivers and speeding could cause you to hit them or they hit you.

Be safe, follow the speed limits, and don’t drive this route if you are in a rush!

This one is easy, don’t litter! Bring along bags or containers you can keep in your car to store your trash and wait until you get to a proper place to dispose of it responsibly. One common issue is that tourists are throwing garbage into proper trash receptacles but the receptacles are already overflowing so the garbage ends up on the ground or in the water anyway.

Campers should follow the leave “no trace” policy and should pack out all garbage and waste with them.

Alcohol Limits

The drink drive laws in Scotland were changed in 2014 and are now very strict with low limits to discourage drinking and driving. The legal drinking limit is now lower than in any other part of the UK. You could still be charged even if you are riding a bike.

If you are planning on drinking, even one drink could put you over the legal limit, so plan to stay in after drinking, have a designated driver, or call a taxi.

Note that if you are visiting a distillery or brewery, most will be happy to give samples in “takeaway cups” so that the driver can still enjoy a dram back at the hotel!

Glen Ord Distillery whisky North Coast 500 guide

How to Be a Responsible Traveler of the NC500?

The popularity of the North Coast 500 has brought both benefits and negative consequences to this part of Scotland. Some of the negative side effects of increased tourism have been increased littering, overwhelmed local services during the summer, and more traffic accidents and complaints.

Common tourist complaints by locals in the area include improper driving on one-track roads, parking in passing places or in places that are not designated parking spaces, putting garbage into overflowing trash cans, not picking up after dogs, dogs chasing or harming livestock, leaving garbage and human waste at campsites (yuck!), speeding, hitting lambs and other livestock on the road, getting large vehicles stuck in narrow places such as the Bealach Na Ba road, trespassing on private property, and causing damage to the environment.

All of the above issues are easy to avoid by following road safety guidelines and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code . I strongly recommend checking out the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website which covers information, tips, and guidelines relevant to campers, cyclists, hill walkers, dog owners, horse riders, farmers, beach goers, park visitors, and more!

Be a good traveler and respect this beautiful area of Scotland, which has been relatively unspoiled by mass tourism. Remember that it is just not a tourist destination but also a place where people live and many have moved to this area to “get away”. Locals don’t want to be stuck behind people who stop in the middle of the road to take a photo, see dead lambs alongside the road hit by careless drivers, or have to pick up someone else’s litter from their garden.

Do your part to leave “no trace” on this area and encourage others to do the same.

Things to Pack for a NC500 Road Trip

What you need and want to pack is going to depend a lot on you (what do you normally pack for trips?) and the type of NC500 road trip you plan to have (e.g. family RV trip staying at campsites or romantic couples getaway staying at luxury hotels).

But we’ll cover recommended general road trip supplies, special items you may need for the Scottish Highlands, and gear you’ll want to have with you in the car. Then you can use this to create your own personalized North Coast 500 Packing List.

General Road Trip Supplies

Everyone will have a different set of general packing items they bring on any trip and things they enjoy having on a road trip. Be sure to check the weather before you go and pack for Scotland’s notoriously fickle and damp weather (e.g., rain gear, layers, warm coat). Here are some general road trip supplies to help you get started:

  • Clothing that can be layered
  • Camera (if you need a new camera, see our list of the best travel cameras for all budgets)
  • Camera accessories (e.g., batteries, film, charger, lenses)
  • Hat and/or sunglasses
  • Umbrella or poncho
  • Hand sanitizer, wet wipes, etc.
  • Sunscreen (remember sun damage can happen any time of the year!)
  • Travel journal
  • Reading materials (e.g, books, magazine, Kindle)
  • Cards or games
  • Extra storage bags to store garbage, wet clothes, etc.
  • Picnic supplies
  • Duct tape (because it is good for so many things!)
  • Hiking, climbing, or cycling gear (as needed)
  • Camping supplies (as needed)

picnic North Coast 500 road trip guide

Special NC500 Road Trip Supplies

For the most part, you’ll want to bring the same things you’d bring on any road trip, but there are a few things you may want to consider for a Scottish road trip. First, you may want to invest in a guidebook for the North Coast 500 or if your travels are taking you elsewhere in Scotland, a Scotland guidebook.

If you are going to visit Scotland from May to September it is midge season and if you plan to spend time outside, you’ll likely want to invest in some midge repellent and/or a head net to keep away these annoying tiny mosquito-like creatures (they swarm together in clouds and bite you!). Ticks can also be a problem in these same months, especially if you plan to hike.

The rain in Scotland can be frustrating but if you come prepared, it doesn’t have to restrict you. We’d recommend bringing a rainproof jacket, rain cover (e.g., umbrella or poncho), and waterproof hiking shoes. You may also want to bring waterproof bags to keep wet clothing, supplies, and camera gear.

If you plan to hike, you may want to invest in a good set of hiking maps, especially for those planning to do longer distance hillwalking, climbing, or hiking. Ordnance Survey maps are the ones we recommend (see below).

If you plan to go swimming or spend time in the water doing water sports, you’ll also want to bring along a wetsuit or drysuit, towel, and a pair of water shoes.

  • Guide book such as Charles Tait’s guidebook or Rough Guides book
  • Scotland general travel guidebook, such as Rick Steves Scotland or Fodor’s Scotland
  • Midge repellent ( Smidge  [most recommended] or Avon So Soft )
  • Midge head/face net, such as this Trespass head net for midges & mosquitos
  • Insect repellent for ticks (recommend a repellent with DEET for best protection)
  • Rainproof jacket with hood (we both wear Scotland-based Trespass waterproof jackets )
  • Waterproof hiking shoes (we wear  Scarpa brand waterproof hiking shoes )
  • Waterproof dry bags or zipper pouch bags to keep valuables dry and store wet things
  • Ordnance Survey maps for hikers. There are OS 1: 50,000 scale Landranger maps (good for those planning to stick to established hikes and paths) as well as the OS 1:25,000 scale Explorer Maps for those wanting to get off the paths. You’ll need to choose the maps specific to the area(s) you plan to do the most hiking. For example, this is the Landranger Map  for Assynt & Lochinver and this is the Explorer Map for that same area. Some of the maps are also available on Amazon .
  • Wetsuit or drysuit, towels, and water shoes (if you plan to spend time in the water)

Supplies for the Car

If you are bringing your own car or renting, most of the things you need should already be in it, but it is important to check before you go. If you have a rental car or RV, make sure you know how everything works (e.g., headlights, turning signals, heater) before you go and ask who you should contact in cases of a flat tire, accident, or mechanical failures. Some things to consider:

  • Car manual, insurance information, emergency/accident contact info
  • Spare tire and tools to change it
  • Road safety kit (e.g., safety vest, flares, extra headlight bulbs)
  • First Aid Kit (loads of options under $20 )
  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
  • North Coast 500 map (download the digital map and then considering buying a physical map at the Inverness Visitor Center)
  • Scotland road map or atlas
  • Road Trip music (in a format that works with your vehicle!)
  • Needed attachments or gear for RV or campervan (e.g., hoses, leveling blocks)
  • Bike rack (if planning to take or rent bikes)

beach North Coast 500 road trip guide

We hope you have found this North Coast 500 guide helpful! If have additional questions about the NC500, just write us a comment below and we’ll be happy to answer them. Is a North Coast 500  road trip on your bucketlist?

If you’ve driven any part of NC500, feel free to share any tips or advice you have from your own trip! As always, all questions and comments are welcome.

Planning a North Coast 500 road trip, PIN this article to Pinterest to read again later:

We've put together a comprehensive North Coast 500 guide to help you plan the perfect North Coast 500 road trip in Scotland. We'll explain the North Coast 500 route, what you can expect to see, the best time of year to plan a road trip, how many days you need to drive the NC500, suggestions on where to stay and eat along the route, what to pack, and tons of other tips and advice on driving the North Coast 500. #NorthCoast500 #NC500 #Scotland #roadtrip #Scotlandroadtrip #ScottishHighlands

**Disclosure: We partnered with North Coast 500 who helped us plan the logistics of our trip and also arranged many of our meals and accommodation in order for us to share our experiences as travel writers. We had input into every place we stayed, ate, and visited, and we covered our own transport costs and additional expenses. You can read more in our  Ethics Code  about how we accept work.**

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Vernon Post author

February 14, 2024 at 5:34 am

Hello Jessica & Laurence, Your NC500 is very very helpful to me. My family will probably only be in Scotland for 5 full days/nights and we want to see the highlights of the NC500. We are thinking of flying into and out off Edinburgh and wodnering what you think would be best course of action? We have seen Edinburgh before so can cover what we want to do there in short time. We are thinking of doing the recommended 3 day guided small group tour so we can avoid renting a car and focusing on sightseeing rather than logistics. Spring nice time to do this? Looking forward to your thoughts as we plan our North Coast 500 experience.

Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author

February 15, 2024 at 2:48 pm

So that sounds like a fun trip. And since you do have limited time, I would say a guided tour is a great way to try to see a lot without working about driving and logistics.

I am assuming you are specifically interested in this 3 day tour by Rabbies? So if so, you will need to make your way to Inverness if you are planning to fly into Edinburgh. The tour leaves early in the morning so I would recommend coming up the day before and spending the night in central Inverness (a B&B or hotel within walking distance is a good idea). Also this tour departs about twice a week (mostly on Mondays and Thursdays in 2024), so you will need to ensure your flights and travel arrangements are in line with the departure and return dates for this tour. I’d recommend letting Rabbies book your lodging for you as part of the tour for ease (although you can book it yourself, just ensure it is within Rabbies pickup distance for each location). I would just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make sure you are not rushed to make the tour departure or your flights, but 5 full days/nights should allow for this with good planning.

If flying into/out of Edinburgh you might plan something like this:

Day 1 – Arrive into Edinburgh, take train (or bus or flight) up to Inverness, overnight Inverness near departure point Day 2 – Tour (overnight on NC500) Day 3 – Tour (Overnight on NC500) Day 4 – Tour, overnight in Inverness near departure point (same place as on Day 1) Day 5 – Return to Edinburgh, overnight in Edinburgh Day 6 – Fly home

Now, if you haven’t already booked your flights and have already visited Edinburgh, I would recommend flying in and out of Inverness instead of Edinburgh. Inverness is the starting and ending point for the North Coast 500 and will save you from having to get between Edinburgh and Inverness. This will save you a lot of transit time (6-8 hours) and allow you more time to explore Inverness before or after your tour. It would also potentially give you time, depending on your flight times, to do an additional day tour (such as this one to Loch Ness which a nice tour.

Day 1 – Arrive into Inverness, explore Inverness, overnight Inverness Day 2 – Tour (overnight on NC500) Day 3 – Tour (Overnight on NC500) Day 4 – Tour, overnight in Inverness Day 5 – Explore Inverness, consider a day tour such as to Loch Ness, overnight Inverness Day 6 – Fly home

And yes, I think Spring is a very nice time to go along the North Coast 500. You never really know about the weather but it can be really nice (it can also be rainy and chilly) but fewer crowds than summer and no midges.

Anyway, hope that helps and just let us know if you have further questions as you plan your trip to Scotland!

Best, Jessica

Emma Post author

January 23, 2024 at 4:49 am

Are you able to help, Im feeling a bit over whelmed with how long we should go for and where we should stop. This will be my first time to Scotland and I really don’t want to miss anything.

We have 7 days in Scotland, we would like to start in Inverness and we will be heading south on the west coast after the trip. Can you recommend any towns, places that should be on the must stop list, Im so worried I will plan something and it wont incorporate what we really want or I don’t allow ourselves enough time to explore the beaches, walks to find the views. The beautiful beaches, waterfalls, lochs really are a must.

Any guidance really would be appreciated.

January 23, 2024 at 12:52 pm

Happy to try to help. First, can you tell me a bit more about your travel plans as that will help me give more specific advice? What time of year are you thinking to visit? Who all are you traveling with? Do you have 7 days total in Scotland (or just 7 days total to explore the North Coast 500 route?) and if so where else are you planning to go? Have you been to Scotland before? Do you prefer to drive yourself or join a tour of some kind?

It sounds like you are more interested in natural attractions than town/city attractions? Are you also wanting to do activities like hiking/boating/golfing or mainly just sightseeing and walks?

January 23, 2024 at 2:10 pm

Hi Jessica, It wouid just be myself & husband, we wouid like to travel independently. We would drive upto scotland & have 7 days for the NC500. We’re thinking mid-late April.

Although we would like to enjoy the beaches, loch & natural sites, if we have time we would like to see some of the cities. No golf, but we would enjoy walking & a few boat trips if it’s not to rough 🤪

Many thanks

January 24, 2024 at 3:27 pm

So since you have 7 days and are self driving, I think our suggested 7 day itinerary should work very nicely for you as a base for your planning. That will give you a very good sense of how to divide up the drive into 6-7 days and what you can see each day along the route. You can’t of course do everything so you can adjust and prioritize based on your preferences for more walking, beaches, scenery, etc.

So in April, most, if not all, of the seasonal businesses will be open as most of those open around Easter or early April. The main things we’d recommend that you should book in advance are lodging, rental car (if needed), and any specific tours you want to do (for instance if you want to do a private kayaking trip on a certain date) as most of the tour operators are very small businesses with one or two guides.

The only real city here is Inverness which is worth stopping to see and visit some of the attractions in and around the city before your NC500 road trip begins. You can see our guide to things to do in Inverness for lots of ideas.

Since you are particularly interested in the lochs, I would recommend a trip to Loch Ness (not too far from Inverness), the most famous of Scotland’s lakes. But honestly, the area around Loch Ness is more beautiful than the loch itself in our opions as we’ve been lucky to spend some time in that area. You can read our guide to visiting Loch Ness for lots of details – for a day trip I’d recommend going to the loch, doing the boat ride, a visit to castle, perhaps the Loch Ness Centre, and maybe visiting one of the waterfalls in the area. The Rabbies complete day tour here is a good option if you want to do it as a day tour, it includes the option to do the boat tour and such, but also includes the surrounding area.

Inverness is the only city but there are a number of small towns and villages alogn or near the route like Dornoch, Wick, Thurso, Ullapool, and Strathpeffer which all tend to have at least one museum or attraction worth visiting if you have the time. We always try to stop and support as many of the local attractions as we can as many are run by volunteers (some have entrance fees, some rely on donations). Many also have little heritage town walking paths you can follow as well. We try to note these all in our day to day itinerary so you can pick and choose the cultural attractions that are most interesting to you, we’ve visited about all of them so if you have any questions or are looking for a one that covers something specific, happy to try to advise.

Loads of beaches worth stopping to see and to be honest for the most part you’ll just see these as you go by and most are not going to be busy at that time of year. Some of the dozens of beaches along the route include Rosemarkie Beach, Nigg Beach, Embo Beach, Dunnet Bay Beach, Farr Beach, Sandwood Bay (this one requires a long hike to reach so you need to set aside a lot of time to do this), Balnakeil Bay, Clachtoll Beach, Mellon Udrigle Beach, and Achmelvich Beach. We mention most of these in our day to day itinerary but generally since you are driving along the coast, you’ll have at least a couple sandy or stone beaches along the route you can stop at each day. Just note that the majority offer few, if any services (we are almost always alone on the smaller little beaches). Two more developed and busy ones to note are Rosemarkie Beach on the Black Isle (east part of route) where you have the chance to see dolphins (at Chanonry Point) and Achmelvich Beach in the west which is considered on the most beautiful easily accessible beaches along the route. Both are near popular camping sites and both offer more services.

Like beaches, possible walks are all along the route. We note many of them again in our itinerary and asking at your hotel or B&B is also a great way to find local walks.

I think the tours and guided activities have been some of our favorite memories of the many times we’ve visited. The local guides are often great and you learn a lot. There is a bit of everything from boat trips, fishing, geology walks, caving, clay pigeon shooting, kayaking, hiking, etc. So if you have time and interest, taking half a day to a full day to indulge in something like that can be a highlight.

In terms of some outdoor activities that you may enjoy and we’ve personally done are the wildlife boat tour with Ecoventures from Cromarty, fly fishing (from river, shore, or boat) with Stewart of Assynt Fly Fishing, canoeing (or sea kayaking or guided mountaineering!) with Tim from Hamlet Mountaineering (he can tailor a day of hiking/kayaking etc for your abilities), and a guided tour to see deer with gamekeeper Colin at Reraig Forest near Lochcarron. We mention more options within the itinerary as well.

Since you are interested in nature and wildlife, you might enjoy a detour over to Handa Island. It normally starts allowing people to visit in March, but I’d check beforehand on opening dates and sea bird nesting status. Again this is described in our itinerary but it includes taking a little boat (this can be a bit rough) over and then spending a few hours walking around the edges of an island nature preserve where you have a chance to see a number of birds, flowers, and other wildlife. This is very weather dependent. You’ll need to allot at least 4 hours for this.

Small ruined castles, brochs, standing stones, cairns, old churches and cemeteries, etc. are all over the place. We list many of them but you’ll also probably naturally run across them during your drives and walks as well. Dunrobin Castle is probably the most visited paid bigger attraction along the route and is worth visiting if you have the time and interest.

If you have even a small interest in geology, I’d stop at the Rock Stop at Unapool (a little interpretive center for the North West Highland GeoPark and small cafe) and do the interpretive walk at Knockan Crag. The northwestern area is very interesting in terms of geology and it was here that geologist made a couple of important discoveries.

Anyway, hope that helps give you some ideas and help – I think using our itinerary as a base should really help and then you can adjust it and pick out the things you really want to do from each day and make it your own.

Just let us know if you have further questions as you get further into your NC500 trip planning!

NEIL Franklin Post author

January 1, 2024 at 12:32 pm

Hi just wondering how common are petrol stations on the route , or if there is a section where they are limited so best to fill up before a certain area .

January 1, 2024 at 3:56 pm

Yes, there are plenty of petrol stations along the NC500 (although generally just one option per town or village once you get away from Inverness). More stations along the east and south sections of the route and less along the west and northwest, so if driving counterclockwise, you’ll want to be more aware once you leave Durness. I think you are usually always within about an hour’s drive of a station.

If you pick up one of the official NC500 maps in Inverness before you start the trip, it lists where most of the fuel stations are. Many are open 24 hours, some are not. So I would just recommend filling up during mornings or afternoons as needed and to not let your fuel get down past the 1/4 tank or near empty. So just plan accordingly and you should be fine.

Wishing you a great road trip and just let us know if you have any further questions!

Maximilian Post author

September 11, 2023 at 11:41 am

Well, just wanted to say thanks for the blog, it’s just very interesting and helpful!

September 11, 2023 at 3:53 pm

Hi Maximillian,

Glad you enjoyed our North Coast 500 guide, and just let us know if you have any questions if you are planning your own NC500 road trip in Scotland.

Happy travels, Jessica

Lesley Coyne Post author

April 3, 2023 at 11:42 am

Hi! Somewhere in your blog I saw a phone number for a breakdown service but I can’t find it now. Since you mentioned that it is the only one available for the north of Scotland I think it would be advisable to keep it handy. Thank you for your blog – I found it very inspirational.

Laurence Post author

April 5, 2023 at 11:59 am

So glad that you are finding our information about the North Coast 500 helpful!

I am not sure which phone number you are referring to but we recommend that people have a phone number on hand that they can call in case of breakdown, whether this is coverage you have paid for via a service like the AA or through your hire car or campervan rental service. I would just make sure your coverage is good for Scotland.

There are also obviously local garages along the route, you’ll find one in most of the bigger towns and in the cities but may not always be close by or open if you need service so can be good to have a 24-hour number you can call that can help you if you need roadside assistance or need connected to a local mechanic, etc.

Best, Laurence & Jessica

BEA LLEVAT Post author

February 26, 2023 at 5:09 am

Jessica and Laurence, Thanks for all the work that has gone into this brilliant guide to the NC500. Much better that the guides I have been reading! I have just started planning my trip for end of may and I will definitily foloow all your suggestions! thanks a lot! Do you also have some information about the ORKNEY Islands? We would like to stop there for 2/3 days. Regards from Barcelona

February 26, 2023 at 6:31 am

So glad that you are enjoying our NC500 guide and I am sure you will have a great road trip!

So we have been to Orkney but I don’t think we have any posts about it. But the local Orkney tourism website is great for planning information, so I’d recommend checking that out which you can see it here .

You can easily get a ferry from along the North Coast 500 to the main island, normally to Kirkwall or Stromness. Ferries are from John O’Groats, Gills Bay, or Scrabster – the ferry schedules depend on the time of year and some take foot passengers only so be sure to check with your dates. All this info should be on the Orkney website about the specific ferry companies and links to their schedules.

If you have 1-2 days I’d probably stick to the main island which is the largest island and it has the majority of the visitor attractions and museums as well as the most options for lodging and dining. There is plenty to keep you busy here for 2 days, from the manu archaeological sites like the famous Skara Brae, museums, historical places, craft stores, beaches, walks, distilleries, etc. Many people come here for the history and there are places you can visit that date from the Neolithic period to the World Wars – The Orkney Museum is a good place to start a visit and get a good understanding of the history here.

Just note that a few of the most popular ticketed attractions on Orkney either recommend or require you to pre-book to guarantee a visit, especially Maeshowe Chambered Cairn which has a limited number of daily spots.

If you have 3 days, then I’d recommend taking the ferry to explore another island or two – such as Hoy (home to some World War history, Scarpa Flow Museum, and some interesting rock formations) and/or Westeray (good for seabirds in summer).

Some of the islands are really small and you can easily explore on foot whereas others you would probably want a car or to book a driving tour with a local.

Hope that helps and just let us know if you have further questions as you plan your visit!


December 17, 2022 at 9:19 pm

Hi Jessica and Laurence Congratulations, your site is inspiring and very helpful. Clear text with impressive photos provides an exceptional resource. We are planning the North Coast 500 for September, Rent a car with a roof top. for 5 days with a large group of friends from Colombia. We also want to combine it with a luxury hotel. We have seen the 5-day itinerary to guide us.

December 19, 2022 at 3:48 am

Hi Natalia,

Glad you are finding our North Coast 500 guides and itineraries helpful. Yes we have a suggested 7-day itinerary on this site and then a 5-day one on our other travel blog Finding the Universe. If you only have 5 days, then that one would be most helpful but if you do have a bit of extra time, highly recommend doing the full 7 days/nights. Most people wish they had spent more time on the route than planned.

If you have more than 4 people, I would definitely recommend considering renting 2 cars for your trip so you are not crowded in your car and everyone can see and you have room for luggage. This is especially important if you are thinking about a convertible or sports car or some sort. Or you might consider a larger vehicle like a minivan or van if you have more than 4 people.

I was not sure what you meant by “rent a car with a roof top” but thinking you maybe meant to rent a convertible car with a removable roof (or maybe you just meant you wanted to rent a luggage rack?)? To be honest, given the extra price of convertibles and the Scottish weather, we would generally recommend just renting regular cars for your trip and save your the money to use on food, lodging, and activities instead. If it is cool/rainy/windy during your trip, you may not have many opportunities to take the top down anyway.

Anyway, hope that helps, and just let us know if you have any questions as you plan your trip to Scotland for next September!

pat ong Post author

October 30, 2022 at 2:47 am

Hey! thank you for such an amazingly informative blog. Hailing from a South east asian city, we were so bowled over by Skye and Glencoe when we visited in aug 2018. that’s when we heard about Applecross from our B&B host. So emerging from 3 years of lockdown, we felt no inclination to go anywhere but scotland and applecross. We have 13 nights early may 2023 and my plan is, after picking our rental car at Inverness airport, Dornoch-thurso-durness (if we can find accomodation)-lochinver-sheldiag (2)-skye (3)-Glencoe(3)-Lochness. (3 nights each in skye and glencoe to do the things we missed in 2018 like the Quiraing.) Castles and long hikes are not on our itnerary but we love unplanned stops at secluded beaches, wooded paths along the way. The only planned activity i would like to do is the full day sea kayaking near Ullapool i read about above. My concern is do my stops on the west coast give us sufficient time to do that? we do intend to take the scenic route to Lochinver. Many thanks again for all the wonderful information and links and in advance for whtever advice you may have for us. cheers pat

October 31, 2022 at 10:47 am

Happy to try to help and glad you are finding our articles useful. So it sound like you already have a good plan drafted for your time in Scotland. May is a usually great time to visit.

I think based on what you said you are looking at a Scotland itinerary that looks something like this, and if so, it seems pretty reasonable to me:

Day 1 – Arrive into Inverness, overnight in Dornoch Day 2 – Overnight in Thurso Day 3 – Overnight in Durness Day 4 – Overnight in Lochinver Day 5-6 – Overnight in Sheldaig, Strathcarron (I assume you mean the one near Torridon/Applecross, there is also a place of same name a little further north near Gairloch so just be sure to check where you are booking on the map when it comes to lodging) Day 7-9 – Overnight in Skye Day 10-12 – Overnight in Glencoe Day 13 – Overnight near Loch Ness Day 14 – return to Inverness airport to fly home

The above would give you about 6 days for the NC500 and you wouldn’t do the southern section. So it will be a bit fast, but you will still have time to see a lot. So planning in advance your stops is a good idea so you don’t waste time planning too much during your trip.

So yes, if you want to do the sea kayaking trip, I would contact Tim, the owner at Kayak Summer Isles, once you have your flights books and know your dates. You will want a full day available on your itinerary as you go out in the morning and get back in the early evening. It depends on the specific trip, but he normally starts most trips in or near Achiltibuie. So staying in Achiltibuie the night before your trip would be recommended (or Ullapool which is about a 40-45 minute drive away). So I would suggest perhaps modifying your stay on Day 4 to be in Achiltibuie or Ullapool. You might also want to stay a second night here so you don’t need to rush this part of the route. You could take 1 of the days away from one of the places you have already been such as Glencoe (or Skye).

So an itinerary taking that into account might look like this:

Day 1 – Arrive into Inverness, overnight in Dornoch Day 2 – Overnight in Thurso Day 3 – Overnight in or near Durness Day 4 & 5 – Overnight in Achiltibuie, book Summer Isles sea kayaking for Day 5 Day 6 & 7 – Overnight in Sheldaig, Strathcarron (I assume you mean the one nearest Torridon/Applecross, there is also a place of same name a little further north near Gairloch so just be sure to check where you are booking on the map when it comes to lodging) Day 8-10 – Overnight on Isle of Skye Day 11 & 12 – Overnight in Glencoe Day 13 – Overnight near Loch Ness Day 14 – return to Inverness airport to fly home

Once you have your flights and dates set, I would then recommend booking your sea kayaking trip as Tim can often only do one activitiy per day since it is mainly him leading all the tours so he is often booked out in advance. Then I’d sort out your rental car and accommodation once you have those in place.

Anyway, hope the above helps and just let us know if you have any further questions as you plan your trip to Scotland. Wishing you a wonderful trip along the NC500 and return to Skye and Glen Coe!

Juliet Shannon Post author

October 24, 2022 at 5:23 am

What a fantastic source of information for the NC500 Both myself and my partner are planning to do the NC500 1st week October 2023. We are staying in Balintore so will only have 4/5 days in which to complete. Your guide is very informative and we will be following and using lots of your tips and recommendations. Thank you for taking the time to produce this item. It is extremely helpful and reading it has made us more determined than ever that this is what we want to do next year and hopefully the following year too.

October 24, 2022 at 6:03 am

Thanks for taking the time to comment and glad that our North Coast 500 guides are helpful. Hope you have a great trip around the NC500, and you can certainly still see a lot if you have 5 days but you do need to be a bit more selective. I hope it encourages you to return the next year with more time to do the trip and can spend more time in the area! If you have any questions as you plan your trip, just let us know!

Rowshan Ara Post author

May 31, 2022 at 2:12 am

This looks amazing! your site is the most informative, accessible and inspiring of those that we have looked at. Thanks so much and you get a chance to do a NC500 road trip in Scotland some day.

May 31, 2022 at 5:02 am

Hi Rowshan,

So glad you enjoyed our NC500 road trip guide – we have done that drive so many times now. It is always a bit different. Hope you get a chance to visit northern Scotland soon. If you plan a trip, just let us know if you have any questions.

Roy Taylor Post author

March 5, 2022 at 9:57 am

Hi, Back in June 1979 we toured Scotland on our honeymoon starting at Annan and tried to follow the coast all the way around to Edinburgh so did much of the now NC 500 before it existed in our 1967 Riley Elf. We are going back in August this year for our sons wedding in Tongue so are planning to spend time retracing some of our steps in our Motorhome, before and after, covering Inverness to Ullapool then down to Glencoe before heading home to East Yorkshire. Thanks for your guide, we will use the 5 day tour in particular to help us along the way 😊

March 6, 2022 at 8:55 am

Yes, the NC500 isn’t really a road so the actual route that has been marketed as the North Coast 500 has existed for about as long as there have been coastal roads along the northern part of Scotland. I am so glad you enjoyed your time around Scotland back in 1979 during your honeymoon. Lots of new attractions/restaurants, etc. although the lovely scenery has probably not changed a great deal since your first visit. Just be prepared for a lot more people and cars on the road as July/August can be very busy up there. I hope you make many new and wonderful memories this summer!

The section from Inverness to Ullapool is a great section to have the chance to drive. If you have time, I’d definitely start in the east from Inverness and go counter-clockwise to get to Tongue, then you can see most of the rest in the west afterwards as you make your way west back around to Glencoe. Glen Coe is also such a beautiful place and a great place to get out and do some walking/hiking if you have the time.

We’ve spent several days in Tongue, and there are lots of hikes you can do in that area and plenty of attractions within about a 1 hour drive. The hike up to ruined Castle Varrich or Caisteal Bharraich (hike starts near the Ben Loyal hotel) is a great short hike for anyone looking for something to do outside for a couple of hours in Tongue. Suitable for anyone without mobility issues. A few years ago they added a viewing area within the castle ruins. Some other attractions not too far away are the Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill (as well as Strathnaver Trail which takes you to lots of local historical sites in the area) and Smoo Cave near Durness. There are also lovely beaches in the area like Coldbackie Beach.

Wishing you a great trip and hope you have a great time at your son’s wedding in Tongue! If you have any questions as you plan your trip, feel free to ask.

June 26, 2022 at 10:22 am

Thank you for this reply Jessica, much appreciated with the additional information Regards Roy

Emily Post author

May 25, 2021 at 6:57 pm

Hi, Myself and my boyfriend are planning to do this trip in the summer and are supper excited!! We are 20years old and are planning to do the trip in a small car with a tent and 7 days your planning guide so far has been incredibly useful so thank you very much! I was just wondering if you could possibly tell me your list of MUST SEE’s from the route and any advise you may have regarding the trip Many thanks in advance Emily

May 27, 2021 at 12:23 pm

That sounds very exciting and glad our NC500 guide and 7-day itinerary has been helpful!

It is going to be a very busy summer along the route this year, so I would definitely recommend booking your campsites ahead of time. Many are already fully booked for those who need hookups but many still have tent pitches left. I’d also recommend booking any bigger attractions or tours that does pre-booking such as guided walks, boat tours, castle visits, etc.

In terms of must-sees, it would be hard for me to choose as we have visited so many great places and spent so much time in that area. I think it really depends on what you and your boyfriend are most interested in? Hiking, geology, castles, beaches, history, water activities, crafts, whisky, etc.?

Yes, so our 7 day itinerary lists way more than you can do in 7 days so you will need to pick and choose what is most interesting to you. If you are not sure, I would check out these two posts, North Coast 500 highlights and reason to drive the North Coast 500 . Those should help give you a good idea of many of the things you can do and lists many of the highlights. Then you can help build your own personal 7 day itinerary!

Hope that helps, and just let me know if you have any questions.

Tom De Blende Post author

May 24, 2021 at 6:37 am

A few years ago I bought the Lonely Planet book “Epic Drives of the World”. One of the drives was a trip from Applecross to Portree. We made a road trip out of it (Edinburgh-Inverness-Applecross-Portree-Bunarkaig-Glasgow-Edinburgh) and had an amazing time during our first stay in Scotland. The Quiraing Walk being our absolute highlight. It was during this trip we learned about the NC 500 and were sold on the idea.

We had everything booked for July 2020, but something small came up. So, we postponed the whole trip to July 2021. If covid permits, it’ll be Dornoch-Wick-Tongue-Lochinver-Ullapool-Applecross(2)-Inverness(2). As you can tell from where we are staying, your guide has been a tremendous help. Thanks a lot for that! We are now planning things to do.

I did want to provide some advise for people not used to driving in the highlands. We rented a car at Edinburgh airport at Celtic Legend. Halfway between Lochcarron and Bealach na Ba, I took a hard hit in a pothole at the end of a passing place, resulting in a flat tyre. We had to wait for over an hour to get towed away back to Lochcarron, get the tyre replaced and get back to Bealach na Ba and in the end Applecross. I think it cost us 3-4 hours and of course the price of the intervention and tyre.

So what advise I have: 1) Try to rent a car with a spare tyre so you don’t lose time getting towed. 2) Be very careful of potholes, certainly at the beginning and the end of passing places. They can be brutal. 3) Get extra insurance. Our excess waiver this year (covering tyres) will cost us GBP 70. The tyre incident last time cost us GBP 128.

The guy that towed was a jolly fellow. He did find the whole situation amusing. In summer, he said, 50% of their business comes from flat tyres. 50%!

May 24, 2021 at 10:40 am

Hope you are able to do your postponed North Coast 500 trip in July. It is already busy up there right now and most things are now open. Glad you already have your accommodation booked, as many places are almost booked full through August now. I hope you get some nice weather for your trip and don’t have any flat tyres!

Thanks for leaving some of your rental car advice as I am sure it might help future drivers who are not used to driving in the Highlands or rural areas 😉 The single track roads (appropriately using passing places), potholes, farm animals, etc. all add a bit of color to the driving experience so definitely a road to take slowly and to enjoy the scenery. Having a spare and having insurance is definitely a good idea.

Wishing you a wonderful NC500 road trip! Jessica

Frances Anne Cox Post author

March 13, 2021 at 11:11 am

What a fantastic site full of amazing information. You have certainly saved us a ton of preliminary work. Once lockdown lifts we’ll be off!! Thanks, Frances

March 14, 2021 at 8:33 am

Hi Frances,

Glad you found our North Coast 500 road trip planning guide helpful! Yes, hopefully things will be open and somewhat back to normal this summer.

If you have any questions as you plan your trip, just let us know 😉

Deb Post author

March 8, 2021 at 6:13 am

What a fantastic guide, thank you. My son and I are doing the nc500 early October this year. I have done it briefly once before but it was quite rushed and I wanted to plan a little better. I have picked up some amazing tips on where to stay, where to eat and where to look forward to visiting. I’m so happy I found you guys, thank you. Deb 😊

March 10, 2021 at 7:52 am

Yes, as you said, it is not good to rush a North Coast 500 trip as you’ll miss out on seeing and doing a lot in the area. It is much more enjoyable if you can drive it at a relaxing pace. We’d recommend at least a week if you have the time.

I am glad our blog posts have been helpful and I wish you and your son a wonderful trip in October around the NC500! We are hoping to get back up there in September ourselves if travel restrictions allow. If you have any questions as you plan your trip, just let us know. Happy to try to help or give advice based on our experiences.

peter johnson Post author

February 4, 2021 at 2:34 pm

Hi im interested in visiting this summer and wondered if you could identify the official map you recommend as the link is to ebay and the listing has finished so I don’t know which map it is. Thanks Pete

February 8, 2021 at 6:31 am

It is the official map put out by the NC500 organization. Yes, if it is not currently available online, you should be able to pick it up at the visitor centers along the route. Some of the local businesses along the route, particularly the hotels and B&Bs, may also sometimes have extra copies. We generally pick one up at the Inverness visitor center. They generally update the map each year and print new maps (since one of its functions is to advertise the businesses who pay to be advertised on the map), so the latest one may not yet be printed since obvioulsy no one is traveling now and the general travel season doesn’t begin until Spring 😉

But really the for the route, it is the same route as mapped in our article which you can see by clicking on the Google Maps link. The route is pretty simple. The physical map though is nice to have though and it points out things like recommended attractions and fuel stations, so I would recommend picking up a copy if you can.

Stravaig Post author

January 31, 2021 at 6:34 am

Thanks I will be passing on your tips to our customers at Stravaig Motorhome Rental, a new family business offering brand new luxury motorhomes just 30 mins north of Edinburgh Airport – check us out Best Wishes Stravaig

January 31, 2021 at 7:11 am

Hi Stravaig,

Glad you enjoyed our North Coast 500 guide and thanks for sharing it with your future customers 😉 If you have any questions, just let us know and good luck with your new business.

Michelle Post author

January 24, 2021 at 2:19 pm

Hi, love this guide, however for people like me it leaves out 3 vital details: cliff edges, heights & bridges!! I love Scotland and go there about 8 time’s a year, and always drive the A82 up to Loch Ness (often drinking in to Glen Etive) A85 and I’ll be honest I don’t love driving along the lochs !! I really want to do this route but I’m just so worried about cliff edges and bridges that I haven’t done it. Could you please advise if this really isn’t for me or if it would be ok. Please be honest as I’d have a melt down if I suddenly come across a bridge or cliff edge. Thank you. Michelle x

January 26, 2021 at 4:20 am

Hi Michelle,

Glad you enjoyed our North Coast 500 guide and are thinking about planning another trip to Scotland. So you would of course need to cross some bridges, drive near the coast, and along lochs. You’ll also need to drive on single track roads for part of the route and be able to successfully reverse your car into parking spaces. I wouldn’t say that you are ever that close to a cliff edge or that any of the bridges are that particularly scary. But you know what your limits are.

Two of the longest bridges over water on the NC 500 route (that come to mind anyway) are the Kessock Bridge (leaving Inverness) and the Kylesku Bridge (in Kylesku) – you can google those bridges to see photos and a description of them. So I’d check that out. If you can handle those ones, I think you can handle the bridges on the route. But if those two are too much, this may not be the route for you.

The NC500 route goes near lochs of course (its hard to drive anywhere in the Highlands without this being the case!) but if you can do the drives around Loch Ness and other lochs I think you’d be OK. I’d maybe do a bit of Google Maps research and see what you think so as you look at images of the views from the road – you are closest to the coastline in the northern part of the route.

If you decide to go, I’d recommend sticking to the main route only and avoiding detours as they often take you onto narrower roads and are more likely to go closer to cliff edges and be a bit less maintained. I’d also avoid the Bealach Na Ba (probably don’t need to even say that!) as its the highest and steepest road on the route. I’d also skip the Applecross coastal route as that goes close to the water and so I’d just maybe skip the Applecross area entirely.

Hope that helps, and let me know what you decide to do!! Jessica

Karlo Post author

January 9, 2021 at 6:09 am

Absolutely stunning! Thank you on a detailed impressive guide!

January 9, 2021 at 6:41 am

Glad you enjoyed our guide and photos of the North Coast 500. Just let me know if you have any questions if you are planning a trip to Scotland.

Jay Man Post author

November 19, 2020 at 6:30 am

I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for such a well informed article of the North Coast 500. The whole article has been well thought of and easy lay out with valuable sections of different travel options, tips about accommodation, etc.

I have not done the NC500 yet, but after reading your articles, I have now bought a NC500 guide book and subscribed to your newsletter.

Keep up the brilliant work.

Kind regards, Jay

November 19, 2020 at 8:34 am

So happy to hear you found our North Coast 500 so informative and helpful. I hope that you are able to do the NC500 road trip next year once everything is opened back up.

Just let us know if you have any questions as you plan your trip!

Steve and Lynda Post author

October 1, 2020 at 1:08 pm

Just want to say thank you for all the information you put in your blog in relation to doing the North Coast 500 my wife and i started planning the trip about 4 weeks before leaving on 20th September probably to short a time as many B&Bs booked up however we found your blog and have stuck to it using all your advice. We followed your trip having a couple of nights in Inverness and enjoying the city there is plenty to see. We then took six days in an MR2 hood down all the way we were so lucky with the weather, doing the route and followed all that interested us in your blog, it is so informative without it we would of missed so much, the detail and advice of places to visit how to break days up is superb every day was a new experience. We stayed in a mixture of B&Bs and hotels the hotels are not a patch on the B&Bs we were looked after so well. We would both like to thank you for such an informative and enjoyable blog we had one of the best trips we have ever taken i the UK.

October 2, 2020 at 4:13 am

Hi Steve and Lynda,

So happy to hear that you had such a wonderful road trip on the North Coast 500! You are very welcome, and we are happy that our planning guides and itineraries were helpful in planning your time and stays for the trip. Also happy that you were lucky with the weather (it is currently pouring down rain outside as I write this) as good weather is wonderful but far from guaranteed in the UK!

Yes, generally many of the B&Bs and hotels we recommend are booked up more than a month in advance so it definitely a good idea for those planning the drive to try to book as far in advance as you can. But it sounds like you still had some great stays on the NC500 and were well looked after by the hosts and staff along the route.

Thanks for taking the time to write about your experience as I am sure it will be useful for future readers and we of course enjoy hearing back from readers!

Best, Jessica & Laurence

Veer Post author

September 29, 2020 at 7:27 am

Thanks for this amazing article, really helpful. I have been looking forward to a roadtrip since 2014 and have driven to highlands from the South East of England many times but nothing north of Inverness. I now have the next week cleared up and want to take up drive up. Is it too short of a timeframe to plan the trip. I will be driving and will be solo for the whole trip, would that be a concern? I’m happy to take up travel buddies and have advertised on some travel apps/sites, but no takers yet. Would you have any recommendation for travel buddies please?

Many thanks in advance for your reply.

October 1, 2020 at 4:35 am

It sounds like if you are driving from southeastern England and have 1 week to travel, that you will likely have about 5 days for the North Coast 500 if you spend 1 day driving up and one drive returning. That is a lot of driving but doable. Just note that if you are planning to travel in October that some of the seasonal businesses will be closing this month and some are reservation-only so best to check ahead for any place you really want to visit. I’d probably book your accommodation in advance if you know where you want to stop so you are sure to have a place to stay and not have to drive further that you want looking for a place to stay.

I doubt you will likely find a travel companion a week before such a trip, so I’d plan to do the trip on your own, but there are message boards out there that you might want to try. I’d try local ones in your particular area to see if anyone is interested and maybe some specific to the NC500. Unfortunately, the best travel companion board that I know of (Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Travel Companion message board) closed down last year. There are also general Facebook communities you can join as well and I’d do a search for “travel companions”.

Dirk van den Muijsenberg Post author

September 18, 2020 at 5:32 am

So I’ve been to Schotland a couple of times now. However I’ve never crossed (yes I’m from NL) with my 2 kids (2 and 4). I am planning to do so next year if the covid allows.

Because I’ve seen a couple of spots already I’m doing some research on the NC500 with kids, maybe in combination with 1 or 2 islands. Is there any specific information to tell for a 2-3 week trip on and around the NC500?

Unfortunately we’re bound to the school holidays which will be july 24th – september 5th in our case.

September 21, 2020 at 1:42 am

I would recommend starting with our 1 week North Coast 500 itinerary which will help you plan your days around the NC500, I’d recommend spending 7 to 10 days on that route but you can certainly spend more. If you do more than 7, you can just add additional nights to some of your stops so you have more time in some areas. This is especially a good idea if traveling with young kids.

Then I’d add a week or so for time on the islands. Larger Scottish islands within easy reach of the NC500 are Orkney, Lewis & Harris (the two “islands” are joined together), and the Isle of Skye (also Raasay). You could also consider Shetland (a group of islands very far north so takes a bit of time to get there). I’d allow at least 3 days for any island you choose to have enough time to explore the highlights. So if you have a week, I’d recommend choosing two islands to explore and add to your NC500 itinerary.

July is a busy time for both the NC500 and most of the Scottish islands, so just be prepared for crowds and to take things slow. But the weather is typically warmer and all the seasonal businesses and ferry routes should be open. It also depends, of course, on the coronavirus, but hopefully things will be much better next summer!

Hope that helps, and just let us know if you have any further questions! Jessica

September 21, 2020 at 2:21 am

Thanks for the very helpfull info. Unfortunately we don’t have an other option that go within the Dutch holliday weeks because of school. After reading your reply I think we might go for around 10 days for the NC500, a week for the islands en some days for edinburg / inverness etc. which make a total of around 3 weeks.

I’ve plenty of time to find local things to do with (youngh) children. Next to that with the kids we might to make sure that we’re not in the middle of a midge peak.

September 23, 2020 at 3:08 am

That sounds like a good plan if you have about 3 weeks for your holiday. If your kids like outdoor activities, you’ll find plenty of things to do and see around the North Coast 500 and on the islands.

For the midges, you will likely encounter them since you will be there in July. They often start biting around the end of June. Some years they are bad, some years not so much. I’d just bring a bottle or two of insect repellent with you for that. Smidge is definitely the most recommended and the one we use. I’d also bring something that is effective for deterring ticks.

Wishing you a wonderful trip next year, and feel free to reach out if you have other questions as you plan your trip.

Jazz Virk Post author

September 14, 2020 at 12:28 pm

I found your page very useful. I am going there in 2 weeks and wanted to know if we should spend 2 nights in Inverness or Torridon? Where is there more to do?

September 15, 2020 at 2:02 am

You can easily spend 2 days exploring either, but there is definitely more things to do near Inverness. The city offers attractions and there are several things you can do within an hour’s drive for day trips from Inverness , such as the Culloden Battlefield, Loch Ness, and Cawdor Castle.

But if you just prefer hiking, scenic drives, and time outdoors than you might prefer spending the extra night near Torridon instead. But if you are looking for places to go and things to do, I’d spend the extra night in Inverness.

Hope that helps and hope you have a great trip! Jessica

rekha vadgama Post author

July 25, 2020 at 11:45 am

I’m so glad i came across your website – it’s simply a superb piece of information for those who haven’t travelled the NC500. We are thinking of going in September and have used your article to refer to as it provides such in-depth information and has been extremely helpful to plan our journey. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. We’re really looking forward to the trip, especially as my son has recently started experimenting with his new camera and can’t wait to capture the scenery ! Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

July 25, 2020 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for taking the time to let us know that you are finding our travel website helpful, always good to hear 😉 Wishing you and your family a wonder NC500 trip in September. Just let us know if you have any questions as you plan your Scotland trip.

BTW, if your son is interested in learning more about photography, Laurence runs an online travel photography course as well.

bernard campbell Post author

July 7, 2020 at 7:08 am

many thanks for writing your guide and very helpful it is , I was planning on doing this route this year but now looks like it is going to be delayed until next year with a bit of luck ….

July 7, 2020 at 7:14 am

Hi Bernard,

Glad to hear that you have found our North Coast 500 guide helpful in planning your trip. Sorry to hear that your trip has been delayed, but that may be for the best. It is expected to be very busy once things reopen and since some hotel/restaurants/attractions are not planning to open up this season, so it may further crowd people into certain areas and attractions. Also many of the lodging providers we recommend have already told us they are mostly booked or fully booked for 2020 so planning your trip for 2021 or going during the off-season may be a good idea 😉

Wishing you safe and happy travels, Jessica

david johnston Post author

June 23, 2020 at 11:22 am

We are planning to drive this route this Sept. if virus allows. Could we purchase your guide please. Would appreciate any help. We are travelling from N.Ireland Thanks David.

June 24, 2020 at 4:03 am

It is expected that Scotland will allow most tourism places to reopen starting July 15th (including restaurants, hotels, campsites, pubs, museums, etc.) although it has not been made official quite yet. So I think you should hopefully OK for a September North Coast 500 road trip. There should be no travel restrictions for UK or Irish travelers once things open up. But of course, do keep checking the latest advisories.

We have gotten a lot of messages and emails about people planning to drive the North Coast 500 in August/September/October so I would definitely book your accommodation in advance as well as any guided activities. I think a lot of people in the UK will be heading north at the end of summer so we expect the route to be busy.

We don’t offer any NC500 guides for sale, but you can use our articles for free online. Or you can print or download articles as a clickable PDF file – this is a free option for our newsletter subscribers. If you are not a subscriber, it is free and easy to join and you can learn more and sign up here .

The printable versions of the articles have the images, photos, and ads removed and are formatted for printing. You can also use this function to save them as clickable PDF files as well if you’d rather not print them. The PDF files allow you to still use the links.

Once you are a newsletter subscriber, to print (or save as PDF), all you need to do is go to the article you want to print and click on the Printer icon button. This will be on the left hand side of the article (for those on desktop) or at the very end of the article (for desktop and mobile users). Once you click the icon a box will pop up that will be asked to enter your first name and email address. Please use the email address that you use to receive our newsletter.

If you have any further questions as you plan your NC500 trip, just ask!

June 26, 2020 at 10:52 am

I also wanted to say that there are several people who are part of our Facebook group who are planning to drive the North Coast 500 at the end of summer or in September. You are welcome to join in on the discussion and get advice there as well: https://www.facebook.com/groups/travelloversandphotography/

Andrey Post author

March 3, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Hi! This is amazing article, thanks so much. I’m from Russia. I can’t find so much useful information for a long time in russian search sites. But I need a recommendations still. Can you help? I have only 4 days for the trip and not so much money to stay at hotels. I need to find couchsurfers for all rout in a most big cities. Where I can stay? I need to stay for 3 or 4 nights. ( I must get back rental car in the early morning at Edinburgh/ or evening). What can you recommend me? Thank you so much!

March 3, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Unfortunately, I am not sure how easy it will be to find couchsufing along the route as many are small towns and rural areas, as there are no big cities along the North Coast 500. But you can check the Couchsurfing website and inquire from those who are hosting, but there are not too many hosts listed in Scotland.

Also if you only have 3 nights from Edinburgh, that is not really enough time as the route as it is not near Edinburgh so that would probably not leave you much time, especially if you are on a budget. There are some hostels in Inverness and in a couple of the towns. Probably the least expensive way to stay would be to buy a tent and get some camping gear and camp at campsites along the route as there are a number of campsites along the route.

If you are looking for places to travel in Scotland where there are lots of hostels and cheaper places to stay I’d recommend looking at the larger cities in Scotland as these are well connected by public transit (both train and bus, which will save you money so you don’t need a rental car) and offer hostels – your chances of couchsurfing there would also be much higher. So cities you might look at are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling, and Inverness.

Hope that helps! Jessica

Catherine Sorsby Mrs Post author

February 28, 2020 at 9:13 am

Your guide is excellent, and very much appreciated as my daughter tells me she is planning to cycle the route, alone, later this year. She has the experience and skills to do this kind of thing, but I would like her to phone me every evening as a ‘safety check’. Please could you tell me if she is likely to have any problems getting a phone signal when she’s in the more rural areas? Thankyou very much, Cath

February 28, 2020 at 11:15 am

Hi Catherine,

There are places along the route where it is hard to get a phone signal or there isn’t Wifi access. It also does depend of course on her phone and network so I would make sure it is supported, especially if she is traveling from outside the UK as she may need to unlock her phone and/or get a local SIM. If she needs a SIM, you can check out this post about calling and getting online while traveling .

But generally, I think she should have no problem checking in each day as long as there is no set time she needs to call. If she is staying at a B&B, hotel, or campsite each night, she should have no problems in most places using her phone to call or text you each night. Also, I am sure the hotel/hosts would be happy to help if she is not having signal to allow her to use their computer to send an email or their phone if necessary.

Hope that helps, and wishing your daughter a wonderful trip!

Jackie Murgatroyd Post author

February 24, 2020 at 1:14 pm

Hi, I’m planning to do the NC500 over about 10-12 days this May in my camper van.I have solar power for lights and recharging phone, torch and e-bike but my cooker and fridge run off autogas. Is there anywhere on route where I can top up my gas tank? Thanks, Jackie

February 25, 2020 at 9:28 am

I am guessing you are specifically referring specifically to LPG (liquefied petroleum gas)?

I would check out this site to see places where you can likely find LPG https://www.mylpg.eu/stations/united-kingdom/#map , which has several garages listed along or near the North Coast 500 route, including ones in Inverness, near Wick, and in Ullapool. I’d recommend calling the specific garages and stations in advance to make sure they have what you need. Then you can plan accordingly if you know that you are going to have to fill up along the trip.

The Fill LPG website is another one to check.

This probably doesn’t apply to you, but just note that if you plan to take any ferries or cross any borders on your trip (e.g., to France or Ireland) there may be a restriction on flammable gases. For example, vehicles that use flammable gas (e.g., LPG, BiFuel, Autogas, Hydrogen, CNG or CGH2 ) cannot be transported by Eurotunnel Le Shuttle because of safety reasons. Any flammable gas containers (e.g. for use in a campervan) and their size is regulated and these must be declared for inspection. So just something to keep in mind 😉

Hope that helps and wishing you a wonderful trip! Jessica

Stuart McAlpine Post author

February 2, 2020 at 11:11 am

You have provided a great deal of information on the North Coast 500 and I appreciate that. After your comments I have a question for you. We are planning to arrive in Ullapool from Stornoway late on June 24 and we need to be in Inverness by the evening of June 26 to attend the pipe band European Championship the next day. I had hoped, perhaps naively, to be able to drive along the north coast from Ullapool to Thurso, then south to Inverness in those two days. From your description and others I have read, the summer crowding may make this difficult. So my question: Is this at all doable or do I need to plan something else? I understand that what I’m contemplating does not include many stops along the way. That’s OK; I just want to see the north coast region. (BTW I’m a west coast American and have driven Scotland’s single lane roads before, but my British son-in-law will be driving on this trip, so we’ll be less of a menace!) Thanks. Stuart McAlpine.

February 3, 2020 at 6:42 am

Yes, as I am sure you expected, we would not recommend this. As you have read on our blogs as well as it sounds like from other people online who have done the trip, we’d not recommend that route for you. Basically you’ll have 1.5 days or a little more since you arrive late on 24th and need to be in Inverness by the evening of 26th.

Could you, yes, but you’ll just be driving most of the time and won’t really have time to enjoy much along the route. We’d recommend at least 3 days for the time between Ullapool and Inverness.

I think if there is one general piece of advice that people who live and work along the NC500 route would give tourists is to slow down, stop rushing, and spend more time helping support the region. We’ve probably heard some version of this hundreds of times and totally agree with it.

Summer does indeed mean more crowds and the section between Ullapool and Thurso has a lot of single track and windy bits and people often go slower because of this (often the first section those going counterclockwise will encounter), stopping in passing places eats up time, and people are really bad about just slowing down on the road for scenery and such. This is fine when you have a relaxed and flexible day, but not ideal when you need to cover a lot of ground in one day.

I would recommend taking the route from Ullapool south to Inverness and stopping at the many scenic and interesting places along that part of the route. There is lots of lovely scenery, gardens, hiking, and wildlife viewing opportunities in that area and also a couple of whisky distilleries you could visit. Plenty to keep you busy for 1.5 to 2 days and you can follow the final two days of our recommended 1 week NC500 route itinerary . Perhaps also consider extending your trip if you can to do the rest of the route after the pipe band championship or planning a second trip where you’ll fully be able to enjoy the scenery and attractions that make this a wonderful area to visit.

Wishing you a great visit and time at the pipe band championship. Are you competing or just going to watch?

February 3, 2020 at 7:06 am

Thanks for the advice. I could have predicted what you would say but I thought I’d ask anyway. I’ll have to rethink our route. As you say, there are plenty of other places to occupy our attention. BTW I’m going to watch the pipe band championship although I am a piper. Keep up the good work.

Slainte, Stuart

February 3, 2020 at 7:15 am

You’re very welcome. One advantage of going south and across to Inverness is that you have the chance to drive probably the most famous stretch which is the Bealach Na Ba. There are few areas of Scotland where you could not easily spend a couple of days and this part of the route is certainly no different 😉 If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.

Sharon Watson Post author

January 31, 2020 at 3:56 pm

Hi there, me and my husband are planning to drive the NC500 towards the end of April/beginning of May. We’d like to take 2 weeks doing the drive. We enjoy road cycling and walking/hiking (12 miles walking maximum) so would like to stop a little longer in some areas so we can do this. Can you recommend any places in particular that would be good to do this? Would it be worth visiting some of the islands as we have more time? Any help would be great, thanks! Sharon

February 3, 2020 at 5:05 am

That is great that you have more time for your North Coast 500 trip and you could easily make all of the overnights from 1 night to 2 nights if you wanted. I’d definitely recommend spending a bit of time exploring the area around Inverness as there is a lot to see if you haven’t been before (e.g., Loch Ness, Fort George, Cawdor Castle, Culloden, etc.).

For hiking/walking – you have lots of options along most of the route really so you can find hiking opportunities located near probably any section of the route. We list many suggested hikes within our 7-day North Coast 500 itinerary so I’d start there as I list hikes on just about every day and many have links to trail descriptions.

But just to point out a few:

– Along the eastern part, many of the hikes we recommend are shorter and can be done in 4 hours or less such as the Black Rock Gorge, Big Burn, Loch Fleet nature reserve hikes, Yarrow trail, Keiss coastal path, etc. – For a longer coastal walk you might consider the Dunnet Bay coastal hike within the Dunnet Bay Nature Reserve which is a little over 10 miles. For this hike, anywhere between John o’Groats and Thurso would be a convenient place to overnight nearby. – Durness may be a good corner for some more remote hiking opportunities. Among the longer hikes here, the Sandwood Bay hike would be within your distance, it is about 8 miles (4 miles each way) and it considered one of the nicest and most remote beaches in Scotland – you could hike in during the morning, enjoy a picnic lunch and time on beach in afternoon, and then hike back out for a nice day out. A day on Cape Wrath might also be something to consider (best if weather is good) as lots of remote hiking there, reachable by ferry, and you can even stay overnight at Cape Wrath. A trip over to Handa Island might be nice as well, particularly if you like birds/wildlife, you get a foot ferry over and then follow a designated path that is about 4 miles. -The area of Lochinver offers lots of hikes, and is a popular area for the longer hikes and several munros. Many of the munros (mountains) may be a bit too much and long, but you may want to consider maybe one challenging hill walk such as Suilven. Its an iconic hill here and attracts a lot of hikers and climbers in the warmer months. Its about 12.5 miles round trip and a full day hike for most people. I’d read about it first and see if it is a good fit. If you do this, I’d recommend staying at the Glencanisp Lodge the night before and after as you can walk right from this lodge to the starting path for the hike – super convenient for this hike and most of the people who were staying here when we did were specifically here for this hike. -If you are thinking about taking on something that feels a bit challenging, we can recommend a local guide, Tim Hamlet of Hamlet Mountaineering as a guide. He can do day hikes or longer overnight or even multi day trips. We’ve done kayaking and canoeing trips and Laurence and my brother just booked a trip in May to do a overnight hiking/camping/kayaking trip with him.

For road cycling, again, there are options along most parts of this route and I’d probably ask local advice and check out Ordnance Survey maps for finding the best routes in a particular place. I’d recommend looking for roads/routes just off the main route as they’ll be less busy as there aren’t any bike lanes in most places along the route. For example, the Black Isle community has lots of suggested Black Isle cycling routes for example and you can even do a bicycling trip around the Black Isle and then catch the Nigg ferry (be sure to check the schedule as its seasonal) and continue onto Portmahomack and back. There is also of course the National 1 cycle route that runs through this area and you could do sections of that.

Yes, you would definitely have time for one of the islands if you think you have more time than you need for the North Coast 500. I’d recommend heading over to either the main island of Orkney (get the ferry from John O’Groats or nearby) or to the Isles of Lewis and Harris (ferry from Ullapool). I’d recommend at least 2 full day and nights on either to have time to see the main highlights. Off the route, is also the possibility of going south a bit to the Isle of Skye. Both Orkney and Lewis have good cycling routes as well if you want to take your bikes.

February 3, 2020 at 9:16 am

Many thanks for all this information Jessica, lots of planning to do now! Sharon

D Hopkins Post author

January 20, 2020 at 1:14 pm

Thank you for all of the wonderful information!! We are hoping to bicycle the route this spring. While we are experienced cyclists, and I can fix most basic repairs, I would love to have a backup plan if something went horribly wrong and we were unable to continue the ride. I am having trouble finding such information. Are there places that I can call for a shuttle? Or if I walked to the nearest village, are there certain places where we can transport to other places? I’m just trying to make sure that I have emergencies covered. I do have access to a satellite phone if i needed it. Thank you!

January 21, 2020 at 3:11 am

That is a good question. I think that obviously you want to be prepared as you could be cycling a fair distance to the nearest village in some places so good to always have the basics on you of course (repair kit, first aid kit, food/water, safety gear, emergency numbers) and I think the phone could come in handy as reception is not great in certain places with a regular cell phone.

For emergencies, the emergency number in Scotland (for police, ambulance, fire) is 999, where for non-emergencies (but need to contact police) is 101. So for any medical or criminal emergency, I’d definitely start there. And if you are stranded somewhere but not hurt, the 101 number might help you if you don’t know where else to call.

If you were able to walk to the nearest village, the folks at the local store/service station/police/visitor center should be able to help you find a local shuttle or taxi company that could take you to say Inverness or where you needed to go with your bikes. There are a lot of small operations in the Highlands and I think depending on where and when you needed transport, would depend on which might be best. There is also lodging at just about every village.

There is also public transportation, depending on where you are. So along the east, there is a train line so you could use that to return to Inverness. There are also local buses mostly run by Stagecoach that connect many of the villages along the route.

There is also a cycling company called Ticket to Ride Highlands that has a number of transport vehicles that you can book for cycling holidays and they provide shuttle service. So I think the service is something you normally book in advance, but I am sure that if it was not an emergency and you could get to a village, that could be an option as well is to book a shuttle transfer with them back to Inverness or wherever. They service the entire region including the North Coast 500. You might want to give them a call and ask if they provide transport in such situations.

January 21, 2020 at 6:33 am

Yes Jessica this is great, thank you! Just having an idea of what options there could be if something happened, helps a lot!

Trevor Post author

January 12, 2020 at 7:41 am

Hi guys my wife and I have been thinking of seeing Scotland for a while , came across your information about the north coast 500, sounds great,we have 7 to 10 days in September 2020 and that co insides with our wedding anniversary, would like to do b&b going anti-clockwise,hire a car from Inverness airport and do a relaxing trip ,recommendation as to b&b’s would be great and best car hire ,thanks ,gr8 blog by the way

January 12, 2020 at 8:56 am

Hello Trevor,

For rental cars, you can see our recommendations above in the article. We’d recommend flying into Inverness Airport or getting the train there (easy to do from most parts of the UK) and then just renting a car there. There are many rental car companies. We often use Enterprise ourselves.

This really detailed 7 day North Coast 500 itinerary should help with what to see and do for 7 or more days along the route. It also lists overnight suggestions for each night, including B&B’s but you can also check out this list of our recommended bed-and-breakfasts along the North Coast 500 . Most of these we’ve stayed at ourselves.

If you have more than 7 nights, I’d suggest adding a night to some of your overnight stops. Makes the trip much more relaxing and allows you to see and do more in that particular area.

If you are looking for a special place to stay to celebrate your wedding anniversary, I’d also check out this list of hotels on the North Coast 500 as it includes some special places like castle hotels, historic homes, country estates, and really nice B&Bs. But happy to suggest a specific place if you have a budget in mind.

Hope that helps and let us know if you have further questions as you continue your planning.

A.M. Fernau Post author

January 2, 2020 at 2:37 pm

Unfortunately we only have a few days to venture onto the NC500 from Inverness. If we will later be visiting Skye, would it make sense then to just do a portion of the East Coast of the NC500, rather than the West Coast? If so, where would you recommend stopping and what alternate route could we use to return to either Inverness or make our way towards Skye?

We’re experienced drivers of both left side driving and rural one lane highways.

Many thanks!

January 3, 2020 at 8:40 am

If you have 3 full days and are starting from Inverness, I’d probably recommend 2 day exploring one section of the coast and 1 day on the other, so you get a bit of a taste of both. The east has more towns and cultural stuff, but the west is more dramatic and scenic. I’d take a look at our suggested North Coast 500 itinerary for what you can do in each area and town to help you decide if east or west is better, as either would work fine for heading over to Skye afterward.

Suggestion #1 (more time on East): On the first day leave Inverness and head northeast along the route towards Dingwall, explore Black Isle, and then head up to Dornoch for the night. The second day, head north to visit Dunrobin Castle and explore more of the east coast up to Wick (or perhaps John O’Groats depending on your timing) and then head back to overnight a second night in Dornoch. This is essentially Days 1 and 2 of our suggested 7 day NC500 itinerary. Then the third day drive back south from Dornoch towards Inverness, following along the southern part of the NC500 route, perhaps stopping at places like Rogie Falls on the way, to Kinlochewe and then head north up to Ullapool. Spend night in Ullapool. Then from Ullapool you can follow the route around to Torridon and Applecross if you wish on your way to the Isle of Skye or you can just go more directly to Skye via the faster route. It is about a 2 hour drive to reach the Skye Bridge from Ullapool following the quickest route via A835 and A890, but will take much longer if you go the scenic route.

Suggestion #2 (more time on West): On the first day leave Inverness and head northeast along the route towards Dingwall, explore Black Isle, and then head up to Dornoch for the night. Visit Dunrobin Castle in the morning, then head back south towards Inverness and around to Ullapool. Then the second day keep heading north along the NC500 to Achiltibuie and Lochinver, and then return in the evening to Ullapool. The next day head south towards Isle of Skye and again you can consider if you have time to drive the scenic route via Torridon and Applecross or take the quicker route to reach the Skye Bridge.

Note that if you are planning the drive in the winter or off-season, that many attractions close in winter (including Dunrobin Castle, most museums, and outdoor activity providers) so be sure to check ahead as that might sway your opinion on which way to go. Also the Bealach na Bà section of the route is sometimes closed or unssafe to drive in the winter months if there is snow etc.

Hope that helps give you some ideas, and do let us know if you have further questions as you plan your trip in Scotland!

Kris Post author

November 19, 2019 at 7:04 am

myself and my husband are homing to do the 500 next April with our dogs I would really apprecaite any advise and guidance you have to help us in the planning please.

November 21, 2019 at 9:27 am

Yes, we should definitely add a section to our North Coast 500 guide about traveling with dogs, as I just received a very similar question from a reader looking for dog-friendly hotels along the NC500 🙂

I am guessing you are traveling from the UK, but if you are traveling from outside the UK you will need to make sure you check the laws and guidelines (papers, vaccinations, quarantine) for bringing a dog into the UK as it differs depending on the country of origin. You can find out more about that here .

The main thing with dogs in this area is that they will need to be kept on a lead (leash) in most places because of livestock and wildlife. April and May is lambing season in Scotland so lots of baby lambs will be around and you’ll want to keep dogs away from the sheep as they can scare and hurt the lambs. Sheep are just about everywhere in the area! This is also part of bird nesting season and dogs can disturb ground nesting birds so good to be aware of if doing walks/hikes.

Most hiking areas and wild places allow dogs (but not all of course so do check signs before setting out), but most ask that dogs be kept on a lead at all time and of course that all waste is picked up and properly disposed of. Most indoor attractions along the route do not allow dogs so if there are any that you want to visit, you may want to take turns with your husband staying with the dogs.

Most campgrounds accept dogs along the NC500. While most lodging doesn’t accept dogs, there are a number of hotels and B&B that do so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a place to stay. I would definitely recommend booking before your trip to make sure you have suitable places to stay with your dogs during yoru trip since you’ll have fewer options. Here is a partial list of places where we’ve stayed or visited, across a range of budgets and styles, that I believe allow dogs (in at least certain rooms):

– Kingsmill House in Inverness – dogs are allowed here – Aberfeldy Guesthouse in Inverness – dog-friendly B&B – Mansfield Castle Hotel in Tain – dog-friendly castle hotel – Royal Marine Hotel in Bora – dog-friendly hotel that caters a lot to golfers – Thrumster House near Wick – very dog friendly, owners have their own dogs, large garden for them to run around in – Forss House outside of Thurso – country house hotel that allows dogs in certain rooms – Inver Lodge in Lochinver – dogs are allowed here in some rooms I believe – Glencanisp Lodge outside Lochinver – dog-friendly hotel run by local community members, great location for hikers – Green Cruachan B&B – in Stoer dog-friendly B&B with nice hosts who serve vegetarian breakfasts – Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie – I think they allow dogs in many of the rooms plus in the bar area (but not the restaurant) – Coul House Hotel in Contin – dog-friendly country house hotel, large area for dogs to run/walk

That is just a short list of some of the hotels that accept dogs along the North Coast 500, but hopefully it will give you a good place to start. Just let us know if you have further questions as you plan your trip.

Kari Post author

October 30, 2019 at 2:03 pm

Hi there! My Dad and I are planning a trip May 2020! We were thinking we would set up a few home bases, and stay 3 nights each. Is this doable? if so, can you recommend 3 locations to set up base to get the most out of our travels? What kind of weather can we expect towards the end of May? Or maybe there is a better time to travel. We are open with the timing and the length of our stay. Thank you in advance for any advice.

October 30, 2019 at 3:16 pm

Sounds like a great trip to plan with your dad!

I’d probably recommend 4 locations for 2-3 days each along the route to avoid having to keep driving the same part of the route too much. It depends of course on your main interests along the route but I’d say maybe in or around 1) Inverness 2) Thurso 3) Lochinver and 4) Gairloch (or Kinlochewe). But I’d look at our detailed day by day NC500 itinerary for help in where might be the best bases for you, depending on your interests and what you really want to do. It also depends if you prefer towns or plan to camp or stay in more rural locations.

May is a good time of year to travel in Scotland, it tends to be one of the better weather months. As noted, the weather is pretty unpredictable year round and I’d come prepared for some cool weather and rain. The midges shouldn’t be out yet. Most things along the route will be open as the tourism season in the Highlands normally begins in April around Easter.

Hope that helps and just let us know if you have more questions as you continue planning your trip!

October 31, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time out to reply! I have dove even deeper into your wonderfully informative blog and am feeling as though coming up with an itinerary will be less daunting now especially having been given the towns to set up base. My Dad (82), has never been out of the states and has left me in charge of this trip (no pressure) It will truly be memorable for the both of us. Now I’m just trying to make it count! We would enjoy short walks/hikes and historical ruins and places to get out of the car and explore. I did see through one of your links regarding Rabbie’s tour over to the Isle of Skye. Definitely think we would want to do that, and I can take a break from driving. We won’t be camping or staying in Hostels so I will look into Booking.com as you suggested. Thanks again for your reply and all the information you have shared.

October 31, 2019 at 12:53 pm

You’re very welcome, and happy to look over an itinerary or answer more questions as you get further along in your planning. There are lots of historical attractions along the route as well as places where you can do short walks and hikes. We note many of these in our detailed itinerary.

I’d probably set your dates and flights first, and then you can think about hotels and any tours. Most attractions along the route don’t require any pre-booking or reservations, but if you want to do a specific activity (e.g., fly fishing, guided hike, kayaking, wildlife tour, etc.) that you would want to book in advance. But you have plenty of time 😉

For lodging, we have places listed on our itinerary for each recommended night, but since you are planning on basing in different places for multiple nights, you might also want to check out our B&B guide and our hotel guide which give some more recommendations along the route.

If you decide to do part of your trip with a tour company, we can definitely recommend Rabbie’s. We’ve done many of their tours and happy to answer any questions about those if you have any.

Sue n Rob Walsh Post author

October 6, 2019 at 7:54 am

Thanks for all the useful information. Having travelled up to Scotland from Yorkshire for an Autumn break for the last 4 years, we have talked about the North coast 500 more than once. Finally going to get it sorted for early summer next year and your advice is a great starting point for our planning. Can’t wait, will be spending our evenings in a lodge at loch Lomond the next couple of weeks planning our trip and gazing across the loch with glass in hand! Bliss!!

October 6, 2019 at 11:33 am

Hi Sue & Rob,

Sounds like a wonderful plan to drive the North Coast 500 next summer. Just let us know if you have any questions as you start your planning, and have a lovely time at Loch Lomond!

Stephen Lake Post author

September 14, 2019 at 10:46 am

Hi, An excellent article. What do you term a large RV? My motorhome is 7 metres long by 2.3 meteres wide (inc mirrors) It is under 3.5 tonnes so I do not regard as large. However, it sounds as if it may be a bit large for this route. I also drive coaches so I am quite used to manouvering large vehicles in tigh spaces.

September 14, 2019 at 11:38 am

Hi Stephen,

So I think a motorhome or RV of that size would be OK in general along the NC500 but I would not take it along the more steep and narrow sections. But luckily, there are alternative routes for the most narrow sections.

As noted, the two stretches of the road that are usually noted as unsuitable for larger caravans and motorhomes are:

-The stretch along B869 from Kylesku to Lochinver, which is on the western part of the route. You can take the faster and wide A894 route instead to reach Lochinver. – The Bealach Na Ba stretch as it is steep, narrow, and has a number of sharp bends. This is on the southwestern part of the route over by Applecross. It is easy to avoid as you can take the slip road up to the A896 instead.

It is recommended by the NC500 to not drive anything over 18 feet (about 5.5 meters) on these. Partly because of the narrow stretches and also because you need to be able to safely pull into and reverse the vehicle into passing places which are not always that long.

There are also some detours you’ll probably want to avoid, but these are not part of the official route.

So I think with just planning your route in advance and staying off the side roads, you should be fine with the motorhome you have. The route is definitely best explored with the smallest vehicle you have, but I think you can do it with the one you have with some good route planning.

Hope that helps, and just let us know if you have any additional questions! Jessica

Doug Wilson Post author

September 12, 2019 at 4:03 am

What a brilliant resource and fabulous guide. Thank you so much!

Jessica Post author

September 13, 2019 at 1:12 am

Hi Doug, Glad you are enjoying our North Coast 500 guide! Just let us know if you have any questions if you are planning a trip. Jessica

Martin Woodhead Post author

September 11, 2019 at 3:51 am

Hi sorry if this has been asked before, are there Plenty of petrol stops on the way? I will be going on my motorcycle and want to do It in three days, my bikes tank will do about 140 miles per tank, thanks for the great article Very informative, Martin.

September 11, 2019 at 10:24 am

Yes, there are plenty of fuel stops along the NC500. As noted, if you pick up one of the official NC500 maps in Inverness before you start the trip, it lists where most of the fuel stations are. Some are open 24 hours, some are not.

Just note that 3 days is not very much time and you’ll be very limited in what you will be able to see or how long you can stop. If you have more time, we’d recommend at least 5 days to complete the route.

Jess Post author

August 18, 2019 at 6:24 am

What a great write up, thank you…. We are looking to do this next July/August is it something the children (ages 7 & 10) would enjoy?

August 19, 2019 at 5:50 am

Hi Jess, Yes, I definitely think that a drive along the North Coast 500 can be a great trip for families. I think you just want to take it at a slow pace, have plenty of breaks from sightseeing, and plan things you know the kids will enjoy.

Because we have been asked this question a few times, we have added a section above in the article called “Best Stops for Families with Children along the North Coast 500”. There we suggest some tips for families and a list of recommended sites and attractions, from beaches to castles to boat trips, that kids might enjoy. Take a look and then if you have any further questions, just let us know!

You can see more about all the suggested attractions and where they fit on the route by taking a look at our North Coast 500 itinerary .

Karen Post author

August 6, 2019 at 5:42 am

This article has been invaluable, thank you! Me and my boyfriend are doing this for our joint 50th birthdays next year (2020) and we cannot wait!

August 7, 2019 at 4:57 am

Hi Karen, So glad to hear that and what a great birthday trip for next year! If you have any questions as you make more plans for your NC500 road trip, just let us know. Best, Jessica

Will Post author

July 22, 2019 at 6:14 am

Hi Jessica and Laurence Your newsletter is fabulous for us first timers.We are hiring a motorhome on Saturday form Inverness and return it the following Friday – can you recommend a route plus any restaurants/pubs.Many thanks Will

July 25, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Glad you are enjoying our monthly newsletter and articles. If you have read our planning guide already, we’d also recommend taking a look at our 7 day North Coast 500 and our camping itinerary . Between those, you should probably have everything you need in terms of route and dining suggestions, but let us know if you have additional questions.

Wishing you a wonderful road trip! Jessica

Alex Post author

July 15, 2019 at 8:06 am

Please, please, please familiarise yourself with how to drive on a single-track road in Scotland. I am a (relative) local along the route and have witnessed the most appalling driver behaviour in and around Applecross (coast road, and Bealach na Ba) since the route became popular. Aside from giving way at passing places, please also drive as through you are anticipating the worst possible scenario over the crest of the blind summit in front of you! Driving single-track is all about anticipating hazards EARLY – these hazards include animals, cyclists, giant wobbly box campervans, bin lorries, people who don’t know how to or are not willing to reverse, localised flooding, and snow and ice in the winter. It take a lot of concentration to drive safely on these roads, and the local roads should not be a race track, or treated as a leisure drive for you or your vehicle of choice. The Bealach Na Ba was closed for 5 hours on Sunday due to an extremely serious accident. Tourists and locals die on these roads a lot, so it pays to do a bit of google map research so you know what you’re in for. Please also utilise local campsites and accomodation, local shops and petrol stations, and cafes/pubs, as the people who fill up in Inverness on fuel and food then don’t spend money in local villages really damage the fragile local economy.

To sum up, you will have an amazing time if your are careful and prepared, as well as open to a bit of flexibility.

July 17, 2019 at 11:59 am

Hi Alex, Thanks for taking the time to comment and adding additional warnings for those planning to make this drive along the North Coast 500. We have also also seen the poor driving of many visitors, especially those in campervans and motorhomes, those driving on single track roads for the first time, and those driving in convoy (don’t do this!). As well as littering (this includes placing rubbish in overflowing trash cans), illegal overnighting, and stopping on the side of the road (or in the middle!) for photos. Being able to reverse into passing places is a necessary thing to be able to do to drive this route safely, but we often encounter people who refuse to reverse despite being near a passing place.

The Bealach Na Ba as you noted is a particularly dangerous part of the route and is not for all drivers or vehicles (not recommended for large vehicles, heed warnings) — that is awful to hear about the car accident on Sunday. Those driving this route should consider whether they should drive this section of the route or not, and if decide to do so, be sure to be careful. We recommend driving the route anti-clockwise so that once you get to this section, you have some experience driving on single track roads. Ice and snow often close this route during the winter months.

We definitely agree with encouraging people to stop and spend money at the local campgrounds, hotels, museums, restaurants, shops, visitor centers, etc. It is the best way to support the local economy, meet people, and get the most of the route. The slower you go, the more you’ll see and the more you are likely to enjoy your trip!

As you said, those who are careful, respectful, and prepared will have a wonderful road trip!!

Loli Carballo Post author

July 8, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Dear Jessica and Laurence,

Thank you so much for such a wonderful site! We will be travelling the route on Saturday 12th of July with my husband, myself and our two children ( 6 and 5 years old). We are experienced campers so we will be camping along the route for 2 weeks approx ( we are flexible with dates). But we will be staying at the Nairn Lochloy holiday park for a couple of nights and then, we have decided to start the route anticlockwise. I wanted to ask you for ideas in regards of best places to take the kids to along the NC500 route; I have already noted Wyvis play park, Inverwere gardens, beaches, boat tours and some local indoors swimming pools for the rainy days. I would appreciate any other suggestions on specific places to take them to that we might have missed. Thanks! Loli

July 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm

Sounds like you already have a great plan and I would also check out Laurence’s camping itinerary as that might be helpful as well.

You already have some great ideas for places to visit with young kids (gardens, beaches, boat tours). There are many that might be a good fit, but here are some more ideas of places you might consider:

– Robertson’s Farm Shop – In addition to being a farm shop, in the summer kids can go visit the farm animals and pet some of them (small fee). There are Highland coos, goats, sheep, etc. -Evanton Woods – There is a very nice woodland playground here developed by the local community in Evanton. It is about a 10 minute walk from the parking area across from the free parking area across from the pub in Evanton. – Dunrobin Castle – This might be a bit expensive for taking the kids if they are not that interested in the interior, but there is also a beautiful garden here and a falconry display (usually once or twice a day, I’d check times in advance) is also often appealing to kids. – If you are looking for an easy archaeological site to visit, Càrn Liath (an Iron Age broch) is a short walk from the parking area. It is just a short drive past Dunrobin Castle. Free to visit. – Loch Fleet – This national reserve is a nice spot and there are plenty of walking trails, many flat and easy. Good chance for spotting birds. The Skelbo Forest Walk is an easy and mostly shaded option and there are some woodcarved animals along the walk. – Castle of Mey has a farm animal petting/viewing area that might appeal. -I would make the walk down to Smoo Cave – it is free to see the exterior. You can also do a tour here but that might be a bit too much for the kids. – At the Balnakeil Craft Village, they might enjoy a cocoa from the popular Cocoa Mountain 😉 – Rock Stop (has a small interactive indoor exhibition plus cafe) at Unapool and the Knockan Crag stop (outdoors) are both good places to teach the kids a bit about the North West Highlands Geo Park and the amazing local geology. – Achmelvich Beach is a really pretty beach and fairly protected by the bay. – Loch canoeing is possible with Tim Hamlet of Kayak Summer Isles , we can highly recommend him as a local guide. Families are definitely welcome, but may want to check if it would be good for kids that age. Be sure to reserve if interested. – Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve lets kids walk across a “scary” suspension bridge -Pony trekking is possible at Red Point at the  Gairloch Pony Trekking Centre . Need to book in advance.

Sorry for the delayed response but hope this is helpful as you being your North Coast 500 road trip tomorrow. Wishing you a wonderful trip!

Also, if you want to let us know how your trip goes, we’d love to hear what you and the kids found the best places to visit which can help other families traveling with young kids.

Julie Post author

July 4, 2019 at 3:17 am

We are doing a road trip in an RV this August and I was a bit concerned about what we needed to know before we went… this has covered EVERYTHING!!! I don’t need to look for information anywhere else.. Thank you!!????… I’m going to print off the information and highlight the bits relevant to us… and the NC500 rout map app is genius!!! I can see us going time and time again..

July 4, 2019 at 9:42 am

Hi Julie, So glad that you found our North Coast 500 guide so helpful 😉 I am sure you will have a great time. We will have a 7 day NC 500 itinerary out later this month before your trip if you want to come back and check that out. But just let us know if you have any questions.

Enjoy! Jessica

Leonie Post author

June 17, 2019 at 4:18 pm

We are three couples from Australia who are planning a trip next June. Sadly we only have a week in Scotland, starting in Edinburgh but would love to do a section of the NC 500 for 2-3 days. We will be driving and hope to head north from Edinburgh then across to the West coast before heading south to Wales. Do you have any suggestions for any particular sections?

June 19, 2019 at 8:36 pm

Um, if you only have 1 week in Scotland and have never been before, it may not be the best choice for a first time trip. But if you have 2 full days you could definitely explore a portion, perhaps drive the west part from Inverness to either Ullapool or Lochinver or do the east part from Inverness to Wick or John o’ Groats?

If you really want to do the NC500 in 3 days, I’d consider driving or taking the train to Inverness and then consider joining this tour with Rabbies as they will take care of the planning, ensure you see all the main highlights, and keep you safe on the road. It’s a whirlwind tour of 3 days/2 nights, but it would get you around the north quickly and safely without worrying about driving.

Satta King Post author

June 16, 2019 at 12:57 am

Such a good post this is – most helpful info out there on driving the NC500!

June 16, 2019 at 5:00 am

Hi Satta, Glad you enjoyed it. Just let us know if you have any questions about the North Coast 500, and wishing you a great road trip. Best, Jessica

Sadie Rhodes Post author

June 13, 2019 at 11:55 am

Hi, Your guide is great, easy to read and not “dry”! we have sorted out our accommodation, but wonder if there is a guide or similar detailing pertol stations on, or a bit off route? Thanks

June 13, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Glad you are finding our North Coast 500 guide helpful in planning your upcoming road trip! For petrol stations, we recommend picking up the official North Coast 500 map (you should be able to get it at the Inverness Visitor Centre or others centres along the route) as it includes an updated list of fuel stations along and near the route. You can see the 2017 edition of the map here for a good idea as I expect there have been few, if any, changes.

You’ll find that petrol stations are located in most of the larger villages and towns along the route. I would just recommend never letting your car get near empty and to fill up during the day as not all pumps are open overnight. We’ve driven the route several times and never had an issue finding fuel (regular or diesel).

Hope that helps, and just let us know if you have any other questions.

Sridhar Post author

May 8, 2019 at 2:01 am

Hi Jessica and Laurence,

Thank you for the very inspiring and comprehensive insights to NC500 route. I stumbled upon your incredible website a few weeks ago and brilliant photos and enormous information that you posted has drawn me into planning a holiday to highlands this summer. I am planning a 6 day trip starting from Glasgow and ending at Inverness with my wife and 2 teen kids stopping at Fort Augustus, Dunnet, Scourie and Dingwall. We have found some cottages that offer great views and am about to start booking them. However, we are a wee bit allergic (read scared) to reptiles (snakes, etc.). Just wanted to know if these creatures are commonly sighted in highlands in summer months. Would greatly appreciate if you could share your thoughts please. Thanks in advance.

May 8, 2019 at 9:02 am

Hi Sridhar,

Glad you are finding our content on the NC500 and Scottish Highlands helpful in planning your trip 😉

First, the cold weather in Scotland is strong deterrent to most reptiles (and amphibians), so you are extremely unlikely to encounter any reptiles even if you go out looking for them. I believe there is only one snake species that is native to mainland Scotland and we’ve never seen a snake in Scotland 😉 The creatures that are the biggest nuisance in the Scottish Highlands in summer are midges, mosquitoes, and ticks – so these are the ones I’d be prepared for as you’ll like encounter them if visiting between June and August, especially if hiking or spending much time outdoors.

Note that the North Coast 500 route is a route that has a lot of single-track roads and it is best to drive it slowly so we would recommend a minimum of 5 days to do the full route without being too rushed which might be hard with only 6 nights total in Scotland. Something to think about when planning your route and time in the Scottish Highlands.

Here is a suggested 5 day itinerary that may be helpful in planning your time along the route.

Anthony Post author

May 7, 2019 at 5:10 am

Great article, taking a motor home on the NC500 in August, taking a lot of your tips with us

all the best

Amanda & Anthony.

May 7, 2019 at 10:32 am

Hi Amanda & Anthony, So glad you are finding our NC500 article helpful, we have several NC500 related articles across our two travel blogs that may be useful for your trip. Do let us know if you have any questions – we are actually currently traveling along the NC500 again ourselves 😉 Best, Jessica

Nothard Kassburg Post author

April 21, 2019 at 7:05 am

Hello Jessica and Laurence Congratulations, your website is awesome. My wife and I plan to travel to Scotland by car and caravan for 4 weeks in June. Does it make sense to drive the North Coast 500 clockwise at this time because of the Midges encountered in the west or does not need to change the route ?? Best regards from the Emsland. Nothard and Gitti

April 21, 2019 at 9:27 am

Hi Northard & Gitti, So glad that you are finding our Scotland articles helpful in planning your trip! The midges normally start emerging around mid May and are usually in full swing by early June. How bad they are varies each year (2018 was a bad year) and throughout the summer. I don’t think it will likely matter too much as you can find them throughout the Highlands in summer, although from our experience they do tend to be worse along the west side of the North Coast 500 route.

I would still do it counterclockwise as that way you start with the better roads and more towns, and gradually come upon the single track roads and more dramatic landscapes. The best way to protect against the midges is an insect spray (we recommend a couple above, can be purchase once in Scotland if not available where you live). If you are planning to spend time camping outside (and standing/sitting in one place for awhile) or are particularly sensitive to insect bites, you may consider a midge net. They are not too bad if you keep moving, but can drive you crazy when you stand still. Generally worse around dawn, dusk, and on cloudy days.

For camping / caravaning, see our suggested NC500 camping itinerary for suggestions.

Shaun Post author

April 10, 2019 at 2:36 pm

Jessica and Laurence, Thanks for all the work that has gone into this brilliant guide to the NC500. I have just started planning my trip for late summer/autumn and this is a huge help. Happy travelling to you both. Shaun

April 11, 2019 at 5:45 am

Hi Shaun, Thanks for taking the time to comment. So glad you are finding our NC500 road trip guide useful, just let us know if you have any questions. Best, Jessica

Mel Scrivin Post author

March 26, 2019 at 11:46 pm

Hi guys thanks for all the great info. Help! We’ll be doing the NC in May in our motorhome (and by bike… one driving, with the dogs, and one riding!) We know we can’t take the van over Bealach n’a ba but we do plan to (try to!) each cycle it. Do you know if we’d manage the coast road there and back in the van as we want to meet at Applecross for lunch. She’s not enormous – 3 tonne laden and about 21ft long (Luton van rather than Transit- if that makes any sense in the US!) Thanks in advance Mel

March 27, 2019 at 8:42 am

Hi Mel, Sounds like you have a fun road trip coming up. I don’t think you should have any issue getting a van of that size to Applecross along the coastal route (barring any bad weather or road closures of course). Best of luck on your trip and on your cycle trip up the Bealach na Bà 😉 Best, Jessica

April 1, 2019 at 11:36 pm

Fabulous thank you so much Jessica!

Martin Post author

March 19, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Hi planing this trip soon. Just wondering what’s the laws about pulling up in a safe place and having a bbq? Thanks

March 20, 2019 at 4:21 am

Hi Martin, Your question is complicated of course as it involves both legal parking and having a BBQ. But if you are parked somewhere you are allowed to legally park and it is in a safe place that does not prohibit BBQs (some beaches, parks, etc. do not allow them, and some places prohibit certain types of BBQ) then you can if done responsibly. Most campsites along the NC500 allow all kinds of BBQ (electric, gas, charcoal) but not all of them so something to double check if you are planning to camp.

But here are a couple of resources from the Outdoor Code page and Fire Scotland page that may be helpful.

Kathleen McCollum Post author

March 16, 2019 at 2:05 pm

My husband, mother and I have driven parts of the route on other trips, but will taking in the northern section in September. We would prefer to have a rental that comes with a spare (just in case…), but these are harder and harder to find. Any recommendations?

Great information!!!

Thanks – Kathleen

March 18, 2019 at 5:36 am

Hi Kathleen, Yes, unfortunately, cars are not legally required to carry a spare tyre in the UK so many of the rental cars do not come with a spare. The other issue, of course, is that it is rarely listed in the information when booking online, so I think the only way to guarantee this would be to call an agency directly and request to book a car specifically with a spare although I am not sure all agencies would be able to guarantee this. If it is more of a preference than a requirement for you, you can find the best rate online and book and then when picking up the car, request one with a spare tyre (and means to replace one) if at all possible.

If you are not able to get such a car, I’d be sure to rent with an agency that has a 24-hour number and you know what to do if there are any car issues or flat tires.

Sorry I can’t offer any better advice on this, but wishing you and your family a wonderful NC500 road trip. The northern part of the route is lovely 😉

March 18, 2019 at 11:44 am

Thanks, Jessica! I called the rental agency and added the request to my reservation this morning. No guarantees, but at least they have the request. We will hope not to need it, but I also know we will be somewhat removed from AA and would prefer to fix it ourselves if needed!

Michael McCabe Post author

January 19, 2019 at 4:47 am

Hi, what a superbly detailed guide you have produced here. A big thank you for the help it is giving us to plan our route. We are taking two weeks to drive the NC500 at the end of March. Would you advise carrying with us fuel for the car (in a legal container) or are there sufficient petrol stations along the route for this not to be an issue?

Best wishes

January 19, 2019 at 8:14 am

Hi Michael,

I don’t think you will need to take fuel in a container as there are a number of fuel stations along the North Coast 500 route. There is at least one fuel station in most of the towns of any size along the route (e.g., Inverness, Wick, Thurso, Tongue, Durness, Lochinver, Ullapool, Contin, Dingwall), although I am not sure if they are all open 24/7 so just be sure to stop during business hours to be safe. I would just be sure to not let your tank get near empty and you should be fine if you stop when you have the chance before getting too low.

Glad you enjoyed our NC500 road trip guide and wishing you a great road trip in March! We should have more content on the NC500 out before your trip.

Martha Swain Post author

December 29, 2018 at 5:06 am

Hi. I’m planning a trip for late in the season 2019 500 Mile trip. Is there any issue with a female traveling alone?

December 29, 2018 at 6:11 am

Hi Martha, That sounds like a wonderful trip. We have found the North Coast 500 in Scotland to be a very safe driving route and most of the route is through small towns and rural areas with very low crime rates and few people. Crime happens everywhere of course, but you should be fine taking normal precautions (keeping money/valuables hidden away, locking doors, telling someone your travel plans, etc.).

Of course if you’d like some company or prefer not to drive yourself, you might check out this a 3-day tour from Inverness from Rabbie’s Travel and this 4 Day tour from Edinburgh by Highland Experience Tours. We’ve done several trips with Rabbie’s and there are usually at least a couple of solo travelers on their trips.

We’ve driven the NC500 route several times now, so just let us know if you have any questions as you plan your trip. Best, Jessica

Greg MacKinnon Post author

December 24, 2018 at 12:25 pm

Hi Jessica and Laurence, We are walking the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way ending our walk in Inverness at the Ardross Glencairn Guest house on May 24th. From there, we want to rent a car and take 7 days to drive from Inverness to Glasgow and leave back to Canada on June 1st so would arrive in Glasgow on May 31st. Do you have a 7 day B & B route that you would suggest for us for the NC500?

Thanks so much!

December 26, 2018 at 5:03 am

Laurence is actually putting together a NC500 B&B post which should be out on Finding the Universe in the next 2 months. We’ll also have more NC500 content. You can keep checking back or sign up for our monthly newsletter to get updates (it covers both of our travel blogs).

But here are some suggestions if you are wanting to book now for 7 nights doing the full loop:

-Day 1: Dornoch: Strathview Lodge B&B or The Steading -Day 2: Wick: Thrumpster House or The Clachan B&B -Day 3: Tongue to Durness: Tigh Nan Ubhal (Tongue) or Hillside B&B (Durness). There is also Salmon Landings – it is a bit before Tongue but a fantastic B&B. -Day 4: Lochinver: Davar Guest House -Day 5: Ullapool area: Braemore Square County House , Riverside Guest House , or Westlea House B&B -Day 6: Torridon to Lochcarron area: Pathend Bed & Breakfast -Day 7: Return to Inverness and spend another night in your first B&B, or consider ending your trip with a good value castle stay. Kincraig Castle or Tulloch Castle are two options.

Hope this helps get you started at least for accommodation. We’ve stayed at all but one of the above properties so do let us know if you have any questions about any of them. Several of these are reviewed in our North Coast 500 Accommodation Guide . But keep any eye out for new posts over the next couple of months.


November 17, 2018 at 6:50 pm

Hello, there!

Wow! What a terrific source of inspiration! Thank you SO much for taking the time and put it together!

We have spent a lot time looking around for suggestions regarding our upcoming, once-in-a-lifetime event (out 40th Anniversary), and when we have come across your wonderful guide, we knew we have reached our goal!

Having the round-trip flight and car bookings done, we are now in the process of establishing our self-driving route, and we are trying to figure out how to reach as many points of interest as possible, but without over-doing it… Both, my wife and I, are in love with castles, so we would definitely like to sleep a few nights in several of the famous Castle Hotels, however, we would REALLY love to include the NC500 route in our schedule… I know it’s a tough task, but being such an important event for us, we would REALLY love to get the most of our trip, especially because we live in a place where castles are nowhere to be found (Chicago, US)… Having said that, it would be great if you could provide us with some advice, considering the following:

1. We would land in Edinburgh on Friday, September 6th, 2019, and stay 4 days, exploring the city and surroundings; 2. We would like to hit the road on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, going North toward Inverness; 3. We would like to make the most of the NC500, and eventually spend 2~3 nights at your recommended Castle Hotels that might be in our way; 4. We would definitely like to include the Isle of Skye; 5. We would REALLY like to see Fort William and eventually stay over night there; 6. My wife, Nicole, is in love with trains, and taking the famous steam train ride with the Jacobite is a MUST!

I know it’s a lot to ask, but I hope you would be able to advice us in advance… our departure date from Edinburgh back to US is on Saturday, September 28, 2019.

Once again, thank you SO much, and, as a small token of appreciation, please rest assured that we would make all our purchases through your suggested links!

Hope to hear from you soon,

Nicole & Mitch

November 19, 2018 at 3:16 am

Hi Mitch & Nicole,

Happy to hear about your upcoming Scotland trip to celebrate your 40th anniversary!!

Here are some ideas and resources to help you plan your trip:

1. Edinburgh for 4 nights will give you plenty of time to explore. You can check out our guide to the top things to do in Edinburgh , lesser known Edinburgh attractions , and Edinburgh photography guide for idea to put together an itinerary there. You might also want to consider either getting the Royal Edinburgh Ticket or pre-purchasing a fast entry/ skip-the-line ticket for Edinburgh Castle (it is usually the most busy attraction in the city).

2. On the way up to Inverness, I’d consider stopping for a photo stop at the Forth Bridges driving through the Cairngorms National Park and a stop at Loch Ness. You can do a boat tour on Loch Ness if the weather is nice – if the weather is bad it is probably not worth doing. I’d recommend a night or 2 in Inverness as there are plenty of things to see in and around the city (e.g., art museum, Fort George, Black Isle, Cawdor Castle, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Culloden battlefield, Inverness Castle). Here are some Inverness day trip ideas .

3. I’d recommend at least 3 nights to do the NC500 – 5 days is ideal. We have a NC500 hotel guide that has all the main castle hotels listed. Let us know if you have a specific question about any of them. We only have a camping itinerary up so far, but will have more NC500 itineraries up before your trip in Sept., if you want to sign up for our monthly newsletter to be alerted with our new articles.

4. I’d recommend 2 nights on the Isle of Skye after you finish the NC500 drive. That will give you more time to explore there. Here is some ideas for the Isle of Skye and also a Skye & Scottish Highlands itinerary that might be helpful.

5. The city center of Fort William is easy to explore on foot. There are a couple of good museums there and the remains of a fort. If you enjoy castle hotels, you might consider a night at Inverlochy Castle before you head home. It has been one of our favorite castle hotels and is one of the nicest; however, it is more pricey than those around the NC500. But one to check out, not too far from Fort William and Glen Coe.

6. The Jacobite steam train leaves from Fort William so that is easy enough to arrange. The train doesn’t operate every day so I’d check the schedule and be sure to book in advance of your trip for that as it is popular.

Hope this helps, and feel free to reach out with additional questions as you plan your trip!

Lois Clark Post author

November 6, 2018 at 4:40 am

Thank you so much for putting this brilliant NC 500 guide together. Really useful 🙂

November 9, 2018 at 1:06 am

Thanks Lois, glad you enjoyed our guide and hope you have a wonderful North Coast 500 road trip. Do let us know if you have any questions. Best, Jessica

Subhajyoti C Post author

September 30, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Hi Jessica & Lawrence,

Congratulations on putting together a gem of a travelogue up there on Scotland and a fantastic website. We are planning for a 5 day trip to the Scottish highlands and Isle of Skye starting from Inverness. We will reach Inverness from London on 13th evening and have booked a self drive car to drive around the highlands for the next 5 days 😀

Below is what we would like to know:

1. We will be travelling with our 8 month old baby boy, considering winter is setting on and having read that Scottish weather can get fickle. Would the weather be too harsh?

2. Your tales got us all excited for the NC500 and We plan on taking the route from Inverness. Could you please recommend a route? considering the actual driving days will be 5 (Fully aware that is no way enough but would still like to make the most of these days). I would like to place Isle of Skye in this route somewhere.

4. Our preferred itinerary if NC500 doesnt cut will be (This is again a copybook of your 5 Day itinerary only difference is we will be driving self)

Day 0 Arrive at Inverness, overnight stay at Broomlea (Ardersier)

Day 1 See around Inverness and reach Ullapool

Day 2 Ullapool to Ardvreck Castle (including short stops enroute)

Day 3 Ullapool to Isle of Skye (Stay overnight at Portee)

Day 4 Explore Isle of Skye

Day 5 Portree to Iverness for our evening flight to London

Is this going to be too aggressive considering we will be travelling with a kid?

5. What could be our accomodation options enroute (Your recommended B&Bs if any)?

Is there another itinierary that you would like to suggest for the above days between 14th and 18th October.

Appreciate any suggestions.

Best, Subh and Shree

October 3, 2018 at 8:25 pm

Hi Subh & Shree,

Sounds like you have a great trip to Scotland coming up.

Yes, the weather is definitely fickle in Scotland. In terms of the weather, the further north, the colder it is likely to be. We like traveling NC500 in winter but it does snow up there and last winter we did have to stop for a day because of the road conditions. So it may not be ideal for such a short trip with a baby and wanting to see a lot. Winter is better for more flexible itineraries and some of the attractions along NC500 are closed in winter.

So in terms of your itinerary, it is only about a 40 minute drive from Ullapool to Ardvreck Castle, so you can do more on that day if you wish. I’d definitely spend 2 full days on the Isle of Skye if you really want to explore that area, especially with a baby.

I think your itinerary is certainly doable with a baby, I’d just check the driving distances each day and see what you want to do/see along the way so you can better plan your driving distances.

Here is our suggested 5 day Scottish Highlands itinerary that may help a bit for things to do/see. Although with a baby, you won’t be able to see as much and will need to move at a slower pace each day. We also started this one from Edinburgh but it should hopefully give you some ideas.

Ellie Post author

August 15, 2018 at 8:28 am

Great blog, thank you. A lot of useful info. We are doing the trip, starting the 4th October for 10 nights and haven’t planned any stops yet along the way. We have 2 dogs and will we stopping in our T5 and various campsites. Hoping to go to Skye for a night or 2 and maybe isle of Harris and Mull depending on time. Is everywhere mainly dog friendly? many thanks ellie

August 15, 2018 at 12:27 pm

A lot of people in Scotland travel with their dogs and you should find plenty to do. Indoor attractions often don’t allow dogs (as you probably expect) but you can always take turns watching the dogs when you want to visit these places.

Most outdoor spaces and campsites do allow dogs although in many places they need to be on a lease to not disturb livestock and/or wildlife. Luckily most nesting birds will be gone by October and lambs will be larger, which are 2 of the biggest issues with dogs in this area. Most beaches allow dogs and allow them to be off leash if supervised and cleaned up after. Most places have dog waste disposal bins.

We’d recommend 7 night along the NC500 to see all the highlights and have time to relax and enjoy it and go walking/hiking etc with your dogs. There are also a lot of attractions in and around Inverness worth seeing (Culloden Battlefield, Loch Ness, Cawdor Castle, etc.). You can see our suggested NC500 camping itinerary for ideas of where to stay along the route.

With 10 nights, I’d probably choose between Isle of Skye or Lewis & Harris (or Mull but it is much further south) so you have enough time to explore them. You can easily spend 2-3 days on any of the islands. I think all of the ferries allow pets, but have different restrictions in terms of where they can be within the ferry so I’d check ahead.

Hope that helps and wishing you a great trip!

June Matthews Post author

July 30, 2018 at 5:23 am

Hi Jessica We are planning to do the NC500 in September. We will be in an Elddis Autoquest 200 motor home which is approx 19 feet in length and 7 feet wide. Are there any parts of the trip that you would advise us to avoid with a van of this size. We really hope there’s not too much but better safe than sorry we think. Many thanks for any help you can give us and congratulations on such a wonderfully friendly and indepth site Regards June

July 30, 2018 at 3:46 pm

That sounds like a fun trip, and very happy you are finding our blog helpful in planning your North Coast 500 road trip! Much of the road along the NC500 (especially in the north and west) are narrow single-track roads that were not designed for a lot of traffic or larger vehicles. But as long as you are patient and know how to drive safely on single-track roads and use passing places you should be fine in a motorhome of that size for the majority of the route.

Here is a good guide to driving on single track roads , if you don’t have much experience driving them.

The two stretches of the road that are usually noted as unsuitable for larger caravans and motorhomes are:

– The Bealach Na Ba stretch as it is steep, narrow, and has a number of sharp bends. This is on the southwestern part of the route over by Applecross. It is easy to avoid as you can take the slip road up to the A896 instead. -The stretch along B869 from Lochinver to Kylesku, which is on the western part of the route.

So I would just avoid those 2 stretches and you should be fine. There is always the chance of temporary road closures and such so I would check the road conditions during your trip, but you’ll probably find plenty of people to chat about the roads going in both directions at the campsites along the route.

You might find this suggested 7 day camping itinerary useful as it provides a suggested NC500 itinerary and tips for those planning to camp or stay in motorhomes along the route.

Hope this helps, and if you have further questions as you plan your trip feel free to reach out. We’ve driven this route several times now and happy to try to help!

July 30, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Many thanks for the advice Jessica. We will be sure to bear this in mind when we undertake the trip Regards June

Chris Marper Post author

July 24, 2018 at 11:53 pm

Great article guide on the North Coast 500. Planning on taking the new Overland vehicle on its first official adventure in early September with our 2 dogs, so came across your guide. Very well written and a great starting point for planning. Hopefully will be doing a lot of rough camping.

July 25, 2018 at 4:23 am

Hi Chris, Wishing you the best of luck on your upcoming North Coast 500 road trip! Glad the guide has been helpful in planning your road trip. If you are planning on camping, you can check out this 1 week NC500 camping itinerary . If you want to do real wild camping, I’d recommend spending more time in the western part as there is more wild camping opportunities on that part of the drive as the Inverness area and eastern part are more developed. Enjoy your time in northern Scotland! Best, Jessica

June 26, 2018 at 9:53 am

Awesome article! There is so much interesting and helpful information in this North Coast 500 guide, thanks a lot for providing it!

June 27, 2018 at 2:08 am

Hi Julie, So happy your enjoyed our NC500 guide, and do let us know if you have any questions as you plan your NC500 road trip! Best, Jessica

Carrie patterson Post author

May 29, 2018 at 5:08 am

Excellent article. Even more excited to get going now!! We are planning on doing a trip in August/September time. We would either be camping or borrowing a pop-up trailer from a friends. Would we be ok waiting booking into camp sites at the time? I usually have a fairly flexible style to travel but a little worried about a lack of facilities in the busy season would mean no availability.

May 29, 2018 at 6:38 am

Hi Carrie! Glad you enjoyed our NC500 travel guide 😉 August is a definitely a busy time along the NC500, especially in the campsites as they are particularly popular with families (as well as university students) and there are a lot of them traveling over the summer. September will get calmer once schools are back in session. So it will depend a little on your dates and it is hard to predict the numbers but summer is a very busy time.

I think a lot of people who camp have a more flexible travel style so you should be OK to wait to book until a bit closer to your trip. But I would not wait too long if you have an idea of where you want to stay as the facilities are limited and there are only so many campsite along the NC500. Currently the need is exceeding the demand at different points in the summer. If you don’t need services (e.g., water, electricity) you can wait longer.

In general, I would recommend booking at least 1 month in advance if you need facilities (e.g., electricity & water hook ups). But if you just need a campsite with just basic amenities (access to toilets, shower block, waste disposal station, drinking water), then you have much more flexibility.

If you want to drive along without a set itinerary and are flexible about where you stay, I’d try to book at least a night or two in advance just so you know that you have a place to stay each evening. But in some areas, like Applecross, there is only one campsite so for places like this it is good to book a bit in advance if you can.

Hope this helps as it is difficult to know how busy it will be at any one time along the route, but booking at least a little in advance can definitely give you some piece of mind in knowing you’ll have a good place to stay. You can check out this NC500 camping itinerary for some ideas for campsites along the North Coast 500 and camping tips.

Paul Wright Post author

May 12, 2018 at 8:40 am

Done that been there several times up down across and back in our camper and up apple cross. we love Scotland and lived there several years until our children wanted us back in Dorset Paul

May 14, 2018 at 7:30 am

Hi Paul, Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Yes, it is certainly a beautiful area of Scotland, very popular with people from England who love the mountains and more rugged terrain! Hope you have many more chances to return and visit the northern Highlands of Scotland! Best, Jessica

May Post author

March 26, 2018 at 2:07 am

I enjoyed reading the information about the NC500. However, you made no mention of how someone with restricted mobility would cope with such a trip. I have a blue badge for my car and walk using a rollator with a seat. Obviously I would not be doing any hiking and getting onto a beach is difficult but I would like to think that there is enough that is accessible to make the trip worthwhile.

March 26, 2018 at 6:37 am

Glad you enjoyed our North Coast 500 guides. Yes, since many of the attractions are outdoors and natural, some may not be an option for someone with restricted mobility. However, many of the scenic viewpoint stops are viewable from the parking area or a very short walk from it and even some of the longer paths have been designed for those with restricted mobility in mind such as this one in Assynt. But for the most part, the hiking trails and beaches are difficult in terms of accessibility.

The area can be challenging as even some of the top attractions like Dunrobin Castle have a number of stairs that need to be navigated to tour the castle although wheelchair access can be arranged to visit the gardens. But I think the best thing to do would be to make a list of attractions you really want to visit and then check their websites or call them about accessibility. Then you can decide if there appears to be enough things available that you want to do to visit.

I know as tourism has increased along the North Coast 500 there has been growing awareness of this as a concern for businesses. Several hotel & B&B owners are in the process or have recently renovated to be able to offer more accessible rooms that can accommodated those in wheelchairs and others with restricted mobility. I know that many of the museums and visitor centers are wheelchair accessible and therefore accessible with a rollator.

Hope this helps, it is not an easy answer. But do let us know if you have further questions and we will try to help!

Anda Post author

October 31, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Indeed, over 500 miles of gorgeous scenery. Like always, your guides are so detailed. You don’t leave anything out, addressing almost every issue that may cross your reader’s mind. I would so love to take this road trip sometimes.

November 1, 2017 at 1:47 am

Hi Anda, Thanks so much and you get a chance to do a NC500 road trip some day 😉 Best, Jessica

Rob+Ann Post author

October 31, 2017 at 7:12 am

First off, it was great meeting you guys at TBex! Always nice to connect “in real life. 🙂

This looks like a fantastic drive! We got a good bit of single track (and drive on the left!) experience in some more remote areas of Ireland. For Americans who aren’t used to either, we can say that it really isn’t so bad. You mention hiring a driver or doing a tour. This is a really good idea – not because it’s so difficult, but because you miss a lot when you’re behind the wheel. Hopefully, you’re paying attention to the road, which means you’ll miss much of the passing scenery. 🙁 Definitely want to experience the NC500 when we make it to Scotland!

October 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

Hi Rob & Ann, Fantastic meeting you as well! Ah, glad you got some experience driving in Ireland, that will definitely come in handy for Scotland. I think Scotland has a lot more single-track roads and they are pretty essential as some are the only ways to get to many smaller towns and villages in the Scottish Highlands and islands. Although I do think some of the roads will be likely be widened and improved in time, especially if traffic continues to increase in the area. Yes, I think for those worried to drive themselves (or can’t due to rental restrictions), a guided bus tour or private driver guide of the North Coast 500 route can be helpful and definitely takes the worry out of driving and allows you to enjoy the scenery. Best, Jessica

phil Post author

October 29, 2017 at 10:44 am

hello, great right up already made my mind to do nc 500 next year june or september not sure yet, not been to scotland before so me and the wife are looking forward to it going to do it in a open top car 2 seater so will be a little cramped and looking to do it over 6 days best start planing now 🙂

October 29, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Hi Phil, So great to hear that you and your wife are planning to do a North Coast 500 road trip this coming summer 😉 I would probably start planning early next year, especially in terms of flights (if needed) and lodging. The rest you can plan much closer to the time, but lodging is best to plan 3 months or more in advance if you have specific places you want to stay. A 2 seater car can be great (just pack light!), and small cars are great for the narrow roads. The NC500 is a popular route for car clubs so you are likely to see some groups of very expensive and vintage cars out on the road. Feel free to ask us any questions about the route as you start planning your trip! We live in Scotland and are happy to try to help. Best, Jessica

October 28, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Thanks for this great, comprehensive guide as usual! Your earlier post on the NC500 already had me wanting to visit, so this practical guide was a great help! Have pinned it for future reference 🙂 I’ve only been to the Scottish Highlands once, but I absolutely loved it, and can’t wait to go back. In terms of driving, the thing that shocked me most was the amount of roadkill we saw! 🙁 It was honestly a little traumatic. But that was many years ago – hopefully drivers are better accustomed to avoiding wildlife now. Definitely not an area to go speeding along, like you say!

October 29, 2017 at 12:57 am

Hi Michelle, Yes, I think if you enjoyed your prior trip to the Scottish Highlands, you would really enjoy the North Coast 500. It is just another area of similar landscapes and beauty as the rest of the Highlands, but one many people are less familiar with and the new tourist route has really brought more people and business into that area. Yes, road safety is definitely a concern and we have almost been hit a few times driving around the Highlands with crazy tourists (and locals) speeding along. We have thankfully not seen a lot of wildlife on the road, but deer are definitely a big concern (particularly the red and roe deer) and of course the smaller animals are harder for people to see, particularly at night. Hope you get a chance to return to Scotland. Best, Jessica

Nancy Post author

October 27, 2017 at 8:11 pm

This is such a great comprehensive post on the North Coast 500! There is so much to see and do. I’ve yet to travel to Scotland, but would love to visit one day. Your North Coast 500 route tips and packing list are very helpful!

October 29, 2017 at 1:29 am

Thanks Nancy, glad you enjoyed the post and do us know if you have any questions if you decide to plan your own North Coast 500 road trip! Best, Jessica

Lolo Post author

October 27, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Once again, you’ve left me in awe! To be honest, your posts on Scotland have me thinking maybe we should consider moving to Scotland as we’re looking to move somewhere new! I love everything about this post, from the history to the castles and the whiskey! Pinned!!! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

October 29, 2017 at 1:19 am

Hi Lolo, Yes, you should come visit Scotland and a North Coast 500 road trip is a great way to see part of it 😉 If you are seriously thinking of moving to Scotland, get in touch and happy to chat. Best, Jessica

Anisa Post author

October 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm

This looks amazing! So neat that it was only established in 2014. Since I loved my road trip to Isle of Skye I think I would really enjoy this one as well. Maybe I can fit it in next summer.

October 29, 2017 at 1:12 am

Hi Anisa, Yes, the NC500 has been a very successful tourist initiative and has garnered a lot of media coverage similar to the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland although this one is much shorter! The route runs just a bit north of where you would have been when visiting the Isle of Skye, the Isle is a common detour for people driving the route. If you come in summer for a North Coast 500 road trip, just remember to bring something to ward off the pesky midges, especially if you plan to be outside in the evenings! ~ Jessica

Lisa Post author

October 27, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Your pictures are stunning!!! Also very Great tips for the North Coast 500! Definitely saving this for when I make it to Scotland one day. Hopefully sooner than later. 🙂

October 29, 2017 at 1:08 am

Hi Lisa, Thanks, glad you enjoyed the photos, they are a good way to entice people to Scotland 😉 I hope you get a chance to travel to Scotland soon! Best, Jessica

Janis Post author

October 27, 2017 at 2:24 am

Another great post and really informative, you’ve managed to cover so much.

We’re hoping to make the North Coast 500 trip one day, so we’ll certainly be referring back to this.

Loved the photos as well.

Happy Travels Janis & Gary

October 29, 2017 at 1:07 am

Hi Janis, Thanks! The North Coast 500 is a great road trip if you enjoy road trips, and I hope you get a chance to see it yourself. Best, Jessica

Mick Meadows Post author

March 1, 2018 at 10:48 am

Hi Jessica and Laurence Congratulations, your site is the most informative, accessible and inspiring of those that we have looked at. Clear descriptive text supported by stunning photographs provide an outstanding resource. We are planning the North Coast 500 in mid September in our AM Vantage and your site is so helpful, thank you! Mick & Liz Meadows

March 1, 2018 at 10:54 am

Hi Mick & Liz, Thank you so much for kind comments, and we are so happy that you found our North Coast 500 planning guide helpful! We have driven the NC500 again since we wrote that guide (in winter) and will be back up there in May, so be on the lookout for new NC500 posts. We are planning to write a North Coast 500 itinerary or two, and more related content out over the next few months on both of our blogs. But feel free to shout if you have any questions as you plan your NC500 road trip. September is a great month to do it as it starts to get quieter then as kids go back to school and the weather cools a bit, but most business are still open and September tends to bring decent weather 😉 Best, Jessica & Laurence

paul cameron Post author

April 8, 2018 at 3:57 pm

hi, my wife and i are also travelling the route in May. Your tips will be used. Cheers. Paul.

April 13, 2018 at 8:42 am

Hi Paul, Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, and wishing you a wonderful trip along the NC500! Best, Jessica

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Scotland road trip / North Coast 500

grand tour north coast 287 route

  • Add to quote
  • Gleaner brand petrol stations have super unleaded - the Jet's don't. If you see a Gleaner fill up.
  • Inverness and Thurso had BP's and Esso's. There aren't any Shells or Tesco's with Momentum.
  • Booking the nights stay in the morning was easy and not stressful in early March - it won't be in summer
  • The roads were, by enlarge, totally empty - seriously - totally empty. In summer they're not and honestly I don't think the NC500 would be worth doing in summer as you'd get frustrated having to constantly wait at passing places
  • Yes big chunks of the route are single track and have passing places
  • Yes that was occasionally worrying, especially as I'm precious about my wheels
  • Its very tempting to go very fast but don't. Partially because you'll miss the scenery, partially because nature tends to jump out at random times (especially deer), partially because the weather changes very quickly, partially because you'll see people that got it wrong and there are mobile speed vans around
  • Honestly I'm not sure its worth going beyond Tongue on the north coast towards John o Groats - the roads become wider, busier and less interesting. The Grand Tour 287 is probably more interesting - certainly Skye and the north west of Scotland were the highlights
  • If you go to the top of Skye, they turn the street lamps off at 11pm and you see lots of stars
  • It was possible to find decent places to stay under £100/night


Map World Atlas Electric blue Slope

I'm going mid May in my Aston Martin Vantage, hoping its still not too busy then and get dryish weather. Ive already planned my hotels and route. Ive done a bit of looking around on streetview and was slightly concerned about the single tracks but mostly they seem open with good visibility? Wasnt planning any deviations for my first time but am going a different way there and back between Inverness and Glasgow. Will note your tips about the petrol stations but im definitely taking a gerry can as i expect to average 16-18mpg during the actual loop.  

Ecoregion World Map Atlas Water

@ sme101 honestly the worst bit was from Loch Lomond up to Inverness - I'm sure there must be super-unleaded between the two but I was getting low by the time I rolled into Inverness. After that I bought super unleaded whenever I saw it but did drive into a couple petrol stations and then straight out the other side... The narrowest bits I remember where from Kyle of Lochalsh to Plockton; which was really narrow and quite unsighted. But, you're not doing that bit. And then Lochinver to Drumbeg was pretty narrow but had better visibility. Durness to Tongue is narrow too but didn't come across any cars there (for well over an hour) and that had great visibility. Next time I do it, I'm not going to bother with the very north east and I don't think I'll bother with the A9 route through Aviemore and down to Edinburgh or the A1 route either. Driving back via the lochs and Glasgow is way more interesting as the A9 is dull straights and traffic. Maybe you can also work in the B6277 up near Penrith on your way back  

Cheers for the tips. I dont actually need super unleaded so will just top up any station we come across. :nice:  

@ sme101 oh you'll be fine then - Jet petrol stations were pretty regular  

Thanks for posting this I'm doing a trip around the end of April which is a mate who lives up there now's custom route but the tips will come in mega handy.  

I'll attach the route of the GT287. Next time I'll probably drive further round to Tongue and down to Lairg from there and do, what I'm going to call, the FiST409 .  

World Map Azure Font Screenshot

Xanda73 said: Hi 13twelve - fantastic thread and really good insight into something you have re-inspired me into seriously looking at doing this year in the ST - the NC500. I'll apologise now for spamming your thread with my similar tale of driving from Lancashire to Skye and back in my Renault days, but it's good to share :biggrin: As an aside, your avatar looks weirdly and scarily like me - I'm not joking who is it? ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Over the Sea to Skye Having recently returned from a much anticipated trip to Skye from the Ribble Valley and through Scotland, I thought I'd share. This was intended to be the first proper run out for the Trophy for myself and the wife. To summarise the following - it was epic. It was something approaching 1200 miles at slightly over 30 mpg all told. I'd like to post the proper figures but the trip computer had a recalcitrant moment from the beginning, not recording any information at all. I didn't notice this till well north of Glasgow. After some cajoling, it sprang into life but by then the stats were lost. View attachment 560945 I have to say that that was the only minor issue the car had though throughout, other than the brakes being sub-par, in my opinion. On a couple of occasions I did think the car wasn't slowing enough, almost missing a junction or two and nearly running into the back of a XK8. My R26 was the same; I much prefer Clio brakes. Anyway, first stop was the pretty village of Luss, on the shore of Loch Lomond. Picnic had, it was time to move on. View attachment 560947 The last few northern miles of Loch Lomond, along the A82 provided some 'racing' entertainment in trying to keep up with a speedboat around the twists and turns of the road. At the end of Britain's largest area of fresh water, a cheery wave saw us head off towards Glencoe. View attachment 560949 Before getting there we passed through Tyndrum, and at the Inn & Green Welly stop, there must have been a thousand bikers partaking of refreshments. We had barely left the village when what seemed like every one of said bikers decided to roar past the Megane. I don't know why, maybe it's the decals, but a few fearless chaps pulled alongside for a brief moment before wheeling off down the road, as if to say "not fast enough mate". This continued all the way through Glencoe, making my own progress a little slow as every time I glanced in the mirrors in preparation for an overtake, a dozen or so two-wheeled maniacs whizzed by. View attachment 560951 The road through Glencoe itself is truly stunning. We originally had planned to stay a night in the village but the prices were rather high. I can now understand why. View attachment 560953 View attachment 560955 We rolled on through towards Fort William and our overnight stop. A few folks had told me not to bother visiting this place, but I went in with an open mind, and the admittedly very little I saw of the place was perfectly respectable. View attachment 560957 The B&B had a great view of Ben Nevis. View attachment 560959 The next day dawned, well, miserably. We had wanted to tour around Loch Ness, and having read that the eastern shore was much less visited, we turned off the A82 at Fort Augustus. The B862, or General Wade's Military Road, was quite interesting. Once again, and for the second day in a row we found ourselves in the middle of a two-wheeled jam, albeit at a much slower pace. In my defence, the marshal that was supposed to stop us driving into the heart of a closed road bicycle race told us that we were okay to proceed. View attachment 560961 After passing a few hundred puffing, wheezing cyclists - some riding, most pushing - we were told to stop and informed that for safety reasons we must not go any further, and cannot return the way we came. An hour passed before they tentatively let us continue towards the first stop of the day at Foyers. View attachment 560963 The falls feed the river Ness, flowing into the famous Loch. View attachment 560965 The short walk down to the Loch shore is well worth it. Red squirrels too, if you're lucky. The walk back up was a particular highlight for the wife. View attachment 560967 From the Falls of Foyer we pressed on along the eastern shore of Loch Ness to the Dores Inn for lunch - highly recommended. On leaving (and to be honest, on arriving) the weather wasn't looking great. This is Scotland of course, so never mind, to be expected. The next stop was the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre. This meant continuing the Ness loop which is 70 miles all told, through Inverness and back down the other side. Then the snow started. We made it to the car park of the Exhibition Centre, but decided that the thought of 150 miles and three hours to our bed wasn't looking great, with a couple of inches of the white stuff covering the car, and getting worse. Disappointed as we were, the thought of having come this far and it being one of the things we wanted to visit (along with Urquhart Castle), but unable to, the thought of a beer, haggis and a bed had a greater pull. Of note on the roads here has to be the supercar convoys that we encountered; several. Porsche Ferrari Ferrari TVR Lamborghini GTR Porsche Lamborghini Ferrari - I couldn't call them fast enough - not that the wife cared. Within an hour of leaving the monster, the snow had gone. This was a pattern that would be repeated throughout our trip. I think they call it Atlantic Climate - different every hour. Never mind, no turning back, Skye beckoned. View attachment 560969 View attachment 560971 The Cullen Mountain Range is truly majestic - the best in Britain it's said. I have no reason to doubt that claim and would go further and say it's the best I've seen anywhere. View attachment 560973 Portree harbour, the main village on Skye. These next few pictures are from the A855 from Uig back to Portree, skirting the coast of the Trotternish peninsula. Hard to believe this is classed as an 'A' road - some of it is single track with passing places every 100 yards. View attachment 560975 View attachment 560977 View attachment 560979 This road passes Kilt Rock, Mealt Waterfall, The Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr - a must see all for any visitor. View attachment 560981 View attachment 560983 The following day has us drive out across Skye to the southerly peninsula of Sleat and the Clan Donald museum. This took us along the A851 which was a much better road, fast and flowing. The Megane was in its element here, tremendous fun. The views from here were fantastic too. View attachment 560985 This is the view over to Morar on the mainland and is the point at which the old ferry takes travellers that'd rather not use the bridge. Next up was Elgol, where you can take a Oahu boat trips on sunset on the Misty Isle to the unspoilt Loch Coruisk. This was the plan, but again, the inclement weather put paid to the idea. The road to Elgol is worth mentioning - turning off the main road at Broadford, the brilliant sat nav proclaimed it was 14 miles to go. Fourteen miles on the most tortuous, winding and twisting road surely in the British Isles. Again, single track with passing places, barely five foot wide, up, down, round and round - it really feels like you are driving to the end of the world. Too dangerous to push on at any reasonable speed, this took quite a while to navigate. The fact that the road (or my driving?) made the wife feel particularly sick didn't help the pace. The last few hundred yards is hairpin after hairpin, down a 1 in 4 hill with oncoming cars and walkers, all vying for a precious piece of tarmac. View attachment 560987 Another reason for visiting Elgol was that it provides some of the best views of the Cullins. Bloody weather! View attachment 560989 The Talisker distillery was to be the next stop but I really didn't fancy the interior of the Trophy surviving a vomit outbreak along another nine miles of Skye's finest. Next time maybe. The return trip home was done in one stint, with just one stop for fuel, seven hours and 415 miles. The Renault was more than up to the task, comfy, spacious, fun, fast, returning 30+ mpg. It was immense getting past well, everything, on the way to the motorway and saw off a DB9 and a XK8 combo with ease. The 17 miles of the A87 from the Bun Loyne junction to the A82 at Invergarry was a highlight that I won't forget in a long time. Click to expand...

@ Jonesy ST some of the roads are narrow and sometimes you come across tractors and HGVs and I was glad of my cars smaller size. That said, I did see giant SUVs and the like and people got round in them just fine. Just that the ST seems designed for these type of roads - I'd imagine a GTR wouldn't get to stretch its legs very much and would feel really wide in places @ Xanda73 your trip looks mega! Its also funny because I live very close to the Ribble Valley  

grand tour north coast 287 route

Looking to get this trip done at some point, possibly next year! Currently in the Black Forest in Germany, fingers crossed the roads here are as good to drive as they are to look at :nice:  

13twelve said: @ Jonesy ST some of the roads are narrow and sometimes you come across tractors and HGVs and I was glad of my cars smaller size. That said, I did see giant SUVs and the like and people got round in them just fine. Just that the ST seems designed for these type of roads - I'd imagine a GTR wouldn't get to stretch its legs very much and would feel really wide in places @ Xanda73 your trip looks mega! Its also funny because I live very close to the Ribble Valley It was mega and I'm earning for another in the ST. Your black ST looks ace BTW - I really think Ford have done a poor job with the colours (hence going for race red because I wasn't paying for something I didn't like), but looking at your car in the pics above, I should have chosen black I think. Click to expand...

@ Xanda73 thanks!  

grand tour north coast 287 route

I did this a couple of years ago in two parts. I'll add to the petrol locations too. Inverness has a Tesco filling station on the outskirts of town with momentum. Ullapool also has super unleaded too at the petrol station in the Main Street. As already said in the thread, outwith the summer is usually better. Although both times I went was in June but a few years back before it got so popular.  

Cloud Sky Mountain Ecoregion Plant

@ sme101 looks ace! I stopped to take pictures in some of the same spots too  

grand tour north coast 287 route

Excellent pictures though a few of your car in there would have been nice. :grin:  

ST3spin said: Excellent pictures though a few of your car in there would have been nice. :grin: Click to expand...

Hi, Like your post, :nice: I'm doing the NC 500 in my mk 7 the end of September. We plan to do it anticlockwise over 5 days, plus a couple of days in Inverness. The thought here is it will just get better as we go, ending on the Bealach na Ba via Kalnakill. I'm was a bit concerned about my wheels but noted you was also, but had no problems. :thumbsup:  

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grand tour north coast 287 route


North Coast 500

The grand tour: series 3, episode 7: ‘well aged scotch’.

North Coast 500

  • Fully customisable itinerary
  • Prices from: £1370 per person
  • Best time to go: April - October
  • Transport: Rental car included (optional)

grand tour north coast 287 route

Situated at the edge of the Great Glen, Inverness is known as the Capital of the Highlands. Nearby you will find Culloden Battlefield, site of the last battle of the Jacobite Rising, and mysterious Loch Ness.

grand tour north coast 287 route

Mountains of Assynt

Admire the majestic splendour of mountains that Assynt has to offer. The spectacular mountainous backdrop is made up of distinctively shaped mountains including the remarkable Suilven.

grand tour north coast 287 route

Bealach na Bà

Experience a thrilling journey over the Bealach na Bà with spectacular views and hairpin bends. Bealach na Bà, meaning pass of the cattle, has become well known and is a must if you’re passing through the Applecross Mountains.

grand tour north coast 287 route

Inverewe Gardens

Explore the world-famous Inverewe Gardens – an oasis of exotic plants and vibrant colour. Many rare species of plants are thriving in this part of Scotland due to the effects of the Gulf Stream. Enjoy the lush setting and varying scents around every corner.

grand tour north coast 287 route

Dunrobin Castle

Visit the magnificent ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, Dunrobin Castle, resembling a French chateâu with magnificent gardens and falconry displays. Dunrobin is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and with 189 rooms, is also the largest in the Northern Highlands.

grand tour north coast 287 route

Achmelvich Bay

Hidden away on the West Coast is Achmelvich Bay, a beautiful white sandy beach and is known to be one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches. Relish in this little corner of paradise, and enjoy the pristine water and rugged backdrop.

A Spectacular Route around Scotland’s North Coast

Experience Scotland’s answer to Route 66 on this self-guided road trip holiday. The North Coast 500 offers an unforgettable journey through some of Europe’s most exhilarating scenery.

From Inverness, the cosmopolitan capital of the Highlands, journey into north-west Scotland to explore one of Europe’s last great wildernesses where majestic mountains and sparkling lochs await.

Travel to the rugged North Coast of Scotland, where sweeping sea views and isolated beaches combined with the warmest of Highland hospitality is everything you can expect from your time on the North Coast 500, and much more!

Head over to the West Coast as you bask in some of the most beautiful mountainous scenery that Scotland has to offer. Enjoy some of the best walking in the ancient mountains of Torridon whilst discovering hidden white sandy bays.

Visit the most northerly point of mainland Britain, at Dunnet Head with its spectacular sea cliffs and views over to the Orkney Isles. Admire the stunning sea stacks at Duncansby Head or take a photo at the iconic John O’Groats signpost. Travel south into Caithness to explore a region full of historic towns and endless miles of sandy beaches. 

Return to Inverness through the picturesque Black Isle where your unforgettable journey on the North Coast 500 comes to an end.

Suggested Itinerary

The holiday ideas on our website are just examples of the amazing trips we offer. Think of this itinerary as a starting point which can be tailored into something completely unique to you by our award-winning specialists.

We love the opportunity to use our first-hand knowledge and experience to design and deliver the perfect, bespoke holiday experience for you.

Day 1: Arrive in Inverness

Arrive in Inverness, the Capital of the Highlands, where you can wander along the picturesque banks of the River Ness, see Pictish carvings at Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, or go in search of ‘Nessie’ at nearby Loch Ness. Overnight – Inverness

Day 2: Inverness to Wester Ross

Your journey on the NC500 begins today. Travel west to the tranquil Applecross Peninsula and enjoy one of the most spectacular road trips in the British Isles, with jaw-dropping views across to the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye. Picturesque fishing villages and crofting townships are scattered all along the coast. Overnight – Wester Ross

Day 3: Wester Ross Sightseeing

One of Europe’s last great wildernesses is yours to explore today. Visit famous Inverewe Gardens, go dolphin spotting on a boat trip from Gairloch, walk along miles of deserted white sandy beaches, or enjoy some of the best walking in the country in the ancient mountains of Torridon. Overnight – Wester Ross

Day 4: Wester Ross to Ullapool

Your next destination in the north of Scotland is Ullapool – an idyllic, whitewashed fishing village sitting on the banks of Loch Broom. More great beaches await you, so take your time, relax and settle into a slower pace of life. Overnight – Ullapool

Day 5: Ullapool Sightseeing

Discover the magical Summer Isles, enjoy an exhilarating walk to the summit of Stac Pollaidh for stunning views of the islands, or a bracing cliff top walk to the Old Man of Stoer. Overnight – Ullapool

Day 6: Ullapool to Durness

A wonderfully scenic and winding road passes secluded beaches, secret bays and hidden coves to your destination in the Far North, the spectacularly located village of Durness. Overnight – Durness area

Day 7: Durness Sightseeing

Tucked away behind several gorgeous white sandy beaches, Durness is a magical spot and a great base for relaxing beachfront strolls. Explore dramatic Smoo Cave, visit Balnakeil Craft Village, or walk 4 miles to Sandwood Bay – one of Britain’s most beautiful and secluded beaches. Overnight – Durness area

Day 8: Durness to Thurso

Travel the old road across the very top of Scotland past the remote mountains of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope following the cliffs and stunning golden beaches of our northern coast.

The bustling town of Thurso awaits – a perfect base to explore the wild and rugged Far North. Overnight – Thurso area

Day 9: Far North Sightseeing

Visit the most northerly point in mainland Britain, Dunnet Head, with its stunning sea cliffs and views across to the Orkney Isles, or the opulent Castle and Gardens of Mey – the Queen Mother’s holiday home. Take a photo at the iconic John O’Groats signpost, or visit Duncansby Head with its awe-inspiring sea stacks. Overnight – Thurso area

Day 10: Thurso to Dornoch

Travel south through the unspoilt region of Caithness – a former Viking stronghold – to Dunrobin Castle. The ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland resembles a French chateâu with magnificent gardens and falconry displays.  

The picturesque Royal Burgh of Dornoch is your home for the night. The town has miles of golden sandy beaches to explore, as well as a 13th century Cathedral. Overnight – Dornoch

Day 11: Return to Inverness

Travel south through a wild and vastly uninhabited area and take a short walk up to visit the impressive Fyrish Monument, built on Fyrish Hill in 1782.

Continue south to Inverness, where your unforgettable journey on the North Coast 500 will come to an end.

What's Included?

Your holiday includes:

  • Carefully selected en-suite accommodation for 10 nights including traditional Scottish breakfast
  • Comprehensive information pack
  • Personalised itinerary with our recommendations for the best places to eat and drink and sightseeing suggestions
  • Map of Scotland with our recommended driving route
  • 10 days rental of an Economy car (other vehicle categories available) including comprehensive insurance
  • 24-hour emergency contact number
  • Full financial protection

Your holiday doesn't include:

  • Travel insurance
  • Lunches and evening meals

Accommodation & Prices

Special Places to Stay

We know that after a busy day of sightseeing an exceptional place to stay makes all the difference. That’s why all of the accommodation we select is hand-picked using our first-hand knowledge of the best places to stay.

Our discerning team has a wealth of experience, and we extensively research and regularly review all of the accommodation we select for our clients.

Please choose from one of our accommodation categories below. If you wish to combine these categories or perhaps upgrade for a special occasion let us know in your enquiry.

grand tour north coast 287 route

A collection of quality 4* Guest Houses and 3* Hotels often located in beautiful locations which provide an excellent standard of accommodation.

Tastefully decorated and furnished, these properties are generally owned and operated by locals who have a genuine passion for their region which they are keen to share with you. Their warm hospitality is sure to be a highlight of your Scottish experience.

grand tour north coast 287 route

Our Premium category includes a unique collection of luxurious and stylish boutique Guest Houses and small 4* Hotels. These are wonderfully charming and intimate and run with great flair by their owners.

It also comprises larger 4* Hotels selected for their high standard of accommodation, exceptional service, and great location. These range from traditional luxury to contemporary Hotels.

grand tour north coast 287 route

From award-winning luxury Hotels to unique country retreats, all of which offer exceptional accommodation with superb facilities and outstanding service.

These are truly magical places and amongst the best Scotland has to offer. The perfect choice when you would like somewhere really special which can be a treat for the night or for your entire holiday.

Our packages include car rental and comprehensive insurance for the duration of your holiday. Absolute Escapes has an excellent relationship with a number of car hire operators and we are able to offer quality vehicles and great value for money.

If you plan to bring your own vehicle, we are also able to offer this itinerary without a rental car.

All our packages include:

  • Collision Damage Waiver
  • Super Damage Excess Waiver
  • Third Party Insurance
  • Theft Waiver
  • Good for 2 people
  • Maximum of 4 passengers
  • 2 large suitcases
  • Manual or automatic transmission
  • Good for 2 – 4 people
  • Maximum of 5 passengers


  • Good for up to 4 people
  • 3 large suitcases
  • Good for 5 people
  • Maximum of 7 passengers
  • 3 – 4 large suitcases

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Drive the North Coast 500 - The ultimate Scotland road trip

Day 1: inverness and around.

Miles: 74.5

Arrive in Inverness

As the unofficial capital of the Scottish Highlands, it makes sense that the North Coast 500 (NC500) road trip starts in Inverness.

Known as much for its pretty facade as it is for its close proximity to Scotland's most rugged landscapes, Inverness has gone from the site of many a historic battle to an industrial port-town, to a thriving hub for tourism and major student city, proving itself one of Scotland's most dynamic urban centres in the process.

Only actually made a city in 2000 to mark the dawn of the new millennium, it is now one of the fastest growing in Europe and, according to the UK's Office of National Statistics, one of the the happiest.

Catch the earliest flight possible - the more time you have here, the better.

A view of the River Ness, Inverness, with Gothic style buildings on the right hand side and a traffic filled bridge going over it.

Car hire for the North Coast 500

It's best to pre-book your car hire in advance and collect your vehicle at the airport, as you're going to need it from the very first day.

Inverness Airport currently has booths for Avis and Europcar, and although airport collection can often work out more expensive, a taxi to the city centre (9 miles away) costs approximately £20 anyway, so you may find that the difference isn't that huge.

Once you've collected your ride for the week, let's get going; head into town, check into your hotel, put down your bags and then get straight back in the car - there's exploring to be done.

Fort George and The Highlanders' Museum

First built as a response to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the star-shaped Fort George has all the ingredients for an impregnable fortress: positioned on a patch of headland that juts out into the choppy waters of the Moray Firth, it is protected by steep sea walls on one side, lined with cannons, has underground bunkers for the safety of its troops and possesses a 1km rampart, enclosing an area the size of five football pitches.

Just a 25-minute drive northeast of Inverness, a trip to this mighty stronghold provides a fascinating insight into Scottish military life, past and present.

Although Fort George has never actually been attacked (you wouldn't win, let's be honest), don't be surprised if you see a soldier or two walking about the place - it's still used as a barracks today.

Nonetheless, much of the site is open to the public and visitors can learn about the history of the fort, step inside the garrison chapel and pay their respects at the dog cemetery, the final resting kennel of the regimental mascots.

The Highlanders' Museum, which is located on-site, contains an extensive collection of items relating to the regiment such as uniforms, weapons, medals including Victoria Crosses, items from World War I and over 10,000 documents and photographs.

Soldiers wearing kilts and army fatigues with their backs to the camera outside a stone barracks building at Fort George, Scotland

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

Less than 25 minutes south of the city centre, and an hour or so away from Fort George, sits Loch Ness, the largest loch in the whole of the UK and reputed home of the legendary Loch Ness Monster - or Nessie, as the locals like to call her.

Rumours of a mythical beast living here stretch as far back as 600AD, but the creature was only really brought to public attention in 1933 with the publication of "photos" of Nessie, which were later proven to be a hoax; nonetheless, since then crowds have flocked here hoping catch a glimpse of her humps.

Will you be one of the lucky ones?

Along the banks of the loch sit the ruins of the much fought over Castle Urquhart, once one of Scotland's largest and grandest castles.

Spend a minute or two pretending to be a Scottish laird, wandering over the bridges, underneath the arches, and between the battlements and prison cells.

Loch Ness  with the ruins of Castle Urquhart in the foreground

Head back into Inverness for the afternoon

Now you've (hopefully) spotted Nessie and got a feel for Scotland's military past, it's time to head back to Inverness, park up and explore the city itself.

Built around the River Ness, it's easily walkable, with pretty waterside paths, grand old buildings including St Andrews Cathedral and Inverness Castle, and plenty of cafes to stop off at along the way.

Although the castle is not open to the general public - it's still used as a Sheriff's Court - the north tower contains a viewing platform that offers a superb view over the city.

Don't miss the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, which will set you up with a useful understanding of the heritage and culture of the Scottish Highlands for the trip ahead.

Top tip: Many of the hotels in Inverness offer free parking for guests, but if you did need somewhere to leave the car then the Rose Street multi-story car park is affordable (£7 for 24 hours), secure and centrally located.

The front of Inverness Castle with a circular battlement on the left side and a Scottish flag flying above it

Where to eat in Inverness

In recent years Inverness has gained an increasingly strong reputation for its culinary scene and to say that it boasts more dining options than other towns on the North Coast 500 is quite the understatement, so all the more excuse to feast while you still can.

The Kitchen Brasserie often requires booking in advance thanks to its riverside location, fish dishes and delicious desserts, although if you're in the city on a Friday then make it the tiny River House Restaurant , where fresh oysters are just £1 a pop between 17.30-18.30.

Day 2: Drive Inverness to Thurso

While many roadtrippers choose to follow the North Coast 500 in a clockwise direction, we recommend doing the opposite, so that the hairiest lanes are at the end of the route, but more on that later.

Driven straight, the journey from Inverness up to Thurso would only take between two and three hours, but there's so much to see along the way that you should allow a whole day.

Bask in the beauty of the Black Isle

Dominated by lush, gently rolling farmland, and a haven for woodland wildlife, the Black Isle isn't necessarily what you picture when you think of the Scottish Highlands.

Just across from Inverness via the Kessock Bridge, it's not actually an island but a peninsula, and with so much to do it's worth veering off the A9 and taking a detour for; among the highlights is Chanonry Point, one of the most reliable places in the UK for dolphin spotting.

There are also numerous food and drink attractions on this strip of land, including the Black Isle Brewery and one of Scotland's oldest distilleries, Glen Ord.

Both of these establishments offer tours, but it will have to be the passenger(s) doing the taste tasting for now - at 0.5mg, Scotland has a lower driving alcohol limit than the rest of the UK, with strict penalties for offenders.

A view across hay fields and hay bails to the water in the Black Isle, Scotland.

Climb the Whaligoe Steps

After exploring the Black Isle, follow the A9 north then continue on to the A99 to reach our next stop of the day, the Whaligoe Steps.

A set of 365 perilously steep stairs leading down to a craggy natural harbour that is sheltered between two steep cliffs, where fishing boats would once have landed their catches, they were carved by hand into the rock in the late 18th century.

Walk to the bottom and back up again, and (in between all of your wheezing) spare a thought for the Whaligoe fisherwoman, who would have trodden this same path carrying heavy wicker baskets full of herring unloaded from the boats.

Afterwards, reward yourself with some lunch and a cuppa in the cafe at the top.

The grey cliffs and dark waters of the cove surrounding the harbour that the Whaligoe Steps lead to, in Scotland

Get the John O'Groats snap

Moving further north and passing through the town of Wick, taking a detour to visit the decrepit Castle Sinclair Girnigoe if you wish, the next stop on this Scotland road trip route is John O'Groats.

Famous for being at the northern end of the two furthest apart inhabited points of the UK, its iconic signpost attracts thousands of tourists every year, not to mention jubilant cyclists and hikers completing the trek from one to the other.

Unfortunately, the town itself is depressingly drab, so we'd suggest getting in, getting the obligatory snap and getting back on the road again.

The signpost at John O'Groats with arms pointing towards New York, Lands End and Orkney & Shetland and a blue sky in the background

Visit a Royal residence

The next stage of today's drive will, eventually, take you into Thurso, but first there's one more stop to make.

If you've ever watched The Crown, you'll have heard the story of how Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother purchased a ramshackle castle after the death of her husband, George VI. That castle is where we're aiming for: The Castle of Mey.

Initially built in 1572, it was purchased and restored by the Queen Mother in 1952, and functioned as a much-loved royal residence for over 40 years.

Today it still holds a place in royal life, closing to the public for a period of 10 days every July when Prince Charles and his wife Camilla come to stay.

See the Northern Lights

After you've checked into your accommodation in Thurso you'll no doubt be looking for something to do with your evening.

Unfortunately, in a town as quiet as Thurso there's not a lot going on after dark, but if you're visiting in autumn or winter then Mother Nature may well throw you a party instead.

On clear nights during these months, the north coast of Scotland is often treated to the Northern Lights, with colourful natural displays lighting up the night skies.

From Thurso, a great spot to watch is the beach at the tiny village of Castletown, about a 10-minute drive away.

Top tip: When going to see the Northern Lights, have your camera ready - they're sometimes actually clearer when seen through a screen.

Outside of these seasons, you're very unlikely to witness them, so instead treat yourself to a meal at Bydand , a restaurant that looks suspiciously like a hairdressers from the outside but actually serves traditional Scottish food with quirky twists.

Red, green and purple Northern Lights visible in the sky above a silhouetted house in Scotland

Day 3: Thurso to Durness

After yesterday's many stops, today is going to seem considerably calmer as Scotland's north coast has fewer physical attractions, but a plentiful supply of beautiful, if blustery, beaches to enjoy and that starts right here in Thurso.

Nothing will shake you awake like a sea breeze, so enjoy an early morning run on the beach or, if you've got a board and a wetsuit with you, brave a very icy dip.

Over the last few years the town has become respected by surfers for its phenomenal right hand break and insane barrel, but do note that the locals are notoriously intolerant of snakers - provoke them at your peril.

When you're done, go into town to refuel with a leisurely breakfast, then start working your way eastward along the coast.

Before you leave, it may be a good idea to top up with fuel and car snacks; Thurso has a Tesco and a Lidl, but they're the last supermarkets you are going to see for a while.

Three wetsuit-clad surfers and a man in a hoody stood on a rock and looking out to sea in Thurso, Scotland

Visit the Strathnaver Museum

Just under 30 miles from Thurso you will find Strathnaver Museum, which tells the story of the Highland Clearances - the forcible eviction of families from this area during the 18th and 19th centuries - from the former church in which those affected would have been told of their fates.

Shedding light on this turbulent period of Scottish history and the lives of the Mackay Clan, it's a "don't miss" as far as understanding the area is concerned.

The museum is really made, however, by the friendly and knowledgeable volunteers who bring such a human connection to the stories.

Afterwards, stretch your legs a little more with a stroll on the beach at the breathtaking Farr Bay, above which the museum is situated.

Strathnaver Museum is closed during the winter months, but visits can be made by prior arrangement so check their website for more information.

An aerial view of the white exterior of the Strathnaver Museum, Scotland, with a graveyard surrounding it, and a sandy cove and sea in the background

Coldbackie Beach and beyond

A little more driving should bring you along to Coldbackie Beach, a quiet, pristine stretch of sand that looks out over peacock blue waters towards the Rabbit Islands and the Orkneys.

Make this your next beach break or stop off at Weavers Cafe, just on the side of the main road, for a tasty lunch and a slice of cake.

Afterwards, take the A838 eastwards, crossing the Kyle of Tongue bridge and continuing on this road, which will take you around the hilly outskirts of Loch Eriboll.

There's not a lot surrounding this remote loch, other than the Ard Neakie lime kilns, a relic of 1840s industry and a wild terrain - but that's precisely the beauty of it.

Square lime kilns on a promontory in Loch Eriboll, with the mountains in the background and blue skies

Follow the Ceannabeinne Township Trail

Further along, the Ceannabeinne Township Trail takes visitors around the ruins of the town of Ceannabeinne, which was deeply affected by the Highland Clearances.

Starting from a gravel lay-by just off of the A838, a series of information boards chronicle how the population here fell from approximately 50 people in 1841 to precisely none the following year, and tells the story of the Riot of Durness, when the women of the village attempted to defy the order to leave.

Taking around 45 minutes to complete, it's a poignant trail with sensational views over Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag, although note that it may be challenging for those with mobility issues.

Two sheep stood in front of the ruins of a building at Ceannabeinne in Scotland

Stop off at Smoo Cave

About a mile before you get into Durness, you'll come across Smoo Cave, believed to have been used as everything from a Stone Age dwelling to a smugglers' hideout, and now known for its roaring waterfall.

Formed by the gradual merging of two separate chambers - one caused by rainwater dissolving the stone, the other by erosion from the sea - it's geographically unique within the UK. Another chamber, beyond the waterfall, is accessible by boat in good weather.

From the car park at the top, descend the set of stairs that take you down to the mouth of the cave and step inside, but bring a poncho, because the spray will hit you!

Smoo Cave is open all year and free to enter, with tours taking place from April to September.

A waterfall falls inside Smoo Cave, Scotland, with light shining through from above

Arrive into Durness

When you arrive into Durness, check into your accommodation, park the car and get walking.

From Durness it's a pleasant 20-minute stroll (or 5-minute drive) along to Balnakeil Beach, a little slice of paradise that - if it weren't for the wind - could been ripped straight from the pages of a travel brochure.

Soak up its moon-shaped bay, turquoise waters, spotless white sands and rolling dunes, then wander over to the dilapidated Balnakeil Church, which has a graveyard with some intriguing memorials, some dating back to the 1600s.

If you're still feeling sprightly, we recommend taking the roughly two-mile walk along the coast to Faraid Head, a rocky headland overlooking Cape Wrath.

This whole area is a haven for wildlife, so keep your eyes open for nesting seabirds (including a small colony of puffins) as well as seals playing in the waters.

An aerial view of the crescent shaped Balnakeil Beach, Scotland.

Warm up at Cocoa Mountain

As far as places to warm up after your walk go, there really is only one contender: Cocoa Mountain , in Balnakeil Craft Village.

We're not joking when we say that this small chocolatier serves the best, most gooey, frothy hot chocolate, and even does scrumptious truffles, chocolate-themed pastries and cakes to go with them. If there's one guilt-free gluttony stop you make during the NC500, make it this.

Be sure to stock up on sweet treats for the rest of your journey too. If you fancy a little souvenir shopping, the village also features a number of other shops selling products made by local artists, including artworks, crafty bits and ceramics.

Dinner in Durness

Not to be harsh, but to say that dinner options are lacking in Durness is probably being kind, as there are just a handful of restaurants - at the end of the day, while this is one of the bigger villages on the north coast, it's still only home to about 400 residents.

The Smoo Cave Hotel, located next to Smoo Cave, is the better choice and has pub grub staples including fish n' chips and pie.

Day 4: Durness to Ullapool

Miles: 87.7

While the east coast of the NC500 route has many of the landmarks, and the north coast has the beaches, it's fair to say that the west coast is where the landscape is most spectacular - just in case you haven't been impressed enough by Scotland's beauty so far.

More than likely, you've exhausted Durness' to-do list by now, so leave as early as possible, going southwards on the A838 and eventually joining the A894 just after you cross the stone-arched Laxford Bridge.

Coming up not long after is the Kylesku Bridge, a vast curved crossing above Loch a' Chàirn Bhàin that has become an attraction in itself and was even featured in a 2015 IKEA advert.

The brainchild of Ove Arup, the same engineer that came up with the Sydney Opera House, it is super modern and yet has been crafted to fit into its surroundings - unusually for a concrete bridge, it's a lot of fun to drive across!

An aerial view of the curved Kylesku Bridge, Scotland, with two munros in the background

Drinks in Drumbeg, lunch in Lochinver

Next, take the B869 across to Drumbeg, where tea, cake and scones await at The Secret Tea Garden, part of the Assynt Aromas candle shop.

Tuck in, but do try to resist the temptation to eat too much as the remaining stretch of the B869, down to the village of Lochinver, is a real stomach-churner.

Dubbed the "Wee Mad Road" by locals and blessed with views that will make you want to stare out the window but switchbacks so sharp you'll need eyes on the prize, it's a hairy single track route with a number of steep inclines.

If you do need to rest your nerves along the way then stop off for a walk on Achmelvich Beach, which could give Balnakeil a run for its money.

When you do get down to Lochinver, make a beeline for Peet's restaurant , whose venison stew will make the drive more than worthwhile.

Macleods and mermaids

We're now heading towards Stac Pollaidh mountain, but first stopping at Ardvreck Castle, a ruinous former residence of the mighty Macleod family, which is perched on a patch of land that sticks out into the mountain-framed Loch Assynt.

Legend has it that the loch is haunted by the Mermaid of Assynt, the lost daughter of one of the castle's former inhabitants, who for many years was blamed by locals for anything that changed in the area.

You could take a more direct route down to Stac Pollaidh by following the road that passes through Inverkirkaig and grazes the northern shore of Loch Bad a' Ghaill, but for the extra 20 minutes or so the beauty of Loch Assynt merits a detour.

The ruins of Ardvreck Castle in Scotland with Loch Assynt surrounding it and a fiery mountain in the background

Complete the Stac Pollaidh circuit

Flat-topped and standing proud amid a backdrop of small lochs and wide empty space, Stac Pollaidh is a 612-metre-tall mountain that seems purpose-made for a spot of impromptu climbing; a ramble to the top and back down again takes a manageable three hours or so, isn't too strenuous and follows a well-trodden path, although it's a short and slightly more challenging scramble to top of the ridge itself.

Offering glorious panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and of one of Scotland's most distinctive mountains, Suilven, it's a rewarding but realistic hiking option and it would be a real shame to miss it.

The journey to the Stac Pollaidh car park should take about 30 minutes from Ardvreck Castle - when you get there, park up and go through the gate across the road, which will take you upwards into open moorland and onto the main path.

Dinner in Ullapool

Another 15 minutes or so on the road will take you into the pretty waterside village of Ullapool for a much needed shower and sleep.

Before you do call it a day, seek out the Arch Inn restaurant for a thoroughly Scottish dinner of cullen skink, a chunky soup made from haddock, potato and onion.

Alternatively, opt for some old school soul food by heading over to Deli-Ca-Sea, a chippie where everything is made fresh to order, then sit on the sea wall and scoff it all down. Their pickled eggs are pretty special too!

Day 5: Ullapool to Applecross

Miles: 118.4

You've probably heard the old adage that dictates that life is about the journey, not the destination? Well, today is the embodiment of that.

Traversing through glens, past lochs, along the coast and eventually ending up in the remote town of Applecross, today's drive showcases the best of untamed Scotland - expect to see stalking deer and get held up by Highland cattle along the way.

Top tip: Do stock up again on those road trip essentials and fill up with fuel while you're in Ullapool, because the next part of the journey is even less well-served.

A close up of a brown highland cow with big curved horns looking upwards, with another cow in the background

Go sea kayaking in Ullapool

Before you leave Ullapool, however, there's just one more thing to do and that is to get out on the water.

A totally different way to see the Scottish coastline or inland lochs, kayaking offers endless opportunities for wildlife spotting, with jellyfish, seals and seabirds all regularly spotted here.

During the summer months, Norwest Sea Kayaking offer full and half-day trips for everyone from total beginners to seasoned pros, and provide homemade cakes and hot drinks for when you get out the water!

The tip of a kayak in the water, with other kayaks and mountains in the background

Get back on the road

Start off by following the A835 south from Ullapool, taking a right turn onto A832 after roughly 12 miles, at the sign towards Dundonnell and Gairloch.

Here, you could choose to make a quick stop at Corrieshalloch Gorge, a nature reserve with a Victorian suspension bridge and plunging waterfalls, before continuing on around the coast.

When you get to Gairloch stop for lunch, as it offers the biggest selection you're going to find for miles, including pub grub at The Shieling Restaurant or steak sandwiches, falafel flatbreads and warming soup at Coast Coffee Company.

The section of the A832 from Gairloch to Kinlochewe is a scenic and for the most part relatively easy drive, running in part along the shore of Loch Maree and offering glimpses of the Slioch mountain through the trees.

Although it's not technically necessary, when you get to Kinlochewe do continue on this road for a few more minutes to visit the Glen Docherty viewpoint - the vista of the twisting road below is worthy of a 90s album cover.

A red car driving down a winding road between two mountains, with a loch in the background

Continue on to Torridon via the A896, enjoying the sights of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, before passing through Glen Torridon then winding through woodland near Annat.

Onward you go towards Shieldaig, shortly after which the road splits - take the unnamed single-track route to the right, which more or less hugs the water and gives life to the small coastal communities along the way.

Along the way, make a pitstop at the Applecross Smokehouse , where they produce smoked fish, cheeses, oatcakes and sauces, made using whisky-soaked oak shavings.

Arrive in Applecross

Rather than stopping in Applecross straight away, continue past it for 1.5 miles down to the Applecross Photographic Gallery, which is run by local photographer Jack Marris and exhibits photographs of magical mountain-top sunrises.

When you're back in the village, find its real heart inside the cosy Applecross Inn , having dinner and a pint with the locals before retiring for the night.

Sleep well - you're going to need to bring your A-game tomorrow.

The white exterior of the Applecross in with water and the mountains in the background, and a silver car to the right

Day 6: Applecross to Inverness

Miles: 80.4

Driving the Bealach na Ba

You've had almost a week of practice and now it's time for the ultimate Scottish road trip experience: the notorious Bealach na Ba.

If you thought the "Wee Mad Road" was a challenge, then this stretch between Applecross and Loch Kishorn is something else - a narrow single track loaded with steep climbs and hairpin bends that seem to stack on top of one another.

If you're of a nervous disposition, a new driver, have any hangups about your reversing skills or the weather is bad, then this route probably isn't the best choice; instead take the A896 north and along to Shieldaig, before cutting back down.

During winter, the Bealach na Ba is often closed for extended periods due to snowfall, so check online before you travel.

Although the driver will almost certainly be too busy concentrating to really take it all in, the landscape around Bealach na Ba is nothing short of spectacular, with jagged cliffs and calm lochs, and the weaving road below, as well as the chance to spot more Highland cows and wild deer.

At its highest point, 2053 feet above sea level, there is a viewpoint that comes complete with a plaque pointing out the local landmarks visible in the distance.

The twisty road of Bealach na Ba, Scotland, with a loch in the distance

Walk to Rogie Falls

Along the side of the A835, which you will join at Garve, is the fearsome Rogie Falls, famous for leaping salmon and surrounded by lush forest with a number of waymarked trails.

Follow the Salmon Trail (20 mins) to a suspension bridge over the river which allows you to stare into the mouth of the beast, or take the Riverside Trail, a longer and more strenuous circuit (50 mins) starting from the viewing platform beside the falls and travelling along the banks before cutting through pinewoods, where you're likely to see deer and red squirrels.

Wellies are optional, but recommended!

Water crashing over Rogie Falls, Scotland, with forest in the background and autumnal flora to the side

Spend the afternoon in Inverness

After almost a week of hamlets and tiny villages, Inverness is going to seem like a giant playground, so go full-on hedonist with an afternoon of last minute gift shopping and making the most of Inverness' sterling food scene (if you haven't tried cranachan yet, do).

Return the car to Inverness Airport and catch a late afternoon flight home.

If you're continuing on the road, feel free to carry straight on to your next destination - the popular town of Aviemore is just 45 minutes south, Dundee is approximately 90 minutes away, and the "granite city" of Aberdeen, is less than three hours away.

We hope you've enjoyed your wee trip around Scotland!

When to do the North Coast 500

Generally, the best time to take a road trip in Scotland is between April and early October. Once the snow starts, those single track roads feel increasingly precarious and many routes, including the Bealach na Ba, are frequently closed.

Many of the NC500s attractions are also seasonal and do not open at all in the winter months. That said, with the increasing popularity of the NC500, it's also best to avoid the height of summer if you are able to, because reversing isn't so fun after the 100th time.

Scotland road trip glossary

  • Loch: a lake or sea inlet
  • Glen: a narrow valley
  • Kyle: a narrow sea channel
  • Munro: any mountain in Scotland that is over 3000 feet high

If you enjoyed this, you may like… Ireland road trip - A scenic 10 day round trip from Dublin

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A Sensational Scottish Tour

The north coast 500 & isle of skye package.

Visit the majestic North Coast in this 500+ mile route. Luxury chauffeur service and guide, luxury accommodation, excursions, fine dining, the full package, tailored to suit your requirements.

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grand tour north coast 287 route

Tour Summary

Day 1 Stay: Ness Walk Hotel, Inverness (1 Night)

Day 2 Stay: Links House, Dornoch (1 Night) Visit: Dolphin Spirit Cruise, Rogie Falls, Lunch at The Storehouse, Fyrish Monument Walk

Day 3 Stay: Forss House, Thurso (2 Nights) Visit: Dunrobin Castle, Clynelish Journey of Flavour Tour, Lunch at the Coastal Tasting Room, Brora Beach

Day 4 Stay: Forss House Visit: John O’Groats, Duncansby Stacks, Lunch at Puldagon Farm, Castle of Mey

Day 5 Stay: Inver Lodge Hotel (2 Nights) Visit: Sangobeg Beach, Smoo Cave, Balnakeil, Kylesku Bridge

Day 6 Stay: Inver Lodge Hotel Visit: Scourie Bay, Handa Island Ferry, Lunch at Shorehouse, Achmelvich and Clachtoll Beach

Day 7 Stay: Shieldaig Lodge, Gairloch (1 Night) Visit: Ardvreck Castle, Ullapool, Lunch at Inverewe Gardens and Gairloch

Day 8 Stay: Marmadale Hotel, Portree, Skye (3 nights) Visit: Torridon, Eilean Donan Castle, Plockton, Sligachan, Portree

Day 9 Stay: Marmalade Hotel, Portree Visit: Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Neist Point, Lunch at The Three Chimneys, Skye Weavers

Day 10 Stay: The Marmalade Hotel, Portree Visit: Old Man Storr, Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls, Quiraing, Fairy Glen, Lunch at the Oyster Shed, Talisker

Day 11 Stay: Ness Walk Hotel, Inverness Visit: Fairy Pools Hike, Private Boat Tour of Loch Ness, Mustard Seed Restaurant

Day 12 Transfer to airport and departure

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Ness Walk Hotel, Inverness Inverness Airport – Inverness

Upon arrival at Inverness airport you will be met by your private driver who will be looking after you for the duration of your trip.

Stay: Ness Walk Hotel, Inverness (1 Night) From the airport your driver will take you to the 5-star Ness Walk Hotel, which sits right on the banks of the River Ness and enjoys an oasis of calm in Inverness, an otherwise busy city, as it is surrounded by a huge canopy of trees. Here, beautiful period features combine with sleek modern features to deliver an ambiance that oozes sophistication.

Dine: Torrish Restaurant You will dine in the luxurious Torrish Restaurant at Ness Walk this evening, where you will be warmly welcomed and have the chance to try some Isle of Lewis mussels, Orkney hand-dived scallops, Speyside lamb, as well as many other delicious dishes. There is also a vegan à la carte menu, so there will be something for everyone.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Links House Hotel, Dornoch Dolphin Spirit Cruise, Rogie Falls, Lunch at The Storehouse, Fyrish Monument Walk

Visit: Dolphin Spirit Cruise You are in for a very special treat this morning as you will be heading out on a Dolphin Spirit cruise out across the Moray Firth in search of dolphins and other amazing wildlife. Have your camera at the ready for a chance to snap these magnificent creatures.

Visit: Rogie Falls As you travel onwards you will then stop at Rogie Falls, a beautiful spot just above the village of Contin. Enjoy a short walk to the suspension bridge to view the waterfalls and the Black Water River in all their glory. Watch the water as it flows down from the nearby Ben Wyvis Mountain.  Rogie Falls are a sight to behold and famous for viewing leaping Atlantic salmon.

Lunch Reservation: The Storehouse After a busy morning you will recharge with some lunch at The Storehouse. This well-loved restaurant, with adjoining food hall and farm shop, has a menu that changes daily to incorporate the freshest local produce. On a nice sunny day you can even sit outside and bask in the heat as you enjoy your lunch.

Visit: Fyrish Monument As you reach the West Highlands you will be taken to view the Fyrish Monument, near Alness, Easter Ross. Built on Fyrish Hill in 1782, these imposing pillars stand proudly overlooking the Cromarty Firth. You will make the short walk up the ‘jubilee path’, through the woodland before arriving at the summit to enjoy the breath-taking views.

Stay: Links House (1 Night) Having enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Links House, you will get the pleasure of experiencing the luxurious and comfortable rooms here too. The elegance and grandeur of the furnishings are second to none and we guarantee a memorable stay at Links House.

Dine: MARA restaurant, Links House You are in for a treat this evening as you will be dining in the MARA Restaurant at Links House. Offering one of the finest dining experiences in the Highlands, MARA will be sure to provide a meal to remember. Their menu includes hogget, pork cheek, sea trout, and they have an entire plant-based menu.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Forss House, Thurso Dunrobin Castle, Clynelish Journey of Flavour Tour, Lunch at the Coastal Tasting Room, Brora Beach

Visit: Dunrobin Castle and Gardens Dunrobin Castle and Gardens is a true highland gem as it’s the most northerly of Scotland’s large houses. It is also one of the UK’s oldest continuously inhabited houses, having occupants since the 1300’s. You will get the chance to marvel at the huge conical spires before exploring the gardens, which were inspired by the gardens of Versailles. There are also lovely views across the Moray Firth to the Cairngorm mountains in the distance.

Visit: Clynelish Journey of Flavour Tour On this fantastic tour of Johnnie Walker’s highland home, you will get to experience a world of different flavours with a full sensory tour and tutored whisky tasting. This is a whisky tour like no other, using lights, music, and special effects to transport you on a fun-filled flavour journey.

Lunch Reservation: The Coastal Tasting Room You will also be having lunch at Clynelish where they offer tasting platters which pair the very best whisky with premium Scottish produce for a taste sensation like no other. There are a range of Highland antipasto, cheeses, and chocolates, as well as hot smoked duck and Great Glen salami. Tasting platters can also be tailored for your individual preferences.

Visit: Brora Beach Your next stop is Brora beach, a gorgeous golden sandy beach offering the chance for a relaxing stroll. You may also want to pack a pair of binoculars for the day as there is a good chance of spotting minke whales, dolphins, and seals.

Stay and Dine: Forss House, Thurso (2 Nights) For the next two nights, the delightful Forss House will be your home as they will be sure to give you a warm highland welcome. This grand country house was built in 1810 and proudly sits within 20 acres of pristine countryside, including woodlands, waterfalls, and the gentle river Forss. You are guaranteed to feel a deep sense of calm and relaxation while staying here.

Forss House has an enviable reputation as having one of the best restaurants in the highlands. Indeed, it is the only 2 AA Rosette restaurant in Caithness. Dishes include Scrabster scallops, Scottish beef fillet, and spring onion and truffle risotto. Why not round the evening off with a selection of premium Scottish cheeses.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Forss House, Thurso John O’Groats, Duncansby Stacks, Lunch at Puldagon Farm, Castle of Mey

Visit: John O’Groats Your first stop today will be John O’Groats, the world famous village, which represents one end of the longest distance between two inhabited places in the UK, the other being, of course, Land’s End all the way down in Cornwall. While it is famous for being exactly that, John O’Groats really deserves a visit in its own right, with its glorious beaches and bays, plentiful wildlife, and dramatic coastline.

Visit: Duncansby Stacks Speaking of dramatic coastlines, you will make the very short journey to Duncansby Stacks near John O’Groats, where you can marvel at these incredibly jagged and towering peaks that thrust up out of the wild North Sea around them. There is also the Duncansby Lighthouse 500m away which to this day keeps sailors safe from the rocks around this dangerous area known as “Hell’s Mouth”.

Lunch Reservation: Puldagon Farm Puldagon Farm offers a lovely experience. You can dine in their recently renovated restaurant, which was previously a working barn, and offers a huge range of hearty dishes. After lunch you can browse the farm shop, perhaps picking up a gift or two for loved ones back home, before having a wander around outside and seeing some of the adorable animals they have on the farm.

Visit: Castle of Mey With full bellies your journey continues to Castle of Mey, which dates back to the 16 th century. Castle of Mey has changed hands many times over the years but is now owned by the Royal Family after the Queen Mother bought the castle in 1952 and committed a lot of time and effort into renovating both the castle and gardens, which are also exquisite and well worth exploring. There is also an animal centre where you can see Alice the donkey, various rare breeds of sheep and poultry, pigs, rabbits, and chipmunks.

Stay and Dine: Forss House After a fantastic day of touring, you will return to Forss House for an evening of relaxation and fine dining before yet another adventure in the morning.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Inver Lodge Hotel, Lairg Kyle of Tongue Bridge, Sangobeg Beach, Smoo Cave Tour, Balnakeil Beach, Kylesku Bridge

Visit: Kyle of Tongue Bridge and Sangobeg Beach This morning you will travel over the impressive Kyle of Tongue Bridge, which was first built in 1971 but was fully refurbished in 2011. The bridge forms part of the Kyle of Tongue Causeway which allows the road to continue right across the loch, crossing Tongue Island as it does so.

From there it’s on to Sangobeg Beach, a relaxing, secluded spot with beautiful white sands. This is an excellent opportunity to stretch your legs with a walk along the beach, before getting some pictures of the marvellous scenery.

Visit: Smoo Cave Tour This is a truly amazing opportunity to explore the Smoo Caves on a guided tour. Your experienced and knowledgeable tour guide will keep you safe (they are also a member of the Scottish Cave Rescue team) and tell you all about the history and formation of the caves.

Visit: Balnakeil Church In the northwest of Scotland sits the ruined Balnakeil Church, the earliest site of which was developed in the 8 th century by St Maelrubha. This church grew to be a highly significant Celtic monastery. However, when a new church was built in the 19 th century, it was left to ruin. That being said, trees and bushes have grown all over it now, adding an air of ancient charm. Look out for the monument to Gaelic poet Rob Donn which stands in the churchyard.

Lunch Reservation: Picnic on Balnakeil Beach Lunch today is a special treat as you will be tucking into a luxurious picnic which has been prepared by the hotel staff. Sit back on Balnakeil Beach and enjoy a selection of tasty treats while taking in the magnificent views of this impressive stretch of white sandy beach.

On your way to your accommodation for the evening you will pass over the Kylesku Bridge which has a wonderful gentle curve in it and spans across the Loch a’ Chairn Bhain in Sutherland.

Stay and Dine: Inver Lodge Hotel (2 nights) Home for the next two nights is Inver Lodge Hotel, a family-owned hotel with proud links to its surrounding area. The surroundings are immense here, one of Scotland’s last unspoiled wild areas, and enjoys regular sightings of deer and birds of prey. Staff make every effort to make you feel right at home, and the huge log fire in the foyer will help with that as well.

You will be dining at the Inver Lodge Hotel, which places a huge emphasis on supporting local producers and suppliers. The owner also has private estates which provide the steaks, salmon, and game not only for Inver Lodge, but for His Majesty The King, too.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Inver Lodge Hotel, Lairg Scourie Bay, Handa Island Ferry, Lunch at Shorehouse Seafood Restaurant, Achmelvich and Clachtoll Beach

Visit: Scourie Bay and Handa Island Ferry Scourie Bay is a wonderous little bay set against some very rugged surrounding countryside. Take some time just absorbing the peace and tranquillity of this unspoilt location. From there you will then take a ferry ride out to Handa Island, a relatively small island by size but a very important island as a home for seabirds and many other creatures. It is actually run as a nature reserve by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. We highly recommend you bring your camera and a good pair of binoculars to get the best snaps and views of this very special island.

Lunch Reservation: Shorehouse Seafood Restaurant Having spent some time travelling over the sea, it’s time for some seafood at Shorehouse Seafood Restaurant. Opening in 1977, this family run business has plenty of experience in looking after their many happy customers. This really is a seafood lover’s paradise, with the menu changing each day depending on what’s been freshly landed that day. Whole lobsters are available if you pre-order.

Visit: Achmelvich and Clachtoll beach You will then visit a couple of the most impressive beaches in Scotland. Firstly, Achmelvich is a brilliant location for spotting some more wildlife, including black- and red-throated divers, porpoises, and dolphins. The gentle curve of the bay echoes the gentle feeling of satisfaction you’ll feel as you look out over the waves crashing endlessly on the shore in this little bit of heaven. Secondly, Clachtoll beach, just north of Lochinver, is equally as impressive and is also home to “Split Rock”, a giant sloping rock which rises out of the sea but looks to have had a giant slice cut out of it by a giant. The Assynt mountains surrounding this area add another layer of magic to the scenery found here.

Stay and Dine: Inver Lodge Hotel After another day of visiting some of the splendid sights Scotland has to offer, you will return to the Inver Lodge Hotel for the evening, dining once more in the excellent in-house restaurant.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Shieldaig Lodge, Gairloch Ardvreck Castle, Ullapool, Lunch at Inverewe Gardens and Gairloch

Visit: Ardvreck Castle On today’s first stop you will visit Ardvreck Castle, a ruined old castle built in the late 15 th century but which has sadly been left to ruin since the middle of the 18 th century, hence its current state. You can enjoy a pleasant short walk to the castle, which is not quite on an island but it very much feels that way. Some recently added information boards provide a great overview of the castle’s turbulent history.

Drive through: Ullapool Your onward journey will then take through Ullapool, a very popular tourist destination. An infinitely photogenic place, you can easily see why people often return here year after year.

Visit and Lunch: Inverewe Gardens Here you will get the chance to view some rare species from all around the world as you wander round this heritage garden. First created in the 19 th century, this oasis of flora in an otherwise rather barren landscape continues to wow visitors after all these years. There is also a small museum within Inverewe House, including an exhibition to tell you more about Inverewe’s Underwater Garden.

You will also get something to eat here from their very own café, Osgood’s. Newly refurbished and boasting an award-winning menu, this is the perfect spot for refuelling before carrying on your adventure.

Visit: Gairloch You will then have the privilege to drive through two of the most picturesque and awe-inspiring places in the UK, Gairloch. It really does feel like time has stood still in these areas of Scotland; there is something about the immensity and vastness of the mountains which just fills you with a revitalising energy. In fact, we suspect visiting these places may just inspire you to plan your next trip to Scotland.

Stay & Dine: The Shieldaig Lodge Hotel (1 Night) Your accommodation for this evening is Shieldaig Lodge in Gairloch. This former hunting lodge is perched perfectly on the waterside, bursting with charm and character.

Dine at their stunning Loch View Restaurant, enjoying panoramic views of the loch as well as exquisite dishes, locally sourced ingredients, and an incredible selection of wines and whiskies.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Marmadale Hotel, Portree Torridon, Eilean Donan Castle, Plockton, Skye and Sligachan Bridge, Portree

In the morning you will transcend through the majestic Torridon countryside en-route to the Isle of Skye.

Visit: Eilean Donan Castle Your first stop today is a visit to Eilean Donan Castle, which wouldn’t look out of place in a Game of Thrones scene! This ancient castle was built in the 13 th  century and survives remarkably well to this day. The tiny bridge across the water to its own little island really gets your imagination running wild as to what it must have been like living there all those hundreds of years ago. You will also be able to enjoy some stunning views out over Loch Duich. A coffee and gift shop are also available. Eilean Donan is widely considered as the most beautiful castle in Scotland, due to the idyllic setting at the junction of three different lochs (Loch Long, Loch Duich, and Loch Alsh).

Visit: Plockton You will then head to the delightful village of Plockton, lovingly known as the “the jewel of the highlands”. A peaceful walk around the bay, looking out over the views of Loch Carron, will certainly hit the spot.

After leaving Plockton you will head southwest until you travel over the engineering masterpiece that is the gently curving Skye Bridge and onto Skye.

Photo Stop: Sligachan Bridge Built in 1818, the old Sligachan Bridge is a perfect example of excellent engineering standing the test of time. Set against the backdrop of the Black Cuillin Mountains, enjoy the manmade and natural wonders together. You will have the opportunity to stop and take a few pictures of this wonderful scene.

Visit: Portree You will then stop and explore Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye. With local craft shops and a bustling fishing port, you will have the opportunity to interact with friendly locals and experience Portree’s thriving culture.  Have your camera at the ready as you will want to grab a picture of the brightly coloured, cottage lined harbour.

Stay and Dine: Marmalade Hotel, Portree (3 nights) Having explored the charming town of Portree you will make your way to your accommodation, Marmalade Hotel. This stunning hotel is in a perfect location, just five minutes from the centre of Portree but far enough away and up high enough to enjoy a world of seclusion, with views looking over Portree, the coast below, and the Cuillin Mountains beyond.

For dinner this evening you will dine in the hotel’s Chargrill Restaurant . Enjoy fantastic views over a dinner of fresh seafood or premium Scottish beef cooked to perfection on the grill. There are also options to have grilled tofu or watermelon if you fancy something a bit different.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Marmadale Hotel, Portree Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Neist Point, Lunch at The Three Chimneys

Visit: Dunvegan Castle and Gardens Today you will first of all head to Dunvegan Castle. Dating back to the 13 th century, this castle has had many additions over the centuries and is now registered as a category A listed building. There are also five acres of gardens for you to explore, including the Water Garden, Rose Garden, and Walled Garden, as well as woodland walks and nearby waterfalls.

Visit: Neist Point Your driver will then take you to Neist Point and the most westerly point of Skye, at the tip of the Duirinish peninsula. Here you will see one of the most famous lighthouses in all of Scotland, that was first lit back in 1909. As well as the stunning scenery, keep an eye out for whales and dolphins below.  As you are on the cliffs there will be lots of common seabirds to view too.

Lunch Reservation: The Three Chimneys You will then enjoy some lunch at The Three Chimneys which sits on the shores of Loch Dunvegan and takes pride in providing the best Skye and Scotland has to offer, including cured salmon, scorched langoustine, Black Isle beef, and Gigha halibut.

Visit: Skye Weavers Next you will travel to nearby Glendale to watch some uniquely skilled weavers at work. Explore their woven woollen textiles inspired by the island, and woven by pedal-power! Watch them work on their bicycle pedal-powered loom that weaves woollen products including scarves, throws, tweed, homewares, accessories and more.

Dine: Scorrybreac Restaurant After your day of exploring, you will head back to the Marmalade Hotel to relax and freshen up before heading to dinner at the Scorrybreac Restaurant. “Scorrybreac” means “speckled rock”, a tribute to the cliffs close to the restaurant. Combining Scottish produce with French influence, the team here produce food which may just blow your mind.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Marmadale Hotel, Portree Old Man Storr, Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls, Quiraing, Fairy Glen, Lunch at the Oyster Shed, Talisker Distillery Tour

Visit: The Old Man of Storr Get ready for some famous walks and jaw dropping scenery as your driver takes you on a mesmerising drive north of the town of Portree. You will first stop at The Old Man of Storr, a monumental rock pinnacle that can be seen from far and wide. A staggering sight to behold, be sure to have plenty of battery left in your camera as there are photo opportunities aplenty here.

Visit: Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls Continue North to Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls. You will notice that these ancient 90 metre cliffs resemble a pleated kilt, hence the name ‘Kilt Rock’. You will witness both of these spectacular sights, Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls, from the same viewpoint on the Trotternish Peninsula. The other beautiful sight here is Mealt waterfall which, flows from the nearby Mealt Loch, with the water plunging from the cliff tops to the rocky coast below.

Visit: The Quiraing Next you will continue north to the most northerly point of the Trotternish ridge, The Quiraing. As the ancient landscapes begin to unfold before your eyes, your driver will take you on a stunning drive down the narrow road and hairpin bends. With rolling hills and cliffs surrounding you, there are opportunities here for a brief walk or hike. Be sure to have your camera ready to snap the gigantic pinnacles of rock as they bask in their glorious surroundings.

Visit: The Fairy Glen Next stop, The Fairy Glen, on the west side of Trotternish. An otherworldly experience awaits as you approach this supernatural looking landscape. A short hike from the road, these rich and vibrant colours and fairy-tale views all around are a photographer’s paradise. Be sure to keep a look out as legend has it that fairies live deep within this magical Glen…

Lunch Reservation: The Oyster Shed This special spot in the village of Carbost is the ideal place to enjoy a seafood lunch, with crab, scallop, salmon, and so much more on offer. All as fresh as can be.

Visit: Talisker Distillery You will then visit Talisker Distillery, the oldest working distillery on Skye located in the picturesque village of Carbost on the shores of Loch Harport. You will enjoy a guided tour of the distillery, learn about the casks in their warehouse, see their 5 copper pot stills that give Talisker Whisky its unique taste. And, of course, enjoy a dram of their full-bodied whisky and the only Single Malt Whisky from Skye.

Stay and Dine: The Marmalade Hotel, Portree In the evening you will once again retire to The Marmalade Hotel for a chance to reflect on yet another fantastic day of touring.

grand tour north coast 287 route

ACCOMMODATION: Ness Walk Hotel, Inverness Fairy Pools Hike, Private Boat Tour of Loch Ness, Mustard Seed Restaurant

Visit: The Fairy Pools After a delicious breakfast it is onwards to Glenbrittle and the magical Fairy Pools, Skye’s most popular attraction. With their crystal clear waters and beautiful waterfalls, it is easy to see why. You will walk 20 minutes to the fairy pools themselves, an easy hike, allowing you to soak in the magnificent scenery all around you. Ancient folklore says that fairies swim in these pools and if you are feeling brave, you may wish to do so as well. After that you will depart Skye, once again passing over the delightful Skye Bridge.

Visit: Private Boat Tour of Loch Ness You will then make your way to the village of Drumnadrochit, on the shores of Loch Ness. Here you will join your private boat, the “Cluaran Dubh”, meet your skipper Gordon and embark on your Private Boat Tour of Loch Ness which lasts for around an hour. You will enjoy stunning views of Loch Ness, The Great Glen, and Urquhart Castle.  Gordon, your skipper, was born, raised, and still lives on the Loch Ness shores. He will enlighten you with anecdotes such as witches casting spells to protect Nessie ‘The Loch Ness Monster’ from cryptozoologists. A charming and entertaining journey with awe-inspiring scenery throughout.

Dine: The Mustard Seed A firm favourite in Inverness, The Mustard Seed offers top class food in a relaxed atmosphere, exactly what you’re looking for on your last evening in Scotland. Located in a converted church, this allows for some excellent features, such as the double height ceiling and large open fire, all of which add to a sense of The Mustard Seed being truly special. On the menu you will find such delights as breast of wood pigeon, Cajun halloumi fries, Scottish salmon, and sweet and sour tofu.

Stay: Ness Walk Hotel After dinner you will spend one more night in The Ness Walk Hotel, getting what we are sure will be a restful sleep before departing in the morning.

grand tour north coast 287 route

DEPARTURE Your driver will meet you at your hotel and transport you to Inverness International Airport, where we must bid you a fond farewell.

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grand tour north coast 287 route

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Our website is designed to give you a flavour of the tours we offer., it is our expertise that will tailor your bespoke experience., helping you to create your tour, scroll through the following example tours to gain an insight into what is possible. we want to help you make the most of your tour, so all our tours can be designed to your needs and preferences., although single day tours focus on the far north-east of the scottish highlands, we can start a multi-day tour from further afield around the north coast 500 or within its heartland and welcome your call to discuss what would suit your needs best., to book a tour or make an enquiry, do take a look at our 'availability' page and then get in touch via email, phone or by using the form on our 'contact us' page., north coast 500 grand explorer.

An in-depth journey of discovery across this land of contrasts.

Covering both the iconic North Coast 500 coastal route as well as some of the vast and contrasting scenery of the interior, this comprehensive route of the North Highlands will provide a detailed and enjoyable insight into the landscape, people and culture of the area.

Enjoy the dramatic mountains and lochs of the west coast, the expansive sandy beaches of the north and the picturesque fishing harbours and medieval castles of the east – not to mention the distilleries, crafts people, an abundance of history and, if you are lucky, some stunning sunsets.

Tailored to your needs and preferences, this tour is intended to give you exactly what you want from a holiday and we will work with you to create your ideal itinerary.

Create a true souvenir of the Highlands to treasure long after you’ve headed home.


The North Coast 500 Explorer

Discover the real lives and experiences of this iconic route.

The North Coast 500 is a staggeringly beautiful route and this tour will show you the very best of the classic North Coast 500 - from the iconic attractions to an abundance of other sights, experiences and even surprises. With deserted beaches, mighty mountains, picturesque lochs and iconic wildlife as well as medieval castles, prehistoric burial chambers, local crafts and distilleries, you'll experience more than the average tourist along the way. 

With your experienced guide by your side, you'll discover the stories behind the landscape and you won’t have to concern yourself with navigating the miles of single track roads that you’ll encounter over long sections of the route.

Sit back, relax and allow us to lead you on a memorable exploration of the North Coast 500.


The Heart of the North Highlands Explorer (4 Days)

Experience the rich landscape, culture and heritage of the North Highlands.

If you would like to get a sense of the North Highlands but you are a little short on time, then this tour is a great one to choose.

The route gives a balance between the huge landscapes of the heartlands, the drama of the coastline, the rich history behind the scenery plus some local artisans along the way.

Touching all 3 coastlines of the North Highlands, you will acquire an understanding of life across the whole area, both now and in yesteryear - and we are sure you’ll be left wanting more.

Needing a brief time out from day- to-day life? Then this tour could be for you.


The West Highland Explorer

Learn what lies beneath the surface of the beautiful west coast.

Many people say that the west coast is the highlight of their North Highland adventures. To be sure, whether it is the impressive and notable geology of the region, the magnificent vistas around each corner, the abundance of white sandy beaches interspersed along the coastline or the retail and craft opportunities along the way which inspire you – the west coast will not disappoint. 

This tour takes in some of the most challenging roads in the North Highlands but also allows the possibility of a hill walk or even a boat excursion out to the Summer Isles (in-season and weather-permitting), depending on what you enjoy.

This uniquely curated insight into the North Highlands west coast will leave you with an unforgettable experience.


The North Highland History Explorer (4 Days)

Uncover 5000 years of 'Human Highland History'.

The Highlands landscape harbours an unrivalled collection of sites of national historical importance.

On this tour we will accompany you on a time traveller’s journey starting around 3500BC and taking you right into the modern era. We will visit ancient burial tombs, mysterious stone circles, Viking battle sites, ruined medieval castles and the deserted villages of the Highland Clearances.

The last 200 years have also contributed greatly to the development of the region - so we will go exploring for abandoned World War Two camps and investigate the boom and bust of the fishing industry too.

If you love history, you'll love this tour!


The Highland Clearances Explorer (3 Days)

Bring this infamous period of Scottish history to life.

Whilst the Clearances occurred right across the Highlands, the Clearances on the Sutherland Estate have gained a bleak notoriety unmatched in Scotland.

This 3 day tour follows the unfolding story of the Sutherland Clearances through the wild and rugged landscape. The key personalities will be introduced to you from the very places they lived and worked and using the landscape like a vast theatrical stage, you will be immersed in the unfolding drama.

This is not just a guided tour of the history of the Sutherland Clearances, however – this is an involving first-hand experience that will physically and emotionally engage you in history.

Relive this historical period in a very real way and enjoy some stunning landscapes along the way. 


The Caithness Explorer

Discover Caithness - a wee gem at the end of the lands.

The historic county of Caithness has so much to offer, yet if you only drive through on the main road without stopping – as many do – you are likely to miss out on the many sights and experiences which it holds.

Travel just off the beaten track and you can discover a land shaped by history dating back over 400 million years, a wild and scenic coastline marked by unspoilt sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs and a myriad of sea birds and other wildlife.

Ideal for cruise liner visitors to Scrabster port and those with limited time but who want maximum inspiration.


The Highland Explorer

Unearth the perfect location for peace, tranquillity, and an escape from modern-day life.

This excellent ‘showcase’ tour of the North East Highlands comprises vast empty vistas, picturesque glens - and a wealth of wildlife and human history too, if you know where to find it. 

Be mesmerised by the heart of the North Highlands where the horizon is always a long way off in the distance, ringed by mountains, threaded by rivers and enveloped by the domed sky. Discover the desolate Glen Loth, stopping to admire the vista from more than one thousand feet above the valley floor! And complete your trip by seeing the beautiful sandy beaches of the north coast.

This is a day trip into nature, scenery and the great outdoors – from the comfort of our luxury vehicle.

If you are looking for a moment of calm, this special day will no doubt find it for you. So take that time, invest just one day – and let us do the work while you escape to a place of dreams.


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grand tour north coast 287 route

The North Coast 500 Explorer Tour

© North Coast Explorer

North Coast 500 Explorer Tour

Join us for a private bespoke guided tour of the North Highlands in a premium 4X4. Taking a maximum of 4 people, each tour provides an unrivalled personal experience & travelling no more than 100 miles per day leaves plenty of time for exploration.

Be reassured, in line with all Government and Public Health safety guidelines, we have completed a full Covid-19 Risk Assessment and been accredited with the UK-wide Tourism Industry Standard and Consumer Mark - We're Good to Go'.

Overview: This tour will show you the very best of the classic NC500 but as well as the iconic attractions, we will still spring enough surprises over the five hundred miles to make you think about the Highlands in an entirely different way.

The North Coast 500 is a staggeringly beautiful route. As well as deserted beaches, mighty mountains, picturesque lochs and iconic wildlife there are medieval castles, prehistoric burial chambers, historic golf courses and enough outdoor activities to tire even the most active of adventurers.

If all this seeing and doing is too much to contemplate then there are also the distilleries, wonderful seafood, artisans and the warm Highland hospitality to investigate and experience too!

What’s more, with your experienced guide by your side, you won’t have to concern yourself with navigating the miles of single track roads that you’ll encounter over long sections of the route.

Sit back, relax and allow us to lead you on an exploration of the North Coast 500.

Tours typically last 6 days and start at Inverness or anywhere along the route to suit your needs.


●  Dunrobin Castle  – ancestral home of the Duke of Sutherland

●  John O’Groats  – the end of the road with the famous sign

●  Dunnet Head  – the British mainland’s most northerly point

●  Lochinver  – the food capital of the Highlands

●  Inverewe Gardens  – coastal gardens with impressive California Redwoods

●  The Torridon Pass  – dominated by the mighty Beinn Eighe

●  Bealach Na Ba  – the twisty tortuous route to Applecross

Price on Request

Departure days.

  • W Wednesday

March — October

Contact details

Tour information

  • Inverness Airport
  • Driver guide
  • Archaeology
  • Food and drink
  • Photography

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Tour gallery

North Coast Explorer Tours

Tour company information

North coast explorer tours.

Travel in luxury and style as you take one of our premier chauffeured tours covering the North Highlands & North Coast 500. Local knowledge gained from more than 14 years of exploration in the area enables us to create a customised tour itinerary which provides unique, immersive and unrivalled experiences for our guests. This is not a tour bus full of strangers on a predefined route. This is travelling in comfort, with no more than 4 people, in our top of the range Land Rover enjoying your own exclusive itinerary . Relax and discover the best of what the North Highlands has to offer.

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Opening times

March to October inclusive (other times by arrangement)

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North Highlands History Explorer Tour

North Highlands History Explorer Tour

Departs: Inverness Airport, Dornoch, Thurso, Wick, Inverness

Heart of the North Highlands Explorer Tour

Heart of the North Highlands Explorer Tour

Departs: Inverness Airport, Dornoch, Lochinver, Ullapool, Inverness

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The Highland Explorer Single Day Tour

Departs: Dunbeath, Melvich, Thurso, Brora, Helmsdale

The content of many of our web listings is provided by third party operators and not VisitScotland. VisitScotland accepts no responsibility for (1) any error or misrepresentation contained in third party listings, and (2) the contents of any external links within web listings ((1) and (2) together hereinafter referred to as the "Content"). VisitScotland excludes all liability for loss or damage caused by any reliance placed on the Content. The Content is provided for your information only and is not endorsed by VisitScotland.


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  1. Route of the 287 mile Scottish road trip the boys took in ...

    Route of the 287 mile Scottish road trip the boys took in Season 3 Episode 7? I know part of the route was along the NC500, however I can't remember where the detour/shortcut route that Richard had them take, simply beautiful! Made me want to return to Scotland to drive this route someday! 4. 4 Share.

  2. P.E.N.I.S 287

    Today we took on the Grand Tour - P.E.N.I.S 287 - a fine alternative to the NC500 which has quickly become over congested and trafficked.

  3. Piloting Extremely Nicely In Scotland 287 Route In Scotland

    It very closely follows the PENIS287 route set out by the top gear guys (piloting extremely nicely in scotland 287 miles for those who haven't seen it). I always found the East coast rather boring to ride although there are a few good things to go see such as whaligoe steps , Lybster harbour etc. However a must detour to the 287 is adding in ...

  4. We did a part of the PENIS287 route featured in the Grand Tour ...

    We did a part of the PENIS287 route featured in the Grand Tour's Scotland episode and it did not disappoint with landscapes like this [OC] [7314 × 3656] ... We did bits of it when we were driving around the west coast. We did the part from Golspie->Lairg->Achfary->Laxford bridge and back at one go and it took us 3-4 hrs with a lot of stops for ...

  5. The Grand Tour Season 3

    The trio decides to do the North Coast 500 road trip. It's 500 miles around the North Coast of Scotland, but before they set off, Andy Wilman texts Jeremy. He tells him, if their cars don't survive, they'll be riding a bicycle home. ... — The Grand Tour (@thegrandtour) February 21, 2019. On the way, Clarkson is having trouble changing ...

  6. Scotland's Grandtour 287 FULL Now

    Turning your head now and again to catch a glimpse of scenery. It is around 320 miles per day on some wonderful twisty scenic routes. 23rd March 2024 Leaving the North East early morning on 23rd Apr and heading up through Glencoe to our overnight stay in Fort William. Maybe a quick photo stop on the 007 Skyfall road. Evening meal included.

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    Scotlands Route 287. Like. Comment. Share. 490 · 26 comments · 33K views. The Grand Tour and Topgear Fan Club ...

  8. Did the PENIS287 route this past week and it truly is magnificent

    This is a subreddit about "The Grand Tour", Amazon's car show hosted by former BBC Top Gear presenters: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. ... Did the PENIS287 route this past week and it truly is magnificent Share Sort by: Best. Open comment sort options. Best. Top. New. Controversial. Old. Q&A. Add a Comment. ... Yeah, it's just ...

  9. Comprehensive North Coast 500 Road Trip Planning Guide

    The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile scenic route along Scotland's northern coast that begins and ends in the city of Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. We've put together this comprehensive North Coast 500 guide to help you plan the perfect North Coast 500 road trip in Scotland. The NC500 route offers visitors the opportunity ...

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    Jeremy Clarkson and his Grand Tour co-hosts have once again stirred controversy by appearing to mercilessly mock a Scottish town during the latest episode of Amazon's motoring show. By Alex Nelson ...

  12. Scotland road trip / North Coast 500

    The basic plan was to do the North Coast 500 and break the journey up with stops at Glen Etive (the Skyfall road), Fort William for the Nevis range gondola and Loch Ness to find the monster. ... the roads become wider, busier and less interesting. The Grand Tour 287 is probably more interesting - certainly Skye and the north west of Scotland ...

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    With Clarkson in an Alfa Romeo GTV6, Hammond in a Fiat X1/9 and May in a Lancia Gamma Coupe, the three set off on a road trip around the top of Scotland taking in the sensational driving roads of the North Coast 500, winding their way through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world to a soundtrack of grinding gearboxes ...

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  17. Drive the North Coast 500

    Day 4: Durness to Ullapool. Miles: 87.7. While the east coast of the NC500 route has many of the landmarks, and the north coast has the beaches, it's fair to say that the west coast is where the landscape is most spectacular - just in case you haven't been impressed enough by Scotland's beauty so far.

  18. North Coast 500 Luxury Guided Tour

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  20. North Coast 500 Explorer Tour

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