Are you a fan of adventurous road trips? Then you should definitely consider driving Scotland’s version of Route 66, the NC 500. This 516-mile route will take you on an inspiring journey through some of the country’s most remarkable scenery. Explore the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland, crossing through Inverness, Sutherland, Caithness, Black Isle, Easter Ross and Wester Ross.
The North Coast 500 route (NC 500) was created in 2015 by the non-profit organisation North Highland Initiative in a bid to promote economic growth in the scenic North of Scotland. Over the past few years, it has created the opportunity and demand for new businesses to emerge dedicated to those exploring the NC 500, including hotels, campsites, restaurants, cafes and shops.
Where does it start and finish?
As the main city in the area, Inverness is a popular starting point, but since it’s a loop you could start and finish wherever is most convenient for you. In addition, you can choose which direction you would like to go in as there are no set guidelines and it can easily be tackled both ways. Some of the most popular stops along the way are Applecross, Torridon, Ullapool, Lochinver, Durness, Thurso, John O’Groats, Dornoch and Dingwall. However, the beauty of a road trip is that you can customise the itinerary as you please.
Discover the wonderful city of Inverness
How long should you go for?
This really depends on several factors including your mode of transport, your pace and how much time you have on your hands. People travel along the route by car, bike or even on foot, so the times can certainly vary hugely. If you are driving a vehicle, then the very minimum you should allow is 5 days, but we recommend at least 7 so you have enough time to enjoy the stops fully. There is enough to see and do to keep you busy for several weeks, so factoring in extra time for your trip will allow you to get to some of the more remote villages and breath-taking viewpoints.
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Where can you stay along the way?
You will find a wide range of accommodation along the route, with more popular stops having more choice. It may be difficult to find accommodation in some of the more remote areas, so it’s best to do your research early and book in advance if possible.
NC 500 campsites
Camping is a popular choice in the warm summer months and there are several NC 500 campsites along the way. Some of the campsites close in winter, while others stay open for those travelling by campervan, who relish the quieter months.
NC 500 hotels
Hotels and B&Bs are scattered around everywhere with some specifically designed for those travelling the route. You will find everything from luxury boutique hotels, to homely B&Bs.
As we mentioned, there isn’t a set itinerary that you must follow and part of the joy of a road trip is that you can stop off whenever you feel like it and just explore somewhere that sparks an interest. However, some sites and areas are well worth including in your trip, so here are some of our favourite must-see stops along the NC500.
- Loch Ness, home to the famous loch ness monster.
- The historical castle of Inverness, with impressive views over the city.
Try and find Nessie as you cruise around Loch Ness
Visit the magnificent Inverness Castle
- Find out all about how whisky is made at Glenmorangie Distillery.
- Visit the traditional fishing village of Portmahomack and catch a spectacular sunset over the sea.
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- Get a pic of the iconic sea stack Am Buachaille, just off the coast.
- Marvel at the limestone walls and stunning waterfall in Smoo cave.
- Dive into the fascinating history of the French-style castle of Dunrobin, used as a hospital during WWI.
Dunrobin Castle is surrounded by impressive gardens
- Reach the symbolic landmark of John o’ Groats.
- Enjoy the magnificent views of the coastline and Oakley Island from Dunnet Head, the mainland’s most northerly point.
- Stop off to visit the Grey Cairns of Camster, two of the best-preserved Neolithic chambers in the UK.
- Look out for the resident dolphins at Chanonry point
- Walk through the beautiful 13th century ruins of Fortrose Cathedral.
See if you can spot the resident dolphins
Visit the magnificent ruins of Fortrose Cathedral
- Don’t miss the winding scenic drive and jaw-dropping views of Bealach na ba.
- Meet Highland deer at Reraig Forest Estate.
- Stand on Stac Pollaidh ridge and admire the rugged wild scenery of the Scottish Highlands.
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