North Coast 500: Complete Guide

What is The North Coast 500?

The North Coast 500 known as NC500 in Scotland is a route of more than 500 miles. 516 to be exact. Coincidently, 500 miles *Alexa play 500 miles by The Proclaimers… The NC500 is one of the UK’s best road trips and if you’re looking for jaw dropping landscapes, spectacular white sandy beaches, rugged mountains and castle ruins, you’ll be sure to enjoy this road trip of a lifetime. The route was launched in 2015 to increase the level of tourism in this part of Scotland and to showcase the natural beauty that Scotland has to offer. It starts in Inverness and meanders along the west coast to Applecross and then further north towards the towns of Torridon and Ullapool. Once you’ve passed these towns, you will reach the most northerly points in Scotland, passing by Caithness and John O’Groats before heading back through Dingwall and back to Inverness.

How many days does it take to complete The North Coast 500?

According to North Coast 500, “the trip is not a route to be driven quickly.” To get the best out of your trip we would recommend a minimum of 5 days to drive the full route round-trip, although more days will allow you to stop off at more places along the way.

North Coast 500 Route Map

>> click here to see North Coast 500 Route Map <<

North Coast 500 Places to Visit

  • Dolphins in Inverness: This can be a hit or miss. They don’t like the rain so it can be hard to spot them if it’s raining. Be sure to check out tide times before you go otherwise you could be waiting for hours.
  • Bealach na Bà: Notorious for its steep single track road and breath-taking views.
  • Clashnessie Falls: A short hike with a spectacular 15m waterfall.
  • Achmelvich Bay: Famous for its white sand beach and turquoise water. Although, it can get quite busy during peak season. Clachtoll Beach is less than 20 minutes away and is much quieter than Achmelvich Bay (these beaches are perfect for watersports if you have your own equipment) If you have recently bought a paddle board and are unsure on how to — click this link here
  • Whaligoe Steps (currently closed for safety reasons): Breath-taking walk down the cliff side.
  • Dunrobin Castle: One of the most beautiful castles in Scotland!
  • Durness: You’ll feel spoilt with all the turquoise beaches around Durness. Beach hop to the following: Balnakeil Beach, Sango Sands, Ceannabeinne Beach, Rispond Beach.
  • John o’ Groats: An iconic checkpoint of NC500.
  • Torridon and Applecross: One of the best places to see highland cows.

North Coast 500 Accommodation

North Coast 500 Hotels

In no particular order:

  • The Royal Highland Hotel, Inverness
  • Rocpool Reserve Hotel, Inverness
  • The Torridon, Torridon
  • Links House at Royal Dornoch, Dornoch
  • Rua Reidh Lighthouse, Gairloch
  • Shieldaig Lodge Hotel, Gairloch
  • The Granary Lodge – Would you like to feel like a Queen for a night? The Granary Lodge is the famous former home of Her Majesty the Queen.
  • Drumbeg Hotel, Drumbeg
  • Ackergill Tower Castle, Wick
  • Mackay’s Rooms, Durness
  • Boath House, Nairn

North Coast 500 Campsites

  • Applecross Campsite
  • Achmelvich Bay (The Shore Caravan Site)
  • Clachtoll Beach Campsite
  • Loch Laxford
  • Sango Sands
  • Ceannabeinne Beach
  • Thurso Caravan and Campsite
  • Sandy Bay
  • Ardtower Caravan Park

North Coast 500 Places to Eat

📍 Inverness

  1. Utopia
  2. Mustard Seed
  3. Grain and Grind
  4. Girvens (a popular place for breakfast!)
  5. The Kitchen
  6. Loch Ness Country House Hotel (Loch Ness restaurant)

📍 Fortrose

Fortrose Café – If you’re planning on visiting the dolphins at Chanonry Point, Fortrose Café is a great place to stop at for breakfast/lunch and they have a delicious selection of cakes! It’s a yes from us.

📍 Durness

Cocoa Mountain – They claim to serve the best hot chocolate in the UK! Whether or not that is true is a different matter… why don’t you try it out for yourself?

📍 Lairg

Kylesku Hotel – It’s close to the Kylesku bridge so it’s a great place to stopover for the night. They do amazing seafood platters and the restaurant is situated next to the loch so you’ll get stunning views too!

📍 Strathcarron

Bealach Café – Located at the foot of Bealach na Bà.

Trespass Top Tips for The NC500

North Coast 500 highlights

  • Start from the east coast and make your way round to the west coast, save the best views until last!
  • Whilst all carparks are reasonably priced, most of your spending whilst on the trip will be on parking so make sure to bring lots of spare change!
  • Remember to bring insect repellent to keep those Highland midges at bay!
  • For restaurants, it’s best to book a week in advance, especially around peak season as there’s limited restaurants up north. You should also be prepared to have quick bites from the local convenience store as opposed to a sit down meal especially if you’re on the go around lunch time. Remember to bring plenty of snacks and drinks!
  • Drive sensibly, most of the roads up north are single track roads with passing places. Use passing places to let oncoming vehicles to pass or to let cars behind overtake. If the passing place is on the opposite side of the road, wait for the oncoming vehicle to pass first. Also, a lot of the times you’ll see animals (cows, sheep, goats, deers) on the road so remember to be extra cautious when passing!
  • There’s no strict route/itinerary for NC500, it’s up to you how many stops you make and where you want to stop, so it’s best to do plenty of research beforehand and allow plenty of flexibility in your schedule.
  • The weather can change drastically and be very different from the weather forecast, even when you’re there and checking it on the day! So make sure to bring suitable clothing and footwear for all weather conditions!