Have you heard about the North Coast 500? It’s Scotland equivalent to the American Route 66. Drive over 500 miles around the north coast of Scotland taking in some of the most spectacular scenery (in my opinion) in the world. Can I get a ROAD TRIPPP? Here is how to drive the North Coast 500.
This post was updated in March 2018.
North Coast 500 Itinerary
Whether you spend 4 days or 3 weeks, take a tent or stay in luxury accommodation, there is a North Coast 500 itinerary for you! A good way to plan out your NC500 road trip is to think of the route in five stages. If you are travelling anti-clockwise:
- Stage 1 – From the highland capital, Inverness, drive up Scotland’s east coast through the Black Isle to Scotland’s most northerly point at John O’Groats. On the way visit Royal Dornoch, one of Scotland’s sunniest places.
- Stage 2 – Explore Scotland’s wild north coast including Cape Wrath and Durness, including a visit to Smoo Cave.
- Stage 3 – Drive the beautiful Wester Ross coast from Lochinver to Gairloch and visit Scotland’s best beaches.
- Stage 4 – Explore the Torridon mountains and drive the incredible Bealach Na Ba to visit the Applecross Peninsula.
- Stage 5 – Either return to Inverness or visit the Isle of Skye.
read more: a NC500 extension
Tips for planning your North Coast 500 road trip
- When should I drive the North Coast 500? Scotland’s best weather is actually in the traditional ‘shoulder seasons’ of April / May and September / October. If you do plan to travel in summer, remember that the warmer weather means beastie heaven in Scotland – and the Scottish midgie is legendary. Don’t forget your ‘Smidge’.
- Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Either start at Inverness Castle travel anti-clockwise over 500 miles visiting beautiful Applecross, Gairloch and Durness to John o’Groats taking in some of Scotland’s most spectacular coastal scenery. Alternatively, start your trip with a drive through Glencoe and visit the famous Eilean Donan Castle before joining the route clockwise on the west coast at Strathcarron. Or do the trip both ways!
- Do I need to pre-book accommodation on the NC500 before setting off? – It depends if you are camping or booking pubs and hotels. We found we could easily find camping spots – and change nights dependent on the weather. For some of the more remote places, such as staying at Applecross Campsite, I would recommend booking in advance. For hotels and B&B, the route is so popular, many places are booked up a year in advance – so get planning!
- Do I need a map of the North Coast 500? Yes! The highlands of Scotland are renowned for not having a 3g or even in some places a mobile signal, so I’ve put together a map of the route (GPX file below) which you can download/open in Google Maps. Otherwise, get a copy of the North Coast 500 official map from northcoast500.com or download the North Coast 500 app. En route, Use the wifi in your accommodation to download sections of the route to Google Maps.
- Are there petrol stations on the North Coast 500? There are plenty of petrol stations on the route. They are all marked in green on my map below.
- Any driving tips for the North Coast 500? – Know the speed limits, road signs and general driving advice – in Scotland, understand how to drive on a single track road! I recommend that your stops are no more than 1-1.5 hours apart unless much of the journey is on a motorway or you know the rules of the road. 2 hours on mountain roads and single will exhaust even the most patient of drivers.
Read more: how to plan a road trip in scotland
Where to stay on the North Coast 500
Looking for somewhere to stay on the North Coast 500? Here are my recommended North Coast 500 hotels and North Coast 500 campsites.
- Natural Retreats, luxury self catering accommodation at John O’Groats
- Kylesku Hotel, fish heaven at this hotel in Sutherland
- Enjoy splendid isolation in the quirky Batbox, Lochinver
- Scottish hospitality at its best at Torridon Hotel and Torridon Inn
- Westlea B&B in Ullapool – check out the Munro room!
- Visit Scotland’s sunshine coast and stay at Plockton Inn
- Book a year in advance for the Applecross Inn, Main Street
- Fortrose Bay Campsite
- Wick caravan and camping site
- Dunnet Bay Caravan Site
- Sango Sands Campsite
- Clachtoll Beach Campsite
- Sands gairloch
- Applecross campsite
read more: a visit to the fab Torridon Hotel
Things to do on the North Coast 500
Don’t just drive the route, there are lots of things to do on the North Coast 500 along the way:
- Visit the famous Glenmorangie distillery
- Explore the amazing Dunrobin Castle
- Stop off at the Berriesdale Brae’s viewpoint (A9 north of Helmsdale)
- Visit the Caithness Broch Centre
- Walk out to the Duncansby Head Lighthouse and stacks
- Visit the Castle of Mey, home of the Queen Mother
- Visit the North West Highlands Geopark and Cafe
- Photograph the ruined Ardvreck Castle
- Explore Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve
read more: things to do in Wester Ross
Read more: a visit to Applecross
North Coast 500 Route Map
Where can I get an official North Coast 500 map? For more info and to download the official map visit northcoast500.com or download the North Coast 500 app. The route map below has lots more ideas of things to see and do to help you plan your North Coast 500 itinerary.
Purple – places to stay
Brown – mountains to climb
Blue – where to eat and drink
Green – petrol stations
TIP – to download this map to your Google Maps go to this page on your mobile phone, and tap the square icon in the top right-hand corner of the top bar below. The map will then open in your Google Maps app.
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