Driving the North Coast 500

Planning a road trip around Scotland

Thinking of planning a road trip? Me too! It’s my favourite way to travel. I love the variety, I get to see everything and road trippin’ soothes a serious case of itchy feet. If you are visiting Scotland or fancy a road trip for your next holiday, here is how to do it.

How to road trip around Scotland

Fancy visiting the spectacular Torridon mountains?

North Coast 500 3

Or exploring Scotland’s clans?

Guide to Isle of Skye 4

Let’s Road Trip!

Step 1. Where to road trip around Scotland

So where in Scotland are you going to go?

The most popular road trip around Scotland is to do the North Coast 500, which takes in the whole of the northern coast.

However, if you don’t have time to do the full 500 miles, why not road trip the ‘best bits’ of central Scotland, or why not visit Wester Ross?  

Camping in Scotland 6Camping on the beach at Gairloch – you can see our blue wind break! 

How about a road trip to visit Eilean Donan Castle, camp on the beach at Gairloch and stay on the famous Applecross peninsula?

My first step is to work out my road trip area. To do this I use an online road trip app. My favourite is Google Maps*. The benefits? It’s free and the app is integrated with GPS so you can use it offline and whilst you are actually road tripping. 

I start by adding the main places I wanted to visit on a new google map:

  • Log in to Google Maps and click on the menu on the left-hand side.
  • Click on ‘your places’ and then ‘maps’ and then ‘create map’. A new map will pop up.
  • Search for your first destination. Try ‘Eilean Donan Castle‘.
  • A pop-up box will appear above the pin. Click ‘add to map’.Your destinations will appear as pins on the map.

You will now have a rough idea of your road trip area!

Planning a road trip

Step 2. Find the best places to stay in Scotland

Once I have my area, I work out where I want to stop – be it a great little town like Plockton for a wander, a fabulous view of one of our lochs, a walk, a place for a seafood lunch, or a fantastic hotel to cosy up in for the night. Here is how I find them. Firstly, find out the name of the area you are visiting, for this road trip, it is Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross. Visit Scotland has a handy travel map of areas of Scotland

Once you know the area you are visiting: 

  • Search for blogs and guides to your area such as ‘north coast 500 blog’ or ‘best places to visit on the North Coast 500′, as well as ‘best hotels in the Scottish Highlands’ or ‘quirky hotels and B&B’s in Wester Ross’. 
  • Use Tripadvisor map search to find accommodation in the area.
  • Don’t forget Pinterest, as well as The Guardian and Telegraph travel sites.
  • AirBnB is also a useful as a search tool to find areas to stay you might not have thought of – if you are travelling to a big city, their neighbourhood guides are great too.
  • Instagram is fast becoming my favourite way to find places to visit. I follow travel bloggers and photographers, search for hashtags of my destination or search by place. You can follow me at _Smidge.
  • Search for music, arts and other festivals taking place on your dates. This will help you discover if prices might be higher or if there will be low accommodation availability. You might also want to plan your route so you can go! Have a look at Visit Scotland’s Events page.
  • I also search for foodie destinations such as for ‘seafood in Scotland‘ ‘craft beer’, ‘burgers’, ‘best restaurant in Applecross’ (or whatever you are into!) as I like to stay in the heart of the action. You don’t want to be driving to for a meal when you arrive at your road trip stop.

I also recommend you also join the Scottish Travel Group on Facebook, and the Visit Scotland Community – browse the posts and ask for recommendations. We Scotlanders are very helpful!

For walks along the way, I use both Walkhighlands and the 40 favourite walks books; they mean I never miss out on an amazing view!

Don’t forget to allow time to squeeze other activities apart from driving. Why not go whale watching or rib boating on Loch Ness?

Rib boating on loch ness

Before booking anything, I save everything onto Google Maps by using the ‘stars’ function. 

  • Open up Google Maps, either online or on the app.
  • Search for anything, a hotel, a bar etc and a box will appear (online – left, the app – below) and a pin will also appear on the map.
  • Click on ‘save’ or the ‘star’ in the box and a star will appear on your map.
  • Your destination is now saved. Simple! 

All your stars should now be giving you an idea of your road trip! Another benefit is that all the stars will appear in the app when you are travelling around.

Planning a road trip

5 Tips for booking road trip accommodation

  1. Be ready to change your road trip direction based on what accommodation is available.
  2. Stay for at least 2 nights at each place (unless it’s a really special hotel or a treat) after all that driving you will need lie-ins! 2 nights also gives you a full day to explore around the place and have time for a relaxed meal (and wine!)  without having to drive the next day.
  3. If you can, book early with free cancellation policies through websites such as booking.com. Especially if it is a popular place. You can always cancel if your route changes.
  4. Watch out for changes in the exchange rate between when you book and pay as well as additional taxes room taxes. This can really add to the cost of rooms. Our trip to the States after Brexit went up – a lot.
  5. Mix up the accommodation, from B&Bs, to camping and glamping, to fancy hotels. I like Embrace Scotland for booking cottages. Why not stay at one of my favourite campsites in Scotland, or search for a campsite on Cool Camping.  Walkhighlands have links to hostels in Scotland or stay in a mountain bothy!

For our trip to around the North Coast 500, we stayed in inns and campsites, for our forthcoming trip to Seattle and Vancouver we are staying in a private room in a hostel (with its own bathroom) a lodge on a lake, a brewpub, a boathouse and a Victorian B&B!

North Coast 500 applecrossThe view from one of our hotels, the Applecross Inn

Step 3. Plan your Scotland road trip route

I plan my road trip route using Google Maps route mapping tool:

Planning a road trip

  • Open up Google Maps, either online or on the app.
  • Below the search box is an ‘add directions’ option. Click it and a new box will appear on the left-hand side with the option to add new places.
  • Using this box add each place as A, B, C etc. A route map will appear. Magic!
  • Keep adding destinations until your route is complete.
  • To see timings, click on the 3 dots on the right of the box and click ‘step by step directions’.

*Disclaimer, there are other route planning apps out there, you may have another favourite, let me know!

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 will exhaust even the most patient of drivers. If you are island hopping in Scotland, remember to add in the journey time for ferries!

Ferry in Scotland
We are on a boat!

Road tripping Scotland tips! 

  • You don’t need a satnav – you can use your mobile phone. On a smartphone, GPS works without using data. Plot your route with Wifi before you leave the hotel and you can follow it.
  • Don’t drive hungry (or thirsty) and make sure you use check ins and outs to your advantage – if you have only an hours drive to next place, leave the latest that you can and you will arrive just in time for lunch!
  • If you want to go to an attraction (say Eileen Donan Castle) stay nearby so you can get up and go first thing before the crowds arrive and you head off to your next stop.
  • Always be honest with the driver about how long the drive will take, remember they will probably have no idea of where they are going!
  • Know the speed limits, road signs and general driving advice – in Scotland, understand how to drive on a single track road!

Skye single track roadOver the sea to Skye 

My best tip for road tripping? Keep stopping, Scotland’s scenery is spectacular…

 Love from, Scotland x

Pin Planning a Road Trip for later

Planning a road trip around Scotland

 Love from, Scotland x

Our North Coast 500 road trip

A brilliant road trip around the Costa Brava

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