The NC500 has been described as Scotland’s Route 66 and this route is no less iconic than the much-adored American highway. The North Coast 500 runs alongside some of the most staggeringly beautiful and diverse scenery in the world. See the best of Highlands along the route with gorgeous views like rugged mountains, placid lochs, deep and beautiful glens and beaches that rival some of the more temperate coastlines closer to the equator!
You could take a lifetime to explore the wonderful stops on the North Coast 500, but with a lifetime of holiday days probably not on offer from work, why not pack a holiday of a lifetime into 7 days?
NC500 Route FAQs
How long is the NC500?
- 516 miles from the NC500 starting point in Inverness, up the east coast of Scotland, then down its west coast and back to Inverness. Along the way, you’ll discover lovely towns like Dornoch, Wick, Tongue, Lochinver, Ullapool and Kinlochewe, as well as many more. You can of course travel the route west to east as well – it’s all the same route.
How Much Time to Complete the NC500?
- 7 days is average, but you can easily complete it in 7, or ideally, you could spend the rest of your life exploring the Highland road trip route
Where to Stay on the NC500?
- There is plenty of B&Bs, hotels, and campsites on the route, but we’d advise that you book well in advance to avoid disappointment as this is easily one of the most popular tourist routes in Scotland.
What Transport Should I use for the NC500?
- Many people choose to drive the route in everything from classic cars to larger recreation vehicles. If you’d prefer, you can easily cycle the route, or even walk! These methods will of course take longer, but that will give you far more time to appreciate the best scenery in Scotland!
Travel the NC500 in 7 Days
The holiday of a lifetime awaits along the coastline of the Highlands! Here we give you a taste of some of the sights along the way, there are plenty more however so take the time to plan your itinerary and check to see if there are any further COVID restrictions in the Highlands whenever you plan to go.
Day 1 – Inverness to Dornoch
Inverness: Inverness is Scotland’s most northern city and it is a gem to explore. Discover interesting and beautiful attractions in Inverness like Inverness Castle, the dominating Inverness Cathedral, the serene Ness Islands crisscrossed by delightful Victorian bridges and brimming with local wildlife, and maybe savour some of the local food in Inverness’s numerous bars, restaurants and cafes that serve the city. Take in nearby attractions like the world-famous Loch Ness, home of the Loch Ness Monster. Lovely views are best experienced from the waterside or on a cruise up the iconic Loch, plus you’ll have another castle to explore on the banks of the Loch, the once formidable Urquhart Castle. A perfect start to your NC500 experience.
Dingwall: Next, you’ll pass through Muir of Ord and the Dingwall. Dingwall is a busy wee town full of shops and dining options. Outside the town, you’ll find the 12th Century Tulloch Castle and GlenWyvis Distillery.
Alness: Past Evanton and Black Rock Gorge (a Harry Potter filming location), you’ll find the village of Alness. There are 2 nearby golf courses and the much-admired Dalmore Distillery.
Tain: Notable places to visit in Tain include its Tolbooth and Clock Tower, and St Duthac Collegiate Church. Tain is a town rich with history and well worth a stop to drink it in.
Dornoch: The village of Dornach is brimming with history. Home to the famous championship golf course at Royal Dornach Golf Club, Dornach Cathedral, the Old Jailhouse, and The Witch’s Stone – which commemorates the last legal witch-burning in the British Isles.
Day 2 – Dornoch to Wick
Golspie: Another golf course awaits you in the town of Golspie, as well as a controversial 100-foot-tall statute of the 1st Duke of Sutherland. The duke is famous for his role in the Highland Clearances and his patter has not been forgiven. His statue sits atop of Ben Bhraggie and there are some great views to be had from the peak if the weather plays ball.
Dunrobin Castle: This is where Disney meets Scotland. The most fairytale-like castle you’ll ever clap eyes on. Tour the castle rooms and its gorgeous formal gardens, and then get on to its museum to learn the area’s rich history.
Helmsdale: Once home to Europe’s largest herring fishing fleet, the town has a rich history connected especially to the Highland clearances.
Dunbeath: Famous as the birthplace of prolific Scottish writer Neil M. Gunn, it’s full of walks, archaeological sites and is home to Dunbeath Castle.
Day 3 – Wick to Tongue
John O’Groats: famously the end of the road of mainland UK, visit the “Journey’s End” signpost and take the obligatory photo with the iconic landmark. There are beautiful sea views out to Orkney on a clear day from John O’Groats.
Dunnet: Head out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in Britain. Great place for a coastal walk and Dunnet hosts Mary Ann’s Cottage, a beautifully preserved croft home that dates back to 1850 and gives you a taste of crofting life in the 19th century.
Bettyhill: Near Bettyhill you’ll find the very pretty Farr Beach, great for surfing or just enjoying your proximity to the sea.
Tongue: Tongue is a wee village that has views aplenty and loads of options for overnight stays and dining opportunities.
Day 4 -Tongue to Lochinver
Smoo Cave: An impressive sea cave awaits you only the route to Lochinver. Said to have been inhabited as long ago as 10,000 years, you can explore the outer chambers on foot or choose to go deeper via raft and really make a trip of it.
Durness: Guided walks, a 9-hole golf course and a beautiful sandy beach await you in this wee village. Some cracking artisan shops are also open for you to find that perfect keepsake from your NC500 road trip.
Scourie: Scourie Bay is famous for its geological assets. Here you can actually touch Lewisian Gneiss, the oldest rock in Europe dated at 3-billion-year-old! If that’s not enough of a draw for you, the area is very popular for brown trout fishing as well.
Lochinver: Lochinver is very popular amongst folk who enjoy an outdoor pursuit or two. You can book guided hikes and climbs, it’s great for fishing and the cycle routes are something you’ll remember forever!
Day 5 – Lochinver to Ullapool
Loch Assynt: Here lie the ruins of 15th Century Ardvreck Castle, a cracking place to get a taste of the history of the area and immerse yourself in the clan culture of the 1400s.
Knockan Cag: Places of geological interest on the NC500 trail are plentiful, but this one is not to be missed. With a very informative visitor centre and some cracking views, you’ll learn about the billion-year-old rocks that surround you and be treated to some of the best views on the NC500.
Ullapool: Compared to many of the other villages and towns along the NC500 route, Ullapool is quite a sizeable settlement. Plenty of small shops, museums and cafes to choose from, as well as a ferry terminal that takes folk over to Lewis & Harris, should the mood take you. A perfect place to spend the night before day 6 begins.
Day 6 – Ullapool to Kinlochewe
Dundonnell: Waterfalls are a-plenty around this area. None of them are very dramatic, but great places to have a wee rest stop or explore the area further on a wee hike as there are some fantastic views along An Teallach Ridge.
Aultbea: A very important harbour during WWII. You can learn about the conveys that left Aultbea bound for our allies in eastern Europe. A perfect place for any history buffs.
Poolewe: Interewe Gardens are particularly beautiful when in bloom. Many more exotic plants thrive here due to the Gulf Stream, and it is a perfect place to discover some terrific trails through the area. You can even be treated to some particularly memorable wildlife boat trips in the summer that will have you snapping memories like nobody’s business.
Kinlochewe: Just south of Loch Maree, Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve offers woodland and mountain trails that provide some great views as well as some fantastic birdwatching opportunities especially around Glen Docherty.
Day 7 – Kinlochewe to Inverness
Torridon: Scenic beauty is the dish of the day at Torridon. It’s a hiker’s paradise with many mountains and hills dotting the area like Beinn Eighe, Liathach, Beinn Alligin, and Sgurr Dubh. There are loads of lovely walks and hikes ranging from casual walks right up to difficult mountain hikes. You’ll be treated to great views either way.
Applecross: Sandy beaches, churches and the terrific Applecross Gardens are the notable attractions in Applecross. Plenty to keep you busy or help you relax.
Lochcarron: The village is home to (unsurprisingly) a loch, and the prolific Lochcarron Weavers where you can learn about all things weaving as well as buy some fantastic local products. There’s also the ruined 14th Century Strome Castle for those who enjoy Scottish history.
Inverness: You’re back to where you started. Enjoy the Capital of the Highlands’ hospitality and reminisce over the memories made along the way on your NC500 holiday!