The North Coast 500, also known as the NC500, is Scotland’s most popular road trip. This circular road trip is 516 miles, starting and ending in Inverness. This route around the northern coast of Scotland offers beautiful white sandy beaches, along with a rugged coastline and dramatic mountains.

This road trip was branded by the Noth Coast 500 in 2015 and since then it has burst onto the scene in popularity, with many travellers wanting to get a glimpse of what this beautiful part of the world has to offer. 

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The Best 14 Day North Coast 500 Itinerary
The Best 14 Day North Coast 500 Itinerary

To get the most out of your NC500 road trip, we would advise spending more time enjoying each area instead of driving the whole route in a few days. This will allow you to see a lot more of what each area has to offer. However, if this is not possible for you, we have put together this 14 day itinerary to the North Coast 500, capturing some of the best things to do around the route.

  • Day 1 – Inverness 
  • Day 2 – The Black Isle
  • Day 3 – The Black Isle
  • Day 4 – Easter Ross
  • Day 5 – Caithness
  • Day 6 – Explore the North Coast
  • Day 7 – Beach Day
  • Day 8 – Explore the Most Epic Scenery
  • Day 9 – West Coast
  • Day 10 – Walking to some Incredible Views
  • Day 11 – The Opportunity to see Seals
  • Day 12 – Get Adventurous
  • Day 13 – Applecross
  • Day 14 – The Home Stretch
  • Preparing for your trip to the NC500.
achmelvich beach

Day 1 – Inverness

The starting point of your NC500 adventure begins in Inverness, the capital of the highlands. Enjoy wandering around the city where you will see Ness Castle proudly overlooking the city and Ness River.

Ness Islands 

Ness Islands are around a 25 minute walk from the city centre of Inverness. This is a collection of islands that sit in the centre of the River Ness. There is beautiful nature walks around the island which are connected by old Victorian style bridges. You can enter on one side of the island and exit from the other side if you choose to. It is a lovely peaceful place to sit and watch the water flow by. 

bridge to ness island
girl sitting on bench on ness island

City Sightseeing Bus

The famous bright red city sightseeing bus also does its rounds in Inverness. With 3 different ticket options giving you the choice to see both the red and blue routes, or either or. By taking the bus, it allows you to create your own city itinerary around Inverness.

The red route (iconic route) takes you out as far as Loch Ness and the blue route (essential route) takes you to more of the historical sights including Culloden Battlefield.

You can book tickets for either the iconic or essential route or the value ticket which includes both.

explore inverness sign

Where to Eat in Inverness

MacGregors, Inverness

MacGregors is a great bar and restaurant to visit in Inverness if you enjoy live traditional Scottish music. On a Sunday MacGregors is particularly busy as many enjoy the Sunday roast alongside the open sessions Sunday music. There are vegetarian and vegan options on the menu as well, we thoroughly enjoyed the beetroot burger! If the weather is nice, they have a large open beer garden area and they are dog friendly inside and out too.

Where to Stay in Inverness

Ness Lodge

Ness Lodge is located a short walking distance from the city centre of Inverness on the banks of the River Ness. 

Zoe and Billy have two extremely comfortable lodges on their land that are the perfect place to unwind away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Apart from the interior being stunning and very comfortable, the fridge is also stocked up with necessities, including beer and prosecco and there is a welcome basket with some goodies waiting for you on arrival as well. There is nothing that Zoe and Billy haven’t thought about for Ness Lodge.

Book your stay at Ness Lodge here.

Book your stay at Wee Ness Lodge here.

Wifi 

wee ness lodge

Day 2 – The Black Isle

The Black Isle is a great place to spend a couple of days on your NC500 itinerary if you have the time.

Chanonry Point

Just to the north of Inverness, slightly off track and definitely off the beaten path, the small peninsula known as Chanonry Point is the best place in the Moray Firth for dolphin spotting. 

If you want to get even closer to these magnificent creatures, there are a number of dolphin tours available from Inverness, including the Dolphin Spirit tours that leave from the north of the city on the east bank of the river.

chanonry point dolphin

Fairy Falls Nature Reserve

The Fairy Glen Falls is a beautiful waterfall located not far from the small town of Rosemarkie. The walk to reach the falls twists and turns through the overhang of the forest, creating a magical and fairytale-like setting for the waterfalls themselves.

The waterfalls will either be a trickling stream or a raging torrent, depending on how much rain there has been. The second waterfall lies at the top of the first, following the steps to a wide-open expanse of forest, where the waterfall tumbles down the rockface into a still pool at the bottom. Parking is available at the Fairy Falls car park on the A832 or on the seafront of Rosemarkie. The route to walk there will take around 20 minutes. 

fairy glen falls

Rosemarkie Beach

Rosemarkie beach is a beautiful beach on the Black Isle, around 30 minutes from Inverness. If you follow google maps, you will want to set the map to the public car park in Rosemarkie as if you follow the directions to the beach, you will find yourself on a road with No vehicle access to the beach. The Rosemarkie beach cafe sits on the north side of the beach, serving food and drink and it has toilet facilities. 

rosemarkie beach

Where to Eat on The Black Isle

Crofters Cafe, Rosemarkie

A waterfront location with uninterrupted views over Rosemarkie Bay. With a large internal area for cosy dining and an outdoor patio area, Crofters Cafe offers a lovely and relaxed dine out.

Where to Stay on The Black Isle

Black Isle Pods and Chalet

The Black Isle Pods and Chalet is a beautiful place to stay on your journey north through the Black Isle.

This remote accommodation has an outdoor seating area and firepit as well as a private hot tub.

On arrival you will be welcomed to plenty of fresh produce in the pod for your stay. There is also an honesty shed where you can purchase food and drink from the freezer.

Book your stay at Black Isle Pods and Chalet here.

Wifi, dog friendly

black isle pods and chalet

Day 3 – The Black Isle

Ben Wyvis

Ben Wyvis is a Scottish Munro located in Easter-Ross, north west of Dingwall. It sits at an elevation of 1046m, overlooking a number of surrounding mountains and farmland. Ben Wyvis is easily recognised as the long mountain that dominates the landscape in this region due to the long ridge at the summit.

The hike takes on average around 6 hours, after following along a stream the path then heads up to An Cabar and along the summit ridge to Ben Wyvis. There with a steep mid-section sandwiched between to relatively flatter sections. 

Rogie Falls

Rogie falls is one of the many Forestry Commission attractions in the Ross-shire region in the northern highlands. It is enjoyed by many for its simple walking routes and beautiful waterfalls. There are a number of areas to view the Rogie falls, the best one being on the suspension bridge sitting directly in front of the falls. The best time to go is first thing in the morning when it is a lot quieter and you won’t have anyone in front of your view. It will also be a lot more peaceful at this time. There is a small car park with space for around 20 cars which will get very busy during peak season. There are also toilets and bins on site.

rogie falls

Where to Eat in Dornoch

Highland Larder

The Highland Larder is a takeaway kiosk located in the overflow car park at Dornoch Beach. They serve a variety of food and drink, with the specialty being seafood. You can either sit at the picnic benches outside or take your food over to the beach which is only a short walk away and enjoy it there.

Where to Stay in Dornoch

Luxury – Links House at Royal Dornoch is a great place to stay in the centre of Dornoch. There is a restaurant and bar on site as well as free wifi. Private parking is also available. Included in your stay is a full English breakfast in the morning.

Book your stay at Links House at Royal Dornoch here.

Mid-range – Imagine staying at a  500-year-old converted Scottish castle on your NC500 adventure? Hotel goals right?! Dornoch Castle Hotel is set in the heart of Dornoch, across from a 13th-century cathedral. Many of the rooms have excellent views over the Dornoch Firth, Dornoch Cathedral and the hotel’s walled garden.

Book your stay at Dornoch Castle Hotel here.

Budget – Heartseed House Bed and Breakfast offers a continental or Full English/Irish breakfast with an overnight stay. In each room there is a private bathroom with a shower and a hairdryer. There are also free toiletries.

Book your stay at Heartseed House Bed and Breakfast here.

Day 4 – Exploring South East Sutherland

Making your way up the east coast of the NC500 you will witness some beautiful beaches and incredible historical sights.

Cocoa Mountain

One of two cafes on the NC500 route, the hot chocolates on offer here are sheer decadence. Rich and creamy hot chocolates with hand-crafted chocolate “chasers” to go on the side. They also sell a selection of cakes and touristy gifts in the coffee shop. Cocoa Mountain offers a takeaway service as well as a comfortable sitting-in area. We would definitely recommend this as a must-try stop on this route.

Dornoch Beach

Dornoch beach is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach that goes on for miles! It sits within walking distance from the quaint town of Dornoch, one of the first stops north of Inverness. The soft white sand is met with a sand dunes and a lush long grassy embankment. 

The beach has gentle shallow water which is perfect for paddling or swimming. When it is low tide, you will be walking quite a distance before you get any swimming done though!

The beach is popular with dog walkers throughout the year and it is possible to walk along the beach at both high and low tide. 

There is a small beach car park level with the beach that is suitable for small vehicles. Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs is located here and is a brilliant way to make the beach accessible for everyone. If this interests you, make sure to book in advance.

There is a larger car park for motorhomes and overflow parking beside the children’s play area.

Feeling peckish? The Highland Larder sits in the car park for your food and drink needs whilst you are at the beach and the toilets are just further down the road from there.

Dunrobin Castle

Home to Clan Dunrobin, the Dunrobin Castle on the NC500 dates back to the Middle Ages. The majority of the current structure has sat here since built between 1835 and 1850. This castle lies north of Dornoch, on the east coast and is one of the largest castles in the northern highlands.

We enjoyed the castle from the exterior when we visited. Go for a walk around the grounds and admire the outside of the building instead, as well as the quiet beach at the bottom of the hill.

Entrance Fee – £12 / £7.50

Whaligoe Steps

The Whaligoe Haven sits hidden in the eastern coast of Scotland, with no real form of signage or significant road crossings. As you head north along the east coast, before you reach the small town of Wick, you will pass a small crossroads with the signage “Cairn o’ Get”. Once you see this sign take a right turn towards the sea and you will be led down a lane towards a couple of small cottages.

The Whaligoe Steps are an ancient series of limestone steps leading down the 250ft stone cliffs to the remains of the old Whaligoe Haven harbour. Completely surround by towering stone walls, this small bay is an incredible place to visit. The 300-odd stone steps leading down to the harbour are believed to date back to the late 18th-century when it was used as storage for over 20 small fishing boats.

Despite the lack of fishing boats today, the steps and remaining harbour are still in fantastic condition thanks to the hard work of the local volunteers. Stop in at the cafe at the top of the steps for a relaxing drink and hear more of the fascinating history of the Whaligoe Steps.

The remains of a boat winch at the Whaligoe Harbour

Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe

The history and splendour of the castles around the NC500 are simply fascinating, none more so than the ancient remains of Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe. By far our favourite castle around the North Coast 500, these silent remains tell a beautiful tale of how life in the north of Scotland used to be.

Perched perilously close to the cliff edges, just north of the town of Wick, these beautiful castle remains look like they are straight out of a fantasy film. The castle itself has had quite an eventful history, including multiple seizures, grand expansions, and family murder. The earliest parts of the castle are believed to date back to the 15th century, with expansion projects being continuously added all through to the siege of 1680, which damaged the castle so badly it was never inhabited again.

For the next 340 years, the castle remains slowly fell into decay until the beginning of the 21st century, when the Clan Sinclair Trust was formed in order to restore sites like this to a safe standard for visitors. The magnificent work these volunteers do can be seen all across the country, including the newly installed bridge access to the castle ruins of Sinclair and Girnigoe.

Upon your visit to this site, it is asked that you leave a small donation for the continual maintenance and restoration of projects such as this across Scotland.

The castle grounds are open year-round and are on a donation basis only.

Read more about the castles of Scotland in our full guide to the best castles on the NC500.

Where to Eat in Wick

Annie’s Bakery, Wick

Annie’s Bakery is one of the most popular places to stop off for a bite to eat on the NC500 and I bet you won’t be leaving without a cake. This small family-run tearoom is open for coffee and cake during the day as well as light lunches. The cakes are a phenomenal size for the price and you can expect to see a different selection each day.

Where to Stay in John O’Groats

The best hotels and holiday homes that you can stay in are all within close vicinity of the stunning sunset spot of the Duncansby Lighthouse. For affordable and comfortable accommodation, you can choose from the Seaview HotelPuffin Cottage, the Anchorage B&B and Hamnavoe.

Click here for more options for accommodation near John O’Groats.

Day 5 – Explore Caithness

On day 5 of your North Coast 500 itinerary, it’s time to explore some of the incredible sights around Caithness.

Duncansby Lighthouse and Stacks

Situated on the farthest reach of the northern coast of Scotland is the incredible sight of the Duncansby lighthouse. Built at the beginning of the 20th century to guide boats through this perilous stretch of water, known by the title of “Hell’s Mouth”. The danger in this part of the coastal waters comes from the characteristics produced by the way the Atlantic and North Seas meet, producing eddies and flows that reach up to 10 knots.

As a result of this lively water flow, the coastal scenery around Duncansby Head is some of the most spectacular in Scotland. The main spectacle being the Duncansby Stacks, the largest of which towers 60m above the water below. The true power of the weather up here is evident in the awe-inspiring coastal towers. Over thousands of years, the winds and flows of the ocean have slowly carved the coastline down to what remains today.

The lighthouse at Duncansby is still in use today, however, it remains unmanned ever since it was fully automated in 1997.

This northern part of the UK is perhaps the best place to view the northern lights on the mainland of Scotland, due to the lack of light pollution and how far north it sits. Time your journey here to perfection and you may be able to enjoy the most spectacular, natural show of lights on the planet.

Read our full guide to Duncansby Stacks and Lighthouse to plan your trip to the fullest.

John O’Groats Signpost

The most famous sight in the northern coast of Scotland and end of the countrywide, 874-mile trail from Lands End to John O’ Groats is the famous landmark signpost marking the end of the road. This John O’ Groats signpost is one of the most photographed signposts in the world and draws thousands of visitors every single year, all eager to capture a picture at the edge of the world.

The sign that you visit today is actually a replacement of the original, which was installed in 1964 on private land and required a fee to have a photo taken beside it. In 2013 the original site was bought as part of a hotel renovation project, and upon completion, a new sign was installed in the original location available to public access.

If you wish to view the original and have your picture taken with customisable text on the sign, you can do so at the John O’Groats Caravan Park 180m from the original site.

John O Groats Sign

Dunnet Bay

One of our favourite stretches of white sandy beach on the NC500 is Dunnet Bay. This is the most northernly beach on the north coast of mainland Scotland. There are toilet facilities and a large car parking area for the beach which is popular among surfers. Dunnet Bay Campsite overlooks this beautiful beach, however it does not take away from the quietness of the beach due to the sheer size of it. 

If you are a lover of the sea and want to try your hands at surfing in the waters of Dunnet Bay, well, North Coast Watersports is the way to do that. This surf school offers private and group lessons as well as surf retreats and equipment hire.

North Coast Watersports is also known as the most northerly surf school in Scotland and with highly experienced coaches they are also recommended as one of the best surf schools. 

They also offer a kids programme during the summer months to get the kids in the water and teach them the basics of surfing.

Puffin Cove

Puffin Cove is the home to the UK’s largest puffin colony, with 3,500 pairs of puffins being recorded there in 2019. It is a small cove where puffins, razorbills and other seabirds go to breed during the summer months. Puffin Cove is one of the more undiscovered sights on the NC500 that is definitely worth a visit. Photographing the puffins is a great way to collect memories of this incredible spot.

When you reach the bottom you are in an isolated cove with the sound of the waves echoing off the rocks, a waterfall falling nearby and seabirds squawking overhead.

Strathy Beach

One of the most picturesque beaches on the northern coast this beach is guarded by towering cliffs to the east and the River Strathy to the west. Quite inaccessible with a steep long climb don to the beach itself, this isolated beach is well worth the journey if you wish to make the climb down. We would recommend grabbing a takeaway pizza from the Melvich Hotel and enjoying it with a cracking sunset on Strathy Beach.

view over strathy bay at sunrise

Where to Eat?

Melvich Hotel

If you fancy a good wood-fired pizza on your travels, then you must make a stop in at the Melvich Hotel. Whether you take it to the beach or enjoy it in the comfort of the hotel, there is a huge selection of pizzas and you can mix and match your toppings to suit your taste. They also have an incredible desert selection and we can highly recommend going all in on the “All in” desert! Absolutely delicious.

dont miss the pizza at melvich hotel

Where to Stay?

Melvich Hotel 

The Melvich Hotel is well known around the north coast for its delicious selection of wood-fired pizzas, however, we also thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this hotel too. 

Many of the rooms overlook Melvich Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on the NC500, and are very spacious with a bathroom and shower. 

We would recommend booking dinner in the restaurant and trying one of their pizzas, I am sure you won’t be disappointed! 

tasteful decor at melvich hotel

Day 6 – Explore the North Coast

Be prepared to drive through incredible scenery along the north coast of Scotland. The roads can be busy around this part of the NC500 as there is a large part of the road that is single track. Make sure to pull in and use the passing places.

Coldbackie Beach

Coldbackie Sands is one of our favourite hidden beaches on the NC500. This beach is accessible by climbing down a steep hill down the cliff through a carved path. There is a small pull in area at the side of the road where you can park to access this beach. Follow the path down to the beach and enjoy the white sandy beach overlooking the Kyle of Tongue all to yourself. There are no facilities at this beach.

This is the sand that lie hidden from the main road along the north of Scotland, known as Coldbackie Beach.

Castle Varich 

One of the oldest castles on the NC500, Castle Varrich sits high above the local village of Tongue. This ancient castle is shrouded by mystery, with the exact dates of origin and construction mostly unknown. It is thought to have been the ancient seat of the chief of Clan Mackay, over one thousand years old.

Consisting of two floors plus an attic, it is far from the largest castle on the North Coast 500. However the condition of the remains are quite astounding given the 1000 years of aging. You can reach the ruins of Castle Varrich by a relatively easy, one hour walk from the town of Tongue.

Follow the signposts and you can’t miss it. As you enter Tongue, you will be able to see the ancient ruins sitting above the Kyle of Tongue. In 2017, a spiral staircase and viewing platform were installed to give visitors access to the stunning views over the Kyle of Tongue and surrounding mountains.

Entrance Fee – FREE

Golden Eagle Zipline

Have you ever been ziplining? Well now is you chance and what better place to do it than on the most northerly zipline in Scotland and over one of the most beautiful white sandy beaches in Scotland. You will reach speeds of up to 40mph and be flying across the beach at 37m high. 

This activity is very much weather dependent so we would recommend keeping an eye on their Facebook page to check if they are running. No booking is required and the opening hours are between 10am-6pm.

During the peak season waiting times for the zipline can reach 3 hours so if it is something that you really want to do, make sure you get there early!

A new activity Golden Eagle have is the cliff jump. Are you daring to take matters into your own hands and jump from the cliffs overlooking Ceannabeinne Beach? The elasticated cord will catch you after a short free fall and gently lower you to the sand.

Cost – £15 per person.

A Complete Guide to Visiting Ceannabeinne Beach on the NC500 - Highlands2hammocks

Smoo Cave

A cave of mystery, fascination, and one that time itself forgot lies just outside the small town of Durness. Smoo Cave has a very interesting history, dating well back to the first days of the Viking settlers in the UK. As you enter through the 50ft opening to Smoo Cave (one of the largest Sea Cave entrances in the UK), you enter into the story for the ages of this part of the country.

What you will learn about this part of Scotland upon visiting these limestone chasms is simply fascinating. You will learn about the dark history of the caves, including how it was used to dispose of up to 18 bodies in the 17th-century by the infamous Donald McMurdo, who is believed to have been working as Smoo Caves first-ever tour guide (be careful you leads you into the caves).

You will also learn about the vast historical significance of this part of Scotland, including how the Vikings used to store their boats in the cave, and how due to continental drift, this part of Scotland once sat where South America is today.

The caves themselves are forever expanding thanks to the hard work of the local cave exploration team. A lot of the cave openings are currently inaccessible due to being underwater, however, it is believed that during the time of the Vikings, the lower sea levels meant that the cave floor was actually about 10ft lower than it is today, giving access to the huge expanse underneath.

You can visit the Smoo Caves at any time of the day, with the main cave remaining open to the public 24-7. If you wish to explore deeper into the cave system, which is only accessible by boat, you will need to take part in an organised tour. The tour is subject to the local weather, as even a little rainfall can make the cave inaccessible. Due to this there are no advance bookings.

Read more about the cave tour and the work being done on Smoo Cave on their website here.

Where to Eat

Cheese N Toasted, Durness

Delicious Toasties are served from a kiosk near Smoo Cave named Cheese n Toasted. Gluten free and vegan options are available.

Where to Stay

Highland Holiday House

Located a short drive from Smoo Cave, this Highland Holiday House has incredible views out to sea and is less than a 5 minute walk from the beach.

The house has two bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen with a living area and patio area. 

Book your stay here. 

Day 7 – Beach Day

The NC500 has some of the most incredible Caribbean-like beaches. It is unlikely you will be able to spend a decent amount of time at all of these so you may want to pick a couple that you want to prioritise visiting. We recommend spending a day checking out these beautiful north coast beaches, are you brave enough for a swim? 

Ceannabeinne Beach 

Follow the epic scenery on the A838 past Loch Eribol from Tongue and you will arrive at Ceannabeinne Beach. This beach sits under the mountain Beinn Ceannabeinne who sits proudly at 383 metres high. Ceannabeinne Beach is one of the most impressive beaches you will come across if you are driving the NC500 in an anti-clockwise direction. 

The large expanse of sand is accessed by climbing down the grassy cliff along the man made dirt paths. There is free parking overlooking the beach and you can expect this to always to be relatively busy. This area is really popular for wild camping on the NC500 and you may notice a number of tents pitched along the cliff if you arrive at sunrise or sunset. 

The car park is also popular for those wild camping in a camper van on the NC500 due to the incredible views over the beach. There are no amenities within walking distance of Ceannabeinne Beach.

A Complete Guide to Visiting Ceannabeinne Beach on the NC500 - Highlands2hammocks

Sango Sands

Sango Sands is an incredible stretch of sand sitting in between the cliffs. The sand is so clean and the water is so clear. There is a campsite, Sango Sands Oasis, that sits overlooking Sango Sands Beach and from here you can access the Sango Sands Viewpoint. This viewpoint is a raised wooden platform overlooking the bays on either side. 

There is parking around the area and public toilets beside the Spar.

sango sands

Balnakeil Beach

Balnakeil Beach could easily be missed as it is hidden off the main track of the NC500. Follow the main road through Durness and past Smoo Cave. Take the turn off towards Cocoa Mountain and follow the road all the way to the end. At the dead end you will see a small car park for Balnakeil sitting overlooking another beautiful white sandy beach. There is a small car park with more parking round the corner beside the golf course.

balnakeil beach from above

Oldshoremore Beach

Oldshoremore Beach is located near Kinlochbervie at the end of a very narrow steep road. There is a small car park at the bottom with toilet facilities. The beautiful white stretch of sand is only a 5 minute walk away from the car park. There is a basic parking area across from the car park where you can camp overnight for a small donation.

oldshoremore beach
girl sitting on rug oldshoremore beach

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay is one of the most remote beaches in Scotland and is situated 11 miles from Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain.

Sandwood Bay is not an easily accessible beach as it requires walking 4 miles from the car park across moorland. The best place to park is at Blairmore where you will cross through a gate and follow the path to the coast. 

There are no amenities at this beach and it will never be overly busy due to the effort required to get there. 

Where to Eat

Kinlochbervie Hotel

There are limited places to eat out around this area due to how remote it is, however, the Kinlochbervie Hotel serves up a good selection of food with great views.

Where to Stay

Eco Crofters Wagon by the Beach, Oldshoremore

Situated in one of the most beautiful locations on the NC500 is the Eco Crofters Wagon.

This wooden wagon looks out over the stunning Oldshoremore Beach and is very remote from any amenities.

The pod has a kitchenette as well as a seating and dining area.

Kinlochbervie is the nearest town which is around 3 miles away from the pod.

Book your stay at Eco Crofters Wagon by the beaching Oldshoremore here.

Day 8 – Explore the most epic scenery

Today you will drive through some of the most incredible scenery you will see on the route. We have also added in a trip to Handa Island if you have the time as we absolutely loved this trip!

Handa Island

Stunning cliffside views, turquoise blue waters, and incredible wildlife all around, Handa Island is a special place on the North Coast 500. Between the natural unbelievable natural scenery and some 100,000 seabirds that call this island home, it is a place made for nature enthusiasts.

It is quite a small island, with a complete walking loop around the circumference only taking a few hours, perfect for a day out on the NC500 road trip. Upon arriving on the island, you will be greeted by a volunteer with the RSPCA who will give you a quick introduction to the island, including where you can go and what to look out for.

Cliffside view of the water at Handa Island.

Kylesku Bridge

Not a culturally significant sight along the NC500, but a beautiful one nonetheless. Kylesku Bridge is one of the more famous bridges on this NC500 road trip, popular for the stunning contrast between the sleek, modern look of the bridge and the rugged, wild nature of the surrounding landscape.

kylesku bridge 1

Wailing Widow Falls

The Wailing Widow Falls is one of Scotland’s most impressive waterfalls. The 50ft waterfalls drops from Loch na Gainmhich, which is surrounded by nearby mountains in the middle of Scotland’s remote west coast. The Wailing Widow Falls can be viewed from the top and the bottom of the waterfall, depending on the angle you prefer. If you have a drone, we believe that this is the best angle to capture the waterfall spilling out of the loch. In our opinion, this is one of the best waterfalls on the NC500.

Assynt

The views that you come across on this part of the NC500 road trip are absolutely breathtaking. There is a park up in amongst the mountains with views across Sullivan. We would recommend stopping off at the viewpoint and taking in this stunning scenery before settling in for the night.

assynt viewpoint at sunrise

Where to Stay

NC500 Pods

The NC500 Pods in Achmelvich are wooden glamping pods located next to one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches, Achmelvich Beach. There are 4 pods on site, each named after a nearby mountain. There is also a communal, social area with outdoor seating and a fire pit.

There are pet free and pet-friendly pods onsite making it suitable for everyone. A parking space is available per pod a short walk from the pods themselves.

The NC500 Pods is an incredibly popular place to stay and we would recommend that if you are thinking about booking a trip here, you book now to avoid disappointment as they book up so quick! 

Book your stay at the NC500 Pods here.

You can read more about our stay at the NC500 Pods in Achmelvich here.

Wifi, dog friendly

Where to Eat

Delilahs, Lochinver

Delilahs is a new family-run restaurant in Lochinver open for lunch dinner and drinks throughout the day. When the sun is shining you can sit outside on their benches overlooking the water, if not, they have a large comfortable seating area indoors. There is a great selection of food on the menu, catering to all dietary requirements.

Accessible, Dog friendly, Wifi, EVC 

Day 9 – West Coast

Prepare for more epic scenery and remoteness as you make your way south down the west coast of the NC500.

Achmelvich Bay

Hidden along a narrow windy road on the north west coast of Scotland is one of the most popular beaches on the North Coast 500, Achmelvich Bay. Surrounded by sand dunes and cliff faces the white sandy beaches are met with the clearest blue water. Being on the west coast of Scotland, Achmelvich Bay is a great place to watch the sunset from the beach over the sea. 

This beach is accessed by foot from a medium sized car park. 

There is a campsite that overlooks the beach, as well as the NC500 Pods glamping area. These don’t take away from the remote beach feeling as if you follow the small hill you will see another secluded cove.

achmelvich beach

Castle Ardvreck (ruin)

One NC500 must see sight is the ancient Castle Ardvreck. Surrounded by the still waters of Loch Assynt, the ancient ruins of Castle Ardvreck are a sure sight to behold. Thought to date back to 1590, this castle was constructed by the Clan Macleod. This was then the stronghold for Clan Macleod until 1672, when it was captured by Clan Mackenzie. It was then inhabited until 1737, when a mysterious fire destroyed it beyond repair.

As you drive along the winding A837, you will see these ruins sitting proudly above the glistening waters.

Entrance Fee – FREE

castle ardvreck

Where to Stay 

We would recommend spending 2 nights at the NC500 Pods in Achmelvich.

Where to Eat

If you ar looking for another spot for food around Lochinver, don’t miss out on Lochinver Larder where you can try some incredible award-winning pies. There are sweet and savoury options and a must-try if you are in the area!

Day 10 – Walking to some Incredible Views

You will want to make sure you have some comfortable shoes for today’s adventure as there will be a lot of walking involved but trust us, the views are worth it!

Bone Caves

The dramatic and mountainous area of Wester Ross known as the Moine Thrust is full of hidden gems dotted amongst the towering peaks and deep glens. One of the most fascinating of these can be found just outside of the hamlet of Inchnadamph, which was the location of one of Scotland’s most bizarre discoveries. 

In 1995, a group of cavers made a very unexpected discovery deep in the limestone caverns that line the southern side of the Allt nan Uamh glen. When exploring the lower caves, this group uncovered a number of animal and human bones, including the remains of reindeer, arctic fox, eurasian lynx, brown bear, and Scotland’s only skeletal remains of a polar bear. 

The bones found in these caves span several millennia, dating from 3,000BC to as far back as 47,000BC. One of the most interesting discoveries was made in 2008, when the skull of a bear was discovered, thought to date back to 9000BC. The skull was found deep in the lower caves and is thought to have washed down here after the bear died during hibernation.
 

Once you have reached the top of the hill, you will find the series of limestone caves that are now known as the Bone Caves. There are a few smaller caves and three main larger ones that are quite easily accessible if you are confident on rough and uneven floors. 

Each of the larger caves are about 5 metres in depth and are tall enough to stand up in, with very little light reaching the back wall of the cave. We recommend bring a torch if you wish to explore the back end of the caves, as it is quite easy to injure yourself in the dark. 

View from inside the Bone Caves.

Ullapool Hill

One of the best things to do in Ullapool is climb Ullapool Hill. This is a short but steep ascent up to the most beautiful views across Ullapool and Loch Broom. 

Along with that, you can capture the views of the surrounding countryside as well. The climb to the top of the hill is particularly gorgeous in the autumn season when the weather is pleasant and not too warm. The colours are also a reason to visit at this time.

There are two ways to get to the top of Ullapool Hill – one is the short climb and another one involves a steep drive. The highest point of the peak is 270m at the peak of Meall Mor. Along the route, there are a few benches where you can just take a break and savour the views and the ambiance of the surreal surroundings.

view from ullapool hill over Loch Broom

Where to Eat

Celidh Place

The Celidh Place in Ullapool is a cosy cafe and restaurant that is open later at the weekends for live music. During the winter, the wood-burning fire is on and it is a very enjoyable place to sit and enjoy a coffee and one of their delicious cakes. They also serve a great variety of lunch and dinners on the menu.

Accessible, Dog friendly, Wifi, EVC 

Where to Stay

Ullapool Harbour House

A beautiful property with lochside views near Ullapool Harbour. The private room has an en-suite with a bathroom or shower and is within walking distance of the town.

Book your stay here

Day 11 – The Opportunity to see Seals

If you have ever wanted to see seals relatively close up in the wild, today might just be the day if you are lucky! 

Falls of Measach

Crashing 45-metres through the Corrieshalloch Gorge is the breathtaking sight of the Falls of Measach. Over centuries of heavy rain and raging torrents, the River Droma has carved the deep, box canyon out of the ancient rock in this part of Scotland. This beautiful display of the power of nature has resulted in one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Scotland, and is a sight that you need to see on your North Coast 500 road trip.

After you park up in the newly built car park, a short walk down the wheelchair-accessible track will bring you to the Victorian suspension bridge, built by one of the chief engineers who built the iconic Forth Road Bridge, John Fowler. From this bridge, you can gaze down into the abyss of the crashing water beneath you.

If you fancy a more photogenic view, continue on the path for another 10-or-so minutes and you will reach a custom-built viewing platform. This platform gives you a spectacular view of the entire height of the waterfall, including the beautiful suspension bridge you just crossed.

Sea Kayaking with Gairloch Canoe and Kayak Centre

If you are wanting to see some wildlife on the west coast of Scotland, then you won’t want to miss a trip out with Gairloch Canoe and Kayak Centre. Leaving from Sheildaig Lodge, you will head out on a kayak, tandem or single depending on your preference. An experienced guide will talk about points of interest whilst on the lookout for curious wildlife. 

On our kayak tour, we were lucky to see a colony of seals, sunbathing and swimming around, following our kayaks. You may also see a variety of bird species flying around and nesting on the rocks.

gairloch kayaking

Visit the Badachro Distillery

Badachro Distillery is a small family-run distillery in the town of Badachro, distilling gin whisky and vodka. These delicious flavours are inspired by nature, with the flowers and fruits being foraged locally by the owners themselves. 

Badachro Distillery don’t offer any official tours, however, if you are in the area, you are welcome to stop by and have a look around between 10-4pm. There is the option to have a taste in the storehouse and purchase your favourites to take home as a souvenir from your trip to the west of Scotland.

Badachro distillery bottles

Where to Eat 

Badachro Inn

The Badachro Inn is a rustic traditional bar and restaurant overlooking Loch Gairloch. They offer a delicious selection of meals with an incredible view from the decking or the large glass windows in the conservatory area. As the spring and summer season picks up, so does their pizza van, Stag and Dough. 

If you are wanting to explore the local area, Badachro Inn also offers e-bike rental and self-catering accommodation onsite.

badachro inn food

Where to Stay

Fionn Croft – Shepherd’s Hut

Located in the rural Scottish countryside, just outside of the small village of Gairloch is the small Shepherd’s Hut at Fionn Croft. 

This accommodation looks small from the outside but when you step inside this cosy hut, it feels incredibly light and spacious with all the amenities you could need.

The bedroom area has the most stunning views out to sea and there is a log burner fire to give you all of the cosy vibes.

couple outside shepherds hut fionn croft
couple in fionn croft

Day 12 – Get Adventurous 

It’s time to get adventurous. We recommend spending a day exploring what the incredible Scottish outdoors has to offer. 

Outdoor Adventures with Liquid Footprints 

Liquid Footprints offer adventurous outdoor activities around Scotland, offering bespoke, outdoor experiences for adults and family groups. This small family-run business will travel to where you are in the country to help you discover and explore the amazing things to do. They offer tailor-made activities such as skiing, gorge scrambling, mountain guiding, sea kayaking, and canoeing. 

On our trip to the west coast of Scotland, we were guided up Beinn Damh mountain by the owner of Liquid Footprints, Chris. As an experienced mountain guide, Chris took us through the majestic glen and up the steep side of Beinn Damh. This incredible experience led to fantastic views of the Torridon area from the summit. 

couple sitting on Beinn Damh

Where to Eat

The Gorse Bush Cafe

The Gorse Bush Cafe is a small cafe located in Kinlochewe near Torridon. The primary focus in this cafe is seafood, however there are some delicious vegetarian options as well.

Where to Stay

Torridon Estate

The Torridon Estate offers some incredible views over one of the most beautiful areas in Scotland. 
 
The bed and breakfast offers free wifi and private parking as well as a continental breakfast to se you up for the day ahead.
 

 

Day 13 Applecross

Without a doubt, one of the most spectacular drives in the whole of the United Kingdom is the winding route of the Bealach na Ba pass. Stretching up through the mountain ranges of the Applecross peninsula, this pass features as the third highest road in Scotland and is the steepest ascending road in the UK, going from sea level to 626 metres.

This mountain pass was first constructed in 1822, as a method of getting cattle from the town of Applecross to the markets in central Scotland. Hence the name Bealach na Ba, or Pass of the Cattle. Until the year of 1970, this route was the only road to and from Applecross, with a road more suitable for large vehicles now available leading through Kenmore and Shieldaig.

The views from the top of this road are simply spectacular, as on a clear day you are given pristine views of the mountainous silhouette of the Isle of Skye to the west. Make sure you stop off at the viewpoint at the top of the pass before heading down the other side to Applecross.

The road through the Bealach na Ba is not suitable for large vehicles (anything over 16ft in length) due to the tight twists and turns along the way. If you are driving a large vehicle you will need to take the other route around the north of the peninsula. Every year there are countless vans who ignore this advice and end up stuck on the perilous route. This is dangerous and prevents access to the town for tourists and visitors alike.

bealach na ba

Applecross

Once you have passed through the intimidating and beautiful Bealach na Ba pass you will arrive into the small town of Applecross. Sitting right on the western coastline of Wester Ross (yes Game of Thrones fans, I know what you’re thinking), this tiny village has spectacular views across the water to the small island of Raasay and beyond to the Isle of Skye.

The remote community of Applecross was once made up of two very separate communities. The Bealach na Ba road, which was constructed in 1822, continued south of Applecross to the smaller village of Toscaig, however, there would not be a road north of here for another 150 years. Until then, the communities further north on the Applecross peninsula were only accessible by sea, or experienced horse and motorbike riders.

The village you see today remains as quaint and undisturbed as it would have 200 years ago, with not much but a harbour, a high street, and a local tavern. This pub is the perfect place to end the night, with a fantastic, warm atmosphere, live music and good food and drink to match.

The Best 14 Day North Coast 500 Itinerary

Where to Eat

Applecross Inn

The Applecross Inn sits overlooking the sea with indoor and outdoor seating. They serve up some delicious food and are often booked out so it is advised to book in advance. 

Where to Stay

Hartfield House Hostel 

A 10 minute walk from the beach and you will find yourself at Hartfield House Hostel, a comfortable place to rest your head for the night. There is a kitchen and living room in the property.

Book your stay here. 

Day 14 – The Home Stretch

As you leave the coast, you will pass some great sights as you head inland, including one of Scotland’s most recognisable castles. 

Eilean Donan Castle

Scotland’s most photographed castle is your next stop, Eilean Donan Castle. This famous castle has been the setting of many Hollywood films, including James Bond and the Highlander. Today, it is a tourist attraction that is open to the public (for a paid admission), and it is also available to rent the grand castle for occasions such as weddings.

If you are not interested in visiting the inside of the castle, the best vantage point of the castle is actually from across the water at the “All the Goodness” coffee shop car park. Continue along the road with the castle on the left and cross the bridge after the castle. The car park for the viewpoint is on the left directly after the bridge.

At this car park, there is also a toilet and the beach here is a lovely place to stretch your legs and admire the beautiful views of the surrounding hills.

The peaceful view across the water to Eilean Donan Castle.

Manuella’s Wee Bakery

Manuella’s Wee Bakery is locted near Eilean Donan Castle and is a must-see whilst you are in the area. This unique bakery is like wandering through a fairy tale and you can enjoy the delicious cakes available there too. 

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland as many people flock here in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. 

Before you finish up your NC500 road trip, it is definitely worth a wander around the area of Loch Ness.

 

loch ness

Before You Leave on the North Coast 500

Before you head off on your trip around the NC500, there are certain things you will need to get organised to ensure a smooth trip. These include how to get around the route, including being aware of single track roads, etc., what to pack for Scotland, where to stay along the route and what travel insurance to book.

Read more planning tips for the North Coast 500 in our full guide.

How Do I Get Around the NC500?

Given the remote location of the NC500 and the majority of the sights along the route, the best way to get around this road trip is by driving. There are of course other methods that are still popular, such as cycling and hiking, however, if you have a short amount of time on the route, neither of these are very suitable.

As for public transport, the use around the NC500 is understandably difficult due to how remote each location is, however, with the increasing problem of congestion along the route, this is a good option to research if you have time. If it is something that interests you, you can read a public formed itinerary of how to get around the NC500 by public transport over here.

If you are looking to rent a cosy, reliable, and luxurious campervan for your trip along the NC500, we highly recommend hiring through Spaceship Rentals. 

Browse the full range of vehicles on offer at Spaceship Rentals over here.

Passing Place by the Bealach na Ba Pass.

What Should I Pack for the NC500?

When it comes to packing for a trip along the NC500 there is one item of clothing that you are going to need all year round: a waterproof. It rains in Scotland on average 250 days a year, meaning that during your 7-day NC500 road trip you will probably experience at least a drizzle of rain. Due to this, the number one item on any Scotland packing list is a good waterproof jacket.

 

As for the rest of the year, the temperature in Scotland and the central heartlands is reasonably mild for most of the year. During the winter months, you will most likely experience snow, however, temperatures usually sit around freezing, so it is not too cold. For your reference, the average temperatures in Scotland are listed below during each season.

Spring (March, April, May) – 5-10 degrees C

Summer (June, July, August) – 15 degrees C

Autumn (September, October, November) – 5-10 degrees C

Winter (December, January, February) – 0-5 degrees C

 

As you can see, the weather never really gets above the teens, with anything over 25 degrees C considered a heatwave. The best way to pack for your trip to the highlands is with layers that can be added and removed as you need them. You will definitely need a hat and gloves during the colder months and will most likely need sunscreen to protect you on the long days in the open.

For our full list of items that we pack no matter where we go in the world, check out our full packing guides over here.

 

Given the beautiful sights and scenery that you are no doubt going to see around Scotland, we highly recommend packing a good camera for your trip. If you want to read more about the cameras we use and why we love them, check out the link below.

You can read what else we keep in our camera bag over here.

 

Photography Equipment

Main Photography Camera – Sony A7iii Mirrorless Camera

Main Lens – Sony FE 16-35 mm f/2.8 GM 

Zoom Lens – Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8

Camera Stand – Neewer Portable 177cm

Vlogging Camera – Sony HX90v

Action Camera – GoPro Hero 8 Black

Drone Camera – DJI Mavic Pro 2

Camera Bag – Lowepro Flipside 300 AW

 

Where Should I Stay on the NC500?

The remoteness in the highlands of Scotland will leave you with little choice of accommodation in each location along the NC500, however, there are still enough options to choose from to ensure a comfortable trip. These are mostly in the shape of B&Bs, Airbnbs, converted cottages and other quirky accommodations.

Depending on how adventurous you are, there may be more accommodation choices than just the above, often with an even better view. Caravan and camping sites are abundant along the NC500, drawing camping enthusiasts from all over the world. For some of the most spectacular bedside scenery along the North Coast 500, we recommend packing a tent and getting in touch with nature for the week.

As we travelled along the North Coast 500, camped in our trusty Vango tent on a mixture of campsites and wild sites. Wild camping is a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of the highlands, however, it must be done respectfully. Read our full guide to Wild Camping if you wish to give it a go so you know everything you need to for a comfortable and sustainable trip.

camping in scotland

What is the Best Travel Insurance?

No matter what type of adventure you are heading on, whether it is a mountain adventure or a relaxing beach destination, one thing we all need to be aware of is that accidents can happen. The last thing you want is for an unexpected medical emergency to ruin your trip of a lifetime. Luckily, that is what travel insurance is for.

Whenever we travel abroad, we get covered with World Nomad’s Travel Insurance, a reliable, friendly and extremely affordable method of covering yourself on any adventure. With years of experience working for backpackers around the globe, the service they provide is perfect for whatever type of trip you have planned.

Get covered for your next trip and get a quote from World Nomad’s right here.

So there you have it, a 14 day itinerary including all of the best things to do along the North Coast 500, including castles, cliff views, and beaches. If you have visited the NC500 recently, let us know what you thought of the sights listed above, or if you have any suggestions let us know in the comments below.

As always, sharing is caring so make sure to share this photo guide with your family and friends and inspire them to head off on their own North Coast 500 adventure. If you are planning the trip for yourself, make sure you have a look at the rest of our Scotland content for more inspiration to our beautiful home country.

When you set off on your own adventure, be sure to tag us in your photos on Instagram and we will share them with the rest of our community. In the meantime, why not follow us over there to see what we are currently up to and keep up with us on our Instagram Stories.

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The Best 14 Day North Coast 500 Itinerary

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