Balnakeil Beach is one of the most stunning beaches in Scotland, located on the north-western coast of the country in the remote village of Durness. It is one of the best beaches on the NC500 for those looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. With its white sands and crystal clear waters, Balnakeil Beach offers visitors the chance to relax and unwind while taking in the stunning natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

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A Complete Guide to Visiting Balnakeil Beach

Table of Contents

Where to Stay on the North Coast 500

There is a wide range of accommodations around the NC500 route, so you will not be short on options. Depending on how long you are spending in each area will depend on how long you spend in that location. It is worth bearing in mind that some accommodations will require you to stay a minimum number of nights so it is worth researching this when you are planning your North Coast 500 itinerary.

Our new book North Coast 500 Where to Eat and Stay shares the best places to eat and stay around the NC500 and includes whether places are dog friendly, accessible, have wifi and EVC ad whether they cater to dietary requirements. This paired with our own Destination Nc500 is the perfect NC500 combo package for planning your trip.

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.

How to get to Balnakeil Beach

Balnakeil Beach is nestled near the village of Durness in the county of Sutherland, making it an ideal stop for those exploring the famous North Coast 500 road trip. With its crystal-clear waters and dramatic coastal scenery, Balnakeil Beach offers a serene escape for visitors seeking tranquility and natural beauty.

To reach Balnakeil Beach, you’ll need to follow the A838 road, which is part of the North Coast 500 route. This scenic drive will take you through some of the most picturesque landscapes in Scotland, including rugged cliffs, lush green valleys, and enchanting lochs. As you approach the village of Durness, you’ll find signs directing you towards Balnakeil Beach and the nearby historic site of Balnakeil Craft Village.

Once you arrive in Durness, follow the signs to Balnakeil and continue down a single-track road that leads you to a small parking area near the beach. From there, it’s just a short walk through the sand dunes to the pristine shoreline. As you make your way towards the water, you’ll be greeted by the majestic sight of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the rugged Scottish coastline.

balnakeil beach from above


Plan your trip to the North Coast 500 like never before and enjoy a road trip around the most scenic landscape in the world.

Containing details on 

– All of the best sights (100+)

– Where to eat and stay

– Campervan facilities (water points and waste disposal)

– Sample itineraries

and so much more!

Things to Do at Balnakeil Beach

Balnakeil Beach is a popular beach to visit for those touring around the North Coast 500 route and for those who love the outdoors as there is a great range of activities that can be enjoyed around this area. From hiking and cycling to surfing and kayaking, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Hiking and Cycling

One of the best ways to experience the stunning natural beauty of Balnakeil Beach is on foot or by bike. The area is home to a number of walking and cycling trails, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging hikes.

The Balnakeil Beach Trail is a popular walking route that takes visitors along the stunning coastline, through sand dunes, and past historic military bunkers. The trail is approximately 2 miles long and takes around 1-2 hours to complete. Make sure you bring layers as even on a sunny day, the wind can be very chilling here!

The Kyle of Durness route is a 5km walk. along the shores of the stunning Kyle of Durness, a coastal inlet located in the remote northwest Highlands of Scotland and takes around 2.5-3 hours.

For more experienced hikers, the Cape Wrath Trail is a challenging 200-mile route that takes visitors through some of the most remote and spectacular scenery in the Scottish Highlands. The trail takes around 3-4 weeks to complete and is not for the faint-hearted.

East Keodale Pier is near Balnakeil Beach and the Cape Wrath Ferry runs from here on an extremely relaxed schedule and takes around 5 minutes to cross.

From the ferry drop-off point, it is approximately an 8-mile walk to Kearvaig Bothy and a further 3 miles to Cape Wrath Lighthouse. The walk to the bothy is mostly on a bumpy road, while the walk to the lighthouse involves navigating rough terrain and steep cliffs. We didn’t complete the whole Cape Wrath Trail but we did walk as far as the Cape Wrath Lighthouse and spent a couple of nights at the Kearvaig Bothy which was one of our favourite experiences to date. 


Kayaking is another great activity that can be done at Balnakeil Beach if you have your own kayak as there are no rentals nearby. We like to take our stand up paddle board out for a ride at Balnakeil Beach.

Wildlife Watching

The north coast of Scotland is one of the greatest places for spotting wildlife. Whilst you are visiting Balnakeil Beach have a look out for seals, dolphins and maybe even whales! You can sometimes spot these animals from the beach or while out on a hike or on your kayak! 

The Balnakeil Craft Village

The Balnakeil Craft Village is a popular spot for visitors to the area, offering a range of unique and quirky shops and galleries.

Here you will find Cocoa Mountain, one of two cafes of this chain 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.

cocoa mountain

Other Things to do near Balnakeil Beach

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.

a view of smoo cave in Scotlanf

Ceannabeainne Beach

Ceannabeinne Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand sitting on the north coast of Scotland that will definitely temp you in for a wild swim on the NC500.

To get to Ceannabeinne Beach, follow the epic scenery on the A838 past Loch Eribol from Tongue and you will see the beach on your right hand side. 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.

We would suggest swimming at Ceannabeinne Beach in the morning as this tends to be before the wind picks up which during the winter months is bitter!

There are no amenities within walking distance of Ceannabeinne Beach.

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

History of Balnakeil Beach

Balnakeil Beach has a rich history, dating back to the early 18th century when it was used as a trading post for goods between the Scottish mainland and the Western Isles. During the 20th century, the beach became a training ground for the British Army, and remnants of military bunkers and structures can still be seen today.

In the 1960s, the beach became a popular destination for surfers, attracted by the high waves and stunning surrounding scenery.

Today, Balnakeil Beach is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, who come to enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands and the peace and tranquility of the beach. Despite being located on the popular North Coast 500 route, Balnakeil Beach never seems to be overly busy and you will be able to find a space on the beach for yourself.

balnakeil beach from above

Motorhome Parking at Balnakeil Beach

There is a small motorhome aire (6 spaces) within short walking distance to Balnakeil Beach on the edge of the craft village. It is £20 per night cash for a pitch with electric hook up, fresh water and grey water disposal. The site is open all year round and dogs are welcome free of charge. 

The maximum van size is 8 metres.

balnakeil motorhome park up

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Sango Sands Campsite

The award-winning Sango Sands Oasis sits high above the spectacular, golden Sango Sands beach, one of the most popular north-west Scotland campsites. With an onsite bar and restaurant, stocked full of all the best Scotch Whisky, this cosy campsite is ideal for your stay in the north-west of Scotland.

Nearby sights and attractions include the ancient and fascinating Smoo Cave, Faraid Head, Cape Wrath and Loch Eriboll. From the vantage point of the campsite, it is also not uncommon to see the odd whale, seal and even bottlenose dolphin cruising past the bay.

Prices on Sango Sands are £9.50 per adult and additional costs for children and electricity.

You only need to book your stay at Sango Sands if you need an electric hook-up, which you can do so here.

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.

How Do I Get Around?

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 Bunk Campers. We toured with these guys around the up-and-coming Heart 200 road trip in Scotland’s central highlands and could not believe the comfort and customer service we experienced with their vans.

Browse the full range of vehicles on offer at Bunk Campers over here.

Where to Stay on the NC500

There is a wide range of accommodations around the NC500 route, so you will not be short on options. Depending on how long you are spending in each area will depend on how long you spend in that location. It is worth bearing in mind that some accommodations will require you to stay a minimum number of nights so it is worth researching this when you are planning your North Coast 500 itinerary.

Our new book North Coast 500 Where to Eat and Stay shares the best places to eat and stay around the NC500 and includes whether places are dog friendly, accessible, have wifi and EVC ad whether they cater to dietry requirements.

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.

achmelvich beach

What Should I Pack?

When it comes to packing for a trip to Scotland 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 5-day Heart 200 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.

We would also recommend taking our NC500 guidebooks with you on your journey. This will help you plan your itinerary and ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the best places to go on the NC500. Our Destination NC500 guidebook is well paired with NC500 Where to Eat and Stay and you can buy the combo here.

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.

What is the Best Travel Insurance for the North Coast 500

I know travel insurance is the least enjoyable thing to purchase and look at when you’re planning a trip, however, you wouldn’t want to be without it in the event that something happened. Accidents can happen anywhere and the extortionate medical bills will ruin your trip if you are not covered.

To ensure you have a stress-free trip with no worries about potential medical bills, make sure you cover yourself when you travel. We can recommend using SafetyWing, a backpacker-friendly and cheap insurance company that provides good coverage and support. It is also nomad-friendly, unlike most other insurance companies, meaning you do not need to worry about being out of your home country for too long.

Get a quote for your travel insurance right here and get covered!

So there you have it, your guide to visiting Balnakeil Beach on the North Coast 500. 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 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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