One of the world’s best road trips is none other than the epic 500-mile Scotland road trip known as the North Coast 500. Sitting along the north coast of Scotland, this amazing 500-mile road trip takes you along some of Scotland’s most incredible scenery. After only 24 years of living here, we decided it was finally time to make the trip to the true north and see what lay there.
Epic coastlines, stunning beaches, endless horizons and beautiful wildlife are what awaits you along the north coast of Scotland. Get planning your trip of a lifetime with this NC500 7 day itinerary and witness some the most beautiful scenery in the world for yourself.
To help you plan your own epic adventure, we are giving you this detailed North Coast 500 7 day itinerary completely free. This guide to the North Coast 500 contains all the information you need to know, including the best North Coast 500 accommodation, a complete NC500 camping itinerary, and all of the best sights to see along the NC500 route.
Summary of this NC500 7 Day Itinerary:
- Day One – Inverness to Dornoch
- Day Two – Dornoch to John O’Groats
- Day Three – John O’Groats to Thurso
- Day Four – Thurso to Durness
- Day Five – Durness to Scourie
- Day Six – Scourie to Ullapool
- Day Seven – Ullapool to Applecross
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The Ultimate North Coast 500 Itinerary – Route, Accommodation, Travel Tips and more..
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, electric vehicle charging and whether they cater to dietary requirements. Paired with our Destination NC500 guidebook, you will have the perfect combo to start planning your roadtrip of a lifetime.
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 Long Does it Take to Drive the NC500?
This is one of the most common questions about the North Coast 500 when it comes to planning the road trip, however, it is one without a real answer (unfortunately). The basic answer is “it can take however long you want it to”.
There are people who race around the NC500 in one day, making the most of the beautiful scenery, winding roads and white-knuckle driving conditions in certain areas. There are also people who slow travel around the NC500 for months at a time, making the most of every beach and soaking up the history at every stop.
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How Long SHOULD you spend on the NC500 is the better question to ask, and to that our answer is between 7-14 days. When we first set off on the North Coast 500, we spent a total of 8 days on the coastal route. We found this to be enough time to see all of the best sights on the NC500, however, we could have easily spent more time at some of the beaches and mountain ranges to really explore them properly.
Given that the NC500 is one of the best roadtrips in the UK, we would suggest that you do not attempt the entire NC500 route in less than 7 days, otherwise, you won’t be able to properly appreciate the beauty and fascinating history it has to behold.
Don’t let this put you off, however, if you do not have 7 days, as you can still do PART of the NC500 on your trip to Scotland. We highly recommend you visit the western coast of the NC500 if you can only do part of it as, in our opinion, this is where the most spectacular scenery sits.
Complete North Coast 5oo Itinerary 7 Days
The NC500 road trip traditionally starts in the northern capital of Inverness, from which it either winds its way clockwise or anti-clockwise around the north coast. The following 7 day NC500 itinerary will take you anti-clockwise, beginning with the east coast and finishing with the dramatic scenery of the west coast.
This is a method growing in popularity, mainly because of how much more spectacular the west coast is compared to the east. This way you can admire the beauty of the east coast and have your road trip build to a climactic ending with the stunning west coast.
This itinerary is, of course, a rough guide, so if you would rather go clockwise, or pick and mix the destinations you visit, then read this itinerary in whichever way you wish.
Day One – Inverness to Dornoch
Total Distance – 65miles
Time of Journey – 1hr 35minutes
Explore the City of Inverness
The main sight we wanted to see in the city centre of Inverness was the local castle, Ness Castle. In order to reach the castle, head down the high street towards the river and take a left along the river bank. Stop and enjoy the view here before walking along the river until the castle comes into sight.
High Street Shopping
Now is the perfect opportunity to pick up any last-minute necessities before you head into the highlands. We luckily realised we had forgotten a sharp knife, so Poundland was a huge relief! If you are not sure what you will be needing for your camping trip, have a look at our Packing Guide for Cheap Glamping.
Chase the Falls of Shin
Heading north from Inverness, the next stopping point is the glorious Falls of Shin. To get here you can either cross the Dornoch Firth Bridge and turn west or simply follow the southern coast of the Dornoch Firth towards Invershin. The Falls themselves are easy to find, with lots of signposts leading to the car park.
The Falls of Shin is a small collection of cascading steps of waterfalls, rising about 15m from bottom to top and stretched over about 300m of the river. The main spectacle at this sight is the natural phenomenon of the leaping salmon, an annual display of the resilience and power of nature.
If you visit here during the summer, there is a possibility of seeing these migratory salmon in action, leaping metres into the air to ascend the falls. This migration takes place as the salmon return from the sea and begins to travel inland to mate and lay eggs. This is the first time we have seen this and it is a spectacular sight!
In order to get to the waterfalls, head down the hill from the car park, across the road, and you will find the waterfall at the bottom of the stairs. Unfortunately, the viewing platform is not accessible for wheelchairs. By the car park, there is a restaurant and cafe that is perfect to rest and grab a coffee before you set off again to the next stop.
Stroll Along Dornoch Beach
By following the road back towards the sea before continuing north, you will eventually reach Dornoch. We decided to pull in here and explore the beach to figure out where we would stay for the night. The beach itself stretches for miles along the coast, with the softest sand we have felt in a long time! It is also a great beach for a dip, however, when the tide is low you will be walking for a long time before you reach a bit of water deep enough to swim.
If you are wanting a bite to eat, head back into town and take a walk along to the Cocoa Mountain for one of their decadent hot chocolates! You may also fancy getting a bite to eat at the Eagle Hotel.
Destination North Coast Map
If you are planning an adventure to the North Coast of Scotland, make sure you have all the resources you need to make the most of your trip. Our Destination North Coast Map is the perfect addition to any traveller’s toolkit. With detailed information on all the best spots, along the NC500, this map is your ultimate guide to exploring the rugged beauty of Scotland’s north coast.
Where to Stay in Dornoch
Hotels near Dornoch
For the best place to rest your head after your first, whirlwind day on the North Coast 500, there are plenty of places to choose from in the Dornoch town centre. The best value hotels that are all within walking distance of the pubs and restaurants in Dornoch are the Dornoch Hotel, Royal Golf Hotel, and the Albatross B&B.
Campsite for the Night – Dornoch
There are three campsites in Dornoch you can choose from Grannie’s Heilan Hame Holiday Park, Pitgrudy Holiday Park and Dornoch Camping and Caravan Site. We opted for the more adventurous option and found a quiet spot at the far end of the beach to pitch up for the night. If you arrive late and leave early (and of course leave no trace!), camping here shouldn’t be an issue.
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Day Two – Dornoch to John O’Groats
Total Distance – 91miles
Time of Journey – 2hrs 24minutes
Day two of our NC500 7 day itinerary takes us further north along the coast and involves exploring some of the most breathtaking castles in Scotland. As the sun rises in the sleepy town of Dornoch, the sound of gulls overhead and the waves crashing on the shore of the beach, it is time to get ready for a busy day ahead.
Either prepare your own home-cooked breakfast or head into town to find some food. It seemed most places didn’t open until 9 or 10, so we suggest buying food and cooking on a stove or finding somewhere else to eat on route. After it turns 10am you can check out the Cocoa Mountain cafe if you haven’t already. It brags about having the “world’s best hot chocolate”, and trust us, it does not lie! YUM!
SHOPPING TIME : In Dornoch town centre there is a small Co-op for any essentials you need to pick up. There is a large Tesco outside of Wick so we would suggest waiting till then to do a big shop.
Visit Dunrobin Castle
The first stop of the day on this 7 day North Coast 500 itinerary is at the beautiful Dunrobin Castle. This sits about 20 minutes north of Dornoch and will cost you around £13.50 to go inside the castle to have a look around. Dunrobin Castle houses an impressive collection of art, antiques, and artifacts, which are on display for visitors to enjoy. This includes an extensive collection of European paintings, porcelain, and silverware, as well as items from the Sutherland family’s personal collection, such as firearms, hunting trophies, and rare books.
Dunrobin Castle is known as one of Scotland’s great northerly castles, dating all the back to the 13th century.
Resembling a beautiful French Chateau, with is conical spires and quaint details in its architecture, this castle has been kept in pristine condition throughout the years. It is one of Britains oldest continually inhabited houses and has been host to a wide range of roles over the years, from a First World War Naval Hospital to a boarding school for boys.
The castle is open for tours between 1st April and 31st October annually.
Stretch Your Legs at Brora Beach
The famous Brora Beach sits another 25 minutes further north of Dunrobin Castle and is well worth a stop. The beautiful, white-sand beaches stretch along the coast for miles and the town is small and quaint. If you wander along the shoreline of the golf course, you may even see some cows roaming around there too.
A fantastic, secluded stop is in the town centre, is the small Brora harbour. It is the perfect place to enjoy the smell of the sea and watch the fishermen unload their catches. We stopped off here for a bite to eat by the harbourside, enjoying the peaceful water of the docks and the beautiful view out to sea.
If you are looking for other things to do in Brora, we can recommend trying the waffles at Cocoa Skye and the Indian food at Sid’s Spice. Both are delicious.
If you fancy staying an extra night in Brora, we can recommend checking out the NC500 Pods in Brora for a night away in nature.
Climb the Whaligoe Steps
Our next stop on this itinerary is one of our highlights of the trip, the Whaligoe Steps. This staircase has been built into the vertical drop of the Whaligoe slate cliffs, and give you a stunning view of them from a different perspective. The Whaligoe Steps are a series of limestone steps leading down the 250ft cliffside to a sheltered harbour area below.
The harbour and the steps here are believed to date back to the 18th century, when it was used to store more than 20 fishing boats. Today, the harbour at the bottom lies in ruin, however, thanks to the hard work of the local volunteers the stairs remain in good condition. The ancient ruins of the old boathouse and boat-winch remain at the bottom of the cliff for you to see yourself, just take care of the steps!
Over time, the stairs have been subject to heavy traffic and have resulted in quite a bit of wear. Due to this, signposts for the stairs have been removed from the main road and they are quite easy to miss.
If you want to find them, look for a signpost for “Cairn of Get”, and instead of turning left towards it, turn right. This will bring you to the Whaligoe steps cafe and a car park for you to explore the area. Head around the cafe and down the hill and you will find the steps. Make sure to take a camera!
Visit the Castle of Old Wick
The next stop is at the Castle of Old Wick, just 15 minutes on from Whaligoe. This castle ruin sits on an outcrop of land from the surrounding cliffs, with perilous drops on either side. The Castle of Old Wick is believed to date back to the 12th century, however, all that remains today is the towering ruins of the 4-storey tower.
At the time of its construction, the Kings of Norway dominated this area of Northern Scotland. It is believed to have been built Earl Harald Madadson, the earl of Orkney, with intention of the castle being his chief seat on the mainland.
The sign-posting for this castle isn’t too great, but if you use Google Maps you should find it. Turn right onto Old March Road and continue all the way along to the end (take it slow, it gets quite bumpy!). You should see the castle once you reach the end of the road, so park up and walk it from there.
There are some stunning views of the cliffs in this part, however, don’t stand too close as they are corroded underneath and it’s a long way down! Head around the cliff till you reach the gate and head on through to the castle.
SHOPPING TIME: There is a huge Tesco on the outskirts of Wick, which is perfect to stock up on supplies if you missed the Morrisons. The petrol station here is also much cheaper than anywhere we passed since Inverness, so top up now! There is also a Poundland, Lidl and a Superdrug before the town itself as well.
Visit Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe
Further on towards the end of the world you’ll find the rather impressive remains of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. Seriously, if you are a Game of Thrones fan you do NOT want to miss this! It is definitely the most awe-inspiring castle ruin we have ever visited.
A short walk from the car park will bring you past some more stunning cliff faces, full of amazing photo opps. Keep pressing on and you will see the tallest part of the castle come into view. Read the signs as you walk along and you will see the incredible history behind this castle, and understand just how impressive it was in its day.
Perched on the edge of a cliff, with a drawbridge entrance and over 3 stories, this castle has an incredible vantage point and stunning views over the ocean. Can you imagine living back in those days and having that view every day of your life?! Also what did they think was on the other side of that vast blue landscape? Mind-boggling!
The earliest parts of the castle date back to the 15th century, where over the years it has been subject to a huge amount of horrifying history. From multiple seizures to family murders, Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe has had a truly gruesome history on the north coast of Scotland.
Visits to this castle are on a donation basis and it is open 24-7, perfect for a beautiful sunrise location if you fancy an early morning jaunt on your North Coast 500 road trip.
Where to Stay in John O’Groats
Hotels Near John O’Groats
On the very northeast corner of mainland Scotland, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation options. 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 Hotel, Puffin Cottage, the Anchorage B&B and Hamnavoe.
Campsite near John O’Groats
When we finally managed to peel ourselves from the spectacular Castle Sinclair, we headed to Duncansby Bay lighthouse in search of a bed for the night. You will see a small field on your left as you approach with campers and tents, ignore this and head up the hill! It turns out the carpark for the Duncansby Light House is a popular layup spot for motorhomes, but we were the only ones to enjoy the scenery from a tent.
The view from our tent was absolutely spectacular. The car park faces directly towards the sunset in the summer and the lower ground offers a perfectly flat landscape for a tent (just watch out for the sheep poo!). Pitch up here for the night here and you will not regret it!
If wild camping isn’t quite your style, there is a campsite in John O’Groats itself. As well as this site there are some stunning lodges that overlook the sea if you are feeling fancy!
Day Three – John O’Groats to Thurso
Total Distance – 36miles
Time of Journey – 1hr
Waking up at the edge of the world, it is time to begin our journey west along the most northerly part of mainland Britain for day 3 of this North Coast 500 7 day itinerary. The horizon is endless and the sights along this remote part of the world are incredible, so let’s get going!
Marvel at the Duncansby Stacks
There is a small car parking area at the end of a narrow winding road to the Duncansby Stacks and Duncansby Lighthouse.
From here, walk over the hill to your right and the incredible towers of rock will come into view. These colossal monuments to time are a fantastic photo opportunity and, if the weather is okay, are the perfect spot for some light reflection of your trip so far.
Take a Photo with the John O’Groats Sign Post
Driving back into the town of John O’Groats, continue on the road along the north coast until you see a sign for the visitor centre. Here you will be able to park use the public toilets and get a bite to eat if you’re hungry. You can also snap a photo at the iconic John O’Groats signpost.
Marvel at the Castle of Mey
The Castle of Mey lies further along the north coast from Dunnet Bay Beach, and is a sight that you might recognise from the Netflix TV show, The Crown. This renovated ruin has an incredible garden and offers a full guided tour around the castle itself. This experience, however, will cost you in order to enter the Castle, Garden and Ground for around £15 or the Garden and Grounds alone for around £9.
The castle itself was built between 1566 and 1572, with additional structures being added later in the 17th and 18th centuries. The name of the castle was also changed during this time to Barrogill Castle. For the past 450 years, the castle has remained inhabited, which makes it especially unique.
Nowadays, it is open as a visitor attraction and attracted more than 27,000 visitors in the first year of opening in 2007. The visitor centre is open every year between May and September, 7 days a week, apart from 10 days in summer when it is used as accommodation.
Stretch Your Legs at Dunnet Bay Beach
Dunnet Bay beach lies not too far from John O’Groats and offers another unbelievable, mile-long stretch of sand to enjoy and unwind on. Sitting right on the side of the road, this beach is slightly busier than some others, however, it is huge so you won’t be fighting for space. North Coast Watersports run surf lessons from Dunnet Bay which is a really fun experience. We would highly recommend looking into the different experiences that they offer and booking onto one during your trip.
Thurso Town Centre
The final stop of the day is at the small town of Thurso, which is home to one of the most northerly train stations in the UK. Thurso was a much larger town than we expected, with a high street, plenty of shops and lots of bars and restaurants to choose from to rest for the night.
Thurso is a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Scotland, where the earliest history dates back 5000 years with evidence of Neolithic burial sites. The town was originally known by the Gaelic term tarvodubron, or “bull water”, and was once an important Norse port until the Nordic rule ended in the 13th-century.
It is a beautiful little town, full of character and quaint charm. The perfect place to stop for a bite to eat, some food and even a place to rest your head.
Where to Stay in Thurso
Hotels near Thurso
As one of the larger towns on the North Coast 500, there is plenty of accommodation available in the town centre of Thurso. Ideally, you are going to want somewhere that is within walking distance to the local pubs and restaurants, which means your best options are the Pentland Hotel, the Pentland Lodge House, The Inn @ Y-Not, and Station Hotel.
Campsites near Thurso
The closest campsite to the small town of Thurso is the Dunnet Bay Caravan and Motorhome Club Site, located right on the edge of the beautiful Dunnet Bay. From this campsite, it is possible to catch a nearby boat tour to see the beautiful Duncansby Stacks up close, or you can climb the Dunnet Head hill for a spectacular view of the bay.
If you would prefer to wild camp, there are many remote areas around this part of the North Coast 500 road trip where you can take your tent out into the wilderness for a night of serenity. Please remember to leave no trace.
Day Four – Thurso to Durness
Total Distance – 82miles
Time of Journey – 2hrs 20minutes
Continuing west along Scotland’s northern coast, today is a day filled with stunning beaches, ancient caves and plenty more beautiful sea views. Fill up at a local cafe or with a campsite breakfast and get ready for another day of adventure!
Take a Dip in Skerray Harbour
Continuing west along the northern coast, with the beautiful, blue waters of the North Sea, with nothing between you and the Arctic Circle, our next stop is at the small, isolated bay of Skerray Harbour. Named as “between the rock and sea”, Skerray is a small town filled with artists, tree-planters and fisherman.
On the seaside of Skerray lies the quiet and peaceful area of water of Skerray Harbour, which was a spot we used for a quick swim in the sea. The harbour is a quiet place to visit, with plenty of space to spread out and find a peaceful spot despite how busy it may be. If you are brave enough to face the cold North Sea, then this is the best spot for a quick dip or even to do some harbour jumping. A great spot for wild swimming on the North Coast 500.
We would highly recommend getting yourself a Seashell dryrobe for keeping warm when you get out of the icy cold water! They even have pockets to store your keys!
Discover the Hidden Coldbackie Sands
As you approach the small village of Tongue, keep an eye on the coast to your right. A glimmer of golden sands will appear far below, hidden behind the bushes that line the road. This secret paradise is known as Coldbackie Beach and is one of the most spectacular beaches on the NC500.
A layby at the side of the road will allow you to park up and begin the steep descent down towards the beach. This is quite a tricky climb, especially when the ground is wet underfoot, so take care and wear good shoes. Upon reaching the beach, take a moment to appreciate the seclusion around you and stretch your legs along the shore.
This is one of the most beautiful beaches we found on the NC500 and is definitely worth a visit.
View the Ruins of Castle Varrich
The isolated and abandoned ruins of Castle Varrich is one of the oldest structures on the North Coast 500 road trip. Sitting above the small town of Tongue, the ruins are shrouded in mystery as to their exact date of construction, however they are believed to date back over 1000 years.
It is believed that at one time they were home to the chief of Clan Mackay, and consists of two floors plus an attic. Although this is far from the largest castle on the NC500, Castle Varrich is still worth a visit and can easily be reached from the town of Tongue. The walk will take you one hour and the ruin will give you spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and the Kyle of TOngue.
Take a Boat Trip through Smoo Cave
Just outside of the small town of Durness lies a cave that has a history dating all the way back to the Vikings. As you enter the 50ft opening to Smoo Cave (one of the largest Sea Cave entrances in the UK), you begin a journey through time back thousands of years.
Smoo Cave is one of the most fascinating stops you can make on the NC500 and is one we highly recommend. Inside the cave, you are able to board a small boat and enter deeper into the realms of the hidden world beneath the surface of Durness. Alongside a local tour guide, you can walk deep into the caves, hearing stories of how the Vikings used this area to store their boats from the stormy seas outside.
Thanks to the hard work of the locals, the cave network here is ever-expanding, with new caves being discovered every year. 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.
If you are looking for a good bag for your time exploring The North Coast 500, we can highly recommend the Wandrd Bag PRVKE 41L, especially if you are carrying camera equipment around. If you are looking for a smaller backpack, The Nest by Tropicfeel is one of the most comfortable bags I have ever owned.
Walk the Ceannabeinne Village Trail
If you are looking for a history lesson with a view then the Ceannabeinne Village Trail is one for you. Sitting outside the village of Durness, the ruins of the old Ceannabeinne (meaning “end of the mountains”) township can be found along a guided boardwalk. With views over one of Scotland’s most spectacular beaches, the Ceannabeinne Village Trail tells the story of how locals lived through the 18th century in this remote village.
The main focus of the story is of the infamous 19th century “Highland Clearances” when local villagers were forced from their homes by rich land-owners. Life back in these times was unfair and quite miserable, due to harsh living conditions and extortionate rental costs by the greedy land-owners.
The Ceannabeinne story, however, tells of a more lighthearted victory by the villagers when locals rose up again this greed resulting in the riot of 1841. Unfortunately, this was to no avail as the village soon emptied of any residents due to a lack of work and food. Whilst you are in the area of Durness, we would suggest admiring the stunning Ceannabeinne Beach, and if you are brave enough, how about trying out the Golden Eagle Zipline that goes across the beach too?
Where to Stay in Durness
Hotels Near Durness
In the town centre of Durness, you have a few options to choose from for comfortable accommodation for the night. This varies from guesthouses to bed and breakfasts, however, all of the options are sure to be clean, comfortable and affordable. Options for accommodation in Durness include Transvaal House, Aiden B&B, Glengolly B&B, and the Wild Orchid Guest House.
Campsites Near Durness
There are plenty of remote areas around this part of the NC500 if you are looking for somewhere to wild camp near Durness.
If you fancy somewhere a little less wild, maybe with a shower and a toilet, then don’t worry as there are plenty of campsites to choose from near Durness. The best of which is the fantastic Sango Sands campsite about 2.5miles from the Ceannabeinne village trail.
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.
Day 5 – Durness to Scourie
Total Distance – 30miles
Time of Journey – 50minutes
As you begin to make your way down the Western coast of Scotland, you will enter into the true, untamed region of the route that the NC500 road trip is famous for. The roads become narrow and single-tracked, the hills become giants and the history of the landscape is absolutely fascinating. Did you know that this part of the world once sat where South America currently is?
Morning Stroll on Sango Sands
Starting off the day in Durness, if you haven’t already paid a visit to the famous Sango Sands then now is the time to do it. If there is one part of Scotland that catches most people by surprise, it is the number of stunning beaches that it has. Most of the pictures of the beaches along the northern coast of Scotland could be mistaken for the Caribbean, and Sango Sands is no exception.
This beautiful stretch of sand is overlooked by one of the best campsites on the NC500, Sango Sands Oasis, and is popular for wildlife watching and watersports. From the shores of Sango Sands, it is not uncommon to see seals, dolphins and even whales making their way along the coast.
Pit Stop at the Cacao Mountain Cafe
After a visit to the beach, you have one more chance to sample the “best hot chocolate in the world” at the Cacao Mountain Cafe in Durness. This cafe is sister to the one in Dornoch and is a good stopping point before you head south to your next destination.
Visit the town of Durness, take a stroll through the village and heat yourself up with a hot chocolate before you head on to Handa Island on the western coast of Scotland.
Take a Boat Trip to Handa Island
The remote Handa Island is one of the best day trips that you can take on the NC500 route. The island is around 300 hectares in size and the highest point of over 120-metres. The island Scotland Wildlife Trust nature reserve, home to over 100,000 wild seabirds and a greatly significant area in terms of birdlife and marine vegetation.
It is possible to visit the island by catching a ferry from the local port across to the island, where you will be met by an RSPCA volunteer who will give you a quick induction to the island. These volunteers take turns to live on the island and study the local wildlife, and so they are able to provide great insight into what you can expect to see on the island. They will also warn you of where you are and are not allowed to go on the island, depending on the breeding season.
The island itself is quite small, with a walking loop around the entire island taking only a few hours. The walk around the island is absolutely breathtaking, made even better by the stunning views of mainland Scotland across the light blue water. Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales off the shore and as you make your way across to the island by boat.
The small, ribbed boat from Tarbet across to the island, normally running between April to September. The furry runs six days a week, with no service on Sundays, and is of course art the discretion of the captain based on weather conditions. If you wish to know more about the ferry, you can find contact details on the website.
Where to Stay in Scourie
Hotels Near Scourie
There are not a lot of choices when it comes to accommodation nearby Scourie, with only two guesthouses in the centre of the village. The Scourie Guesthouse is your best option, comfortable, affordable and with exceptional reviews.
Campsites Near Scourie
Continuing south along the west coast of Scotland, you will eventually reach the peaceful spot of Scourie Caravan and Camping campsite. This campsite sits on the edge of Scourie Bay, with spectacular views towards Handa Island and beyond. This bay is extremely popular with sea kayakers as it is the ideal location to for camping north-west Scotland and to set off out to the open ocean.
The campsite will cost you a very reasonable £29 for 2 people, one car and an electrical hook-up. The laundry facilities are £2 for the washing machine and £1 for 30 minutes in the drier.
The closest wild camping spot lies about 10-minutes north of Scourie, on the backs of Loch Laxford. Read more about this wild camping spot in our full guide to wild camping spots on the NC500.
Day 6 – Scourie to Ullapool
Total Distance – 43miles
Time of Journey – 1hr
The penultimate day of your North Coast 500 7 day itinerary road trip takes you through some of the most breathtaking scenery in Scotland. Sights include beautiful architecture, ancient castles and the stunning landscape of Knockan Crag Nature Reserve.
Marvel at the Kylesku Bridge
Driving south from Scourie, you will eventually reach the prominent construction of Kylesku, a contrasting sight against the rugged background of the Scottish highlands. This modern-looking bridge is famous for its sleek and beautiful design, which stands defiant against the breathtaking landscape of the North Coast 500.
This is not a culturally significant stop on the NC500, however, it is a worthwhile one nonetheless and is a definite photo stop.
Discover the Ruin of Ardvreck Castle
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.
Uncover the History of the “Bone Caves”
If you fancy a little walk with a stunning view to round it off, the climb up the Allt nan Uamh (Burn of the Caves) is perfect for you. Parking up at the Bone Caves carpark, about four kilometres south of Inchnadamph, the walk takes you on a loop of this ancient limestone valley. The loop is suitable for families, however, due to the rough path, it is not suitable for pushchairs.
At the top of the track, before you begin your return journey to the car, you will find a series of caves dug into the side of the mountain. These caves are all the site of excavations that have uncovered the bones of ancient predators such as wolves, polar bears and lynxes that used to roam these lands.
What drove these animals to meet their fate in these caves? Did they use them to shelter from the harsh Scottish weather, or were they killed by a larger predator that called these caves home? The North of Scotland is a land steeped in mythology and folklore, stories that talk of giants as well as other horrible monsters..
Visit the caves for yourself and make up your own mind on the fate of these ancient creatures.
Explore the Knockan Crag Nature Reserve
Where Continents Collide. That is the phrase used to describe this fascinating part of the world, one which is said to have begun a discussion that revolutionised 19th-century geology. Upon the discovery Moine Thrust Zone, which showed older rock layers situated on top of younger rock layers, the resulting shockwave among geologist at this period of time is comparative to that produced when Charles Darwin released his “Theory of Evolution”.
It was later concluded that the reason for this layering of old on top of young was caused when two different areas of rock layers pushed together. The result was like that of a card dealer pushing cards together, with some layers pushing on top of others, allowing older layers to overlap and sit on top of younger rock layers.
Upon your visit to Knockan Crag Nature Reserve, you have the choice of either reading more about the fascinating geology of this part of Scotland or taking a walk along the hiking trail to admire the stunning surrounding landscape. Spend the rest of your afternoon exploring this beautiful and ancient part of the UK, before you begin your journey to the harbour town of Ullapool for sunset.
Watch the Sunset at Ullapool Harbour
The small town of Ullapool is the main harbour town for the Outer Hebrides, with boats leaving from here to the enchanting islands of Lewis and Harris. The town itself sits on the edge of Loch Broom, sheltered from the wild waters of the Summer Isles and the further abyss of the Atlantic Ocean.
There are many great things to do in Ullapool if you have the time. This quaint harbour town has a beautiful charm to it, with old, whitewash houses lining the harbour-front, overlooking the boats that creak and sway in the calm water of the bay. As the day comes to an end, the surrounding hills begin to light up a magnificent pink, which in turn illuminates the buildings and the water.
Finish off your penultimate day on the North Coast 500 road trip by watching the sunset over the beautiful Loch Broom, before you settle in at one of the lochside pubs for live music, cold drinks and a great atmosphere.
Where to Stay in Ullapool
Hotels Near Ullapool
There is no shortage of comfortable accommodation available in the seaside town of Ullapool, however, due to demand, it will definitely book up quickly. For luxurious and affordable accommodation in the town centre of Ullapool, our top recommendations are The Arch Inn, Caledonian Hotel and The Ferry Boat Inn.
Campsites Near Ullapool
The only campsite in the town of Ullapool, Broomfield Campsite is perfectly located for those wanting to spend the night in the buzzing town centre. With loads of bars, restaurants and shops to explore and try along the seafront of Ullapool, we highly recommend this campsite for during your visit to the port town.
If you fancy a more adventurous night on the outskirts of Ullapool, drive out of the town and head out into the hills where you will no doubt find a great spot to wild camp for the night.
Day 7 – Ullapool to Applecross
Total Distance – 115miles
Time of Journey – 2hrs 45minutes
It’s your final day on the North Coast 500 and as the sun rises over Ullapool, gently illuminating the surrounding hills of Loch Broom, it is time to head south for the final time. The day builds up through crashing waterfalls, quaint, lochside towns, and climaxes with one of the most epic drives in the UK.
Discover the Falls of Measach
The first stop as you head south from Ullapool is at the cascading water of the Falls of Measach, situated about 12-miles from Ullapool town centre and one of the best waterfalls on the North Coast 500. Also known as the Waterfalls of the Place of Platters, the Falls of Measach is a 46m waterfall that flows through the Corrieshalloch Gorge, just off the A835 road.
Parking up at the side of the road, the waterfall lies about 10-minutes from the gates that mark the beginning of the path. Above the falls lies a suspension bridge that spans the gorge and delivers a beautiful, birds-eye view of the waterfall below.
If you then continue along the with for another few minutes, you will eventually reach the man-made viewing platform that stretched out from the cliffside and gives a spectacular view down the gorge of the waterfall and bridge.
Chase the Victoria Falls
From the Falls of Measach, there is a right turn just after the car park that will take you along the seaside route through the towns of Poolewe and Gairloch, which are both beautiful places to stop and stretch your legs. Eventually, you will reach the lochside waterfall known as Victoria Falls, a beautiful waterfall made from the burns and rivers tumbling down from the towering Beinn Eighe National Park.
Named after Queen Victoria, who visited these waterfalls in 1877, the Victoria Falls lie on the opposite side of the road from Loch Maree. Although the pail in comparison to its African twin, Victoria Falls is still a beautiful place to visit as you wind your way through the Scottish highlands.
Visit the Town of Shieldaig
Continuing along the coast of Loch Maree, you will eventually reach the small town of Kinlochewe, which means “head of loch lu“. At this village, your path turns west towards the small fishing village of Shieldaig, which sits on the north coast of the Applecross Peninsula, on the shores of Loch Sheildaig.
The name Shieldaig derives from the Old Norse language, meaning “herring bay“. It was initially founded in the 1800s as a training port for seamen to train for the war against Napoleon, however, after his initial defeat, the village became a prosperous fishing town.
Today, the town is a peaceful place, with a community of around 80 locals. It has a school, a pub, a village hall, a church and a couple of restaurants. The quiet shorelines of Loch Shieldaig coupled with the quaint charm of the local shops make it a popular resting spot for those touring the North Coast 500 before they begin their final climb to reach the village of Applecross.
Drive Britain’s Highest Road – The Bealach na Ba
There are two ways to reach the small village of Applecross, one leading around the peninsula to the north and one snaking its way directly over the mountains. If you are driving a large vehicle or are not comfortable driving on narrow, winding roads with steep drops, then I suggest you take the scenic route to the north.
The Bealach na Ba is one of the world’s most spectacular drives. It sits as the third highest road in Scotland and has the steepest ascent of any road in the UK, reaching an altitude of 626 metres. Named “the pass of the cattle“, the Bealach na Ba was once the only route from Applecross to the rest of the country and was used by farmers to transport livestock to the markets in central Scotland.
Today it is famous for its narrow, twisting turns, similar to those in the Italian Alps, as well as its stunning view of the sea from its highest point. On a clear day, it is possible to see all the way to the Isle of Skye and the beautifully haunting outline of the Cullin mountain range.
Dinner at the Applecross Inn
After you continue down the other side of the Bealach na Ba, you will eventually reach the refuge of Applecross, a peaceful, seaside village that consists of the main road, a few houses, and a pub. This is the final stop of our trip and what better place is there to reflect on the beauty that you have just witnessed than on the sheltered bay of Applecross, watching the sunset over the water.
The Applecross Inn is the venue for the night and it is certain to entertain. Locals and travellers rub elbows in this cosy, low-roof pub, with mouthwatering food on offer from the kitchen, cold beers and wine from the bar, and live music from the local band. Lose yourself in the friendly atmosphere of the Applecross Inn and share your stories of the epic adventure you have just exerienced.
I’m sure you will have a story or two to tell!
The Applecross Inn is very popular and will book out so we highly recommend booking in advance.
Where to Stay in Applecross
Hotels Near Applecross
For such a small village, there are actually a good number of options for roofed accommodation nearby Applecross. These options include hotels and holiday cottages such as the Cruary, Hartfield House and Sanctuary Cottage. All of these options are within walking distance of the Applecross Inn and offer a comfortable nights sleep with all the expected necessities.
Campsites Near Applecross
Once you reach Applecross, the campsite sits on the road that winds its way down from the Bealach an Ba viewpoint. The campsite sits above the town of Applecross and delivers spectacular views of the distant Isle of Skye and its iconic Cullin Mountains.
We spent our night wild camping on the outskirts of the town of Applecross, towards the small village of Camusterrach. Opposite the small lochen on your lefthand side of the road, there is a flat patch of earth on the raised hill on your right that is perfect for pitching up for the night.
If you can’t find a spot on this side of the village, we also saw plenty of campervans pitched up on the stony beach beside the Applecross Heritage Centre, many of which looked like they had been there for a while. As long as you pitch up respectfully and leave the site as you found it, there shouldn’t be any issue wild camping on the outskirts of the town.
North Coast 500 Guidebooks
We have spent a lot of time in this part of Scotland over the years and we recently spent four months touring around the northern end of Scotland writing the most detailed travel guide to the North Coast 500 route on the market. Plan your road trip to the max with Destination NC500 which features over 110 of the best things to do on the NC500 as well as where to eat and stay, motorhome service points, Accessibility, Wifi and EVC charging points.
North Coast 500 Where to Eat and Stay is our most recent book published by Harper Collins and gives a great insight into local businesses around the NC500 route. Trust me when I say that we are always going back up to the NC500 for more good food and epic stays!
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 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.
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 jacket. 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 (men’s / women’s).
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.
It is also important to stay hydrated, especially when you are out exploring in the marvellous landscape of Scotland. We use Water to Go water bottles to fill up with water from running streams when we are hiking.
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.
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.
What is the Best Travel Insurance?
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.
FAQs on the NC500
Where can I Camp on the North Coast 500?
There is a huge selection of campsites spread along the length of the North Coast 500 road trip, all of which are perfect for anyone wanting a comfortable sleep with showers, toilets and power. However, if you fancy a trip a little more on the wild side, it is legal to wild camp in Scotland and there are a lot of wild camping spots along the NC500 route as well.
Is Wild Camping Allowed in Scotland?
It is generally legal to wild camp around Scotland, with the exception of some specific areas due to bye-laws. For example, it is not legal to camp on the western shores of Loch Lomond due to overuse and lack of respect. When you are wild camping in Scotland, the most important thing to remember is Leave No Trace.
Where Can I Wild Camp NC500?
The best spots to wild camp on the NC500 are spots that are away from the road and houses. In the below article we documented where we wild camped on the North Coast 500.
- Dornoch – Dornoch Beach
- John O’Groats – Duncansby Lighthouse
- Thurso – Strathy Point Lighthouse
- Durness – Ceannabeine Beach / Village Trail
How Long Does it Take to Drive the North Coast 500?
A very popular and important question when it comes to the Nc500 driving experience. The answer to this is a simple one; it can take however long you want it to. Some people race around it in one day, and some people slow travel it for over a month.
For us, 7 days was the answer, with no two nights spent in the same place, although plenty of time to see lots of sights. You can pitch up in a spot here and explore the surroundings for two of three days before moving on, or you can make some quick pit stops at each one and get going.
Is the North Coast 500 Suitable for Motorhomes and Caravans?
In short, yes it is. Touring the NC500 in a caravan or motorhome is a very popular choice, given the freedom that it brings. Given the additional size that these vehicles possess, I can only say that you should take extra care while driving the roads around this route, especially on the western coast.
There is one road, however, that is NOT suitable for larger vehicles and that is the Bealach na Ba pass towards Applecross.
So there you have it, your ultimate 7-day itinerary to the North Coast 500. If you have been to Scotland recently, let us know how you found it in the comments below. What were your favourite sights? What did you think of the castles? Where was your favourite stop? Let us know in the comments below.
If you are planning a full trip to Scotland, make sure you check out the rest of our guides and Scotland content to ensure a stress-free adventure. We will gladly answer any questions you have with regards to your trip, so either DM us or send us an email.
Don’t forget that sharing is caring! Be sure to share this article with your family and friends to let them know all about your big plans. Maybe even inspire them to visit the NC500 castles themselves! Catch up with us on social media and see what we are currently up to. Tag us in your photos from your North Coast 500 adventure on Instagram so that we can share them with the rest of our community.
- North Coast 500 Highlights – 19 Best Sights Along the NC500
- Castles of the North Coast 500 – The Best of Scotland’s History
- North Coast 500 Budget – How Much Does the NC500 Cost?
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