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Make Your North Coast 500 Road Trip A Reality

Voted one of the best road trips in the world, the spectacular North Coast 500 is a once in a lifetime experience, travelling round the edge of the remote Scottish Highlands. 'Scotland’s answer to Route 66' is anything but an American highway, with narrow, single track roads, sharp turns and steep gradients. What it does have in common with its famous counterpart is a sense of freedom and adventure.

The route itself begins at Inverness Castle - the hub of the Highlands - before it heads west, climbing the legendary Pass of the Cattle and making its way through the glorious mountains of Torridon. From here, it skirts the rugged coastline of Wester Ross, passing pristine beaches on its way to John O' Groats, before travelling south through romantic Sutherland.

North Coast 500 Route Map

We loved every moment of our NC500 road trip! Here is everything you need to know about the route before planning your own escape to the far north of Scotland. My personal tip: Don’t rush! You will find yourself stopping every five minutes to marvel at the incredible scenery.

Take the High Road to Applecross

Pack your bags and head for the Highlands! The historic mountain pass of Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle), rises from sea level to 626 metres, and is the steepest ascent of any road in the UK with gradients that approach 20%. Definitely one for the bucket list!

Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle) 

The thrilling journey to the small, isolated community of Applecross offers sensational views of Skye, Knoydart and the Small Isles.

On the other side, the legendary Applecross Inn awaits any traveller brave enough to face the elements. Known for its cracking hospitality and world-class seafood, the modest, whitewashed inn is a Highland institution not to be missed. We highly recommend trying the local langoustines and smoked salmon!

Sine at the Applecross Inn

Go Wild in Wester Ross

The NC500 continues through beautiful Wester Ross, an area of wild, unspoilt nature. The main settlement in Wester Ross is picturesque Ullapool - a fishing village with a lively atmosphere and arts community. On route, you will drive through the glens and lochs of Torridon, considered to be one of Europe's last great wildernesses with Caledonian pine forest and unique wildlife.

Here you can climb the ancient peaks of Suilven and Stac Pollaidh - the most iconic hills in the north west of Scotland, offering panoramic views of the maze of lochs and rocks below.

Suilven in Wester Ross

Other 'must-sees' are subtropical Inverewe Garden - an oasis of exotic plants sitting on the shores of Loch Ewe - and Corrieshalloch Gorge.

After an unforgettable journey through Wester Ross, we checked into the amazing Kylesku Hotel north of Lochinver - a newly renovated coaching inn dating back to the 17th century. Boat trips run daily to the majestic Eas a' Chual Aluinn, Britain’s highest waterfall.

Kylesku Hotel

The Far North Coast

As you continue north to Durness, a tiny village clinging to the windswept coast, overlooking a turbulent sea, the landscape changes yet again, becoming bigger and more empty. Pristine sandy beaches, hidden coves and tucked-away inlets offer themselves up as you navigate the remote roads.

Beach in north west Scotland

Home to Smoo Cave - a spectacular limestone sea cave with a waterfall chamber - and Cape Wrath - the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain - this corner of Scotland really does feel like the end of the world. Evidence has been found of human occupation here dating back 5,000 years.

Sine in Durness in north west Scotland

In Durness, we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Bae Seren B&B, with lovely sea views and a burning log fire to welcome us, not to mention the scrumptious full Scottish breakfast!

John o' Groats

Following the north coast, you will soon arrive at John o’ Groats, famous as one end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points on the mainland, with Land’s End in Cornwall lying 876 miles to the southwest. Nearby Dunnet Head is the most northerly point of the UK, and the majestic Orkney Isles can be seen only a stone’s throw away.

John O'Groats

Treat yourself to a night of luxury at Forss House Hotel, renowned for its Scottish cuisine with produce from the sea and neighbouring estates. Set in 20 acres of woodland, the country house hotel is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Fairytales of Sutherland

As you return south on the NC500 through romantic Sutherland, the scenery changes once more, becoming softer and richer, as a contrast to the dramatic, rugged west coast. On the east coast, you will find beautiful castles and ruins, sandy beaches and world-renowned golf courses.

A beach in Sutherland

The magnificent Dunrobin Castle is a real-life fairytale castle in a French Renaissance style with stunning sea views and extensive formal gardens. This is also one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses, home to the Earls and later, the Dukes of Sutherland.

The history of the land and the grandeur of the buildings reveal a wealth unknown to the sparsely populated west.

Dunrobin Castle

Having spent our last day on the NC500, we checked into At No 9 Luxury B&B in in the small seaside resort of Dornoch, known for its royal golf course, 13th century cathedral and golden beach.

Make your NC500 Road Trip a Reality

Although the North Coast 500 has received a lot of publicity in the last couple of years, it is still relatively undiscovered, with miles of empty coastal roads and remote unknown attractions, waiting for the world to pay attention.

Highland Cow on North Coast 500

This is a world-class road trip, and no doubt it will become more and more popular, so take this opportunity and make your North Coast 500 trip a reality before everyone else does. The Highlands await!

Sine Nielsen
P.S. If you'd like to experience the North Coast 500 for yourself then we recommended booking as early as possible as accommodation is limited along the route. The NC500 also acts as the perfect gateway to visit the Isle of Skye, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides - so you may just want to add a few extra days to your holiday!

 

NC500 driving holiday

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