Consistently named one of the best road trips in the world, the North Coast 500 is a once in a lifetime experience, travelling around the edge of the remote Scottish Highlands.
With narrow, single-track roads, sharp turns, and steep gradients, “Scotland’s answer to Route 66” is anything but an American highway. What it does have in common with its famous US 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.
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.
Pack your bags and head for the Highlands! The historic mountain pass of Bealach na Bà (Gaelic for ‘Pass of the Cattle’), rises from sea level to 626 metres.
This is the steepest ascent of any road in the UK with gradients that approach 20%. Definitely one for the bucket list!
The thrilling journey to the small, isolated community of Applecross offers sensational views of the Isle 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!
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.
After an unforgettable journey through Wester Ross, we checked into the amazing Kylesku Hotel north of Lochinver – a boutique hotel dating back to the 17th century.
Boat trips run daily from here to the majestic Eas a’ Chual Aluinn – Britain’s highest waterfall.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
From Dunrobin Castle, we made the short journey south to our next overnight stop – the small town of Dornoch.
This historic seaside resort is known for its royal golf course, 13th-century cathedral and vast, golden beach.
Although the North Coast 500 has received a lot of publicity in the last couple of years, there are still miles of empty coastal roads and remote, unknown attractions to discover.
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!
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!