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    Why we love the North Coast 500

    This is one epic road trip. Looping around the uppermost tip of mainland Scotland, the North Coast 500 – aka the NC500 – is where hefty mountains meet dazzling white beaches and tranquil lochs, where waterfalls roar and wildlife roams free. To drive this 516-mile (830km) route is to discover Scotland at its most ruggedly beautiful, a landscape that will ignite your inner adventurer.

    The circular trail starts and ends in Inverness, from which you can head clockwise to the mighty peaks and dolphin-dotted waters of Wester Ross, or anticlockwise up the east coast, through Black Isle and Easter Ross. Whichever direction you choose, the north coast – Caithness and Sutherland – promises crumbling castles, tiny harbour villages, and mountains that teeter over the waves.

    You’ll need at least five days to drive the NC500, but a week (or more) to really do it justice. From sea kayaking and puffin cruises, to whisky tasting and the Northern Lights: here’s what’s in store…

    Things to do in North Coast 500

    Dating back to around 1490, Ardvreck Castle still dominates the Loch Assynt headland: an epic spot for walks and picnics.

    Discover the legends of Ardvreck Castle
    Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt
    Ardvreck Castle, Lairg

    This natural sea cave is floodlit inside: yours to discover on foot (and for free), or go deeper on a guided tour.

    Step into Smoo Cave
    A group of people preparing to enter Smoo Cave - a large limestone cavern near the north coast of Durness.
    Smoo Cave, Sutherland

    Whale watching, coastal walking, and even the Northern Lights: it’s all here on mainland Britain’s northernmost tip.

    Set your sights on John O’Groats
    Sign post at John O'Groats
    John O’Groats, Caithness

    Want to stretch your legs in a spectacular setting? Torridon promises epic mountains, cosy pubs and boutique hotels.

    Find peak perfection in Torridon
    visitscotland_41468565643
    Torridon, Ross and Cromarty

    Follow the walking trail to these roaring waterfalls, set in a beautiful pine forest – and watch out for leaping salmon!

    Explore the Falls of Shin
    Falls of Shin, Lairg
    Falls of Shin, Lairg

    Dating back to around 1490, Ardvreck Castle still dominates the Loch Assynt headland: an epic spot for walks and picnics.

    Discover the legends of Ardvreck Castle
    Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt
    Ardvreck Castle, Lairg

    This natural sea cave is floodlit inside: yours to discover on foot (and for free), or go deeper on a guided tour.

    Step into Smoo Cave
    A group of people preparing to enter Smoo Cave - a large limestone cavern near the north coast of Durness.
    Smoo Cave, Sutherland

    Whale watching, coastal walking, and even the Northern Lights: it’s all here on mainland Britain’s northernmost tip.

    Set your sights on John O’Groats
    Sign post at John O'Groats
    John O’Groats, Caithness

    Want to stretch your legs in a spectacular setting? Torridon promises epic mountains, cosy pubs and boutique hotels.

    Find peak perfection in Torridon
    visitscotland_41468565643
    Torridon, Ross and Cromarty

    Follow the walking trail to these roaring waterfalls, set in a beautiful pine forest – and watch out for leaping salmon!

    Explore the Falls of Shin
    Falls of Shin, Lairg
    Falls of Shin, Lairg

    Places to stay in North Coast 500

    Inverness

    As the start (and finish) of the NC500, Inverness is a key place to rest your head – and the city has plenty of hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses to choose from. 

    On tour

    Want to snooze under the stars? Tour the NC500 in a caravan or motorhome, and spend your nights in the region’s beautiful campsites and farmstays.

    Sutherland

    The NC500 is not to be rushed, so why not stay in one place for a while? With its huge peaks and humbling sea views, Sutherland is a joy to linger in.

    Explore nearby

    The Cairngorms is a playground for wildlife lovers, hill climbers, thrill seekers and more.

    A man canoeing with two spaniels. Clear blue skies

    Explore pristine woods, climb mountains and paddle the waters of Scotland's wild landscape.

    A woman sitting and looking out across Loch Lomond

    From palaces to cobbled alleys, and a dormant volcano, this city is a real show-stopper.

    A young couple taking a selfie of view over historic town

    Pushing the boundaries of art and culture and a heart that beats through its people.

    Two men looking at installation of suspended head sculptures

    Getting to the North Coast 500

    The North Coast 500 is a circular route, so technically you could join it wherever you choose – but Inverness has the best transport connections, so is widely considered to be the start/finish.

    Inverness Airport (for domestic and international flights) is a 10-minute drive from the city, and there are good road, rail and coach links with the likes of Edinburgh, York and Newcastle. Caledonian Sleeper offers overnight trains between London and Inverness.

    Getting around

    For all its wilderness, the NC500 is surprisingly easy to access – whether you choose to drive the whole route, or visit the highlights by public transport.

    However you choose to explore, the North Coast 500 app – available on the App Store and Google Play – is full of useful tips and guides. For discounts on attractions and hotels, become a member of the North Coast 500, from £15 per year.

    By car

    Whether it’s a car, caravan or motorbike, hiring your own vehicle will give you the greatest freedom. Going electric? Chargeplacescotland.org lists the closest charging points.

    By bike

    One of Britain’s top road-cycling challenges, the NC500 isn’t for the faint hearted: expect long ascents and sharp corners, but an abundance of breathtaking scenery too.

    By train

    Though public transport is scarce, there are trains between Inverness and the likes of Thurso, Wick, Tain and Invergordon – which are useful for shorter adventures.

    Want to know more?

    Visit the NC500’s official website for all the latest travel advice and insider tips.