Scotlandâs answer to Americaâs Route 66, this new road trip is what journeys of a lifetime are made of. Recently launched, the North Coast 500 (NC500) touring route promises to reward those who travel it with a superlative Scottish experience: from towering mountains and mysterious lochs, to secret beaches and fairytale castles. Sound like just the adventure youâve been searching for? Hereâs the lowdown so you can start planning your trip:
What is the North Coast 500 and where does it go?
North Coast 500 (NC500) is a 516-mile scenic route that starts and ends at Inverness Castle (make sure you pose for pictures, the views are incredible). You donât have to do it all of course, but why wouldnât you? The route brings together all the best bits of the North Highlands via wild coastal roads, historic towns such as Ullapool, and pretty seaside villages. You can even stop off at John O'Groats - famously Britainâs (almost) northernmost tip.
The helpful folk at NC500 have put together themed itineraries to help you get the most out of your trip, such as Golfing, Luxury, and 5 Day Highlights. You can download the NC500 route map or pick up a copy from Visit Scotland Tourism Information Centres.
What can I see and do along the way?
Well, that depends on your interests. Whether youâre looking for rare wildlife, adrenaline sports, amazing food and drink, or just the sort of view that makes you feel alive, youâll find it.
Take your time travelling through the Black Isle, for instance - not an isle at all, but a peninsula - and youâll be able to wonder at faerie glens, snack on woodland berries and sit in sunny bays spotting dolphins. Sounds magical, doesnât it? Thereâs plenty more where that came fromâ¦
In Wester Ross, you can drive alongside Bealach na Ba - a startlingly beautiful stretch of coast offering views (on a clear day) as far as the Outer Hebrides. Time it right and you can also party in the fields at Scotlandâs most rural music festival, Loopallu, held every September.
Then over on the rugged north east coast thereâs Caithness. Here youâll find a royal holiday home - the Castle of Mey, lively fishing ports and an abundant food and drink scene. Feast on modern Scottish dishes using local produce at restaurants like No.1 Bistro, which has the added quirk of being located on the shortest street in the world!
Oh, and if youâre a fan of hit costume drama Outlander you wonât want to miss Culloden Battlefield in Inverness. But thatâs enough from us, weâll leave the rest for you to discover...
How long does it take to travel the entire route?
Itâs recommended to allow a minimum of 5-7 days to explore the NC500 route, but however long you go for youâll probably wish you had more time!
Can I walk or cycle instead of drive?
Absolutely. It will take a little longer of course, but intrepid explorers will relish the challenge. Hereâs an NC500 itinerary for cyclists.
What time of year should I go?
The weather in Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, is changeable, but May to September usually brings the warmest temperatures. If you visit during the summer though, bring some insect repellent to deter Scotlandâs notorious midges.
Are there places to stay along the route?
Most definitely. There are plenty of places waiting to welcome you with warm Scottish hospitality, from decadent castle hotels to family-run guest houses. Or camp out â wild camping is allowed in Scotland.
Itâs best to book your accommodation in advance, especially if youâre visiting during the summer. The beauty of the route means youâll be travelling off-the-beaten-track, sometimes to quiet villages where thereâs only a couple of sought-after B&Bs. Dreamy...
Find out more about www.northcoast500.com
Written by Hannah Stuart-Leach.