How to take the ultimate Scotland road trip

by Hannah Stuart-Leach
Monday 06 April 2020

Scotland's answer to America's Route 66, 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 fairy-tale castles. Sound like just the adventure you've been searching for? Here's the lowdown so you can start planning your trip.

Dunrobin castle, Scotland. A fairy-tale castle with conical domed towers. Credit: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins.


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. It brings together all of 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 Britain's (almost) northernmost tip.

The helpful folk at NC500 have put together themed itineraries to help you get the most out of your trip, including one on Luxury and another on History, Heritage and Archaeology. You can also explore the NC500 route map, while further itineraries are available with a NC500 membership.


What can I see and do along the way?

Bealach na Ba, Scotland. Credit: Visit Scotland/ Paul Tomkins.

Whether you're looking for rare wildlife, adrenaline sports, amazing food and drink, or just spectacular views, you'll find it along the North Coast 500.

Take your time travelling through the Black Isle - not an isle at all, but a peninsula - and you'll be able to wonder at faerie glens, snack on woodland berries and sit in sunny bays spotting dolphins.

In Wester Ross, you can drive along Bealach na Ba - a startlingly beautiful stretch of road offering views (on a clear day) as far as the Outer Hebrides. Dating back to 1822, the single lane mountain pass weaves its way through the Applecross peninsula. Depending on when you visit, you should check the weather conditions as the road is often impassable during the winter months.

Then over on the rugged north east coast there's Caithness. Here you'll 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!

If you're a fan of hit costume drama Outlander, you won't want to miss Culloden Battlefield in Inverness. Its visitor centre details the last battle to take place on British soil through a wealth of artefacts and an enthralling 360-degree immersive theatre experience.


How long does it take to travel the entire route?

It's recommended to allow a minimum of 5-7 days to explore the NC500 route, although there are plenty of potential stopping points, depending on your interests. During peak season, some parts of the route can take more time to complete.


What time of year should I go?

Woman sitting in front of vintage car parked on rural road in Scotland.

The weather in Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, is changeable, but May to September usually brings the warmest temperatures. Peak summer season tends to be busier than at other times of the year, and you may find that roads are quieter in April/May and September/October.


Are there places to stay along the route?

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 as wild camping is allowed in Scotland, provided that you leave no trace.

It's best to book your accommodation in advance, especially if you're visiting during the summer. The beauty of the route means you'll be travelling off-the-beaten-track, sometimes to quiet villages where there's only a couple of sought-after B&Bs.

Find out more at northcoast500 and VisitScotland.


Hannah Stuart-Leach

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The Falls of Dochart. Credit: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins.
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