Road trips have long since been a mainstay of travel and are always a great way to pack in as many sights as possible and although they’re quite synonymous with the US, Scotland is giving the US road trips a run for it’s money with the new route called the North Coast 500 which takes you across the specacularly amazing Highlands of Scotland!

Scottish Highlands Guide

Scotland has such amazing sights for any traveller to see and this route definitely packs in as many sights as possible. To that end, I’ve out together as much information as possible to help you plan your trip across the Highlands! The route is shown below and there’s even a sample 4 day itinerary to help you get started with your planning! The route takes you through the coastal edges of the Highlands and gives you a chance to have an unadulterated and quite frankly, AMAZING experience in Scotland.

The NC500 route is just over 500 miles and begins in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. From Inverness, it follows the A835 towards the west coast, and snakes along the coastline upwards through the North West Highlands, across the north edge of mainland Britain and finally down the east coast on the A9 from Britain’s most northerly town; John O’Groats, completing the loop in Inverness.

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For more details on the map and to download a free GPS map for your Sat Nav – visit the official site at www.northcoast500.com (definitely highly recommended before you set out to explore the Highlands)!

Perfect for cars, motorbikes cyclists and walkers alike, the route is arguably one of the most scenic in Scotland. Key ‘stop and take a picture’ locations along the route include the following (full details further down):

  • Spectacular beaches such as Achmelvich and Dornoch
  • Stunning mountain ranges such as Ben Hope and Suilven
  • Mesmerising castles such as the fairytale Dunrobin and the striking ruins of Ardvreck.

So let’s get started shall we?

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NORTH COAST 500 TRAVEL ITINERARY

*Feel free to add or subtract as you see fit as long as you tick off the main sights! 😉

DAY ONE

10am Jump in to your car and begin your NC500 journey by heading out of Inverness towards the A835 through Beauly and then once in Muir of Ord following the A862 to Dingwall and then on the A9 to Wick.

11.00am Stop at the Storehouse of Foulis on the A9 at Evanton for a freshly brewed cup of tea/coffee and a delicious homemade cake. There is a small farm shop here with the best of Highland produce available and amazing views over the Cromarty Firth. Look out for seals!

11.30am Head back on the A9/North Coast 500, enjoying the surrounding scenery. Optional Stop: Dornoch – Dornoch Beach (add 20 minutes)

12.15pm Next stop – Dunrobin Castle, Golspie. A breath-taking castle with stunning grounds and falconry, worth a visit.

1.30pm Back on route, heading towards Helmsdale for a welcoming lunch at Thyme & Plaice.

2.45pm Back on the A9, drive northbound to Wick.

3.30pm Check in to your hotel at Mackay’s Hotel and make reservations for dinner – you are going to enjoy this!

4.00pm Exploring type? Sinclair Girnigoe Castle Ruins tell a great story – the locals tell us there is hidden beach out there worth a find!

6.00pm Go back to the hotel to freshen up and make your way to No.1 Bistro, on the shortest street in the world! Ellie & Murray await with some great local hospitality – not to mention AA Rosette food.

DAY TWO

8.30am Early breakfast – you have a busy day ahead of you!

9.00am Check out and head back on to the road towards John O’Groats.

9.30am Get your photo taken at the famous sign – you are currently in Britain’s most northerly

town! Then take a trip up to the lighthouse to enjoy the sights of the Orkney island, Dunnet Head and a wee walk to see the Duncansby Stacks.

10.30am Back on the road – follow the A896

Optional Stop: The Castle of Mey – The Queen Mother’s summer home. (add 45 minutes)
Drive through Castletown & Thurso westbound. Be aware of sheep and highland coo’s who graze around the road past Reay – take it slow!

12.15pm Arriving in Tongue – look out for Castle Varrich perched on the side of the hill before the bridge!

12.30pm Take a detour right after the bridge towards Talmine & Talmine Bay. Check out the scenery! Isn’t it beautiful? Lunch stop at Craggan Hotel?

1.45pm Back on route, exit Tongue on the A838 towards Durness. Loch Eriboll, Loch Hope and Ben Hope and Ben Loyal are just a few of the scenic landscapes worth stopping for photos.
Optional Stop: Cocoa Mountain in Durness for some sweet treats and an infamous hot chocolate. We dare you to find a better one than this! (add 30 minutes)

3.30pm Smoo Caves is next – explore Britain’s largest fresh water sea cave!

4.30pm The nearby Sango Sands is a beautiful beach – worth a look!

5.00pm Back on the road – drive south-west bound on the A838 towards Kylesku.

6.15pm Check in to Kylesku Hotel for a warm welcome followed by a delicious dinner.

DAY THREE

8.00am Breakfast at the Hotel

8.45am Check out and back on the road following the B869

9.30am Stop at Clachtoll & Achmelvich to see the impressive white sands and clear waters.

10.15am Drive past Lochinver and on to the A837 to Ullapool – remember to stop and capture the beautiful Ardvreck Castle on your right at Loch Assynt.

11.30am Stop in Ullapool and enjoy the sights and friendly locals, including the harbour, museum before lunch at The Ceilidh Place!

1.30pm Back on the A832 towards Gairloch. You really need to soak up the sights at this part – An Teallach, Gruinard Island, Loch Broom, Isle of Ewe and Loch Marie are just some of the stops worth clicking your camera at.

3.00pm A tea break at the Old Inn at Gairloch followed by a stroll up to Big Sands Beach is just what you need now.

3.45pm Return to the road heading towards Torridon on the A896. Spectacular views await you of the Torridon mountains and Loch Torridon. The next part of the road is the Bealach Na Ba – arguably the most difficult stretch, but the most scenic!

5.30pm Arrive in Applecross for the evening – a warm welcome awaits you at the Applecross Inn. A favourite for locals and travellers alike.

DAY FOUR

8.00am Early breakfast at The Inn

8.45am Back on the road to Inverness through Lochcarron and Contin for the last stretch of the North Coast 500.

11.00am Arrive in Inverness.

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WHERE TO STAY ON NORTH COAST 500 ROUTE

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THINGS TO SEE, EAT AND DO ON NORTH COAST 500 ROUTE

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And there you have it!!! Don’t forget to send us a postcard when you visit! 😉 🙂 🙂


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  • OMG, I love the pictures! It looks incredible. So beautiful. Thanks for sharing – now I have another country on my travel bucket list 🙂

    • HandLuggageOnly

      🙂 Pleased to hear that!

  • This is brilliant! I’ll definitely be doing this within the year

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Good! Sounds like so much fun!

  • Zoe Newlove

    This sounds awesome 😀 Definitely will have to give this route a go this year!!!

    Zoe Newlove Beauty Blogger & MUA

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Absolutely! Let me know when you do!

  • This is incredible! After visiting Scotland this summer and becoming smitten with the countryside, I’m saving this for my next time there 🙂

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Scotland is absolutely amazing! I wanna see more of it!

  • Stunning photos, I’d love to visit here someday and explore this route, sounds awesome!

    http://www.mintnotion.com

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You should. It sounds phenomenal!

  • This post is so on point, it’s scary. I’ve always regretted not seeing more of the UK, when I loved there and Scotland was number one on the list of those places I feel I should have made an effort with. I have actually discussed this with 2 people last night and am surely saving this as a means to help me rectify this omission. What would you say is the best time of the year for this road trip ?

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Summer time!!! The days are longer, the sun is shining – on some days, you can even drive a convertible – definitely an easy win in Summer!

      • That would have to be 2016 then 🙁 worth the wait though, I bet!

        • HandLuggageOnly

          Yes, definitely!

  • Oooo, killer photos! And thanks a lot for the itinerary!

    http://atstarfish.blogspot.com

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Glad to be of service! 🙂

  • I love you.

    You know how much I love Scotland and this is the part I want to go next (I’ve been to the Highlands but not that far up North), so THANK YOU. Now I have to learn how to drive. Damn.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Yes! I want to drive round the Highlands too! Loved living in Scotland and wanna see more of it!

  • Diana Maria

    I plan on visiting the Highlands this summer, and am so glad I found this post! I don’t want to miss anything, it looks like such a majestic part of Scotland. Thank you for the wonderful tips!

    My Lovelier Days

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You’re welcome!!! 🙂

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  • Terrence Yong

    Hi, not usually drive in snowing places. How difficult to drive through this route now (Jan)? Must I have a 4 wheel or require certain skill?

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Hey Terrance. It is usually safe to drive on the main ‘A’ Roads while in the highlands (even in winter). Roads are usually salted as a precaution when bad weather is predicted, but be aware of Ice early in the mornings and last thing at night.

      Always listen to local weather reports from the ‘MET Office’ – they are the national service who forecasts weather in the UK.

      Have a great time! 🙂

  • audrey

    Hi. Myself and 2 friends are going to drive the 500 this May. but going anti clockwise… We are starting in Edinburgh,on May 3rd. going up to Inverness and cross the east coast to John O Groats and west. then after the 500 we’ll head back south to Heath row for May 13th… any hints would be appreciated. We have booked some hotels etc..

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Wow – this sounds like an epic adventure Audrey! Do you have any preferences in the type of places you’d like to see?

      🙂

      • audrey

        Historic places, light houses, beautiful scenery, out of the way hidden gems. places tourists don’t usually go. Waterfalls, highland cattle, town markets, highland games, agricultural shows of any kind… anything exciting. THAT’S what we want to see.
        Then we’ll take pictures and paint them later.

  • audrey

    is it possible to drive from Inverness to Ullapool in one easy day?

    • HandLuggageOnly

      It’s definitely possible Audrey. It shouldn’t take longer than 90 minutes to drive, but I would give it 120minutes just to be safe or if you get stuck on single lane roads behind a lorry (or tractor) Haha!

      🙂

      • audrey

        You’re kidding? 90 minutes? I thought this was a long trip? I have booked hotels in Inverness, and The Smoo cave hotel and also the Calendonia in Ullapool. The map seems to show that it’s a long journey. I was expecting it to take 4 days, from what others have said in various online posts… I was worried about the whole trip being so long that we’d miss our flight back to the States on May 14th it’s not unusual for me to drive 90 minutes just going shopping over here.
        One of the ladies ( We are all Artists) wants to photograph light houses ( to eventually paint) I love history and geology, and our other friend loves scenic countryside. I know all our wishes will be fulfilled in Scotland.
        Thanks for your help. Audrey Dunton

        • HandLuggageOnly

          I know, it’s not too far at all (see the attached photo for Google Maps journey planner).

          Scotland is such a beautiful country! You will find so many light houses and dramatic scenery – especially on the west coast. Remember to pack a good rain coat as it does get quite rainy sometimes. The west coast of Scotland has much more dramatic scenery than the east coast (but no less beautiful). Pitlochry is stunning if you can visit and also the scenery around Fort William.

          We used to live in St. Andrews and Edinburgh for a few years and we loved every second!

          Lloyd & Yaya

          • audrey

            Ah! Now I see why it’s only 90 minutes… We are going up through John O Groats then west to Durness and then south the Ullapool. surely that will take much longer than 90 minutes?

          • HandLuggageOnly

            Ah of course. Thats my bad! Still, the drive in itself will only take 7 hours so over a few days you’ll be fine 🙂

          • audrey

            That’s still an easy drive… thanks so much for your help. Audrey Dunton

          • HandLuggageOnly

            No problem at all, any time. 🙂

            We’d love to hear how your trip goes… please do let us know 🙂

  • Paul

    Most of the pictures that accompany this article on the NC500 aren’t anywhere near the route ! Loads of pics of Eilean Donan Castle (one in reverse) plus Kilchurn Castle x 2 and a shot of the Quiaraing on the Isle of Skye ! Very miss-leading. However, it is a great route and the scenery and castles on it are also fab but you won’t see the places shown.

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  • Roger Balfour

    Want to do it in one epic day. 12-14 hour day. New tour starting soon contact rogerjbalfour@hotmail.com

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  • So amazing guys!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Thanks so much! 🙂

      Lloyd & Yaya 🙂

  • Shameel Musthafa

    Hi,
    I am so happy that i stumbled upon this blog.
    Im planning to do the NC500 in a clockwise direction starting from Isle of Skye.
    Please tell me you have another itinerary for doing it in the opposite way sitting somewhere in your closet.
    I really need it. How realistic is it to just follow your itinerary from bottom up.

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You can definitely just alternate the itinerary from bottom up – this would work very well! You’re going to ❤️ Scotland!

      Lloyd & Yaya 😊

  • I’m sure that was amazing! Very beautiful photos

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Scotland is such a beautiful country, isn’t it 😍

      Lloyd & Yaya 😊

  • Julie Reuter

    Thank you for this post! My friends and I are heading to Ireland and Scotland in the fall and I’m deep in the planning. We’re definitely doing the NC500 but I’ve been a little overwhelmed trying to figure out all the details – how much time drive time to plan for each day, where to stay, where to eat, etc. This information is extremely helpful!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      So glad you found it useful, Julie. You’re going to have the best time, ever! It really is a special area of Scotland!

      Lloyd & Yaya xx