Road trips have long since been a mainstay of travel and are always a great way to pack in as many sights as possible. In fact, visiting the Highlands of Scotland is incredible and you’ll be spoilt for choice of places to see.
Although they’re quite synonymous with the US, Scotland is giving the US road trips a run for its money with the new route called the North Coast 500 which takes you across the spectacularly amazing Highlands of Scotland.
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 put together as much information as possible to help you plan your trip for visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
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 unadulterated and quite frankly, amazing stops for visiting the Highlands of 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.
For more details on the map and to download an offline Google Maps (all free and easy). Alternatively, visit our favourite spots on the NC500 and recommended reading before you set out to explore the Highlands.
After all, you don’t wanna miss the route when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
Perfect for cars, motorbikes cyclists and walkers alike, the route is arguably one of the most scenic in Scotland. Key ‘stop and take 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?
NORTH COAST 500 TRAVEL ITINERARY
Oh yeah, and obviously, feel free to add or subtract as you see fit as long as you tick off some of the main spots when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
There’s no need to follow or stop at every point along the way when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
After all, it’s your trip, you do as much or as little as you like!
10 am: Jump into 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.
11.00 am: 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!
11.30 am: Head back on the A9/North Coast 500, enjoying the surrounding scenery. Optional Stop: Dornoch – Dornoch Beach (add 20 minutes)
12.15 pm: Next stop is Dunrobin Castle, Golspie. A breathtaking castle with stunning grounds and falconry. It’s definitely a key spot worth seeing when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
1.30 pm: Back on route, heading towards Helmsdale for a welcoming lunch at Thyme & Plaice.
2.45 pm: Back on the A9, drive northbound to Wick.
3.30 pm: Check in to your accommodation at Mackay’s Hotel and make reservations for dinner – you are going to enjoy this!
4.00 pm: Exploring type? Sinclair Girnigoe Castle Ruins tell a great story, the locals tell us there is a hidden beach out there worth a find!
6.00 pm: 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 some great local hospitality, not to mention AA Rosette food and a tipple or two after a long day visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
8.30 am: Early breakfast, you have a busy day ahead of you when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
9.00 am: Check out and head back on to the road towards John O’Groats.
9.30 am: 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 Orkney island, Dunnet Head and a wee walk to see the Duncansby Stacks.
10.30 am: 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 coos who graze around the road past Reay – take it slow!
12.15 pm: Arriving in Tongue – lookout for Castle Varrich perched on the side of the hill before the bridge!
12.30 pm: Take a detour right after the bridge towards Talmine & Talmine Bay. Check out the scenery! Isn’t it beautiful? Lunch stop at Craggan Hotel?
1.45 pm: 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)
3.30 pm: Smoo Caves is next, explore Britain’s largest freshwater cave
4.30 pm: The nearby Sango Sands is a beautiful beach, worth a look and totally relaxing when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
5.00 pm: Back on the road, drive southwest bound on the A838 towards Kylesku.
6.15 pm: Check in to Kylesku Hotel for a warm welcome followed by a delicious dinner.
8.00 am: Breakfast at the Hotel
8.45 am: Check out and back on the road following the B869
9.30 am: Stop at Clachtoll & Achmelvich to see the impressive white sands and clear waters.
10.15 am: 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.
11.30 am: Stop in Ullapool and enjoy the sights and friendly locals, including the harbour, and museum before lunch at The Ceilidh Place!
1.30 pm: 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.
3.00 pm: A tea break at the Old Inn at Gairloch followed by a stroll up to Big Sands Beach is just what you need now. It’s easily a lovely spot to relax when visiting the Highlands of Scotland.
3.45 pm: 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!
5.30 pm: Arrive in Applecross for the evening – a warm welcome awaits you at the Applecross Inn. A favourite for locals and travellers alike.
8.00 am: Early breakfast at The Inn
8.45 am: Back on the road to Inverness through Lochcarron and Contin for the last stretch of the North Coast 500.
11.00 am: Arrive in Inverness and depart Scotland.
WHERE TO STAY ON NORTH COAST 500 ROUTE
THINGS TO SEE, EAT AND DO ON NORTH COAST 500 ROUTE
And there you have it!
Don’t forget to send us a postcard when you visit.