By Lottie Gross
The North Coast 500, know as Scotland's own Route 66, makes for a thrilling adventure, sampling whisky in legendary distilleries among wild landscapes. Sounds ideal, right? Here's everything you need to know about the North Coast 500...
- This 516-mile route is known as Scotland’s Route 66 for its epic scenery and diverse attractions.
- The NC500 is circular and starts in Inverness, following the coast around the north of Scotland.
- You could spend an entire month exploring the route or just take a week to soak up the highlights.
- There are brilliant beaches, fantastic towns, and brilliant accommodation along the way, including luxurious lodges with hot tubs, or even great spa hotels.
Where is the North Coast 500?
The North Coast 500 is a circular road-trip route in the north of Scotland. Starting from Inverness, it follows a series of A-roads via Applecross, Kinlochewe, Ullapool, Durness, John O’Groats, Wick and back to Inverness. Along the way, it passes gorgeous beaches, spectacular mountain scenery and fascinating historic sites.
Taking in diverse landscapes, from ocean lochs (inlets) to mountain passes, this is a Scottish road trip you’ll never forget.
When is the best time to drive the North Coast 500?
Generally, the best time to hit the road here is between May and October, when the weather is most reliable and all the region’s attractions and restaurants are guaranteed to be open. But be warned, it gets busy, especially during school holidays. Avoid the height of summer and the spring and autumn breaks and you’ll have a far more pleasant experience. Go in spring – perhaps late March – and you’ll enjoy spotting peatland birds, or head there in autumn to see the forests at their most fiery.
What are the highlights on the North Coast 500?
If you’ve just got a few days to take as much in as you can, prioritise these best things to do along the North Coast 500.
A National Trust Scotland-managed area, the Torridon mountains are a walker’s paradise. Lace up your boots and get out on its many trails. There are six Munros here, so if you’re feeling active take a hike up one of the peaks, or just head out on the lower footpaths to spot rare pine martens and golden eagles in the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve.
If wildlife is your thing, stop off at Inverewe Garden & Estate, where red deer roam the hillsides and otters splash about in the water. There are boat trip opportunities for spotting dolphins and grey seals, and in the skies you might spot both golden and sea eagles.
The very beginning of the North Coast 500 isn’t just a gateway to this beautiful road trip route, it’s a veritable holiday destination. Spend a couple of days here before you set off, so you can visit the 19th-century castle, or head over to Loch Ness to seek the mythical monster.
For birders, Dunnet Head is a real thrill. The most northerly point on mainland Britain, this rugged headland offers the opportunity to see some of the most exciting seabirds in the UK. Puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and guillemots nest on the cliffs here – come in spring or summer to see cute little chicks.
When the sun is shining and the air is warm, there’s nothing quite like a day out on the beach. The wide, sandy expanse at Sinclairs Bay is one of the finest beaches on the North Coast 500. Stop here for a picnic on the sand, swim in the sea and take a stroll along the coast.
Where should I stay on the North Coast 500?
Whether you want to go self-catering, glamping or simply enjoy some time in a great hotel or B&B, these are the best places to stay along the NC500.
The Torridon wins all its points for the location, sitting amid rugged mountain scenery in one of the most beautiful areas of the NC500. The 19th-century manor house has 18 gorgeous boutique rooms, a vast kitchen garden and a restaurant serving dishes made with produce from the surrounding region.
Shieldaig Lodge, in Gairloch, is a former Victorian hunting lodge turned luxury hotel, with antique four-poster beds, clawfoot bathtubs and stunning sea views. The restaurant serves up exceptional dishes using West Highland ingredients, and the estate even has its own falcons for displays and educational experiences.
Forss House, in Thurso, is a brilliant little stop-off on the Thurso-to-Durness section of the NC500. Sitting within a pine forest on the banks of the River Forss, the hotel has quaint, homely rooms, inviting bathtubs and a well-stocked whisky bar.
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