NC500 Beginners Guide

Plan the road trip of a lifetime.
Get ready for the trip of a lifetime as you make the most of Scotland’s most spectacular and awe inspiring scenery in just 7 days.
The North Coast 500 is a driving route that winds through some of Scotland’s most spectacular and breathtaking scenery. Just over 500 miles in length, you’ll discover and explore a rugged yet astonishing landscape that is simply incomparable.

Day 1 | Inverness – The Black Isle

Whilst Inverness is a small city by comparison, it is the largest city (and only city!) to be found in the Scottish Highlands, meaning this is the perfect place for you to stock up on supplies before travelling to its surrounding more remote areas.

From its city-center castle and Victorian market, to the historical Culloden battlefield and popular Leakey’s bookshop, Inverness has plenty of cultural spots that are well worth the visit.

Across the bridge and further west will take you to the Black Isle – a beautiful peninsula within Ross and Cromarty that is home to the quaint Highland villages of Culbokie, Jemimaville, Rosemarkie, Avoch, Munlochy, Tore, and North Kessock, as well as numerous smaller settlements.

From dolphin boat tours to walks through the Fairy Glen Falls, the Black Isle is sure to capture your attention and your heart.

For camping, we recommend staying at the Fortrose Bay Campsite, which is close to Charonry point where you might see some dolphins chasing salmon in the water!

Day 2 | The Black Isle – Wick

On day 2 it’s time to hit the A9 again and move swiftly north towards Wick. During this stretch you’ll be passing through Dornoch – a great place for golf and whisky lovers with the world renowned Dornoch Championship Golf Course and the fully-stocked Castle Hotel bar.

But arguably one of the most sought after tourist stops along the way is Dunrobin Castle – a fairytale-esque building with some of the most stunning grounds you’ll find in Scotland. Near the town of Golspie, Dunrobin Castle is a definite must-see for any traveller.

From there you’ll drive through Helmsdale and Whaligoe where you’ll find the Whaligoe Steps – a steep staircase built centuries ago to provide access to the harbour.

Throughout the week you’ll come across more and more ancient structures, giving you a great sense of history throughout your trip.
By the end of your second day, you’ll arrive in Wick. Depending on your arrival time, we’d recommend visiting the Pulteney Distillery Co. to learn about how Scottish whisky is made, or, for the history buffs, the Wick Heritage Centre. If time allows, you might also want to head out to the ruins of Old Wick Castle or Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, which have spectacular sea cliff views – making for a nice spot to watch the sunset.

Wick Caravan and Camping site is our top recommendation for camping in this area – a family-run campground overlooking the Wick River.

Day 3 | Wick – Dunnet Bay

On the 3rd day, you’re going to visit the most northerly point in mainland Britain, see some stunning coastal scenery, and try some delicious Scottish gin!

From Wick, follow the A99 north. Along the way there are a number of brochs – thousands of year old structures that are found throughout this area, and are well worth stopping off at.

From here, you’re going to head up to John O’Groats, famed as being the most northerly town in mainland Britain – a great place to enjoy some nice cafes and a stunning view across the water to the Orkney Islands. There are also a number of wildlife boat trips you can take here, where you might be lucky enough to spot some seals and puffins!

Dunnet Bay is nearby and we highly recommend visiting the Dunnet Bay Distillery – where you’ll learn all about how gin is made and try some of their distinctive flavors.

Dunnet Bay Caravan and Motorhome Site is likely to be the best place for you to camp on this day – where you can admire the stunning views over clean washed sands to lovely Dunnet Head.

Day 4 | Dunnet Bay – Durness
From Dunnet Bay, you’ll first pass through the town of Thurso. This is one of the last larger towns you’re going to encounter for a couple of days, so is a good place to get any needed fuel and supplies.

Next, continue to follow the A386 along the north coast, taking in the gorgeous views as you do so. A good spot to take a break is Strathy Point, where a short walk will reward you with lovely views of a lighthouse and the Scottish coast in both directions.

Our next stop is the town of Tongue, which has a small convenience store with a petrol station attached. You can also have lunch here – there’s a small cafe just before you get into Tongue itself (the Weavers Cafe), or food is available at the Ben Loyal Pub or the Tongue Hotel.

For the super adventurous folk looking for a hike, there is a path starting near the Ben Loyal Pub that leads uphill to a ruined castle above town. It is about a 1 hour leisurely round-trip hike up to the ruins of Castle Varrich, which is perched high on a rocky promontory and offers spectacular views.

Finally, continue your drive for another hour or so until you reach the town of Durness, where we suggest you spend the night. This is famous for the impressive Smoo Cave – a cavern you can walk inside that has an impressive waterfall to discover and admire.

Day 5 | Durness – Achmelvich Bay

Day 5 is where we begin to head south along the west coast – home to some of the most dramatic scenery you’ll possibly ever witness. The closest place often considered to be similar in terrain to the Scottish west coast is New Zealand, but many travellers give Scotland the gold medal because of the culture and wildlife that surround the dynamic vistas.

From Durness, the A838 winds down through some truly magnificent scenery, with lots of waterfalls and lochs to take pictures of as you go. After you cross the Kylesku bridge, keep an eye out for the Rock Stop, a visitor centre where you can learn all about the incredible geology of this area.
Taking the B869 to Achlmelvich, we recommend spending the night on the peninsula. You have your choice of two campsites but both have stunning views of turquoise water and white sand – this will definitely be one of the picturesque camping spots of the trip!

Day 6 | Achmelvich Bay – Gairloch
Rejoining the A837 will take you through Lochinver and allow you to pass the fascinating ruins of Ardvreck Castle. Knockan crag is another place you may want to plan a stop as it has a great 30 minute walking route to stretch your legs and the scenery is spectacular.

Depending on the interests of your travel companions, you might want to head back out to the coast towards Achiltibuie. There’s a great outdoors company based in Achiltibuie called Hamlet Mountaineering, who offer a wide range of outdoor activities including guided hiking and climbing, canoeing, and even sea kayaking.

As you head on to Gairloch, you’ll also pass through Ullapool, which is a good place to stock up on  more supplies if you’re running low.

Day 7 | Gairloch – Lochcarron

It’s the final day of your adventure but we’ve made sure it’s a good one with today’s itinerary!

From Gairloch, the plan for the day is to head to Lochcarron, passing through Torridon and around the beautiful Applecross peninsula. The Bealach na Ba road is a must as it will offer you some of the most beautiful scenery and allow you to see over to the Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye.

From here you can choose to drive back to Inverness and onwards to Edinburgh, or take another day and enjoy a night at The Wee Campsite in Lochcarron.

It’s totally up to you – it’s your adventure!