Scotland is a land of misty crags and peaks as well as some of the most stunning coastal roads in all of Europe, and the king of all these roads is the North Coast 500 route, also known as "Scotland’s route 66".
This 516-mile-long route begins in the shadow of the Castle of Inverness and will see you travel to the most northern points of the great Scottish Highlands before returning to Inverness via Scotland’s winding western coastal road.
This route is perfect for nomadic travellers who want to discover the most remote and stunningly unique parts of Scotland and to help explorers enjoy the great North Coast 500 route we have put together the perfect itinerary for Scotland’s greatest road trip.
The route takes on average 5 to 7 days to complete and there are a variety of sites and places to stop along the way, all of which offer unique insight into Scotland’s history and culture.
Begin your first day by enjoying the Highlands capital of Inverness and look over the city at the official NC500 start and endpoint, the Inverness castle viewpoint.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF
In Inverness, you can explore the stunning 150-year-old cathedral or get lost amongst the bustling stalls of the Victorian Market, a 19th century indoor market with traditional sweets and gifts from all over Scotland.
Why not stop at the remarkably preserved Bronze age cemetery of Clava Cairns and discover the nearly 4000-year-old history of life in Inverness, or if you prefer a more discerning day out the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery has some of the best exhibits in all of Scotland.
Clava Cairns, Inverness, UK
Once you have had your fill of the city, begin your journey by heading North to the stunning 15-meter-high Falls of Shin waterfall for a stop amongst Scotland’s beautiful natural scenery.
Falls of Shin
Falls of Shin, Lairg, UK
Finally, end your day by stopping at the quaint coastal town of Dornoch where you can go horse riding along the sandy beaches or explore the mountain trails. You can also find the witch's stone in Dornoch which marks the spot where the last witchcraft execution in Scotland took place.
Your second day will see you take a two-hour drive north along the Eastern coastal road towards the Northern point of John O'Groats, making several breath-taking stops along the way.
Visit the mighty 13th-century Dunrobin Castle, the largest of Scotland’s great houses and also a museum with one of the most unique private collections in all of the British Isles.
Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, UK
Take a stroll amongst the white sand beaches of Brora Sands and make a stop at the impressive Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle, two mighty 500-year-old ruins nestled on the cliff edges of the Scottish coast.
Photo by McKarri
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Wick, UK
You will end your day at the village of John O'Groats, one of the best places in the United Kingdom to see the rare Atlantic Puffins and there is also a variety of hotels, campsites, and public spaces for wild camping.
John o' Groats
John o' Groats, UK
Travel on from John O'Groats to the town of Thurso with stops along the way at the mighty Castle of Mey, a 16th-century castle with award-winning public gardens as well as an animal centre where guests can help care for a variety of farm animals and birds.
Photo by Orikrin1998
Castle of Mey
Castle of Mey, Mey, Thurso, UK
Walk the windy and remote beaches of Dunnet Bay which offers some of the most exciting surfing in all of Scotland as well as acting as a haven for many types of rare and unique seabirds.
Dunnet Bay, United Kingdom
Stop at the most northern town of mainland Scotland Thurso, where you can enjoy a host of traditional shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants as well as visit the impressive and historic circular well house of Meadow Well.
Your fourth day will see you travelling from Thurso along the Northern road, providing you with access to stunning coastal scenery, rocky caves, and unimaginable vistas.
Stop by the charming fishing village of Bettyhill where on rare occasions it is possible to spot the glitter of aurora lights in the night sky or swim amongst the refreshing waters of the Atlantic at Farr beach.
Bettyhill, Thurso, UK
Continue on your journey and visit Scotland’s most secret beach at Coldbackie Sands where you can relax on pure white sand and marvel at the views of the Rabbit and Orkney Islands which sit on the edge of the horizon.
Coldbackie, Lairg, UK
Visit one of the oldest castle ruins in all of Scotland, Castle Varrich sits above the village of Tongue and is over one thousand years old, offering a scenic overlook of the Ben Loyal and Ben Hope mountains as well as the beautiful Kyle of Tongue National Scenic Area.
Castle Varrich, Lairg, UK
Your fourth day’s journey ends at the village of Durness from where you can explore this quiet seaside town or take the opportunity to visit Smoo Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the UK with tours that let you board a small boat and enter deeper into the hidden cave network and learn about its unique history as a supposed spiritual entrance to the underworld as well as its role as a 17th-century smugglers hiding den.
Durness, Lairg, UK
Continue your journey by leaving Durness behind and venture nearby to the sandy shores of Sango Sands which is a stunning beach front with facilities and also a great wildlife viewing area as it is not uncommon to see seals, dolphins and even whales making their way along the Scottish coast here.
Sango Sands Oasis
Sango Sands Oasis, Sangomore, Durness, UK
Continue on your journey and if you are an avid natural history lover make a stop at Scourie Bay to see the Lewisian gneiss which is the oldest rock in Europe at an estimated 3 billion years old.
Scourie Bay, United Kingdom
You will end your fifth day at the village of Lochinver, where you will find a variety of campsites and wild camping zones as well as some of the best ocean fishing spots in all of the United Kingdom. Other sites in Lochinver include a massive fish market with amazing seafood dishes as well as the Highland and Rare Breeds Farm where visitors can interact with over 30 species of rare farmland animals.
Lochinver, Lairg, UK
Loch Assynt, Lairg, UK
Leave Lochinver and head south to Loch Assynt where you will see the ruins of the 16th century Ardvreck Castle and Calda House along the shores of the loch. The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of a tall man clad in grey and is a mysterious ruin that is swept in mist and lore.
Ardvreck Castle, Lairg, UK
Visit the village of Ullapool where you can walk the shores of Loch Broom or Loch Achall if you are looking to stretch your legs before continuing on your journey. You can also visit the old Iron Age forts scattered around the coast of Ullapool or take a sea kayak trip out from the village and discover the deserted islands, wild coastlines, natural rock arches and white sand beaches of this remote Scottish landscape.
Continue on your way and follow the North Coast route south until ending the day in the village of Kinlochewe where you can then explore the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, which was the UK’s first-ever national nature reserve and also the perfect starting point to hike the mighty Beinn Eighe mountain, providing an unbelievable view over all of Northern Scotland.
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, A832, Ac...
The final day of your itinerary will see you make your way back to Inverness and provides a fantastic route dotted with forests, falls and mountains.
Travel East through the Ledgowan Forest pass and keep an eye out for the mighty Scottish Stags that roam the hills of the area or take a stop and climb atop the towering 933-meter high Fionn Bheinn mountain for some amazing panoramic views of the area.
Ledgowan Forest, Achnasheen, UK
Visit the Rogie Falls network which is a popular walking area focussed around several waterfalls and is famous for salmon viewing during their up-river summer migrations.
Rogie Falls, A835, Strathpeffer, UK
Take a stop at the town of Muir of Ord and visit the impressive Glen Ord Distillery, founded in 1838 you can take a tour of this historic whiskey distillery and try a glass of their amazing singleton malt whiskey which can only be found in Muir of Ord.
Glen Ord of Singleton Distillery Visitor Centre & Whisky Shop
Glen Ord of Singleton Distillery Visitor Cent...
Continue on your journey and stop at the mighty Fort George just outside of Inverness. Home to the Highlanders Museum here you can learn about the fascinating story of Scotland’s infamous Highland Infantry regiments while also viewing one of the largest and most preserved collections of Napoleonic weapons in the world.