Explore the Best North Coast 500 Driving Roads

Explore the Best North Coast 500 Driving Roads
Photo by Jake Colling / Unsplash

The North Coast 500 offers an unforgettable road trip in Scotland's north. You'll drive through amazing Scottish landscapes. Each mile brings new Highland beauty, like charming villages and stunning coasts. It's a journey that truly shows the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

Key Takeaways

  • The North Coast 500 route spans 516 miles, starting and ending in Inverness, Scotland.
  • May and September are considered the best months to travel, offering milder weather and fewer tourists.
  • It is recommended to take five to seven days to thoroughly explore and enjoy the journey.
  • Driving conditions can be challenging between November and April, with potential snow and high winds.
  • Fuel prices increase as you travel farther from Inverness, and some small stations may run out of fuel or not operate on Sundays.

Introduction to the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 (NC500) started in 2015 and has attracted many since. It was created to bring more tourists to the north of Scotland. And now, it is popular for those who love calm and adventure.

This route goes from Inverness, covering about 516 miles. It shows Scotland's best in driving, with seasides and mountains. It's about enjoying nature's beauty with every mile, like coastal sights and green hills.

May and September are great months for this journey. They have nice weather, fewer people, and long daylight. Travelling slow lets you see the amazing views and pretty towns. Also, wild camping lets you feel closer to nature.

Be ready for different road types on the NC500. There are miles of small country roads. Make sure your car is in good shape and drive carefully. The speed limit is 60 mph, but going slow is better to see everything.

Remember, fuel gets more expensive away from Inverness. Plan your stops for gas to save money. Even without many police, it's important to drive safely for everyone's sake.

The NC500 route is now busier than ever. People love it for its beauty, which is also famous on social media. It's not just a road; it connects six special parts of the Scottish Highlands, each with its charm.

You can fly straight to Inverness to start this journey easily. Come explore the NC500 and see why it's praised as a top driving route worldwide.

Start Point: Inverness

Inverness marks the official start and end of your North Coast 500 adventure. It's a mix of modern life and deep history. This city in the Scottish Highlands is the best starting point for your road trip Scotland journey.

Key Attractions in Inverness

Make sure not to miss Inverness' famous sights. It connects you to the NC500 highlights like Glen Ord and Glenmorangie distilleries. Here, you can taste top-notch single malt whiskies. A visit adds Scottish culture and tradition to your NC500 experience.

Don't forget to visit Inverness Castle for great views. Take a walk by the River Ness for its beautiful shores. The Inverness Botanic Gardens are perfect for a peaceful stop before you set off again.

Essential Amenities and Services

Inverness has everything you need before you begin the North Coast 500. For your car, services like Inverness Mobile Tyre Fitting are ready for last-minute checks. This ensures worry-free travel through the North Coast 500 and beyond.

Booking ahead is key during busy seasons from May to September. Arrange your stay, car, and activities early to prevent any stress. Spring and summer are great for long outdoor adventures and spotting wildlife.

As you go through Highland villages or along the coast, Inverness is your launch pad. Always budget more time for travel and keep offline maps ready. This way, you're set even in areas with weak phone signals.

Service Description Contact
Inverness Mobile Tyre Fitting Last-minute tyre checks and fitting services 07785295534
Accommodation Booking Advanced bookings for Inverness and surrounding areas -
Distillery Tours Visits to Glen Ord and Glenmorangie distilleries -

Starting your NC500 journey from Inverness promises an amazing Scottish coastal adventure. It's filled with deep history, culture, and sights you won't forget.

Heading North: Inverness to Wick

Begin a thrilling drive from Inverness to Wick in Scotland. This part of the North Coast 500 is full of amazing views and charming towns. You can find beautiful places to stop along the A9. But, exploring off the main road will show you unique spots.

Suggested Detours for Better Routes

For a richer adventure, try a detour through Alness and Struie Hill instead of sticking to the A9. This route is full of twists and turns and stunning views. On Struie Hill, you'll see the Highland landscape in beautiful autumn colours.

Highlights and Scenic Stops Along the Way

There are lots of places to stop and admire the views. Places like Brora and Helmsdale are perfect for enjoying seaside scenery. The area from Sandside to Hope has great roads and views. Don't miss the chance to get out your car and enjoy the beauty.

Region Highlights Scenic Stops
Inverness-shire Alness, Struie Hill Struie Hill view, Alness
Caithness Brora, Helmsdale Brora town, Helmsdale harbour
Sutherland Sandside, Hope Scenic Sandside, Hope landscapes

The drive from Inverness to Wick along the North Coast 500 is not just a route. It's a journey through Scotland's best scenery. Take these detours and enjoy every scenic stop. It will make your Scottish driving trip unforgettable and exciting.

Scenic East Coast Route: Wick to Thurso

The scenic East Coast route from Wick to Thurso is full of NC500 highlights. You'll see Scotland's rugged beauty at its best. The untouched northern edge is truly mesmerising.

Must-See Landmarks and Stops

Wick is your starting point, offering a glimpse into NC500's northern magnificence. Explore the Old Pulteney Distillery, famous for its Scotch whisky.

Head north on the A9 to John O' Groats, a key stop for NC500 travellers. This place is iconic and perfect for photos. Moving west, the scenic East Coast route shows its true beauty.

Don't miss Ceannabeinne Beach, one of the NC500 highlights. It's a peaceful spot to admire rugged coastlines and clear waters. This break lets you soak in the area's remote tranquillity.

On the A836, you'll cross the vast Flow Country. This bog is vital for the planet. The road quality improves as you head to Sutherland, making for a smoother drive.

Stats Details
NC500 Total Distance 830 km (516 miles)
Journey Time (Inverness to Thurso) Approximately two and a half hours, excluding stops
Optimum Travel Times May or September
Wildlife Encounters Sheep, Deer

From Sandside to Hope, enjoy 40 miles of stunning views. Watch out for sheep and deer on the road. They might surprise you.

As Thurso comes into view, you'll be amazed by the scenery and history. Here, the NC500 journey becomes an experience, not just a drive. Nature's remote beauty in Scotland is something special.

The NC500 is loved worldwide for its culture, scenery, and serene roads. The scenic East Coast route from Wick to Thurso is a key part of your adventure. It shows off the best of Scotland.

The Wild North: Thurso to Tongue

The road trip from Thurso to Tongue on the North Coast 500 is a remarkable journey. It's packed with stunning views that catch your eye. This part of the trip takes you over 55 miles, showing the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

Majestic Views and Historic Sites

As you drive, many historic places and natural spots will catch your attention. For instance, there's the Dunnet Head lighthouse, standing since 1831. It's a must-see spot for spectacular views over the Caithness area. Near Wick, the ruins of Castle Sinclair & Castle Girnigoe add a touch of Scotland's history to your travel.

The Duncansby Stacks are ancient and awe-inspiring, standing for over 6000 years. You can see them after a 30-minute walk from the Duncansby Head lighthouse. These rocks remind us of nature's incredible strength in shaping our world.

Activities for Adventure Seekers

For those who love excitement, the Thurso to Tongue leg is full of fun activities. The 'Wailing Widow' Falls on Loch na Gainmhich is a 50ft waterfall perfect for a hike. It offers beautiful views that add to the excitement. If you prefer the beach, check out Balnakeil and Sango Bay beaches near Durness for their white sands.

Smoo Cave in Durness is great for exploring and taking photos. Open all year and with plenty of parking, it's a top stop. Dolphin and seal spotting is exciting near John O'Groats, making it a dream for wildlife lovers.

In Tongue, you can stay at one of two hotels, getting ready for more adventure on the North Coast 500. The journey from Thurso to Tongue is about more than just the drive. It's an adventure through the Highlands, full of dramatic landscapes and history.

Points of Interest Distance from Previous Stop (miles) Unique Features
Dunnet Head Lighthouse Approx. 12 Historical site with expansive views
Castle Sinclair & Castle Girnigoe Approx. 3 north of Wick Ruins of 15th & 17th-century castles
Duncansby Stacks Approx. 30-minute walk Over 6000 years old geological rocks
'Wailing Widow' Falls Nearby 50ft waterfall hike
Smoo Cave N/A Free to visit year-round

Ultimate North Coast 500 Driving Roads

The North Coast 500 (NC500) has some iconic roads that you won't forget. It's known as Scotland's ultimate road trip. This 500-mile loop starts and ends at Inverness Castle. It's made to show off Scotland's stunning scenery and fun driving routes.

Iconic Sections of the Route

One of the best parts is the drive from Tongue to Laxford Bridge. These roads are perfect for driving lovers. They offer fast, open stretches and beautiful views. Many new cars are tested here.

  • Ullapool to Rhiconich: Has long curves, short hills, and a smooth road for easy driving.
  • From Sandside to Hope: About 40 miles with amazing scenery and a top-quality road.
  • Hope to Laxford Bridge: This part is mostly single-track roads with passing places. It makes for a slower but very special drive.

The Kylesku Bridge is a special spot on the route. It was built in 1984. This elegant bridge adds beauty to the drive and is a great photo spot.

Make sure to visit the Rock Stop Café and Assynt viewpoint. They're great for hiking, seeing wildlife, and boat trips. These stops are highlights of the NC500, making it a trip of a lifetime in Scotland.

Westward Adventure: Tongue to Durness

Your journey from Tongue to Durness offers stunning views and true Highland warmth. You'll find memorable stops on the NC500, making your coastal trip unforgettable.

Key Points of Interest

On your way to Durness, don’t miss top NC500 spots. Smoo Cave stands out with its unique limestone shapes and wild beauty. Walking at Balnakeil Beach gives you peaceful sea scenes. And you can see local creativity at Balnakeil Craft Village.

Best Places to Eat and Stay

Highland hospitality shines when you need a break. Highland Coast Hotels welcome you with open arms. Here, you can pick between cosy guest houses and stylish hotels. And when hungry, taste local dishes at Durness’ restaurants. For a great meal, book ahead to skip the queues.

This drive mixes stunning landscapes with local culture, the essence of a Scottish coast adventure.

The Magical West: Durness to Ullapool

Setting off on the magical west coast journey is a dream come true. You get to see Scotland's stunning beauty from Durness to Ullapool. Every moment on the NC500 route is filled with Scotland's best.

Discovering this area is like finding a treasure. There are stunning places like Achmelvich Bay, Clachtoll Beach, and Sandwood Bay. You'll feel nature's touch everywhere, from the high cliffs to the quiet bays. The beautiful lochs, like Loch Maree and Loch Ness, are a highlight of your trip.

As you travel, Scotland's story comes to life through its castles. Each castle has its own tale, like Dunrobin Castle. There's also Inverness Castle, Ardveck Castle, and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. These places are a window to the past.

This journey is more than reaching Ullapool. It's about finding the special spots along the way. Whether it's a peaceful bay or a hidden path through the forest. These discoveries are what make a Scotland road trip memorable.

Below is a list of key sights you must see on your way:

Attraction Features Location
Achmelvich Bay Pristine white sand, turquoise waters Wester Ross
Loch Ness Home to the legendary Nessie, surrounded by lush greenery Inverness-shire
Dunrobin Castle Stately architecture, extensive gardens Sutherland
Sandwood Bay Secluded beach, dramatic cliffs Sutherland
Gair Loch Tranquil loch, picturesque setting Wester Ross

Every part of this trip, from the amazing views to the historic places, is special. Enjoy the journey. Discover the hidden treasures of Scotland's magnificent west.

Highland Highlights: Ullapool to Torridon

Going from Ullapool to Torridon is a trip full of natural beauty and wildlife. This journey connects you with Scotland's nature and is perfect for those who love animals.

Nature and Wildlife Viewing

Leaving Ullapool, you enter a beautiful, wild setting. Corrieshalloch Gorge lets you see its 61-metre deep drop. You'll also spot many plants and animals there.

In Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, you might see golden eagles and red deer. It's a special place for nature lovers and adventurers.

Accommodation Options

After exploring nature, there are many places to stay in the Highlands. A night costs between £100 to £200 for two. The Torridon Hotel is a top choice for luxury, with beautiful views and great facilities.

If you love the outdoors, camping under the Highland stars might be for you. It offers a unique way to experience the area.

"Our stay at The Torridon was unparalleled. The blend of comfort and nature was awe-inspiring." – A recent traveller

The journey from Ullapool to Torridon offers unforgettable moments with nature. Whether you see eagles flying or just enjoy the peace, it's a special part of the NC500. Plus, there’s a range of places to stay, from luxury to camping. Make the most of your visit by staying in this incredible region.

The Final Stretch: Torridon to Inverness

The drive from Torridon to Inverness is the exciting last part of your North Coast 500 journey. You'll come across the stunning Bealach Na Ba. It offers an exciting route with its steep climbs and sharp turns. Those who venture up will find stunning views waiting for them.

Your adventure carries on, revealing more of Scotland's beauty. The peace of the Highlands begins to mix with a feeling of satisfaction. Along the way, you see jaw-dropping sights from towering mountains to calm lakes. This journey is truly one of the best you can experience by car.

As Inverness draws near, the Highland way of life greets you back. This part of your North Coast 500 tour is more than just the end. It’s a thoughtful return to everyday life after nature's pure beauty.

You'll pass by places like Balnakeil Beach and the fascinating Smoo Cave. Each spot, whether by car, bike, or foot, adds to the memories of your North Coast 500 adventure.

There's so much to do here—like fishing, visiting music events, or just enjoying the view. It all builds up the excitement as you head towards the end. The stretch from Torridon to Inverness truly showcases the many charms of the Scottish Highlands.

Planning Your NC500 Itinerary

Planning your NC500 trip is thrilling. It needs careful thought to enjoy the journey fully. This guide will help you create the perfect itinerary. It includes the best trip length, when to go, and top places to stay and eat.

Suggested Trip Duration

To see the stunning NC500 views and experience its culture, plan for at least five days. Spending 7 to 10 days means you can enjoy it more. You'll find hidden spots and join local events. If you have two weeks, you can explore deeper with longer hikes and visiting small towns.

Best Times of Year to Visit

Choosing the right time for your NC500 trip matters. The best months are May to September, with summer seeing the most visitors. Yet, May and September are great as they are less crowded and have fewer midges. Visiting in autumn or winter is also becoming popular. You'll enjoy peace and unique scenery as Scotland’s seasons change.

Accommodation and Dining Recommendations

Deciding where to stay and eat is key in your NC500 planning. You can choose from luxurious places like Bunchrew House Hotel in Inverness to cozy wild camping. Expect to pay around £70-£100 per night for a double room in a hotel. But, prices can go up if you book last minute, so it’s best to book in advance.

For food, the NC500 offers many places with dishes made from fresh, local ingredients. If you love seafood, you'll have plenty to enjoy, thanks to the daily catch. You can also try traditional Scottish food in many restaurants. Enjoy these food experiences during your NC500 trip.

Every turn on the NC500 brings new adventures. With a well-planned NC500 trip, you're sure to have a great and rewarding time exploring Scotland’s northern beauty.


The North Coast 500 isn't just any road trip. It's a journey across six amazing areas of Scotland. You'll see stunning landscapes as you connect with the country's heritage. Each mile you drive shows you an unseen part of Scotland's wild beauty.

But, this adventure can be risky. The North Coast 500 is considered the UK's most dangerous road. There were 307 accidents there from 2016 to 2020. So, remember to always drive on the left, keep your speed safe, and don’t drink and drive. Despite the difficulties, like the tough Bealach na Bà pass, the journey's rewards are huge.

Starting your North Coast 500 journey is easy with direct flights to Inverness from big cities. You can join a short group tour for about 3 days or explore at your own pace. Either way, every twist and turn on the North Coast 500 roads will make you love Scotland even more.