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North Coast 500

Scotland's North Coast 500

Scotland's answer to Route 66

Don't rush this incredible journey! With countless winding single-lane stretches, seductive scenery and exciting pit stops, it's worth at least five days of your time. We also recommend doing it between April and October, as you'll generally get the best weather and most daylight.

Start: Inverness

Finish: Inverness

Duration: 830km - 5 days

Highlights

Day 1 - Inverness To Torridon

Duration: 108 kms - 1.5 hrs

Fly into Inverness (a 90-minute flight from London) and pick up your rental car. Drive for 15 minutes towards the city centre to the route's official starting point, Inverness Castle. Inverness offers many a things to see and do including the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery which is located just next to the Castle and the notorious Loch Ness where you may be able to spot Nessie - the friendly Loch Ness Monster!

Drive 1.5 hours West of Inverness until you arrive at the pretty Attadale Gardens. Recently visited by the Royal family, the gardens include extensive water features and ancient paths winding through woodlands, over bridges, waterfalls and exotically planted ponds. Once you've worked up an appetite feast on oysters, salmon or lobster at nearby Kishorn Seafood Bar, before tackling the notorious Bealach na Ba (which, in Scottish Gaelic, means the "Pass of the Cattle"). One of Britain's highest and steepest roads - it's all hairpin bends, astounding views and wandering sheep.

You'll arrive in the seaside village of Applecross which is believed to be one of the earliest settled parts of Scotland. Then drive another 1 hour north to Torridon, which hugs a lovely loch of the same name and is a great spot to spend the night.

We recommend: Stay overnight at The Torridon, a remarkable hotel nestled on the shores of Loch Torridon.


Left: Walking towards Inverness Castle / Right: Driving along Bealach na Ba


Day 2 - Torridon To Durness

Duration: 215 kms - 3.25 hrs

After a traditional Scottish breakfast of poached haddock or kippers, spend the morning on one of the walking trails in Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve - Britain's oldest National Nature Reserve. The reserve lies in the heart of Wester Ross, so take it all in as the mountains, seas and lochs in this part of Scotland are some of the finest in the world. By mid afternoon you'll be back behind the wheel and heading towards the NC500's most mind-blowing coastal sections (Gruinard Bay is worth a notable mention).

Stop at the picturesque Corrieshalloch Gorge and if you're brave enough cross the bridge and new viewing platform over the gorge while the water surges many metres below your feet. Refuel yourself with lunch in the harbour town of Ullapool. The 1.75 hour drive north of Ullapool to the snug little village of Durness is perhaps Scotland's most spectacular road. You'll pass spellbinding coasts, magestic soaring mountains and landscapes made up of Britain's oldest rock.

We recommend: Stay overnight at Mackay’s Rooms in Durness.

Day 3 - Durness To John O' Groats

Duration: 145 kms - 2.5 hrs

On Day 3 you'll wake up in Durness. Admire it's wild and wonderful beaches, then explore the towns natural highlight, the mystical Smoo Cave. This natural marvel is drenched in myths and legends, and will ignite the imagination of every visitor young and old.

Head east, stopping for a break in one of the quirkily-named villages, such as Tongue or Bettyhill, before lunch in Thurso - Scotland's northern-most town. The town is filled with lovely traditional shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Highlights include the circular wellhouse of Meadow Well, the impressive Janet Street overlooking the River Thurso and Caithness Horizons - a museum & gallery showcasing the wildlife, geography and unique history of the northern highlands.

Thurso is also a major surfing area which hosts surfing championships. The reefs, points, river mouths and beaches, on top of the consistent year-round surfing opportunities make the location a paradise for watersports lovers.

Close by is Castle Mey (the late Queen Mother's favourite summer retreat), Dunnet Head peninsula (the mostly northerly point on the British mainland) and John O' Groats, where tourists like to take selfies by the iconic village signpost and purchase eclectic souvenirs.

We recommend: Stay overnight at Seaview Hotel in John O' Groats.


Left: Smoo Cave in Durness / Right: The iconic John O' Groats signpost


Day 4 - John O' Groats To Brora

Duration: 100 kms - 1.5 hrs

Located at the mostly northerly point of mainland Britain, the small coastal village of John o’ Groats is the starting point for many embarking on the famous 'End to End' journey to Land's End in England. Start your morning by following one the scenic coastal path from John o’ Groats to Duncansby Head Lighthouse, then onto the massive rock stacks called the Stacks of Duncansby.

From Jon O' Groats its a 1.5 hour drive south along the coast to the popular coastal holiday town of Brora. While you're in town, tour the Clynelish distillery. Founded by the Duke of Sutherland in 1819, the Clynelish Distillery is steeped in history and full of flavour.

We then reccommend enjoying a round of golf at the 18-hole Brora Golf Club. Designed by legendary Scottish golfer James Braid, it's one of the 26 golf courses along the NC500.

We recommend: Stay overnight at the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora.

Day 5 - Brora To Inverness

Duration: 102 kms - 1.5 hrs

Leave Brora and head south, it won't be long before you encounter the gorgeous castle and gardens of Dunrobin. The castle, which closely resembles a French chateau is the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Take a tour of the castle, the gardens and museum - there are also Falconry displays twice a day!

Zip around the Black Isle before returning to Inverness airport. The Black Isle is dotted with quaint villages, idyllic forest walks (such as the Fairy Glen), microbreweries and delectable eateries serving fabulous local produce.


The images in this top drive were provided by Visit Scotland.