Our Guide to the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 (NC500 for short) is a fantastic new northern coastal route in the Highlands of Scotland, drawing comparisons to the world famous Route 66 in the USA, and recently named the top driving route in the UK (April 2016) and one of the top 5 coastal routes in the world (August 2015).

Linking spectacular scenery with Scotland’s incredible natural heritage, visitors are encouraged to enjoy local food and drink, a wide array of accommodation possibilities, retail, arts, crafts and local attractions along the route. Our favourite elements of this stunning coastal journey are the fairy-tale castles, beautiful beaches, dunes and ruins which greet you all along the way.

We host many visitors who stay with us before they set off and on their return. To help them and to give you a little encouragement, we’ve provided our own guide below.

Our Bed and Breakfast is ideally situated for any visitors who plan to undertake some or all of the North Coast 500, as Ben Riley-Smith from the Telegraph discovered when he visited us and gave a warm review in his article about his journey and experiences.

Beginning at the Castle in Inverness, The North Coast 500 is designed to take around four or five days to complete. Stretching for 516 miles (830km), you can undertake the route either clockwise or anti-clockwise. We recommend setting off West to Wester Ross, where you experience, amongst many sites, the incredible Applecross “Bealach na Bà” pass, an alpine road worthy of any in the world, before heading North, through Sutherland (the “Mad Wee Road” is an incredible mountain pass as well) to the rugged north coast and Caithness, before following the East Coast south to Easter Ross and back to Inverness, via the Black Isle, which is of course where we are based – ideally situated to put you up again upon your return.

The North Coast 500 is packed with fantastic sites, many of which are detailed in this fantastic guide, but we wanted to list some of our favourites below (organised in order, as if you were travelling West out of Inverness, up the West Coast, along the North Coast and back down the East Coast (clockwise direction):

  • Rogie Falls (Easter Ross)
  • Bealach na Bà / Applecross Pass (Wester Ross) – a stunning alpine road up the mountain, the tarmac is draped upon the hillside like spaghetti!
  • Torridon (Wester Ross) – remember to look out for the famous white house with a red roof!
  • Loch Maree (Wester Ross)
  • Isle of Ewe Smokehouse for incredible hot and cold smoked salmon for sale from their shop (Wester Ross)
  • Inverewe Gardens (Wester Ross)
  • Mellon Udrigle beach (Wester Ross)
  • Coastal Road to Achiltibuie (Wester Ross)
  • Achnahaird Bay (Wester Ross)
  • Inchnadamph Bone Caves (Wester Ross) – These caves are a 2.5k trek from the car park, but a walk many enjoy, although it does involve an incline as these caves are on a hillside
  • Ardvreck Castle ruins (Assynt, Sutherland), an easy-to-walk-to castle ruins which are photogenic
  • Ardvreck Waterfall – a pretty waterfall sits just across the road, less than a mile from the castle ruins
  • (We suggest you drive to Lochinver for Achmelvich beach, and the pies at Lochinver Larder, and then on to Clashnessie for its waterfall and later the ‘Mad Wee Road’ to Unapool, BUT if you take the A894 road up to Kylescu Bridge from Ardvreck Castle, there is an incredible waterfall called the Wailing Widow Falls you should stop for!)
  • Achmelvich Beach (near Lochinver, Sutherland) – a stunning beach which is popular and has a hostel almost on the beachfront.
  • Clashnessie Falls (Clashnessie, Assynt area of Sutherland)
  • The “Mad Wee Road” (Sutherland)
  • Drumbeg Stores (Drumbeg, Sutherland) – found half-way along the “Mad Wee Road”, a lovely place to stop. We had their goats cheese and honey pastry twists and they were delicious
  • Kylesku Bridge (near Unapool, which is not to be confused with Ullapool)
  • Oldshoremore beach (near Kinlochbervie) – one of our favourite beaches!
  • Sandwood Bay (near Kinlochbervie) – A sensational, but remote, beach
  • The beach at Balnakeil Bay (near Durness, Caithness)
  • The beach at Durness (near Durness, Caithness) – an award-winning beach
  • Cocoa Mountain (near Durness, Caithness), for award-winning hot chocolate
  • Smoo Cave (Durness, Caithness) – This ancient cave used to house Viking shipbuilders, but nowadays it’s a tourist site. You can pay to take a small dingy trip across the inner cave’s water to see more of the internal waterfalls and the hidden, out-of-reach caves behind
  • Ben Hope (Sutherland)
  • Surfing Thurso East (Caithness)
  • Dunnet Bay (Caithness) – This is the most northerly mainland UK point, and there’s a marker here to prove it!
  • Castle of Mey and Gardens (Caithness)
  • Air Extreme high ropes course (Caithness) for adrenaline junkies
  • Optional (add 1 day to your trip): Take the ferry to Orkney from Gill’s Bay (via Pentland Ferries) for the day and night to see Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Yesnaby Cliffs and Sea Stacks, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Scapa Flow, Tomb of the Eagles and Saint Magnus Cathedral
  • John O’ Groats Coast (Caithness), the most northerly UK town, so remember to get your photo by the famous white signpost in the harbour!
  • Stacks of Duncansby (near John O’ Groats, Caithness) – These stunning sea stacks are well worth the 10 minute walk
  • Castle Sinclair Girnigoe Castle ruins (just North of Wick, Caithness), this beautiful castle ruins is set on treacherous cliff-side. It would have been some castle in its heyday!
  • Old Pulteney Distillery (Wick, Caithness)
  • Whaligoe Steps (just South of Wick, Caithness) – These stunning steps were carved out of the rock to allow fishermen’s wives to collect the herring which was landed, and after a little preparation these were bundled and painstakingly carried back up the steps. The bay itself is stunning, but trying to imagine the lives these poor people had is even more powerful. A beautiful spot on the rugged East coast.
  • Grey Cairns of Camster (just south of Wick and near Whaligoe, Caithness) – These 5,000 year old neolithic cairns are amongst the oldest structures in Scotland. They’re complex and windswept.
  • Hill O’ Many Stanes (just south of Wick, Caithness) – No one knows why the hundreds of stones on the Hill o’ Many Stanes were erected 4,000 years ago, or by whom. They’re a fantastic place to get lost in the mystery though!
  • Badbea Village (North of Helmsdale, Caithness) – Although there’s not much to see any more, this was the site of a Highland village, where those who were cleared from their land to make way for sheep (a more shameful part of Scottish history) were made to live here, on this desolate cliff-side. The life would have been so difficult and the village didn’t last long. The walk to this village might not be much fun on a windy day, but on a sunny, clear day it would be very interesting, if you have time.
  • Carn Laith broch (just north of Golspie, Sutherland) – This 2,000 year-old Iron Age tower ruins sits right by the main road.
  • Dunrobin Castle (Golspie, Sutherland), a beautiful castle with stunning gardens which is a popular tourist trap
  • Play golf at Royal Dornoch (Easter Ross)
  • Portmahomack Beach (near Dornoch, Easter Ross)
  • Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserve (Easter Ross)
  • Glenmorangie Distillery whisky tasting experiences (Easter Ross)
  • Fyrish Monument (Alness, Easter Ross) – This curious but stunning monument is visible from the main road and peaks the attention from a distance. The forty-five minute woodland hill walk up to it is rewarded in any weather, day or night!
  • The Fairy Glen (Rosemarkie, Black Isle) – a beautiful, short walk through the woods to some very pretty waterfalls. Ideal walk for those with children.
  • Chanonry Point (Fortrose, Black Isle) – A very popular bottle-nose dolphin-watching point
  • Ord Hill fort and walk (Black Isle) – There are two walks here, the longer, wider loop has very little incline and has great views of Inverness and the Moray Firth, while the shorter loop takes you up to an old Pictish fort, but can be a little steep at times.

You might also be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), because the North of Scotland is amongst the best UK places to see this magnificent geomagnetic display. Take a look at the Aurora Forecast for advice on whether they’ll be active on any given night. It’s said these are best seen between January and March, but are seen from September onwards. We also recommend searching and downloading the ‘Aurora Watch’ app for your smartphone from your App Store, as this will alert you when an Aurora sighting is possible.

Also, don’t forget to check if there are any Highland Games on during your trip. These are active from May to September.

For further information on the route and the sites to be seen, take a look at the interactive map on the North Coast 500 site or this great review on the VisitScotland site.

We’ve also found another two great resources here:

Stay With Us

We are ideally situated ten minutes from your starting position in Inverness. Begin your journey with a fantastic night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, as well as by taking advice and information from either Alasdair or Deirdre. Our experience will be of huge help, we hope. Because the North Coast 500 is a circuit, we would welcome you back to our accommodation at the end of your adventure around Scotland’s north coast. We’re sure you’ll want to stay in our beautiful Bed and Breakfast after being here before you set off, and after four days on the road.

Click the above map to open up our Google Map of the route and sites we recommend.