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North Coast 500 (NC500) road trip

Last updated: 12 March, 2024

The 500-mile loop skirting the north coast of Scotland is not new – but its name is; since 2015 it’s been known as the North Coast 500, dubbed Scotland’s Route 66, tempting those who had previously screeched to a halt at the Great Glen to explore the country’s empty, far-flung north.

A spectacular coastal route, clockwise or anti-clockwise north from Inverness, it careers along snaking mountain passes, across vast swathes of wild, windswept moorland and beside craggy cliffs and endless white-sand beaches. Travel by sports car, motorbike, campervan or bike and tick off ancient castles, whisky – and gin – distilleries and sites such as John O’Groats.

Also see our 5-day itinerary from destination expert Lucy Gillmore.

Who to go with: tour operators

10
  • Mey, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

  • Bucket List Experience

Castle of Mey

Experience

Castle of Mey

Turreted 16th-century castle with a beautiful rose garden – the former summer retreat of the Queen Mother.

Adult price: 3

Good for age: 13+

Falls of Foyers

  • Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Aerial view of a large waterfall

Experience

Hike up to the 165-feet high Falls of Foyers to see a famous optical illusion. Stare at the water then flick your eyes sideways to see the rock wall move upwards. The waterfall feeds into Loch Ness.

Good for age: 8+

Website >

Urquhart Castle

  • Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Ruined castle in the foreground, the loch stretches away behind

Experience

This former medieval fortress, on the shore of the loch, once was the home of Scotland’s Grant Clan. Built in the 13th century, it was subsequently destroyed by the English in 1692 following the crushing of the Jacobite Rebellion at Culloden. You can watch a film of its history in the visitor centre.

Adult price: 10

Good for age: 8+

Website >

Dunvegan Castle

  • Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Dunvegan Castle exterior - A beautiful castle of golden stone set into the hills

Experience

This 13th-century castle – restored in the 19th century – was the traditional seat of Clan Macleod, one of the Highland’s most celebrated clans. It’s filled with Highlands clan history – portraits, weapons, and assorted clan memorabilia and heirlooms.

Adult price: 15

Good for age: 4+

Website >

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 5-9 days

Getting there & doing it

The starting point is Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, which has a small airport with flights from around the UK. Or catch the train; the Caledonian Sleeper runs between London and Inverness. Hire a car here if you haven’t driven north.

Most people complete the route in around seven days. There are several specialist and local companies who will put an itinerary together for you (see our recommendations below). However, it’s not difficult to do the NC500 independently.

The official website has a number of themed itineraries of between 7 to 9 days (you have to pay about £15 to download them). It pays to plan ahead – in the height of summer accommodation can get booked up. Or see Lucy’s 5-day recommended itinerary.

When to do it

The summer can get very busy, accommodation gets booked up and the road, at times single-lane track with passing places, can become clogged with traffic so if possible avoid the high season and plan your trip for spring or late summer/early autumn.