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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 21 July, 2023
Expert travel writer: Lucy Gillmore

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.

Recommendations

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Castle of Mey

Mey, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Castle of Mey

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

Adult price: £3

Best for ages 13+

Falls of Foyers

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Aerial view of a large waterfall

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.

Best for ages 13+

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More details >

Culloden Battlefield

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Close up of the stone engraved sign

An atmospheric, historic battlefield with a state-of-the-art visitor centre that brings the bloody events of 1745 to life.

Adult price: £11

Best for ages 13+

Eilean Donan Castle

Dornie , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
View of the castle and bridge over the surrounding water

The most photographed castle in Scotland – and arguably its most beautiful – perched on an island where three lochs meet.

Adult price: £10

Best for ages 13+

Isle of Skye [hiking & cycling]

Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Stunning view of the rust brown landscape with a group of sharp rocks sticking up in the air

A wildly romantic history, gourmet restaurants and jaw-dropping landscapes with superb hiking and biking, Skye has it all – and a handy bridge to the mainland.

Best for ages 13+

Loch Ness [hiking & cycling]

Drumnadrochit, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Blue sign of Loch Ness, with the Loch behind

The deepest and most famous loch in Scotland, said to hide a famous monster in its murky depths. Also home to the South Loch Ness Trail and the 360-degree Loch Ness walking and cycling trails.

Best for ages 4+

Duration: -

Malt Whisky Trail

Speyside, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Two drams of whisky with ice on a wooden barrel - ready for tatings

The world’s only malt whisky trail – eight world-class distilleries and a cooperage, all open for tours and tastings.

Min age 18

Best for ages 18+

Urquhart Castle

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Ruined castle in the foreground, the loch stretches away behind

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

Best for ages 13+

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More details >

Scottish Highlands’ best food & drink

Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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Bucket List Experience
Salmon is caught fresh from Highland rivers and smoked in traditional smokehouses

Lucy’s summary of typical foods, ingredients and flavours to try in the Scottish Highlands – and some of the best ‘foodie’ experiences,

Best for ages 13+

Duration: -

Dunvegan Castle

Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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

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

Best for ages 4+

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More details >

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
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.

Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)

Ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the edge of Loch Awe with brown hills behind

Magnificent mountain scenery slashed by silvery lochs and peppered with brooding castles: all laden with rich Scottish heritage, history and tradition. Drive the NC500 road trip, or ride on the spectacular West Highland Line.