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Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 19 January, 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.

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.

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

Dunvegan Castle

Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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.

Best for ages: 4+ | £15

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Granary Lodge

Thurso, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Fit for a (future) king, the Castle of Mey’s 17th-century grain store was converted into a luxury B&B by Prince Charles.

Official star rating:

Kylesku Hotel

Kylesku , Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A 19th-century coaching inn with creel-to-plate seafood, overlooking Loch Glendhu on the spectacular North Coast 500 route.

Official star rating:

Links House at Royal Dornoch

Dornoch, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A sumptuous honey-hued manse dripping with antiques, overlooking world-class Dornoch golf course and a stunning, dune-backed beach.

Official star rating:

Three Chimneys

Isle of Skye, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Legendary restaurant with rooms in an old crofter’s cottage, set on the remote shore of Loch Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.

Official star rating:

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)

Magnificent mountain scenery slashed by silvery lochs and peppered with brooding castles: all laden with rich Scottish heritage, history and tradition.

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