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Last updated: 02 March, 2023
Expert travel writer: Lucy Gillmore

Where to go and what to see on a road trip around Scotland’s famous NC500 – a 5-day itinerary from destination expert and travel writer Lucy Gillmore.

Starting from Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, head over the Kessock Bridge to the bucolic Black Isle and north up the east coast.

Dip into Dornoch, a picture-postcard little coastal town famous for its golf courses, dreamy dune-backed beach and a 13th-century cathedral.

Take a side trip to the Falls of Shin then continue on to the pretty village of Golspie and the fairytale Dunrobin Castle before doubling back to Dornoch for the night.

Dunrobin Castle

Golspie, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A fabulous fairytale castle, designed to resemble a fancy French chateau, with ornate formal gardens, modelled on those at Versailles. It’s the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Sutherland.

Best for ages: 8+ | £14

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.

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Continue north, the route hugging the east coast, to iconic John O’Groats – famously ‘the end of the road’.

Two miles further on is Dunnet Head the real northernmost point on the British mainland with its lighthouse and spectacular 300ft cliffs.

Take a tour and tasting at artisan Dunnet Bay Distillery then check out the Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s favourite holiday home on the Caithness coast – before checking in to the guesthouse created by King Charles.

John O’Groats

John O’Groats

John o' Groats, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Famously ‘the end of the road’ and touted as the most northerly point on the UK mainland (although that’s actually Dunnet Head nearby), this once tacky tourist spot has now been spruced up. There are wildlife-watching boat trips from the little harbour and spectacular clifftop walks.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Dunnet Bay Distillery

Dunnet Bay Distillery

Dunnet, Thurso, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

This small artisan distillery produces award-winning Rock Rose seasonal gins and vodka made from Holy Grass (once laid on church floors to scent the air). The copper still is named Elizabeth in honour of the late Queen Mother who summered at the Castle of Mey nearby – and famously liked a G&T.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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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.

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Today drive the length of the wild north coast fringed by glorious sweeps of sand and spectacular cliffs. Take a breather in Durness, visit Smoo Cave and go beachcombing on Balnakiel beach. Then head to Balnakiel Craft village for a hot chocolate at artisan chocolate maker Cocoa Mountain.

From here you can visit Cape Wrath, the most westerly point on the mainland via the passenger ferry and bus. Then swing down the west coast to your bed for the night.

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.

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Rise early to explore the rugged north-west Assynt landscape and its wildlife by kayak, bike or on foot. All can be organised by the hotel. The route south takes you through the jaw-dropping North West Highlands Unesco Global Geopark.

Grab an award-winning pie from the Lochinver Larder for lunch or fish and chips by the harbour in bustling Ullapool. From here the route squiggles around the captivating coast to Torridon, and a night at the Torridon Hotel.

There are three mountain ranges to the north on the doorstep with six Munros to bag. The hotel offers mountain guiding excursions and less strenuous guided hikes.

Afterwards curve around the coast to the remote Applecross Peninsula. Tuck into local langoustines doused in garlic butter, hand-dived scallops or crab at the Applecross Inn on the waterfront before tackling the legendary Bealach na Ba pass which snakes through the mountains down to Shielaig. The final leg takes you cross-country back to Inverness and a boutique bed overlooking Loch Ness.

Bagging Munros

Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

Bagging a Munro is a traditional Scottish activity. Named after Sir Hugh Munro who first catalogued the country’s 282 peaks over 3,000ft, in a nutshell, it means summiting a mountain.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 2+ hours

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Loch Ness [hiking & cycling]

Drumnadrochit, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

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+ | Free

Foyers Lodge

Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom (UK)

A quirky and characterful Victorian lodge on the quieter south side of Loch Ness, with tree-fringed views over the water.

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