Launched in 2015 by the North Highlands Initiative, the North Coast 500 route has quickly become one of the most popular driving routes in the UK and in Europe. Considered by many as the UK’s answer to Route 66, this incredible 500-mile long circular route offers epic scenery, delicious local food, incredible whisky, and welcoming locals. So, if you feel like going on an epic road trip without crossing the Atlantic, this is the one for you!
The North Coast 500 explores six of Scotland’s finest regions: Black Isle, Caithness, Easter Ross, Inverness-shire, Sutherland and Wester Ross. Traditionally, the route begins in Inverness and continues in a clockwise direction along the stunning coastal route for 516 miles. We’d recommend at least seven days to complete the route but it’s well worth pacing yourself if you’ve got the time. The classic pit-stops include, but are not limited to, Applecross, Ullapool, Lochinver, Durness, Thurso, John O’Groats and Dornoch. Of course, these are just recommendations and you can tailor make your adventure to your taste.
If you’re a beach lover in search of tropical seas and white sands, then the North Coast 500 has you covered. At first glance, Achmelvich beach would not look out of place in the Caribbean. This crystal-clear water and unspoiled bay really are post-card worthy. The temperature might not rival that of the Mediterranean, but the views will certainly make you the envy of your Instagram followers.
The Black Isle, one of the regions on this epic route, is arguably the best location in Scotland for dolphin sightings. Around 200 bottlenose dolphins call the Moray Firth their home. The small coastal village of North Kessock is a great spot to watch these beautiful sea creatures from the shore. If you’re looking to get a bit more up close and personal with these pods, why not join a boat tour and sail into the Cromarty Firth?
For a true sea life experience, take the wildlife cruise from John O’Groats to Orkney. Dolphins, minke whales, porpoises and sea bird colonies are regulars on this crossing. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a family of orcas!
No tour of the Scottish coastline would be complete without a visit to Loch Ness. Spend an afternoon uncovering the ancient myth of the Loch Ness Monster. Take a boat tour of the monster’s lair or keep watch over the lake from the striking Urquhart Castle.
Scotland has a fascinating history and the North Coast 500 is a great way to relive some of the epic events from Scotland’s past. Dunrobin Castle is the largest Scottish Great House in the Northern Highlands and is so elegant it could easily be confused with a French Chateau. Discover the stories of the residents, past and present, in the 189 rooms and wander the walled gardens modelled on the Palace of Versailles.
With such a diverse range of scenery, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to choose from on the North Coast 500. If you’re up for a challenge, Stac Pollaidh and Ben Hope are just a couple of mountains on route to conquer. Not far from Ullapool, Stac Pollaidh stands at 612m tall. With incredible views over the Assynt region and Loch Lurgainn, the final scramble to the summit is definitely worth it. The North West Highland Geopark is also a must-visit for any climbing enthusiast. Known as the building blocks of Scotland, the Lewisian Gneiss are the oldest rocks to be found in Europe at 3 billion years old.