This area of Scotland has seen a meteoric rise in it’s popularitiy in the last few years since 516 miles of its coastline was christened the North Coast 500. Now, more people than ever want to get involved with this epic adventure; but it’s not quite as easy as hopping in your car and heading North – no roadtrip ever is. Luckily for you our experts here at GOAT Roadtrip have put together this handy guide to answer all of your questions in one handy article, to save you hours of searching the internet, and bring you everything there is to know about the North Coast 500.
If you live in Britain, you’ve got one of the best landscapes in the world sitting right on your doorstep. The North Coast 500, starting and finishing in Inverness, is an epic and completely unique road trip with the most incredible scenery, remote landscapes and a whole range of attractions along the way.
There’s no right or wrong way to do the NC500. First things first, you’re going to need a vehicle, but beyond that there’s plenty of options in terms of accommodation, style and cost.
When you’ve done all the ground work, and got yourself up to Inverness, then you’ll follow the A9 up the coast, passing through small and quaint towns, getting more and more remote as you approach the famous John O’Groats sign. You’ll then keep following the coast as it twists round through Thurso, Tongue and Kylesku before reaching Ullapool. Make the most of the gorgeous remote beaches you’ll stumble across as you continue on towards Gairloch as after this the landscape will dramatically change as you head inland and through the spectacular Torridon Munros. Opt to get back to the coast by taking the Bealach na Ba road over Applecross – well worth the slow and winding ascent – and be treated to amazing mountainous and coastal views, before your last leg back to Inverness.
So much is the desire to head North to see what all the fuss is about with one of Europe’s most popular roadtrips, the temptation is to try and squeeze every last mile into as few precious holiday days as possible.
So the question maybe shouldn’t be how long it takes to do the North Coast 500 – but rather how long I should allow to do the North Coast 500.
First of all the clue in the name can be quite a deceiving one. 500 miles of beautiful Scottish mountains and coast doesn’t sound like it’d be strenuous – some of you may even interpret that as a 2/3 day journey – but remember you’re on single track, meandering roads for the most part now – not the M62.
Our biggest piece of advice is don’t rush it.
A road trip, never mind the North Coast 500, is more about meandering from A-Z, as opposed to just driving from A-B. Don’t be tempted to try and whizz round the coast just to say that you’ve completed it, because you won’t enjoy it as much as you should, nor appreciate it as much as the route deserves.
This road trip is so popular due to the diversity of scenery – remote sandy beaches leading into winding roads which in turn lead into spectacular and imposing mountain ranges. There is a chance to spot wild Elk or dolphins along your way, taste the fresh salmon caught within a stones’ throw before sampling the finest whisky of the next stop on your route. It’s a cliché, but the NC500 does have it all and definitely has something for everyone.
So, in answer to how long you should take to do the North Coast 500, you’ll want to allow at least a week – at the bare minimum – to get round the route. If you’re wanting to allow for relaxing days on the Caribbean-like white beaches, or drifting around Lochs on kayaks, then consider two weeks and if you want to venture off track slightly and explore other attractions the NC500 will take you close to, like the Cairngorms National Park or the Isle of Skye, then consider at least three weeks.
With such a popular route, the key is to plan early and make sure you think about booking your accommodation plenty of time in advance. If you don’t fancy doing it yourself, then we’ll be able to sort all that out for you as well, depending on availability.
Most people will opt for campgrounds, mainly for the facilities a lot of them will offer – particularly if you’re in a Jeep or Campervan as you might want to ensure that you have a bathroom to use to freshen up when you arrive at your new destination.
Campgrounds come in all different shapes and sizes and all offer a different kind of experience. If you’re new to camping, you can click here to find out more about what to expect.
One of the perks of doing a roadtrip in Scotland is that wild camping is permitted in the majority of places. Get it right and wild camping can provide some of the highlights to your trip. It’s important to understand that you will have to give up a few luxuries (and facilities) if you’re wild camping, and to be aware of your enviromental responsbilities. But if you’re still on board and willing to give it a go, then stock up with plenty of water and food, and keep your eyes peeled for potential camping spot gems as you make your way to your next destination.
If you’ve decided to go in the summer months, you’ll have the privilege of longer days, shorter nights, warmer weather and thousands more midges…
It’s not enough to put you off heading up North, but do be aware that there’s a reason everyone knows about the midges the summer months bring in Scotland. You should be fairly safe if you’re setting up camp on the coast with a bit of a breeze, but if you venture inland or choose to stay near a loch for example, make sure you’re also armed with plenty of repellant.
One of the best bits about the North Coast 500 is just how rurally it takes you. It’s rare that in today’s world you can disconnect completely from your phone when it something we always carry with us, however you’ll find spells where, barring the camera of course, it will be completely redundant.
What you don’t need to give up though, is your sense of direction! Many of you will undoubtedly be using your phones to navigate from place to place, and if you don’t fancy going old-school and taking a road map with you, then make sure you already have the relevant place maps downloaded offline on your maps app.
Similarly to our last point, petrol stations can be few and far between the more remote you become. As beautiful as Scotland is you wouldn’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere – especially with that good old Scottish weather for company! Our advice would be when you spot a petrol station, fill up: ideally you never want to be with less than half a tank.
There’s no bad time to do the North Coast 500, but you want to be aware that certain businesses will only operate at certain times of the year; so you don’t want to be taking big detours only to be greeted by ‘closed’ signs. Equally, in high season, there may be certain activities you, and everyone else visiting, want to do – so have a think well before you go and make your plans and reservations well in advance.
Once you’re finished being super organised it’s time to chill. The reason this is such a good route is that there are so many wonderful things to see at every twist and turn – so when you’re getting ready for your next drive and leg of the journey, make sure you factor in a bit more time for stopping at something you come across that looks interesting. And trust us – there will be plenty of things you’ll want to be stopping for.