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The UK’s answer to Route 66, this epic 500 mile round trip offers scenery stunning enough to rival that of its American counterpart. Unlike Route 66, the North Coast 500 is circular and the views on offer are of more well-watered terrains, rather than the arid deserts of the southern USA. Starting off in Inverness, work your way around the coastline stopping off at several idyllic locations along the way. Spend a night in John O’Groats, the most northern point of the UK mainland, before making your way around the coast. Breath-taking stops such as Ullapool, Tongue and Lochniver offer something so incredible, you’ll struggle to believe you’re still in the UK. With scenery reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, this route is the perfect way to discover some of the gems the UK has to offer.
Northumberland (1 night) > Inverness (3 Nights) > John O’Groats (2 Nights) > Tongue (2 Nights) > Lochinver (2 Nights) > Ullapool (3 Nights) > Lake District (1 Night)
If you’re starting your trip in Leeds, Northumberland makes a great spot to break up your journey to the Highlands. The Northumberland coastline is home to several of Britain’s blue flag beaches. Drive to Low Newton by the Sea and walk along the golden sandy beach to Embleton Bay, one of regions’ most pristine beaches dotted with white painted fishermen’s cottages, a village pub and great views of Dunstanburgh Castle. For a slightly livelier evening at the seaside head to Amble, known as the ‘friendliest port in the UK’. The Harbourfront and marina are home to numerous seafood restaurants and cafes and quaint independent art shops.
The starting point for North Coast 500 is Inverness, the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. Step back in time and discover the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and explore majestic Scottish castles and ancient ruins. Spend a day discovering the Ness Islands, a collection of islands in the River Ness connected by foot bridges. The circular route will take you through Inverness Botanic Gardens and Inverness Cathedral. Spend your second day taking a day trip, and there are plenty of amazing places to choose from close to Inverness. Any historians should visit the battleground at Culloden Moore, which is easy to combine with the calva cairns burial mounds. Alternatively, a trip along the coast to Burghead or Lossiemouth would make a great day out.
The route from Inverness to John O’Groats along the A9 takes you over 3 impressive bridges suspended over the Beauly, Cromarty, and Dornoch Firths, giving you a glimpse into the stunning East coast scenery that awaits you.
As the most northern point of the UK, John O’Groats is incredibly rural, and this unspoilt coastal village is the perfect destination for nature lovers. The village itself only has a post-office, a grocery store and a handful of independent shops selling hand-made souvenirs. The John O Groats’ ferry, which links the mainland to the Orkney Islands, is a highlight! If you’re lucky, you might spot puffins, dolphins, or even killer whales on your crossing. Next up is a short drive along the North coast following the A836. It’s definitely worth stopping for quick break at Melvich Beach for a panoramic view of Strathy Bay.
This small coastal town in the shadow of Ben Hope mountain is situated on the shore of the Kyle of Tongue. Just a short drive from the village centre is Coldbackie beach which offers stunning views of the Rabbit and Orkney Islands. The turquoise water is also a great spot for surfing! The driving route from Tongue to your next destination, Lochinver, is one of the most scenic on this route. Follow the A838 over the Kyle of Tongue Bridge which forms a part of the causeway. Along the bridge you’ll find designated viewpoints for the perfect photo opportunity. Continue your drive along the West coast, passing Loch Assynt before arriving at Lochinver.
Lochinver is a small fishing village on the West coast of Scotland that boasts a harbour with impressive views of the Quinag mountain range. From here you can take a trip to Achmelvich Bay, arguably one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches thanks to its crystal-clear water. You can even take a day trip to Handa Island, an impressive nature reserve known internationally for its puffin population! From here it’s only a short drive around Loch Assynt and south through Elphin to reach Ullapool.
This lively seaside town is located on the waterfront of Loch Broom. It’s a great location for water sports with the chance to go kayaking or tour around the Summer Isles. For a more relaxing couple of days, visit the Knockan Gragg National Nature Reserve. We’d recommend a day trip to the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve on the second day. Cycle or hike through the mountain and woodland trails and explore the pine forests, home to the region’s golden eagles.
The journey down to Dumfries should take just over 5 hours and will take you back through the stunning Cairngorms National Park. If you fancy a change of scenery though, an hour’s detour will take you along the banks of Loch Lomond, which would make a perfect stop to break the journey up.
There’s plenty of ways to spend your final night in the Lake District. A tourist favourite is Ambleside, a charming village perched on the banks of Lake Windermere. Just outside of the village centre is Stock Ghyll Force, a 70ft high waterfall which can be viewed from the designated viewpoint. You can also stroll around Stagshaw gardens, owned by the National Trust, which make a great place for a picnic. Drive north to Ullswater, one of the most beautiful lakes in the region and home to Aira Force, one of the most famous waterfalls in the Lake District. Surrounded by stunning walking routes through Ullswater Valley, you can follow the trails to Gowbarrow Summit for incredible views of the valley and lake below. Take a cruise on the famous Ullswater Steamer, an award-winning way to access some of the Lake District’s best walking routes.
Add any of these experiences to your North Coast 500 package when you check out. They have all been hand-picked by us to fit around your route. Find out more about them on each experience page.