The North Coast 500 (NC500) is so much more than just a road trip; it’s all of Scotland’s best bits all rolled into one scenic round trip. The route is 516 miles of quaint little villages, natural wildlife, and stunning landscapes. There are also plenty of fun activities you can do all the way around the route. This list will take you through the 30 things you must see on the NC500!
Creating an itinerary for the NC500 is strongly recommended so you don’t miss any of the best bits! We recommend cramming as many of these things into your itinerary as possible for the best possible road trip. The attractions have been listed in geographical order (if you are doing the NC500 anti-clockwise).
Although Loch Ness isn’t necessarily on the official NC500 route, it is certainly worth the detour. The loch is located slightly southwest of the official start point in Inverness. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the infamous and elusive Loch Ness monster, Nessie!!
There are many other attractions around the loch such as walking trails and water sports. Check out the official website here for more info on activities.
The NC500 Begins and ends in the heart of Inverness – the Castle to be exact. Start off your journey with a bang and go inside the castle. Visit the viewpoint for uninterrupted panoramic views of Inverness (the Cultural Capital of the Highlands). This excursion costs £6.
Inverness is also a great shopping destination with big brands as well as small local artisan shops.
A short drive north-east of Inverness you will find Chanonry Point. This is a peninsula jutting into the Moray Firth between Fortrose and Rosemarkie. This is one of the best places in Scotland to see dolphins. However, with every wildlife experience, patience is key. The best time to see dolphins is 1-2 hours before high tide. This spot is popular with both locals and tourists.
Tain has a lot of history, this is reflected in its quaint “oldy-worldly” architecture. To learn more about the history of Tain and the surrounding area, check out the local museum “Tain Through Time”.
Note: try to avoid visiting Tain on a Sunday as everything will be closed.
Skelbo, Loch Fleet
The NC500 route actually drives right over this loch but many people miss out on its true potential. There is an amazing parking area/viewpoint in Skelbo that sits right on the edge of the loch.
At low tide, seals bask on sandbanks a mere 30-meters away from you. For the best view, you may wish to bring binoculars. There are also the ruins of a castle which can be explored a mere 5-minute walk from the viewpoint.
This area is very popular with campervans so we would recommend getting there early to secure your spot (there is space for around 10 vans in the area).
We definitely recommend parking here overnight for a unique wildlife experience and a peaceful sleep. To find out more click the link below.
Dunrobin Castle should definitely be on everybody’s NC500 itinerary and Scottish bucket list! This castle resembles a romantic French chateau. The perfectly groomed gardens only add to the beauty of the castle. This was our favorite stop on the east coast and really is a ‘must see’ stop on the NC500 route.
The cost of admission is £11.50. You can stroll through the castle, the gardens, and the on-site museum packed with taxidermy. There are also 2 falconry shows every day included in the price of admission. We recommend visiting in the afternoon as it’s considerably quieter – so you can take photos like you own the place!
The Whaligoe Steps are a series of 365 stairs which zig-zag down the face of the cliff leading to a flat area known as the bink. The steps get their name from a dead whale that washed ashore in the rocky bay. Originally used as a harbour for fishing vessels, it is now simply another tourist attraction with a fascinating history.
If you are lucky, a friendly local, Davey, will be more than happy to share the rich history of the steps.
One of the main towns on the NC500 route is Wick. This small town in Caithness has a few attractions which may tickle your fancy. You can go whiskey tasting at the Old Pulteney distillery, explore the coastline by speedboat, and even visit the world’s shortest street.
John O’ Groats
When doing the NC500, you simply must see John O’ Groats and take an obligatory picture with the sign. This is perhaps one of the most boring destinations on the North Coast of the NC500, but did you really do the NC500 if you didn’t take a picture here? I think not.
Duncansby Head & Stacks
This destination is a real treat for lighthouse lovers and people who like to drink in the scenery! As well as boasting an adorable lighthouse, Duncansby Head is a great location for birdwatching. From the lighthouse, you can take a short walk along the coastline and you will be face to face with the towering Duncansby Stacks. These imposing sea stacks are quite the spectacle jutting 200ft out of the water below.
Dunnet Bay – Surfing Beach Thurso
The picture does not do this beach justice! Thurso is known as Scotland’s surfing capital, and quite rightly so! In autumn and winter, you will find the biggest, best, and most consistent waves. The beach is impeccable with soft sand and surprisingly warm water considering where it is located.
If you want an adrenaline rush, consider participating in a surfing lesson.
We recommend staying nearby in East Strathy if you are wild camping.
Golden Eagle Zip Line
From the North Coast 500 route, you will see people flying through the sky on this extremely rural zipline! It’s located just to the east of the village of Durness. If you are looking for some adrenaline on your adventure, make sure to check it out! It is the most northerly zipline in Europe (and maybe even the world)! Fly across the stunning Ceannabeinne Beach at speeds up to 40 mph. This excursion is reasonably priced at £14 per person.
The NC500 route actually drives right on top of Smoo Cave. Once you climb down A LOT of stairs you will enter into the imposing main chamber of the cave! From there you can look further into the cave via a viewing platform, or get a guided tour.
The guided tour is only £10 and involves a boat ride through one of the cave’s chambers, and a little bit of scrambling through some tunnels. It’s not as treacherous as it may sound and is suitable for anyone who is able to climb a ladder (weird benchmark, but it will make sense when you get there).
Balnakeil Craft Village
There is a small community that runs a ‘Craft Village’ in Durness. The village is home to many small businesses and artists. You can explore the small village and see for yourself what they have to offer. There is an incredibly popular chocolatier located at the front of the village but don’t be afraid to walk around and explore some of the smaller craft shops.
Balnakeil Beach is perhaps one of the more touristy destinations on the North Coast of the NC500. The beach is absolutely stunning with the whitest of white sands. However, the piece de resistance is that this beach is home to a herd of cows! The cows stroll along the beach and graze on whatever they can. When we visited, there were only 4 cows (2 of them were calves). If this isn’t a perfect photo opportunity, we don’t know what is!
Cape Wrath is the most North Westernly point of the UK. It is known for its rugged landscapes, wildlife, and very cute lighthouse. So if any of those things interest you, you may wish to add them to your itinerary. Unfortunately, you cannot reach Cape Wrath on your own, however, there are buses and a ferry the will get you there. Tours of Cape Wrath take approximately 3 hours.
Cape Wrath is an excellent viewpoint for the North Coast of mainland Scotland and a fantastic place to watch colonies of sea birds in their natural habitat.
Fun Fact: cape Wrath is also home to Britain’s most remote restaurant!
Kyle of Durness
The Kyle of Durness is a tidal inlet from the sea. You can see for miles over the sandy banks and blue water. This stunning mountainous landscape, it’s quite the vision. We wouldn’t recommend staying at the viewing area too long, just long enough to drink in your surroundings and take some pictures.
However, this viewpoint is a popular spot for wild camping. To find out more click below.
This is a slight detour from the traditional NC500 circuit. Handa Island is a short ferry ride from the small village of Tarbet. If puffin watching is on your NC500 to-do list, you must visit Handa Island to see them up close! Handa is also home to a beautiful white sandy beach with crystal clear waters. You’ll hardly believe you’re still in Scotland.
Note: the best time of year to see puffins is from May to July.
This is essentially a day trip, so factor this into your itinerary if you plan on visiting. For more information on the island itself check out this website.
This award-winning curved bridge crosses Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin on the West coast of the NC500 route. The bridge really is quite spectacular. There are car parks/viewpoints on each side of the bridge – perfect if you intend on driving over the bridge multiple times to get the perfect photo!
Achmelvich Bay Beach
Achmelvich Bay Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the route. It really has to be seen to be believed that it is actually in Scotland and not some exotic island. Its white sands and inviting turquoise waters wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean. It’s quite popular with campers and walkers alike. There is a caravan site that looks directly onto the beach, unfortunately, this means the beach can often be a little bit busy.
A word of warning: the roads to get to this beach are a bit of a nightmare. It is exclusively single-track roads with passing places. The roads are also reasonably steep at some points. If you a driving a particularly wide vehicle we do NOT advise going to this beach – it’s not worth the hassle.
The Bone Caves
These caves are just as creepy as their name sounds. This attraction is a combination of a walk/scramble and a cave visit. The walk to reach the caves is roughly 4km from the carpark, a lot of it is uphill! The eerie caves get their name from the plethora of bones found inside them from different animals – think lions and tigers and bears (oh my)! This is a free attraction not to be missed!
Knockan Crag Nature Reserve
Knockan Crag is the epitome of a classic Scottish landscape – lochs, rolling hills, and a lot of midges!! There are some nice walks in this area which aren’t too long or too steep (thank God). If you don’t fancy walking, the visitor centre has a great viewpoint as well as toilets and a drinking water tap.
We recommend spending the night wild camping here. To find out more, click the post below!
Ullapool is a quaint harbour village which is the main port for trips to the Outer Hebrides. This village has a fantastic atmosphere. There are some great little shops to stroll through and a good selection of restaurants. If you enjoy seafood, this is the place for you!
Ullapool has many boat trips around the loch. If you don’t have much time consider going on a speed boat to pack it all in quickly. We spotted porpoises, seals, and many seabirds on the boat tour. If you are in Ullapool in the warmer months (July/August) there is also a good chance you will see dolphins and even whales!
Corrieshalloch Gorge Nature Reserve
Corrieshalloch Gorge Nature reserve is home to the most impressive waterfall on the NC500. The 45-foot waterfall is made even better by the suspension bridge that straddles the 100-foot gorge! The Nature reserve also has a few gentle walks around it which are quite pleasant. This waterfall is the most impressive waterfall on the NC500, You really must see it to grasp the sheer scale of the falls!
Mellon Udrigle Beach
This beach is another slight detour from the NC500 route but consider it a “must see” destination! Mellon Udrigle beach is absolutely picture perfect! The water is clean, crystal clear, and incredibly inviting (if you can brave the cold). This is easily one of our favourite beaches on the NC500. The perfect picnic destination!
Inverewe Gardens are located near the town of Poolewe and are privately owned by the ‘National Trust Scotland’. For a fee of £14 per person, you can explore these wondrous gardens. Tropical plants from all over the world can be found here. If tropical plants are something you’re into, you must stop here on the NC500 to see the plants in all their glory.
Applecross is a pretty little village that is the perfect pit stop before tackling the Baelach na Ba. There is not much to do here except eat! If you like good-quality pub food, we recommend booking a table at the award-winning Applecross Inn. Booking online in advance is recommended!
Bealach Na Ba
This infamous mountain pass is just as beautiful as it is windy. It is known mostly for the way it zig-zags down the side of the mountain with hairpin bends. The Bealach Na Ba actually has the largest ascent/descent of any road in the UK!
You may think it looks like something that would be on top gear – and in fact, it has been featured on the show! The road really is quite the spectacle! Also, you must stop to take in the views from the top; You can see for miles across the valleys.
The Rogie Falls are a beautiful series of cascading waterfalls. They may not be massive but they are still very impressive. The best thing about these falls is the shaky suspension bridge that spans the river. If you’re not in a rush to get around the NC500, you must stick around for a while for a chance to see some salmon jumping up the waterfall.
From the car park, there is a pretty steep path to get to the waterfall. The walk is not long however it is a little treacherous so a decent shoe is required.
Black Waterfalls, Garve
This is a lovely little spot to stop off at for a little while to break up your journey. Garve has a couple of nice, easy-going walks where you can admire the falls. Again, these waterfalls are not the most show-stopping but they are nice nonetheless. This stop also has a free public toilet which is a nice little bonus.
The North Coast 500 is a trip like no other. There really is something for everyone along the route. The beautiful landscapes and awe-inspiring beaches will leave a lasting impression on you. It will make you proud to be Scottish – or jealous that you are not!
You must try the NC500 to truly fall in love with the Scottish Highlands, there is so much to do and see here!
We hope this list helped you with your route planning. There are many other great things to do on the route such as distillery tours and mountain climbing but we kept the list short and sweet with all the best bits!
More content about the NC500 coming soon!
If you have any questions regarding the NC500 don’t hesitate to comment down below and we will get back to you! Also if you have any suggestions of other things ‘ you must do or see on the NC500, let us know!