The North Coast 500 (NC500) is one of the best road trips in the world. Period. It really has to be seen to be believed, whether you have nothing but time on your hands, or have to squeeze it into a long weekend you will have an amazing time surrounded by some of Scotland’s most impressive scenery. This NC500 5-day itinerary has been carefully crafted so that you can pack in as much as possible and don’t miss any of the highlights and hidden gems!
Day 1 – Inverness to Brora
Daily mileage: 58 miles
Time spent driving: 1 hr 23 minutes
Start the first day of this jam-packed 5-day itinerary of the NC500 by spending the morning exploring the most northerly city in the UK, Inverness. It is packed to the brim with history and intrigue. Make sure to check out Inverness Castle, this imposing castle can be seen from anywhere in the city. However, we recommend going to see it up close. For £6 you can go inside the castle, which has the most impressive panoramic views of the city. If you like shopping, Inverness city centre has plenty of shops to browse through, including large retailers and local, independent shops.
We recommend staying in Inverness for lunch. Whether you are looking for an authentic local pub or fine dining, Inverness city centre has plenty to choose from.
If you want to break up the drive from Inverness to Dunrobin Castle, we recommend stopping in Tain. This quaint town is extremely charming and even has some impressive architecture to admire!
Visit Dunrobin Castle. This excursion costs £11.50, and is worth every penny! Dunrobin Castle resembles a stunning French Chateau that wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney movie! Included in the price of admission is exploring the castle, grounds, museum, and even a falconry demonstration that takes place twice a day.
Next, head to the quaint village of Brora for dinner and to wind down for the evening.
There are several formal and informal dining options in Brora
- Watch Dolphins at Chanonry Point.
- Visit Loch Fleet at Skelbo to see seals basking up close at low tide.
There are several places in and around Brora which would make an excellent place to park overnight – these can be found on the app Park4night.
Make sure to stock up your food and fuel supplies when in Inverness as the next place on the NC500 to stock up is in Wick, 104 miles away.
Day 2 – Brora to Thurso
Daily mileage: 104 miles
Time spent driving: 2 hrs 29 mins
The first stop on today’s itinerary is the Whaligoe steps. The Whaligoe 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. Care should be taken if you venture down the steps as they are steep and can be slippery when wet.
Next, continue north to the John o’ Groats to get the obligatory photo with the sign to prove that you’ve made it.
There are a couple of small cafes/shops near the John o’ Groats sign that are perfect for a light lunch!
Take a surfing lesson at Dunnet Bay, also known as, the Hawaii of Scotland! This stunning bay boasts white sand and stunning aqua blue sea and stretches for miles. Surprisingly, it isn’t as cold as you would imagine considering how northerly it is! However, if you are spending any length of time in the water you’ll need a wetsuit!
There are several informal places to dine in or take away in Thurso. If you are looking for more fine dining consider dining at Captain’s Galley Seafood Restaurant in Thurso, or Côte de Nord further along the North Coast.
- Visit Wick
- Duncansby Head and Stacks and walk the coastal path.
- Visit Dunnet Head- the REAL most northerly point in the UK (not John o’ Groats)
Re-fuel and re-stock your shelves in Wick. Also, send a postcard from John o’ Groats as it will have the signature John o’ Groat’s postmark.
Day 3 – Thurso to Durness
Daily mileage: 56 miles
Time spent driving: 1 hr 51 minutes
Although this day has the least amount of driving, it is arguably the busiest on this 5-day itinerary of the NC500 as there is so much to do and see in and around Durness. The first stop on today’s itinerary is the Golden Eagle Zipline just before you enter Durness. 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.
Next, get a tour of the spectacular Smoo Cave. These guided tours can be booked on arrival and are operated on a first-come, first-served basis. The tour involves a small boat ride followed by a walking tour of the smaller chambers of the cave.
Contribute to the local community at Balnakeil Craft Village by eating at one of the local restaurants/cafes.
Visit Balnakeil Craft Village. This small community of local artists and businesses has a unique and quirky feel. Whether you are looking to purchase a statement piece of artwork, browse the shops, or even indulge yourself with chocolate from the most rural chocolatier in the world, this village has something for everyone.
Next stop, Balnakeil Beach. This beach is only 2 minutes away from the craft village. Here you will find crystal clear aqua water lap onto the fine, white sand. Best yet, if you are lucky there may even be some cows grazing on the beach! Make sure you bring your camera!
If the sun is shining there is nothing better than a BBQ on Balnakeil Beach. However, if the weather isn’t cooperating, you may wish to dine out at one of the hotels in Durness. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great selection of places to eat in Durness.
- Cape Wrath
- East Strathy Beach
Day 4 – Durness to Gairloch
Daily mileage: 122 miles
Time spent driving: 3 hours
This is another intense day on this 5-day itinerary of the NC500. There is so much to do and see today, firstly drive to Kylesku Bridge. There is a viewpoint from both sides of the bridge. We recommend the one before going on the bridge as it has a much more dramatic backdrop.
Next, continue driving south. The NC500 typically involves driving on the B869 (the Drumbeg loop), although this is an incredibly scenic route passing through stunning villages and peaceful beaches, it really isn’t necessary if you are trying to save time and pack more into your trip. The alternative route is to continue on the A894 (which is clearly marked). If you are in a motorhome it is not advised to take the Drumbeg loop as it is particularly challenging to drive as it is a single track road for the entirety of the 24-mile loop.
Next, make sure to quickly stop by Knockan Crag, this scenic spot has a pavilion with information regarding Scotland’s history and geology.
Consider sampling some of the local fresh seafood in Ullapool at one of the restaurants. We recommend The Seafood Shack or The Arch Inn Restaurant. However, if you are looking for something more relaxed, go to one of the fish and chip shops, you won’t be disappointed.
Spend the afternoon exploring the amazing village of Ullapool. You can take a boat trip that showcases the local wildlife – from seabirds to dolphins and whales! There is also plenty of local shops to pick up souvenirs and nic naks!
Next, head to the Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. this idyllic spot has a couple of short scenic walks overlooking the impressive 100-foot gorge. However, the main attraction is the stunning suspension bridge that straddles the gorge and looks down on a 40-foot waterfall.
Gairloch is a stunning coastal village with several restaurants and pubs.
- Achmelvich Bay
- Visit Poolewe
- Clashnessie Falls
The Old Inn Gairloch is a quaint, charming hotel that really epitomises the small village charm!
There are free toilets and showers in Ullapool. There is also a laundrette if needed.
Day 5 – Gairloch to Inverness
Daily mileage: 137 miles
Time spent driving: 3 hrs 57 mins
A.M: Unfortunately, the last day of this 5-day NC500 itinerary is one of the least exciting as you will be spending the majority of the day just driving. However, there are still a few highlights not to be missed. The first destination on the itinerary for today is Torridon. This stunning area is home to some of the most dramatic mountainous landscapes in Scotland, it is also home to A LOT of deer!
Next, make your way to the quaint village of Applecross, here you will find delicious food, beautiful views, and if you are lucky, some highland cows!
Dine at the multi-award-winning pub, the Applecross Inn. Just make sure you book in advance!
Drive the Bealach na Ba. This infamous mountain pass is just as beautiful as it is winding. It is known mostly for the way it zig-zags down the side of the mountain with hairpin bends. The Bealach Na Ba has the largest ascent/descent of any road in the UK, so drive with care. Continue the drive to the finish point and enjoy drinking in your surroundings!
- Rogie Falls
- Blackwater at Garve
Unfortunately, the southern leg of the NC500 is the least scenic. therefore prioritise spending time in Applecross and Torridon as it is basically just a long drive after that.
Although 5 days may not sound like enough time to fully bask in Scotland’s beauty, you can truly get the essence of what this magnificent country is all about! The 5-day NC500 itinerary above tries to encompass as much of Scotland’s charm, heritage, and geography as possible.
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