The North Coast 500 (NC500) is one of the most awe-inspiring road trips that Europe has to offer. There are rugged mountains, cascading waterfall, tranquil beaches, and many unique wildlife experiences to be had on this spectacular route. This 10 day NC500 itinerary has been carefully crafted in order to hit all the hotspots and even some of the best hidden gems too.
Day 1 – Inverness to Loch Fleet
Daily mileage: 66 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 41 mins
There is a lot to pack into this 10 day NC500 itinerary so begin 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 birds-eye views of the city.
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.
After lunch head to Chanonry Point, it’s a short drive north-east of Inverness. This peninsula 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 locals and tourists alike.
There is fine dining at Sutherland House in Dornoch. If you fancy something a bit more casual there are plenty of options in Dornoch. Alternatively, you can stop off in Tain for some other dining options
Next, park at Loch Fleet Viewpoint in Skelbo and set up camp for the night. When the tide is low you will have the best seats to watch the seals basking on the sandbanks a mere 30 meters away. It is a sight like no other. This area can get quite busy, so the earlier you arrive, the better.
Skelbo also has the ruins of a castle for you to explore a 5-minute walk from the loch. The short climb up to the ruins is more than worth it for the breathtaking views over the loch.
- Loch Ness
- Glenmorangie Distillery
Staying near the loch is a brilliant way to spend the night but if you are seeking something more luxurious, try the Strathview Lodge.
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 – Loch Fleet to Wick
Daily mileage: 60 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 27 mins
Begin the day with a 9-mile drive to Dunrobin castle. This castle resembles a romantic French chateau. This beautiful castle is one of the oldest in Britain, and it certainly would not look out of place in a Disney movie! The perfectly groomed gardens only add to the beauty of the castle. This was our favorite stop on the east coast of the NC500. If you don’t add this castle to your 10 day NC500 itinerary you’re not doing it right!
Admission costs £11.50. You can stroll through the castle, the gardens, and the lesser-known museum packed with taxidermy. There are also 2 falconry shows every day included in the price of admission.
There is a small cafe at the castle which sells a little bit of everything. Make the most of your time at the castle by eating there, or bring a packed lunch.
The next stop on this 10 day NC500 itinerary is the Whaligoe Steps. 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. There are 365 stairs (1 for every day of the year apparently) that zig-zag down the face of the cliff leading to a flat area known as the bink. Care should be taken if you venture down the steps as they are steep and can be slippery when wet.
Wick is one of the main towns on the NC500 route and the perfect dinner stop. This small town in Caithness has many dining options which may tickle your fancy. Here you can dine out on the world’s shortest street at No1 Bistro.
- Clynelish Distillery
If you want to stay somewhere with bags of Highland charm check out Thrumster House Bed & Breakfast. Wick also has some budget-friendly places to stay such as Harbour Bridge Guest House.
Re-fuel and re-stock your shelves in Wick.
Day 3 – Wick to Thurso
Daily mileage: 62 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 40 mins
Spend your morning in Wick, perhaps try whisky tasting at the Old Pulteney distillery, or explore the coastline by speedboat!
Once you have seen the best of Wick, head north to Duncansby Head and sea stacks. This destination is a real treat for lighthouse lovers and people who like charming Scottish scenery! As well as boasting an adorable lighthouse, Duncansby Head is a great location for birdwatching, many seabirds call Dunnet Head their home. From the Duncansby Head Lighthouse, you can take a short walk along the coastline and you will be face to face with the Duncansby Stacks. These imposing sea stacks are quite the spectacle jutting 200ft out of the water below. Next, head to John O’ Groats, John O’ Groats itself isn’t the most exciting place. It is however important to visit to take an obligatory picture with the signpost.
John O’ Groats is not known for its fine dining however there are plenty of snack bars to grab a light bite at.
In the afternoon head to Dunnet Bay. The beach is impeccable with soft sand and surprisingly warm water considering where it is located.
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, consider participating in a surfing lesson. North Coast Watersports offers surfing lessons branded ‘the most northerly surf lessons in Scotland’.
Thurso is one of the larger towns on the NC500 route with a plethora of dining options. Including Ynot for some local food, or a number of alternatives including Bydand, KW Kitchen, or Pride of Bengal.
As the evening draws closer head to East Strathy. There is a beautiful beach there which is very quiet. It almost feels undiscovered. To top it off there is a free area to park for the night with toilet facilities here.
- Dunnet Head
You can really stay anywhere on the North Coast this evening as the next stop is Durness. A great luxury hotel on this coast is Fross House Hotel just outside Thurso. A budget-friendly option is The Weigh Inn Hotel or Manor House in Thurso.
Send a postcard from John o’ Groats as it will have the signature John o’ Groats postmark.
Day 4 – Thurso to Kyle of Durness
Daily mileage: 56 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 51 mins
Driving along the north coast of Scotland, 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. Nowhere else on this 10 day NC500 itinerary will you find such a high adrenaline activity!
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 tour followed by a walking tour of the smaller chambers of the cave. It’s not to be missed!
A 5-minute drive from Smoo Cave you’ll arrive at Balnakeil Craft Village. This small community of local artists and business has a unique and quirky feel. There are a couple of places to grab some food here. Try the food in ‘Meet and Eat’ then pick up some indulgent chocolate from Cocoa Mountain.
Next stop, Balnakeil Beach. This beach is only 2 minutes away from the craft village. Here you will see crystal clear water lap onto fine, white sand. Best yet, if you are lucky there may even be some cows grazing on the beach!
Truly embrace the scenery by eating alfresco with a BBQ on Balnakeil Beach.
As the evening begins to set, make your way to the Kyle of Durness viewpoint. This fantastic viewpoint looks out across the tidal inlet from the sea. You can see for miles over the sandy banks and blue water.
Although Durness has a lot to do and see, it certainly doesn’t have much in the way of accommodation. There are several guesthouses that provide cozy and comfortable accommodation including; Bea Seren B&B and the Smoo Cave Hotel.
When on Balnakeil Beach make sure you have your camera on you at all times as you don’t know when some cows will wander by.
Day 5 – Kyle of Durness to Knockan Crag Nature Reserve
Daily mileage: 84 miles
Time spent driving: 2hrs 44 mins
The first stop is the Kylesku Bridge. This award-winning curved bridge crosses Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin on the West coast of the NC500 route. The iconic bridge really is spectacular, if it’s not on your 10 day NC500 itinerary you’re doing something wrong! 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!
Apart from the bridge, there is not a huge amount to do in the Kylesku area. If you fancy treating yourself, we recommend the beautiful Kylesku Hotel. Here you can enjoy great food with even better views out over the water.
After you’ve been fed it’s time to tackle the ‘Drumbeg Loop‘. This is essentially a drive along the B869 (North West section of the NC500) with a few stop-offs along the way. This is a windy single-track road that is fairly slow-moving. There are steep ascents and descents so make sure you and your vehicle are mentally and physically prepared!
The first stop is the Drumbeg viewpoint. This is 30 minutes into your drive and is a fantastic place to soak in the dramatic Scottish scenery and relax.
Next on the agenda is the Clashnessie Falls. A 10 minute, slightly boggy walk from the small village of Clashnessie you will find the impressive falls. The 15 meter high powerful falls are incredible to look at. If there hasn’t been too much rainfall you can walk up really close to the base of the falls where there are stepping stones crossing the stream below.
The last stop on this loop is perhaps the most photographed beach on the NC500 – Achmelvich Bay. You will be shocked that it’s actually in Scotland and not some exotic island. The white sands and inviting turquoise waters wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean. Relax and unwind here. If the sun is shining, take a dip in the waters, but do be prepared that the water is not as warm as it looks.
There are a few dining options near Achmelvich beach. Peet’s is a fine dining restaurant with an excellent selection of fresh fish. Lochinver Larder is a little more relaxed with fantastic pies which will warm your insides.
After dinner head to Knockan Crag Nature Reserve for the evening.
- Clachtoll Beach
Knockan Crag is absolutely beautiful. Its only downside is the lack of hotels. There are a few options at different price points 10 miles away in Ullapool.
Take the Drumbeg loop slowly. The single track road can be a little tedious. Keep your eyes peeled for passing places. Don’t forget to take in the beautiful Scottish scenery on your drive!
Day 6 – Knockan Crag Nature Reserve to Ullapool
Daily milage: 12 miles
Time spent driving: 19 mins
Although this day has the least amount of driving, it is definitely not a dull day on this 10 day itinerary of the NC500 as there is so much to do and see. Spend the morning enjoying Knockan Crag. It 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 with a lot of information on the geological significance of the area.
If you pack a picnic you can enjoy it at the peak of the ‘Crag Top Trail’. This trail takes you along the top of Knockan Crag for superb views of the Assynt mountains.
The Next stop on the route is Ullapool. Ullapool is a quaint harbour village which is the main port for trips to the Outer Hebrides. This village has a fantastic atmosphere. There is a museum and a great selection of quirky little shops to stroll through.
Ullapool has a fantastic selection of restaurants. If you enjoy seafood, this is the place for you! The Seafood Shack in Ullapool is renowned for its delicious fresh fish. The takeaway style shack gives you the highest quality seafood without the price and fuss of a high end restaurant. Other restaurants in Ullapool include: The Arch Inn & The Ceilidh Place
There are a few good hotel options in Ullapool including Riverside Hotel, Bungalow 500 and Harbour House B&B.
Stock up on supplies at the decent-sized Tesco in Ullapool. If you are wild camping there is a free public shower in the centre of Ullapool. If you are planning on going on a boat ride, book it as the day prior.
Day 7 – Ullapool to Gairloch
Daily mileage: 67 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 46 mins
Begin your day in Ullapool. This town has many boat trips around the loch (fast and slow). If you are a bit of a thrill seeker consider going on a speed boat to pack it all in quickly. We spotted porpoises, seals, and many sea birds 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!
Grab a bite in one of the local cafes/pubs. There are several along the waterfront with an excellent outlook such as ‘Tea By The Sea‘ for a light bite, or ‘The Frigate‘ for something a bit more substantial.
Next head to Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. This is the home to the most impressive waterfall on the NC500, it is a must-see on this 10 day itinerary! 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.
Once you’ve seen the waterfall, you’ve really seen it all. Time to get back on the road again and head to Mellon Udrigle Beach. This beach is a little bit of a detour from the traditional NC500 loop but it is worth it! Mellon Udrigle Beach is absolutely picture perfect! The water is clean, crystal clear, and incredibly inviting (if you can brave the cold).
Mellon Udrigle Beach is another great spot for a BBQ (Weather permitting). Sit back and take in the views of an almost exotic-looking beach.
After you’ve eaten head in the direction of Gairloch for your evening.
The Old Inn Gairloch is a quaint, charming hotel that really epitomises the small village feel! If you want to make your trip extra fancy, a stay in the luxury hotel, Shieldaig Lodge, will not disappoint!
Day 8 – Gairloch to Torridon
Daily mileage: 51 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 27 mins
The first stop on today’s itinerary is the Inverewe Gardens. These 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. This is the perfect destination to capture a colorful photo to brighten up your Instagram Feed!
After the gardens head to the small town of Poolewe. This sweet village isn’t the most exciting however it does have a good number of cafes to grab some lunch at.
Next stop, Torridon. Torridon is an absolutely stunning part of the Scottish Highlands with lots to see and do.
Torridon is in fact one of the best places to spot deer roaming in the wild. A hot spot for the deer is surprisingly Beinn Eighe car park. If you are not lucky enough to spot one head to the Torridon Deer Park. Here some deer are kept on a farm. If you want to get even closer, you can buy deer food at the countryside centre to feed them.
Also, if the weather is calm Torridon is a great place for sea kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, you can hire equipment here.
Torridon has many dining options for you to choose from. The Gille Brighde restaurant is very highly recommended for all of its local delicacies.
There are a few good parking options in the Torridon area. This one has great views of Upper Loch Torridon.
If luxury is what you are looking for then a stay at The Torridon will be right up your street. This place really has the wow factor! It is definitely the most extravagant hotel on the itinerary for the 10 day NC500 road trip. There are some more budget-friendly options including Torridon Hostel which is very reasonably priced!
Day 9 – Torridon to Lochcarron
Daily mileage: 47 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 46 mins
Begin day number 9 on this 10 day itinerary by spending the morning in Torridon, this is a beautiful part of the NC500. If you are a keen walker, you’ll be happy to know there are 6 Munros for you to bag in the Torridon area. If walking is not your thing, try something a little wilder, we recommend gorge scrambling. This is a half-day expedition through the Beinn Damh gorge where you scramble over, jump off, and swim past rocks and waterfalls.
For a light bite try a cafe in Torridon. There are many which are really good. Try the Wee Whistle Stop Cafe, you can eat your lunch at the outdoor seating area with a cracking view of the rolling hills.
Head to Applecross. This is a pretty little coastal village. You can walk along the shoreline and take in the scenery. On a clear day, you will be able to see all the way across the ‘inner sound’ to the Crawlin islands and even the Isle of Skye. There are a few shops in the area for you to explore too.
There are not a huge number of things to do in Applecross except eat. If you like good-quality pub food, we recommend booking a table at the award-winning Applecross Inn. They only take online bookings so booking in advance is recommended!
After you’ve eaten it’s time to hit the road again for the most exciting road on the NC500, the Bealach Na Bà! 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 Bà 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! As the sun begins to set, the views from the top are unbelievable You can see for miles across the valleys.
- Attadale Gardens
- Walks around Attadale
There are a number of good parking options in the Lochcarron area such as this one. We managed to find most of our parking spots on the app ‘Park4night’.
As to be expected when touring the north coast of Scotland some areas have a lot fewer hotel options than others. There are not too many hotels in the Lochcarron area however the Rockvilla Guest House provides comfortable rooms with a stunning loch view.
Take the Bealach na Bà slowly. It’s a single-track road with traffic in both directions. Take it easy and enjoy it!
Day 10 – Lochcarron to Inverness
Daily mileage: 74 miles
Time spent driving: 1hr 37 mins
Unfortunately, this is the last day on the 10 day NC500 itinerary. Today is a day of waterfalls, the first one being the Rogie Falls. This is a beautiful series of cascading waterfalls. The best thing about these falls is the shaky suspension bridge that spans the river. If you’re lucky you might even see some salmon jumping up the waterfall.
Take a picnic with you around the falls so you can eat your lunch with a fantastic view!
The next waterfalls on the agenda are in the small town of Garve, they are known as the Black Waterfalls. 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.
Unfortunately, the NC500 is coming to an end at this point as you drive back to Inverness to complete the route.
The best thing about finishing the NC500 in Inverness is the great selection of restaurants.
Although we would recommend spending as much time as possible on the NC500, 10 days gives you enough time to cram in all the best bits. The 10 day NC500 itinerary above tries to encompass as much of Scotland’s charm, heritage, and geography as possible. This trip really makes you fall in love with the Scottish Highlands!
Whether you’re looking to do the NC500 route quickly or at a leisurely pace we have an itinerary for you.
Check out our 5 day and 14 day itineraries.
For more NC500 content click here!
Check out our downloadable PDF below
if you Liked This Post, pin it – pretty Please xOXO
Excellent work there.
Is there a google map link for Day 7 – Ullapool to Gairloch as it’s not linking on the website?
Hello, Apologies about the link not working.
Below is the link for the Day 7 journey
hope this helps 🙂
Very helpful – hoping to do this over the summer 2023, so planning in progress
Great! I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as we did! 🙂
I am very impressed with your 10 day North 500 itinerary. Five of us, (3 x younger members of the family in a motor home and 2 x oldies! in an SUV) are planning to do this in September 2023, with the motor home using motor home camping sites overnight and ourselves in up-market B&B or hotels.
If you have a printed itinerary may I ask you to let me know the cost and how we could purchase one?
Thank you for your kind words. We hope your 2023 NC500 trip will be everything you imagine!
We have a printable PDF version of the 10-day itinerary at the bottom of the blog post.
Hopefully, the link below will work for you.
Thank you so much for your assistance. Planning will start immediately.
Thank you again and Best Wishes
Would the 10 day be recommended using motor bikes won’t want camping or expensive hotels but be and breakfast will better
This route would also work great for motorbikes 👍
Some areas have a better selection of BnBs than others, so you may wish to alter the route ever so slightly to avoid paying a premium for a fancy hotel.
We are planning to do this trip in August 2022 in a camper van .
We are two older ladies and would appreciate a printed version of this 10day north coast 500 trip, if you could kindly email to me
We do not have a printable option available yet, however, we will work on getting one made up and sent to you by the end of the month.
Hope this helps 🙂
I love this itinerary and I’m wondering if it would be possible to print it off or to buy a printed copy of it. We are getting on a bit, and have lost our way with all things technical, so a paper copy would be really brilliant. We are planning this trip for June 2022 and think this itinerary is perfect for us.
I look forward to your reply.