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What To Do On The North Coast of Scotland | NC500

The North Coast 500 (NC500) is so much more than just a road trip. It is 516 miles of picture-perfect villages, natural wildlife, and awe-inspiring landscapes. There are also plenty of fun activities you can do all the way around the route. This guide takes you through everything there is to do and see on the NORTH COAST of the NC500.


The North Coast of Scotland is the best for action and adventure as it has so much to offer. When discussing the NC500, most people rave on about how great the West coast is, but honestly, we think the north coast is severely underrated!


Creating an itinerary for the NC500 is strongly advised so you don’t miss any of the best sights! To help with planning your trip, we have split up the NC500 into manageable chunks: North, East, South and West, and showcased the highlights from each!


The attractions have been listed in geographical order (if you are doing the NC500 anti-clockwise).


John O’ Groats

Two girls holding onto John O' Groats sign and smiling with arms up.

When doing the NC500, it is imperative that you stop at John O’ Groats and take the obligatory picture with the sign. This is perhaps the most boring destination 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.

Duncasby Head & Stacks

Sea stacks jutting out of north sea with ferry nearby
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, Duncasby Head is a great location for birdwatching. Many seabirds call Dunnet Head their home, including Puffins, Fulmars, Razorbills, and many others. From the Duncasby 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.


If you want to see the sea stacks up close you can hop on the John O’ Groats wildlife ferry. The boat will take you right alongside the stacks for the best possible view. You may also see some seals, dolphins, and even whales if you are lucky!

Dunnet Bay – Surfing Beach Thurso

golden sandy beach on north coast of scotland NC500


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 largest and most consistant waves, however, if you are lucky, you may be able to catch a wave in summer too! The beach is impeccable with soft sand and the water is surprisingly warm considering where it is located. However, I wouldn’t want to go surfing without a wetsuit! The beach goes on for miles, making it easy to find a quiet spot to set up for a day on the beach.


If you want an adrenaline rush, consider participating in a surfing lesson. North Coast Watersports offers surfing lessons branded ‘the most northerly surf lessons in Scotland’.


Find out where to park up for free for the evening between Thuso and Durness below.



Golden Eagle Zip Line

girl smiling on zipline over beach


From the North Coast 500 road, 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. We definitely recommend it!

Smoo Cave

cave with water at base of it. Smoo Cave is a destination on the north coast 500 NC500


Just beofre entering Durness from the east you will approach Smoo Cave. In fact, the NC500 route actually drives right on top of it. 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.


We recommend getting the guided tour. It 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).



Note: I hope you are a fan of corny jokes, as there is a lot on that tour!!

Balnakeil Craft Village

craft shop with lots of plants outside and a sign which says 'wee gallery'


There is a small community which run 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.


We found it quite a strange area. Some of the shops looked a little worse for wear and there wasn’t the bustling community atmosphere that we expected. We would recommend visiting but don’t expect to come home with lots of artwork.

Balnakeil Beach

white sandy beach


Balnakeil Beach is perhaps one of the more touristy destinations on the North Coast of the NC500. The beach is absolutely stunning and is unsurprising why it’s a tourist favourite. 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).


Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our camera gear, and by the time we went back to the van and got all of our stuff, they had gone. The moral of the story is, always be prepared!


Find out where to park up for free for the evening near Durness below.




The North Coast of this epic road trip is arguable the best. It couple, stunning dramatic scenery with action and adventure. We found that there was more to “do” than see, solidifying itself as our favourite part of the NC500!


Driving (or cycling) the NC500 will truly make you fall in love with the Scottish Highlands. Every day of our trip was filled with excitement and wonder.


More content about the NC500 coming soon!


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With so much to do and see on the NC500, meticulously planning your itinerary is key. This post geographically lists the top things to do and see on the North Coast leg of the NC500. From ziplining to swimming in the sea, this adrenaline-packed coastline is perfectly balanced with stunning scenery. There is something for everyone. North Coast 500 | NC500 | NC500 must-see | NC500 Scotland | Road Trip | Scottish Road Trip | NC500 Scotland map



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