Highway to the Highlands – Exploring Scotland’s North Coast 500

Don’t fly half way across the world to experience one of the best road trips ever! The famous Route 66 in America is an unforgettable experience, but so is the relatively new North Coast 500 (NC500) at the top of Scotland.

Launched in 2005 by the North Highland Initiative the route attracted over 29,000 visitors in its first year. The drive includes 500 miles of the UK’s most stunning scenery in the North Highlands, starting and ending in Inverness.

route 500
One of the many NC500 signposts on the route

Some boast they can get round in three days, but why would you?

With an area of over 5,200 square miles to explore it’s far more satisfying to take your time and enjoy the scenery: mountains, glens, beaches, cliffs, ancient castles and much more!

Official starting point – Inverness

When’s the best time to do the NC500? May and June are normally the driest; July to September is the sunniest period, but late September until early June is usually midge free!

The best advice is go when it suits you and be prepared for anything. As they say it’s only bad weather if you’re not dressed correctly!

Being so far north, daylight hours vary from 6.5 hours in mid winter to 18.5 hours in summer and there are loads of opportunities to catch sunrises and sunsets.

You may see the Northern Lights between April and August, although any time of year you can witness magnificent dark skies with very little light pollution to spoil the spectacle.

Highland cattle enjoying a golden sunset

If you have the luxury of two weeks then the route can be perfectly split up into 13 short sections. For those who can really take their time there are optional side trips such as Inverness East the Loch Ness Loop, and the magical islands of Skye, Orkney, Lewis and Harris.

Everyone is in for a real treat all the way with landscapes to relish, whisky distilleries to enjoy, history to be devoured, local characters to meet plus plenty of wonderful wildlife!

Glenmorangie Distillery
Make time to call in at The Glenmorangie Distillery

This grand tour of the North Highlands covers a region of contrasts shaped by the climate and natural geology over millions of years.

Easter Ross and the Black Isle offer fertile farmland; Caithness to the north is surprisingly gentle with sandy bays and rocky cliffs. Sutherland and the north and west coasts are a much more rugged affair with an amazing background of high mountains and glens.

North Highlands
North Highlands

It’s impossible to pick out highlights but here are a few things not to miss:

  • Applecross is on a gorgeous remote peninsula in Wester Ross and on route visit Rogie Falls, best viewed from a dramatic suspension bridge and at its best in wet weather!
  • The village of Shieldaig on Loch Torridon is one of the most picturesque in the Highlands and Inverewe is a magnificent highland garden surrounded by mountains, moorland and sea loch.
  • Achmelvich Beach is a stunning bay with fabulous coastal walks and to the north is the thriving community of Durness surrounded by the dramatic countryside of Sutherland.
  • On the north coast you’ll cross the spectacular Kyle of Tongue via a sweeping causeway and further on is Thurso, a hive of activity and the most northerly town on the British mainland.
Kyle of Durness
Highlights on the route – Kyle of Durness in summer
  • John O’ Groats, the most northerly point, is the beginning of many epic bike rides and hikes to Land’s End and also the gateway to the Orkney Islandsan area brimming with wildlife and sea birds.
  • The Castle of Mey was once the Queen Mother’s home in Caithness, but for a real fairy-tale experience Dunrobin Castle, resembling a French Chateau on the east coast, is a must .
Dunrobin Castle
The fairy tale like Dunrobin Castle

The whole of Route 500 showcases the very best of Scotland. It’s mostly untamed with loads of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors and plenty of stop offs to take in the amazing panoramic views.

We have plenty of cottages in the Northern Highlands, too, so check out our website and start planning your break. And if you have done the NC500 let us know your tips and recommendations!

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