Top reasons to visit the NC500 in winter!
Have you travelled the North Coast 500 before?
From the remote, striking, snow-capped mountains, to the warmth of a roaring fire in a cosy Highland lodge… the North Coast 500 has it all!
Whether your upcoming trip will be your first visit to the North Highlands, or whether you’ve already completed the NC500 and are planning to return, you’ll probably be familiar with all the top reasons to drive the North Coast 500 in summer. However, don’t rule out a winter trip! In this article, we’ve pulled together a list of top reasons why the North Coast 500 should be added to your winter bucket list (with a little help from our social media followers).
Please note that some businesses and attractions do close over the winter period, so make sure to check opening times beforehand. For more details, see our winter itinerary (coming soon).
1. Discover our beautiful winter landscapes
Discover the beautiful winter landscapes along the North Coast 500 – from striking snowy peaks to crisp angelic lochs, the promise of breath-taking scenery will surely draw you in.
2. A photographer’s dream
Every region on the North Coast 500 is unique, so spend some time capturing the different characteristics of each of the six regions along the route as you travel. If wildlife photography interests you more than landscapes, Tollie Red Kites near Dingwall allows you to observe the gracious Red Kites diving and swooping down to feed (feeding at 1.30pm). This is the busiest time of year for red kites, often joined by ravens and buzzards, their viewing screen allows for photography, safe in the knowledge that they will not be disturbed.
RSPB Forsinard Flows offers wildlife by day, stars and constellations by night! Their boardwalk trail near the Flows lookout tower abounds in bird, plant and insect life. Its remote location means there is practically no artificial light pollution, making it the perfect spot for stargazers!
3. Winter wildlife – North Coast 500’s big five!
Keep an eye out for deer, red squirrels, seals, golden eagles and otters – otherwise known as the North Coast 500’s big five.
You might also be lucky enough to see the attractive white-mountain hares and ptarmigans. Pine martins and red squirrels can be much easier to see through the winter foliage.
Want that perfect photo of a deer? There will be plenty of opportunities to see deer throughout your journey, however, why not live among the deer at Ben Damph Estate where you can see them up close – you may also catch a glimpse of pine martins and otters. Ben Damph Estate offers photography and stalking trips, for a more immersive experience. While staying at Thrumster House, explore the estate and discover the peregrines nesting on the cliffs along with ravens and other coastal birds.
Please note. The spring and the summer months tend to offer the best chance to see many whale species and nesting bird life, so if those are your main focus of your North Coast 500 trip, then perhaps consider visiting once the winter frost has lifted.
4. Dark skies
The dark skies of the North Coast 500 is the perfect destination for stargazers. Nothing beats standing underneath the night sky scattered in stars, wrapped up warm with a flask of tea or hot chocolate. Towards the latter end of December, the daylight reduces from 3:30pm-4pm onwards, and the skies really come into their own.
Take in the wonders of the universe and stargaze in one of the world’s rarest habitats at Forsinard Flows nature reserve. It is also no surprise that the north Highlands offer some of the most breathtaking sightings of the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.
This ever-changing natural wonder can often be seen during the autumn and winter months along the North Coast 500. Often, seeing the Northern Lights is all down to luck – it’s about being in the right place at the right time. However, you can monitor the Aurora App to check when your best chance of viewing the Aurora Borealis will be. Find out the ‘top tips for taking photos of the Northern Lights‘ from the talented and local photographer Graham Bradshaw.
5. The Whisky Heritage Discovery Tour
Whether you are a total beginner, a novice who already enjoys the taste of whisky, or if you’re already a whisky connoisseur – our whisky itinerary will keep you on track. The distilleries along the North Coast 500 have tours and tastings to suit all interests and budgets. Please remember Scotland’s drink and drive limit – either choose accommodation in walking distance or take your whisky sample back to your accommodation to enjoy when you return. Alternatively, visit Inverness’ first whisky bar – The Malt Room and sample any whiskies you missed out on along the route.
6. Fine Highland cuisine
Embark on a culinary adventure along the North Coast 500. Food and drink is at the very heart of Scottish culture; if you are not from Scotland and have a love of food, you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll find a huge range of traditional Scottish dishes to try along the North Coast 500 route.
Sample some of Scotland’s deliciously warm delicacies – from stovies, Scotch broth, cock-a-leekie soup and haggis, neeps and tatties, to sweet desserts including cranachan and clootie dumping, our winters are reflected in our cuisine, so don’t miss these culinary delights along the way….you can even try Mac and Wild’s Deep Fried Mars Bar Sundae! Yes, you heard us right!
Photos: Mac and Wild Restaurant, Falls of Shin
7. A cosy winter retreat
Why not explore the North Coast 500 from a base and take day trips? This will give you the flexibility to alter your plans at short notice in case of bad weather. If a day indoors beckons, there’s no better way to relax and unwind than next to a roaring fire with a dram of whisky in hand!
You’ll find an array of self-catering accommodation, cosy log cabins, B&Bs, hotels, Highland lodges and even castles to stay in along the North Coast 500 route, have a look at the Interactive Map for lots of great places to stay. Become a NC500 member and check out the discounts you will receive around the route.
8. Winter walks
Lace up your boots, take a walk and breathe in the fresh winter air in the North Highlands. There are so many wonderful routes to explore or beaches to stroll. See our top 12 favourite beaches here.
9. Quieter roads
While the summer is undoubtedly the busiest season along the North Coast 500, the winter season isn’t quite as popular….yet! You may find you have the roads virtually to yourself in some places – enjoy the quieter journeys during the winter months.
10. Get active
You’ll find a range of winter activities to suit all ages and abilities along the North Coast 500. Take part in rock climbing or mountain guiding tuition with Hamlet Mountaineering or Liquid Footprints, or bag a Torridon Munro with Torridon Outdoors. Depending on snowfall, why not build a snow palace, or brush up on your winter walking skills with a course run by Liquid Footprints. If you’re not a confident walker, we’d always recommend hiring a guide. If water-based activities appeal to your sense of adventure, you’ll find plenty of seasonal options with Kayak Summer Isles.
Likewise, golfers are well catered for along the North Coast 500, whatever the weather – check out our golfing guide.
11. History, heritage and archaeology
Although some attractions, such as museums and castles, tend to close from October until late March, there is still plenty to see and visit. From ruins and brochs to cairns and castle gardens, you’ll find so many places to explore. Make sure to stop in at Timespan in Helmsdale, for a fascinating insight into the early history of the North Highlands.
12. A winter wedding
There’s little doubt that the North Highlands are home to some of the most romantic scenery in the world. The North Coast 500 is a favourite spot for proposals, but if you’re planning your nuptials, why not consider a winter wedding along the NC500?
Photos: Achnagairn Estate