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Reasons to travel the NC500

The North Coast 500 (NC500) has been voted one of the world’s top coastal touring route. Bringing together more than 500 miles (516 miles, to be exact!) of stunning coastal scenery, the North Coast 500 naturally follows the rugged coastal edges of the North Highlands – one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. The North Coast 500 is so much more than just a driving route; it’s all about the journey and the experiences you’ll enjoy along the way.

The NC500 is so much bigger than the route itself – it is simply a guideline that enables you to explore hundreds more miles off the main route, by visiting, staying and setting up base in the villages, towns and hamlets scattered off the beaten path. The NC500 is an experience in itself, with so many adventures and new opportunities to be had within. Immerse yourself in the Scottish wilderness and be in awe of the nature that surrounds you – you’ll find mountains, moorlands, hidden hill lochs, Highland glens and deserted Caribbean style beaches right on your doorstep. Take detours down roads or tracks, take part in expeditions and retreats, and experience the Highland way of life and Scotland’s rich culture through amazing food, music and craftsmanship. The North Coast 500 offers a truly unique touring experience, quite unlike anywhere else in the world. The main thing to remember is to take your time – you’re on holiday, after all!

For more inspiration and to get the most of your North Coast 500 adventure, become a member of the NC500 for access to exclusive benefits and offers. Our memberships start at £15 per year, bringing an array of benefits including a member only route discount scheme, access to all our itineraries, a guide book, a discount on all NC500 merchandise available on our online shop, an official NC500 map, a free item from our online shop, and more. We even have a group membership – so grab your friends and head off on an adventure!

1. Discover our stunning Highland scenery

It goes without saying that our stunning scenery is what the North Coast 500 is best known for, but each region’s landscapes offer a variety of experiences to visitors. The NC500 encompasses six regions, all unique and different to each other – which is why we recommend setting up base in a few locations and spending two or three nights in each area. By adopting this approach to your travel plans, you’ll really be able to get off the beaten path and immerse yourself in the mesmerising beauty of the North Highlands.

While you’ll pass through all six regions – Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-shire – each one is unique, offering plenty of sights to see and activities to experience.


Photos: Avoch: The Black Isle by J.Fair Photography, Badcall Bay: Sutherland by @Seanscourie, Duncansby Stacks: Caithness by Wander In Two, Tarbat Ness: Easter Ross by Edward Fitzpatrick

2. Everybody can do it!

Yes, you too! As the North Coast 500 is a self-drive route, it’s perfect for families, groups of friends, couples and solo travellers, all year round. In the warmer months you can explore the NC500 on two wheels, via motorbike or by cycling. For those who don’t drive or do not wish to drive, you can be driven around by one of the bespoke tour businesses that NC500 works with. Find out more via our online interactive map and search for ‘Tours’!

If you’re travelling as a family or group, why not hire a standard size campervan and stay in some of the most scenic campsites? The NC500 is the perfect family destination, with plenty of activities to suit visitors of all ages and abilities. Create family memories that will be cherished for years to come!


Photos: Hamlet Mountaineering, Ticket to Ride, Moto Experience, Rabbies

3. Escapism

Wellness tourism is on the rise, and the North Coast 500 has all the ingredients. Adventures don’t need to be fast-paced; as the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race! Slow adventure is a concept which, too, is gaining popularity, and for very good reasons. As more travellers look to switch off from the pressures of work and routines, the NC500 is perfect for those looking for solitude. The North Highlands is a place of utter tranquillity and beauty; a refuge from the daily grind.

Slow down and enjoy the route; explore on foot, or get to know the land on a deeper level with activities such as mountain biking or canoeing. If you’re really looking to escape, why not take part in a five-day expedition to Suilven, one of the North Highlands’ highest peaks?

For something a little less strenuous, take part in a workshop with local writers, artists or musicians, or book a yoga retreat. There really is something for everyone!
While you may choose to switch your phone off and really immerse yourself in nature, the NC500 is also  the perfect trip for those looking to document their journey on social media – just remember to tag us!


Photo: Alladale Wilderness Reserve by Steph Wall Yoga, Caithness from Morven by @Saoghal_fasach, Deer feeding Tours, Kayak Summer Isles

4. Create your own memories

While I’ve already mentioned how well the NC500 lends itself to getting off the beaten path and exploring, everyone will be taking different detours as they travel the route. There’s just so much to explore, and so many experiences to have. I live here, and I’m always exploring new places! The great thing is, once you’ve had a taste of what the North Highlands have to offer, you’ll want to keep coming back.

From the Pictish Trail, to the seaboard villages of the east coast and the North West Highlands Geopark, there’s something to suit all travellers. The NC500 is supposed to be taken at a relaxed pace, so slow down, get off the beaten path and create some memories with your friends and family in the North Highlands. Let yourself enjoy the places you discover along the way, by including some flexibility in your day for a detour or two. Who knows what you may find by going for a short walk; maybe a secret tea garden!


Photos: Sandwood Bay by @Saoghal_fasach, Stac Pollaidh and Suilven  by Hamlet Mountaineering, Cromarty, the Black Isle by Andrew Dowsett Photography

5. The ultimate foodie trip

Don’t let that old cliché fool you – it’s not all deep-fried Mars bars and Irn Bru in Scotland! Our awe-inspiring landscapes are more than just scenery; with rolling hillsides, lush fertile farmland, sparkling coastlines, glistening lochs and rugged moorland, it’s no wonder that we produce some of the most sought after, natural produce. With a wild, local larder right on our doorstep, and varied weather conditions, it’s the perfect recipe for producing high-quality products.

Food and drink are at the heart of Scotland and our culture, and the North Highlands are a culinary heaven. Enjoy fine dining, Highland eateries, smokeries, award-winning seafood, chocolatiers, food and drink festivals and farmers markets – there are just so many possibilities.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could forage for your own meal at Alladale Wildnerness Reserve, join Gairloch Canoe and Kayak Centre for a Seashore foraging walk or alternatively, you can even haul in your meal by joining the local creel fisherman with Shieldaig Lodge. Your catch of the day will be served up as a shellfish feast later that evening. If you’re a fan of whisky, try out Glenmorangie House’s cheese and whisky pairing – it’s a match made in heaven.

Our food and drink itinerary highlights all the must-see visits for the ultimate foodie. You can even stop off at the famous George Cockburn and Son Butchers, ‘Scotland’s First Champion Haggis Maker’ (yes, really!)


Photos: Kylesku Hotel (1&2), Table Manors Restaurant at Achnagairn Estate, Cocoa Mountain

6. The finest breweries & distilleries!

Whether you’re a whisky amateur or a whisky aficionado, uncover the secrets behind the world’s finest whiskies along the North Coast 500. No two distilleries are the same – tour the NC500 Whisky Heritage Discovery Tour and find out how these unique locations and stories have produced their distinct tastes of each single malt whisky.The North Highlands is home to some of the world’s most famous distilleries. The east coast boasts the highest number of distilleries, including Glen Ord, Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish and Old Pulteney in the north east.

Any Game of Thrones fans out there? Winter is here! You can purchase a bottle of White Walker by Johnnie Walker, which is available directly from Clynelish Distillery Visitor Centre in Brora.

It’s not all about whisky, however: you’ll also be able to sample some of the UK’s best gin distilleries, from Badachro on the west coast to Britain’s northern-most gin at Dunnet Bay Distillery, home of the flavourful and fruity Rock Rose gin. If you’re a beer drinker, visit the famous organic Black Isle Brewery and collect your very own NC500 beer.

(Please note: Scotland has a lower drink-drive limit than the rest of the UK, so make sure you have one member of your group as a designated driver at all times)


Photos: Glen Ord Distillery, Glenmorangie Distillery, Clynelish Distillery, Dunnet Bay Distillery (Rock Rose Gin)

7. Wildlife

Throughout the year there are many opportunities for wildlife viewing throughout the North Highlands. Dolphins? Check! Puffins? Check! Seals? Check! Deer? Check! Haggis? Not that we know of…

Take a boat trip and enjoy exploring the seas of the North Highlands – enjoy the sights and sounds of the seabird colony at Dunnet Head and Handa Island, especially during the spring and summer months.

We work with a variety of businesses who offer a range of boat tours, including a trip around the coast of Handa Island and island hopping experiences. Why not explore the east Caithness coastline where you may come across tern and puffin colonies – with both boat trips, you can occasionally see dolphins and whales, among other wildlife. Plus, you can cruise through the Pentland Firth past Duncansby Head lighthouse. Visit our top boat trips article for more inspiration.

You can also live among the deer at Ben Damph Estate, or venture off route and watch the dolphins put on a show at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle – one of the best places in the UK to spot dolphins.


Photo: Seal Pup, Duncansby Head by J.Fair Photography, Deer Roaming by @wilderness_civilized, Ptarmigan, Applecross by J.Fair PhotographyCaithness Sea Coast (boat trip)

8. Outdoor experiences

There are so many experiences to be had along the North Coast 500 – from the adrenaline seeker to those who enjoy life at a slower pace.
Are you a keen surfer? Then pack your surfboard and explore the hidden beaches off the north coast, where you’ll find some of the best surfing spots in the UK. Watersports are well catered for in the North Highlands: canoe down lochs, sea kayak and explore the dramatic coastlines, snorkel the North West Highland Snorkel Trail, clamber through waterfalls and enjoy some of the UK’s best white water rafting conditions. Make sure to visit the North Coast 500’s Interactive Map for more details on various activity options – you can search by region to discover options near your accommodation.

If hiking is more your thing, try bagging a Munro! Along the NC500 you’ll find 37 Munros, 43 Corbetts (mountains of 2,500 feet, or 762 metres) and 38 Grahams (mountains of 2,000 feet, or 762 metres). If you complete all 283 Munros in Scotland, you’ll be known as a ‘Munroest’! See how many you can bag in the North Highlands – there’s no better place to begin…

If mountain biking is more your style, hire a bike with Ticket to Ride in Inverness and check out the award-winning trails at Golspie and the Black Isle. Alternatively, hire a bike with Torridon Outdoors and explore the Torridon wilderness.
Visit our see and do section to find out more, including where to hire a guide if needed.


Photos: Sea Kayak Plockton, Torridon Outdoors, Ace Adventures & Hideaways, Hamlet Mountaineering

9. Expeditions and retreats

New travel trends show that younger generations are keen to learn new skills or nurture a talent, and travel today is increasingly motivated by gathering experiences. Hobbies, skills development and unique opportunities are all growth areas.

Taking an expedition or a retreat is a great way to discover and access remote areas normally inaccessible by road. Sometimes, a day’s activity isn’t quite enough to satisfy our appetites for adventure, so take a few days out and really get to know the landscape of the North Highlands. The North Coast 500 route offers plenty of opportunities to do so; from yoga and artistic retreats, to outdoor survival and cookery – there’s something for everyone. Our Retreats & Expeditions blog is the perfect place to begin your research, but here are a few of my favourites…

ACE Adventures & Hideaway’s unique adventure yoga retreat uses yoga, meditation, nature and adventurous activities to boost well being and confidence – perfect if you’re looking to find your inner balance. Alladale Wilderness Reserve also offers photography retreats, yoga and foraging expeditions, or take a fishing trip with Roger from TroutQuest. The North Coast 500 works with a number of activity providers to offer bespoke tours and overnight expeditions such as the 4 day expedition to ascend the mighty Suilven, combining canoeing, hiking and wild camping or sea kayaking to explore the dramatic coastlines of Skye with Sea Kayak Plockton, or escape to the Islands with Kayak Summer Isles. Learn a skill with Ace Adventures, such as raft guiding, or winter mountain skills with Liquid Footprints. Alternatively, you could volunteer with RSPB at Forsinard Flows, assisting with the RSPB’s habitat restoration and monitoring programme.

10. Step back in time!

A history as exciting as the landscape itself! Behind every castle is a story – from the Queen Mother’s favourite getaway at the Castle of Mey to the award winning Dunrobin Castle near Golspie. Discover what happened to the Clans of Sinclair at Girnigoe Castle by exploring the ancient ruins near Wick, and delve into Highland history by visiting heritage centres and museums, such as Caithness Horizons and Timespan Heritage Centre in Helmsdale.

Learn about the ancient brochs of Scotland, several of which can be found across the route, or follow in the footsteps of the fisherwoman at Whaligoe Steps in Caithness, who used to climb the 365 man-made steps, delivering fish every day during the booming 1800s. There is something quite enchanting about reading the Caithness landscape; famous for archaeology and geology, Caithness may have elegant undulations rather than striking mountains, but its historic environment can be quite dazzling.


Photo: Dunrobin Castle, Castle of Mey, Camster Cairns by Willie Taylor, Caithness Horizons

11. Discover the oldest rocks in Britain

At 3,000 million years old, the rocks at the beach are older than the hills! The NC500 snakes through 100 miles of the North West Highland Geopark – the most sparsely populated corner of Europe.

You don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate and notice the impressive landscape and rock formations, some of which have left their ‘signature’ on the landscape – venture off route and unlock the mysteries for yourself. Look out for the ‘helmet’ shaped mountain, Suilven; take a hike to the Bone Caves; or visit Ardvreck Castle on the edge of Loch Assynt. Explore one of the oldest landscapes in Europe with the Geopark map, where you can choose the rock route trail or one of their pebble route trails.

Why not explore the NC500 from a different perspective with a day out with Hamlet Mountaineering or Liquid Footprints? Choose between rock climbing, mountaineering, scrambling and canoeing – you will be introduced to some of the most diverse geology as well as the chance to see wildlife and plant life.

Photo: Reiff by Hamlet Mountaineering

12. Golf

Take to the green – you can play golf all year round along the North Coast 500, depending on the weather.
The North Highlands are blessed with some of the most scenic and inspiring golf courses in the world. Did you know there is no complete darkness in the height of summer? That’s a lot of golf you can pack into one day! We have a fine mixture of golf courses that represent the best in links and parkland golf in Scotland. Check out our golfing itinerary for inspiration.

13. Dark Skies

Did you know the North Highlands are the perfect destination for stargazers and Aurora Borealis seekers? While spotting the famous Northern Lights is never a guarantee, autumn and winter offer the best chance to experience the incredible night time phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. Nothing beats scrambling to the outdoors to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights – standing underneath the dark night sky, wrapped up cosy with a hot flask, waiting eagerly for the arrival of the Northern Lights or searching for shooting stars. It’s simply magical! Find out more from Graham Bradshaw here!

Photo: Graham Bradshaw Photography: Dornoch Beach Milky Way

14. The rise of the artisan

Craftsmanship in food, arts and crafts is vital to local communities, and helps visitors to experience a sense of place. Visit studios and galleries along the route, where you can watch local artisans at work and be inspired. From photography and paintings to glass, jewellery and pottery, find out more behind the hidden doors here. Painters, in particular, are drawn to the changing lights and inspiring landscapes of the North Highlands. Some galleries and studios offer the chance to join the makers in workshops – just be sure to book your space in advance if this is of interest. You could also try pottery making with pop up pottery workshops, learn the art of weaving, or design your own jewellery.

Artisan methods of production apply to food and drink producers, too. Various smokehouses along the NC500 route use traditional smoking practices, while artisan distilleries and breweries can teach you about their distilling methods as part of a tour.


Photos: Patricia Niemann Design, North Shore Pottery, Applecross Smokehouse(Fiona Watson Photography), Badachro Distillery

15. Bring the whole family

The North Coast 500 is the perfect place to spend time with your loved ones and create shared memories. We have a fantastic range of accommodation providers and activities for all the family – check out the fun for all the family section of the NC500 website for more details.

There’s something for everyone along the route to keep both parents and children entertained. Little ones can dress up as Vikings at Dornoch Museum, or pretend to be pirates and mermaids for the day on a canoe trip. Children can discover the wildlife wonders of the NC500, from searching for dolphins and puffins, to handling the falconry at Shieldaig Lodge Hotel, to feeling like a princess or prince for the day at Dunrobin Castle, and checking out the petting zoo at Castle of Mey. Alternatively, get up close to our favourite Heilan Coos at Robertson’s the Larder or Farm Buggy Tours.


Photos: TroutQuest, Attadale Gardens, ACE Adventures & Hideaways, Shieldaig Lodge Falconry Experience

16. Accommodation

Sleep unique! The North Coast 500 works with a variety of accommodation providers, many of which can be experiences in their own right. Try a luxury Scandinavian bunkhouse, a glass fronted lodge and multi coloured apartments at Natural Retreats, a house on the ‘edge of the world’, log cabins, converted Bothies, quirky glamping pods, and cosy Highland country lodges. Lonely Planet has praised the North Coast 500 for its wide selection of accommodation, and it’s easy to see why!

B&Bs, too, are becoming increasingly quirky and different, while quaint self-catering cottages are the perfect base for exploring the NC500. Self-catering properties are perfect if you’re looking to set up a base and explore an area for more than one night. Whilst we always recommend this, don’t overlook other types of accommodation! B&Bs, hotels and campsites make excellent bases too, and with such a wide range of facilities on offer at accommodations all round the NC500, you’ll definitely want to spend more than one night! B&Bs and hotels also provide the added value of local knowledge; be sure to speak to the owners and staff for all the best tips about the local area.

Visit our Interactive Map for more inspiration on the accommodation front, including details of which accommodations are open in winter, and which are dog-friendly.


Photo: The Highland Haven, Eagle Rock, Cottages and Castles: Wallis, Scourie, Natural Retreats

17. Dog friendly

Bring your four legged friend with you – we have a variety of businesses that offer dog friendly accommodation, with more and more bars, cafes and restaurants also opening their doors to dogs. You can even take your dog with you on a canoe trip with you with Liquid Footprints!

Please note, however, that a large majority of the North Coast 500 (especially the west and north west coasts, and inland) is crofting land with a lot of sheep farming. Please keep your dog on a lead and follow the rules of the Outdoor Access Code.

Photo: Liquid Footprints, Dogs welcome!

18. Camping

The North Coast 500 has some of the most beautiful campsites in the UK – stay on the shores of the beautiful Achmelvich beach at Shore Caravan Site, try a sheltered spot amongst the sand dunes of Sands Caravan and Camping Park in Gairloch, or wake up amongst the picturesque rural and coastal scenery of Dornoch Firth Caravan Park on the east coast. Try Black Rock Caravan Park, situated in the scenic Glen Glass or stay along the banks of the Beauly river at Beauly Holiday Park. . Follow our Camping Itinerary for more inspiration.

Photo: Shore Caravan Site,Martin Phillis Photography

19. Getting the Craic – or Tossing a Caber!

We may be biased, but part of what makes the NC500 experience worthwhile is the people and the culture! The locals are very friendly and helpful, so enjoy great food and good music, and experience our way of life.

Have a dram at The Malt Room, a craft beer at The Black Isle Brewery or get the craic with locals in great haunts like The Arch Inn in Ullapool, which is superb for live Scottish music. If you are travelling during the months of May and September you’ll also be lucky enough to enjoy the famous Highland Games and local galas that occur in the towns and villages on Saturdays. With traditional displays, such as Scottish Highland dancing, and athletic events like the caber toss and tug o’war, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Join in the fun with Mey Games, venture off the beaten path to the Invercharron Highland Games or check out what else happening around the route via our events section.

Photo: Invercharron Highland Games

Also, for the first time in history, eight distilleries will come together to bring you the Highland Whisky Festival! (10th – 17th May 2019.)

20.  Unforgettable memories

What’s stopping you from taking the adventure of a lifetime? If there’s one reason to do the North Coast 500, it’s to create memories. Venture off the beaten path. Find your own hidden gems. Camp under the stars. Bottle your own Scottish malt in a whisky distillery. Explore Sandwood Bay – the most remote beach in the UK. Climb a Munro. Dance at a traditional ceilidh or listen to live Scottish Music. And of course, enjoy every single mile of it.

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