The North Coast 500 Route in Scotland
All the way in the top of the United Kingdom, a circle route of 500 miles stretches across the Scottish landscape. It’s the well-known North Coast 500 Route, one of the top coastal touring routes in the world. Drive through a landscape full of green hills, meandering roads, and legendary lakes in this road trip, exploring the land of long views and big skies! It’s a route compact with hidden histories and archeological treasures, waiting to be explored by car.
- Route name: The North Coast 500 Route in Scotland
- Suggested duration: 1 week
- Distance: 500 miles / 805 KM
- Best by: car
- Start and end point: Inverness
- Best time of the year: summer and autumn
- Highlights: 2000-year-old castles and Brochs, historical churches, traditional villages, and distilleries.
The North Coast 500 Route in Scotland
INVERNESS – CROMARTY (37 KM)
The start and end point of the North Coast 500 Route is the city of Inverness. It’s wise to start your tour with a visit to the Inverness Museum and Gallery, exhibiting the history of the Highlands, from the geological formation dating back to ancient times to the current period. After the museum, you can visit the Clava Cairns, 20 minutes east of Inverness. These mysterious Neolithic ‘cairns’ (burial places for the dead) were created about 5000 years ago and were inspiration to the famous television show Outlander. Continue your drive north, where you can choose to make a stop in the beautiful and quaint village of Beauly for a stroll, or visit the old Glen Ord Distillery in Muir of Ord from 1838, just a few miles north.
The last stop you want to take before driving towards Cromarty is ‘Clootie Well’ – a well located right besides a tree. Scottish lore claims that when someone is ill, they need to drench a piece of clothing in the well and hang it on the tree to get better. End the night in Cromarty, a small village with a number of good and heart-felt restaurants.
CROMARTY – DORNOCH (± 100 KM)
Start the morning by exploring the village of Cromarty, with its beautiful houses and surroundings. Continue your route towards Dornoch, passing through the royal burgh of Tain. You can visit the Tain through Time to learn more about the area. As you continue your drive towards the Croick Church in the village of Croick, you’ll soon learn that there are many significant historic highlights, but also tragic ones. The church located in the Sutherland landscape had a prominent role in the Highland Clearances and also holds a sad tale. The local villagers, who were evicted from their land, ended up surviving in the church, scratching their names and messages in the glass windows, which can still be seen today. The markings from the windows are a sad reminder of the past, but a true hidden gem for those who want to understand Scottish history in its entirety.
In the evening, spend the night in the 15th century old Donoch Castle, which was converted into a hotel overlooking the historic Donoch Cathedral. It doesn’t get more historical than that!
DORNOCH - HELMSDALE (45 KM)
Before starting on this activity-filled day, it’s recommended to have a short walk around the charming village of Dornoch, with it’s traditional houses and historical cathedral.
Get on the road and make your way towards the Dunrobin Castle in Golspie. This castle houses a museum and beautiful gardens great for a brief stroll. After your historical morning, head towards a highly rated fish & chips restaurant – a must in the region – called The Traveller Inn in Golspie.
After a delicious lunch, continue your drive further along the North Coast 500 Route: Carn Liath. The impressive remains of this prehistoric structure in Scotland was built around 2000 years ago.
HELMSDALE – ACKERGILL (± 100 KM)
The road from Helmsdale to Ackergill offers plenty of coastal villages with beautiful harbor scenes. The first stop of this trip is Dunbeath, where you can visit the Dunbeath Heritage Center to learn more information about the area, dating back to the history of the Vikings.
Continue your route on the NC500 to visit the miniature version of Stonehenge called Hill O’Many Stanes, which was used as a calendar and even for astronomical purposes. Further along the road you can find the city of Wick, with two beautiful castles that is worth checking out. Visit the oldest castle of Scotland, called OId Wick Castle, and one of the most beautiful coastal castles in the world, Sinclair Girnigoe. If you’re not finished with your castle exploration, spend the night in Ackergill Tower, which is situated along the coast.
ACKERGILL – TONGUE (± 200 KM)
Start your day at the Queen Mother’s favorite gateway: the Castle of Mey. You can stroll around the beautifully maintained gardens, visit the petting zoo, and have high tea for a perfectly relaxed morning.
Drive further east and you’ll end up at the Dunnet Bay Distillery, where you can taste the award-winning Rock Rose Gin and get a tour of the facility and the production of Gin. Make sure to book the tour ahead of time to avoid disappointments, and always have a designated driver.
TONGUE – LOCHINVER (± 135 KM)
Start your morning in Tongue with a climb up the hill An Garbh to visit Caisteal Varrich, built on top of an existing Norse fort. From this Viking castle, you can enjoy a beautiful view over the Kyle of Tongue. Start your route towards Lochinver with a visit to yet another Broch, called Dun Dornigail. The Iron Age castle is located just off the NC500 road, at the foot of Ben Hope, which has a surviving seven meter wall. From here, take the road southwards towards Lochinver where the scenery really takes over. The beautiful mountainous landscapes and the extended panoramas will make this drive extra special.
LOCHINVER – POOLEWE (± 150 KM)
Start the morning with visiting the 16th century ruins of Ardvreck Castle. Trek in the surroundings area, through the mountains and green sceneries. Afterwards, continue south and drive towards the Corrieshalloch Gorge passing through the stunning 60 meter high waterfalls of Measach. During your route, make sure to have your camera ready to snap the beauty of the Western part of Scotland.
POOLEWE – INVERNESS (± 275 KM)
In the last stretch of this North Coast 500 Route, the scenery remains the main highlight of the route, but there are also some good stopovers to visit before heading back into Inverness. Make your route towards Applecross where you can choose between visiting the Applecross Heritage Centre, exploring the Broch close to the village, or sampling some smoked meat at the Applecross Smokehouse for lunch. Before heading back to Inverness, make sure to visit the world renowned Loch Ness to spot the notorious lake monster and the Urquhart Castle, on the shores of the lake.