14 Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route In Scotland – Hand Luggage Only

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the Highlands of Scotland are incredible to visit! With towering mountain ranges, tranquil lochs and heaps of quaint villages, it’s the type of area that’s perfect for a road trip; especially around the North Coast 500 route. In fact, there are so many best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland that you’re going to be spoilt for choice.

Over the years, we’ve visited countless times; following this easy-to-follow and detailed Scottish Highlands itinerary. It takes in some of the best places on the North Coast 500 route, but also meanders (and slightly detours) just off the official route to find some total gems to explore. 

It’s the most idyllic area and one of my favourite regions in all of the UK. Just be sure to plan ahead, book accommodation in plenty of time (the best spots fill up fast in summer) and consider that you might be driving on very narrow roads.

The latter can always be a surprise for North American visitors! 

Anyway, I don’t want to ramble too much! Following a route north of Inverness (anticlockwise) I want to share some of our favourite spots around and places on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland that you have to visit.

Plus, a few other little detours that are total gems to see. Have the best time exploring Scotland! 

1.) Inverness

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

In lots of ways, Inverness is basically the gateway to the North Coast 500 route. In fact, Inverness is likely to be the first point where you start your road trip; either arriving by air (to Inverness Airport) or via train. 

Now, either at the start (or the end of your North Coast 500 road trip, make sure to take a little detour east towards the Cairngorms. It’s one of the UK’s largest national parks and totally idyllic. 

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We had the best time exploring the Cairngorms, and it’s well worth popping over to Aviemore where you’ll find loads of trails, bike rental points and Loch an Eilein which is gorgeous.

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Plus, you’ve got the tasty Kinrara Distillery that’s so close by. Their gin is so good and uses foraged herbs to create their blend. 

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After arriving back in Inverness, and before heading onto the NC500 route, make sure to see some of the city’s best spots. Be sure to check out Botanic Gardens, Inverness Castle and the Highlanders’ Museum, too.

If you’re short on time, you can also book this amazing guided tour from Inverness that drives you to Eilean Donan Castle and the Isle of Skye for a full-day trip. It’s great if you don’t fancy driving and don’t want to head off the wider North Coast 500 route.  

Read more: Our day-to-day Scottish Highlands itinerary

2.) Glenmorangie, Dornoch and Dunrobin Castle

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

The whole area around Dornoch is well worth visiting as you drive from Inverness. You see, it’s got heaps of little (and big) places to see in the Scottish Highlands. 

If you’ve crossed the Dornoch Firth, make sure to stop off at Dornoch Beach. It’s a huge white-sandy stretch that’s perfect for a stroll.

Though, always remember that the Scottish Haar (sea fog) can be thick and come in fast on the east coast route. So, be prepared that you might not see too much if that happens. 

Whilst in the wider area, be sure to stop off at the Glenmorangie Distillery Whisky (on the other side of Dornoch Firth), too. You can learn most about the distilling process and have a wee sample of their amber nectar that’s known the world over.  

Also, about a 20-minute drive north of Dornoch is the gorgeous Dunrobin Castle. It’s still on the North Coast 500 route and easy to see as you head further north. 

You’ll get to see so much of the castle whilst exploring the 189 rooms (or at least a fair few of them). Plus, the gardens are stunning. It’s a totally unique castle in Scotland and almost looks like it belongs in the countryside in France.

It’s all quite different to the towering brick castles you tend to see in Great Britain. We love it here.

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Afterwards, continue driving north and stop off at the quaint little tearoom of The River Bothy. We had the best homemade soup and haggis toasty. 

Read more: Best islands in Scotland to visit

3.) Old Wick, Old Keiss and Sinclair Girnigoe Castles

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

With thousands of years of history, the Scottish Highlands has loads of gems you can’t miss as you drive the North Coast 500. 

In fact, I’d go as far as saying that the east coast has some of the best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland if you’re into your historical castles. 

Around a 35-minute drive, north of The River Bothy tearoom, you’ll get to visit Old Wick Castle. Now in ruins, it towers over the rugged coastline, dating back to the 1300s. It’s well worth parking up and walking the coast to see – it really is incredible to see. 

Afterwards, follow the North Coast 500 route further north and stop off at Sinclair Girnigoe Castle. It’s another gem and dates back almost 800 years. 

Oh, and don’t forget about Old Keiss Castle, too. It’s on your route towards John o’ Groats and totally easy to find as you follow the North Coast 500 route in Scotland. 

Read more: Best places in Scotland to visit

4.) John o’ Groats and Duncansby Head

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Okay, for me, John o’ Groats is a little bit of a letdown. It’s often thought of as one of the best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland – but I’d beg to differ.

Still, you’re passing by, so you really should stop. 

There’s nothing really here than a sign pointing to other destinations across the world. Famed as being one end of the longest distance between two inhabited points in Great Britain, John o’ Groats has become a photo spot for people that have also visited the other spot (Lands End, Cornwall). 

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

I’d say we spent about 15 minutes here, before heading for the views at Duncansby Head. Which, is known as the UK’s most north-easterly point and not too far from John o’ Groats.

Here, you can see the power of the North Sea’s waves, which have carved the rugged coastline over thousands of years.

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Though it’s a fleeting stop, the views facing south, down the coast, are gorgeous. 

Oh, and don’t forget you can book this Orkney Islands day trip from John o’ Groats, too. It’s so good and well worth joining if you’re wanting to visit the Orkney Islands. 

5.) Driving to Loch Eriboll

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

After departing John o’ Groats, head east on the North Coast 500 route towards Loch Eriboll. It’s about a 2-hour drive and you can easily stop off at places like; Castletown Beach, Dunnet Head and Drumhollistan for their rugged coastal beauty. 

Plus, you can grab a bite to eat at Côte Du Nord, a lovely fine-dining restaurant on the north coast. 

Anyway, once you get to Loch Eriboll, make sure to stop off to see the Neakie Lime Kilns, which you can spot from this viewpoint. It’s a totally gorgeous area of Scotland. 

Read more: Best towns in Scotland to visit

6.) Durness, Balnakeil and Ceannabeinne Beaches

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

One of the most north-westerly coastal areas you’ll visit in the Scottish Highlands, Durness Beach is well worth a visit as you drive the North Coast 500. 

Once here, be sure to take some time to chill on the gorgeous sandy beach and head over to the nearby Smoo Cave which is Scotland’s largest cave to see. 

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Oh, and don’t forget to drive a few more minutes west to Balnakeil Beach and Ceannabeinne Beach (a little east).

The former is a vast open and westerly-facing beach that is stunning at sunset. The latter has a huge zipline where you can glide over the beach area itself. 

You can easily visit all three in a day and they’re all perfect stopping spots on your NC500 drive. 

Read more: Best things to do in Edinburgh

7.) Sandwood Bay

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Sandwood Bay is another gem to see whilst driving the west coast of the NC500 route in Scotland. Over the years, it’s even been voted as one of Britain’s most beautiful beaches.

This being said, it does require a pretty hefty hike to get to; it’s around an eight-mile round trip hike to this place. Most people driving the North Coast 500 route in Scotland end up not visiting this bay, which means it’s mostly deserted.

Perfect if that’s the vibe you’re going for. You can have the place to yourself and enjoy the white sands and towering cliffs as long as you like.

It’s perfect if you are wanting a day hike but if not, head to nearby Oldshoremore Beach instead. For the latter, you can park right at Oldshoremore Car Park which is really easy to get to if you’re shorter on time. 

8.) Achmelvich Beach

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Following the B869 road, you’ll get to stop off at the utterly gorgeous Achmelvich Beach. It’s a totally beautiful beach that’s well worth visiting if you’re going to chill out or stroll for a few hours on a sunny day.

Trust me, it has a perfect combination of turquoise waters and white sand, which is beautiful. 

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Along the road (and before you get to the beach), you’ll also find Clashnessie Falls and Clachtoll Beach.

Clachtoll Beach is perfect if you want to spend some time alone since this is a little quieter than some of the larger beaches close by. Though, saying that, none are busy! 

Oh, and don’t forget to stop off at Lochinver Larder that’s past Achmelvich. It’s well worth stopping for one of the famous pies. 

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Finally, as you reach Loch Assynt, be sure to stop off at Ardvreck Castle. It’s one of our favourite castle ruins in Scotland and well worth visiting as it’s only a few minutes walk from the roadside.

Dating back to the 1400s, you can now walk around the castle and its old grounds. It’s so incredible to see. 

Read more: Our day-to-day Scottish Highlands itinerary

9.) Ullapool

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Although small, the village of Ullapool will likely be one of the largest settlements you come across on the northwest coast and well worth making a stop. 

Not only that, there are several ferries from Ullapool, too. This means it’s the perfect stopping point if you want a detour from the NC500 and head over to some of the prettiest Scottish islands. You’ll be able to catch the boat over to Stornoway and head further down Lewis and Harris (which are stunning, by the way). 

If that’s not your jam, be sure to check out the nearby Corrieshalloch Gorge (About 10 miles south). It has the gorgeous Falls Of Measach and the Corrieshalloch bridge with trails and viewpoints galore. A great place if you want to stretch your legs. 

Oh, and don’t forget to head to the Seafood Shack for dinner. Open in the summer months, they have some of the best seafood on the west coast; all of which is cooked fresh to order. We ate so much, here.

Just make sure to take a coat, the seating is outside and it can get chilly if a westerly wind comes in. 

10.) Gruinard Bay and Wester Ross region

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Joining the A832 road, You’ll drive south from Ullapool to Loch Ewe and around the circular road until you get to Loch Maree and the start of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve.

It’s one of the best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland, especially for all the picturesque and quiet stopping points on your drive. 

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As you meander the little roads, make sure to stop off at Gruinard Bay, which is totally lovely. Plus, you can also get some lovely views from this viewpoint on the side of the road. 

On your drive to Gruindard Bay, be sure to stop off at Ardessie Falls that’s just off the roadside. Oh, and let’s not forget about Gairloch Beach or stopping off at Hebridean Whale Cruises that depart from Gairloch. They even have orca cruises in the summer months. 

11.) Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Often thought of as the first National Nature Reserve in Britain, Beinn Eighe has heaps of unspoilt nature to explore via trails which you can easily visit in the summer months.

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Honestly, if you’re something of a rambler, you’ll easily find it to be one of the best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland. Now, don’t fret about walking routes before you arrive.

There’s a really helpful visitor centre located outside Kinlochewe which you can check out from the month of April to October. They’ll even advise you on the best spots to visit, and get close to Beinn Eighe. 

If you don’t want to stop, you can enjoy the scenic view as you drive east from Slattadale, on the shores of Loch Mare. You’ll even pass the nearby Victoria Falls, too. Just make sure to pull into this can parking area.

There is a picnic site of Loch Maree, so that is one spot you can stop in. while you’re here, you can experience Loch Maree’s shore while admiring the Slioch mountain peak from afar. 

12.) Shieldaig

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

On the shores of Loch Torridon, Shieldaig is easily one of the best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland. In fact, this area of Scotland is as much about the beautiful drive as it is about each pitstop you make. 

To get here, drive down the A896 road towards Shieldaig from Kinlochewe. We love this drive and you might even spot deer, especially around this small parking spot on Google Maps. We’ve seen a resident stag, just there, every time we’ve driven this road.

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Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, remember road numbers starting with ‘A’ will be bigger, two-way roads with markings in the centre (these will be the largest roads you experience in the Scottish Highlands).

Roads starting with ‘B’ will typically be single-lane and narrow roads which are more winding and much slower roads.

You won’t be able to avoid either on your trip around the Scottish Highlands but it’s worthwhile knowing what each road is when looking at the road signs.

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Not too far away, you’ll also find The Torridon, which is a great place to spend the night (or two) exploring the wider area. The hotel is gorgeous and one of our favourites along the NC500 wider region.

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Whilst in the area, be sure to drive across to the other side of Loch Torridon and explore the tiny hamlet of Lower Diabaig. We always stop for a tasty, homemade, lunch at Gille Brighde. It’s so good. 

Read more: Our day-to-day Scottish Highlands itinerary

13.) Bealach na Ba viewpoint

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Driving from the scenic route from Shieldaig, via Applecross and onto the Applecross Pass, make sure to stop off at Bealach na Ba viewpoint.

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Although this steep incline road is only open in summer, it’s well worth driving for the dramatic views down the glacier valley that was carved out in the last ice age. 

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It’s so dramatic to see and one of the best places to see on the North Coast 500 route in Scotland. 

14.) Plockton, Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Ness (and detouring off the NC500)

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Often called the Jewel of the Highlands, Plockton is a small town that’s well worth taking a detour off the North Coast 500 route and including the Wester Ross Trail.

You see, most people don’t head further south after reaching Strathcarron and start heading back to drive to Inverness. 

We always, if we have time, include a trip to Plockton and the wider peninsular here. Yes, it will add a few more days onto your trip but it’s totally worth it. 

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Once here, join one of Calum’s Seal Trips that he runs along the coast (we loved it) and stop off at the Plockton Inn for some of the freshly caught local seafood. It’s delicious. 

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Afterwards, you can either head over to the Isle of Skye by road (for a longer trip), or head around the coast to Ardelve to visit Eilean Donan Castle.

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It’s probably one of Scotland’s most famous castles and well worth seeing whilst you’re in the Scottish Highlands. 

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Head inside and plan to be there for around two hours. Oh, and for some of the best views of the castle, pop to this spot on Google Maps (it’s just before Loch Long Bridge). 

Best Places On The North Coast 500 Route, Scotland

Finally, join the A87 road, taking you to Loch Ness to explore the little villages and Urquhart Castle.

Also, you can easily book this Loch Ness boat tour from Clansman Harbour that shows you all the best spots on the loch, including

Just keep your eyes peeled for the Loch Ness monster before heading back to Inverness! 

Read more: Our day-to-day Scottish Highlands itinerary

Your Essential Scottish Highlands Trip Itinerary


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