The North Coast 500, commonly known as the NC500, is a 516-mile scenic coastal touring route designed to showcase the Highlands of Scotland. It encompasses sandy beaches, wildlife, rugged landscapes, castles, local food and drink – there really is something for everyone.

Regularly ranked as one of the best road trips in the world, the NC500 can be driven, cycled or even walked. It passes through six main regions – Inverness-Shire, Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross and the Black Isle.

Officially launched in 2015, there are plenty of online NC500 guides and itineraries giving more detail about accommodation along the route, places to eat etc. This diary highlights some of the best features worth visiting on each section of the route.



The NC500 starts and ends in Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Inverness has a large regional airport as well as offering good train and bus links across Scotland.

The starting point for the NC500, historic Inverness Castle, offers some great views of the city from its viewing tower. The actual castle, which dates back to the 1500s, isn’t open to the public but you can walk around the grounds.

The most famous landmark in the region has to be Loch Ness, a deep freshwater loch which is the largest body of water in the UK stretching for 37km. Legend has it that ‘Nessie’, a mysterious sea creature, lives beneath the waters. You can take a cruise across Loch Ness to try and spot her yourself!

You might choose to tour the NC500 in a campervan, or for the ultimate eco-friendly road trip you could drive an electric vehicle – rapid EV chargers have been installed along the route.


Wester Ross


The region of Wester Ross has much to offer with picturesque villages, white sandy beaches and some hair-raising roads if you’re up for the challenge!

Bealach na Ba is a winding, single track route with a climb of more than 2000 feet. You’re rewarded with breathtaking views across the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides, however it’s a notorious stretch of road and only experience drivers should consider tackling it with caution – and certainly not in a camper van. There are places to pull in along the road to allow overtaking (the road is used by locals as well as tourists), but you will need to be able to reverse along narrow tracks if need be.

If you don’t wish to tackle the Bealach na Ba – which may of course be closed in the winter months – you can still visit the beautiful and remote villages of Applecross and Sheildaig using the alternative route from the A896.

There’s plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs along this part of the NC500. Near Assynt you can walk to the top of Britain’s highest waterfall, Eas a’Chual Aluinn. And the ridge of Stac Pollaidh, north of Ullapool, offers wonderful views on a clear day – it’s an easy walk taking around two hours.

You can also enjoy some of the white sandy beaches that the Highlands are famous for. Gairloch village has a sandy beach and a picturesque golf course. From Gairloch to Ullapool you can take your pick of stunning beaches – Mellon Udrigle is well worth a stop.




The county of Sutherland is the largest on the NC500 and is often divided into two regions, North West Sutherland and East Sutherland. Both have much to see and enjoy, but with vastly contrasting scenery and landscapes.

North West Sutherland offers unspoilt landscapes and some spectacular mountains including Ben More, Foinaven and Suilven, which has a distinct outline rising almost vertically and featured in the 2018 film ‘Edie’ starring Sheila Hancock.

It also plays host to Scotland’s first Geopark, an area given UNESCO status to celebrate its significant geological heritage and to promote conservation. The rocks along the coastline at the North West Highlands Geopark are 3,000 million years old – among the oldest in Britain – and the area is an important site for geological research.

You might choose to visit Cape Wrath, the tip where the north and west coasts of Scotland meet. In the distance you can view Orkney and the Western Isles, then the next land mass is the Arctic! Cape Wrath is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area for birds; access is by ferry across the Kyle of Durness followed by a guided minibus tour.

Further along the coast is Smoo Cave, a limestone sea cave with an impressive entrance rising 50 feet, and a stunning cascading waterfall. Even better when visited following wet weather! It’s a ten minute walk from the carpark to the waterfall chamber – access is free of charge but you can pay for a guided boat tour.




Caithness is home to John O’Groats, the most northerly village in mainland Britain and famously the finish (or sometimes start) of the 874-mile Lands End to John O’Groats challenge. But the official most northerly point is Dunnet Head, which hosts an RSPB Scotland nature reserve. The diverse coastal habitat is home to numerous sea birds including puffins, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, shags and cormorants. You can take a guided seabird walk in the summer and learn more about the monitoring work that RSPB Scotland undertakes every year.

If you want to enjoy Caithness’s beaches, Dunnet Bay can be found on the north coast before you reach John O’Groats. It offers two miles of sheltered sandy beach and is ideal for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. Down the coast from John O’Groats is Sinclair’s Bay, known locally as Reiss Beach. Flanked by high cliffs and sand dunes, the beautiful white sandy beach is divided by a stream and features a 16th century castle at each end. It’s also a good place to spot local wildlife including seals.

With a nod to Caithness’s royal heritage, The Castle and Gardens of Mey are well worth a visit. The Castle of Mey was the holiday home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who fell for the then Barrogill Castle in 1952. In poor condition, she renovated both the castle and the 30 acres of gardens and parklands, as well as restoring its original name back to The Castle of Mey. The Queen Mother owned the castle until 1996, when it was placed in the care of a Trust and became a popular tourist attraction.


Easter Ross


Easter Ross is on the east coast of the NC500, showcasing lovely seaboard villages and super views across the water to Aberdeenshire. You might even spot seals sunning themselves along the shoreline.

Easter Ross is well known for The Pictish Trail, a series of mysterious stone sculptures described as ‘one of the great puzzles of Dark Age archaeology’. The Picts lived in north and east Scotland from the 3rd to the 9th century AD, but little is known about them. The sculptures feature unique symbols and designs, and are well signposted from the route.

Just south of Brora, you'll come across Dunrobin Castle, a French-style chateau. Inhabited since the 1300s, the castle was a war hospital during the First World War.

Easter Ross is also home to three malt whisky distilleries, where you can sample the famous Scottish tipple and learn how it’s made.


Black Isle


A fabulous finish to the NC500, the Black Isle isn’t technically part of the 500-mile route, and neither is it an isle! It’s a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water, and is becoming well known for its local food and drink. There are farm shops, a long history of fishing, bakeries, whisky distilleries and a brewery – with markets throughout the year where you can enjoy the produce as well as local arts and crafts.

Once you’ve sampled the local food and ale, you might choose to work it off on one of the great mountain biking trails in the region. Or you could head to Chanonry Point to search for the pod of bottlenose dolphins, which have made the Moray Firth their home. For wildlife lovers, RSPB Scotland also has two nature reserves on the Black Isle – Fairy Glen and Tollie Red Kites.

Cromarty is one of many pretty villages on the peninsula, with fishermen’s cottages and Georgian merchant houses. In summer you can catch a ferry from Cromarty to Nigg across Cromarty Firth.