With travel restrictions fluctuating across the globe, many are opting to return to Scotland’s breathtaking northern sights this summer. If you’re considering, like many, touring the North Coast 500 this year, the planning process can be daunting. Known as Scotland’s version of Route 66, there is much to fit in this iconic journey.
Here are our top tips on how long to plan for, the main highlights, and the best accommodation available along the way!
What route does the NC500 take?
Your journey traditionally starts in Inverness and continues along the west coast. Most travel along northwards to small and charming towns such as Torridon and Ullapool and continue along to the coastal towns like Caithness and Dingwall, which will eventually bring you along back to Inverness.
How long should you plan for the journey?
The NC500 journey usually takes around 5-7 days, but the beauty of it is that it can be as short or long as you like. Many get sidetracked or decide to spend more or less time in some towns than others, but if you’re planning on being flexible it is perhaps a good idea to bring camping equipment.
If you’re planning on booking hotels and accommodation it is advised you book well in advance, especially this year, as it is becoming more rapidly popular.
Highlights along the NC500
A massive favorite of the NC500 is the nature and scenery it offers. If you fancy a truly breathtaking experience, Chanonry Point, Black Isle is a perfect spot for dolphin spotting. Dolphin spotting boat tours take place in the summer months, and it has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Looking for something a bit more active? Along with the coastal towns, there are gorgeous beaches with great conditions for surfing. Brims Ness near Thurso in Caithness is particularly popular with surfers, as well as Thurso East.
Other water-based activities to try include kayaking at Gairloch or taking a speedboat tour from Ullapool.
Or if it’s some history and culture you’re after, there is no shortage of castles and historical sights. Popular favorites that are available along the coast include Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland, Urquhart Castle (on the banks of Loch Ness), and Ardvreck Castle on the edge of Loch Assynt.
These examples are a mere few of the vast experiences available along the NC500.
NC500 Route Accommodation
There are hundreds of possibilities on where to stay, and finding what’s best is totally up to your preference. Many prefer to camp on campsites because of their flexibility and cheapness, meaning you can come and go for an extremely attractive price.
However, if you’re looking for a slightly more luxurious and comfortable experience (especially keeping Scottish weather in mind) there are plenty of hotels, hostels, and Air BnBs to choose from.
Here are some of our favorite accommodations:
Located in Dundonnell, the Highlands. This converted barn sits near Laide in the Scottish Highlands and can sleep two people in one bedroom. Perfect for couples, this wee barn is surrounded by tranquil Scottish Nature and promises a serene experience.
Located in Wick, Caithness, Noss Head is a working lighthouse on the far north of the Scottish Mainland, much loved by local walkers and visiting bird-watchers alike; the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage welcomes up to six people in self-catering accommodation.
The Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage was built about 60 years ago for Principal Lightkeeper and his family. Other buildings in the compound are Noss Head lighthouse, an engine room and stable block, and our neighbors in the Occasional Keeper’s Cabin next door and in the 19th Century cottage by the Lighthouse.
The Bunchrew House Hotel is based in Inverness and is a superb 17th Century Baronial Mansion sitting by the sea on the Beauly Firth.
The House has 20 acres of magnificent lawns and woodlands; lovely public rooms with log fires and a restaurant with stunning views over the sea to the Black Isle and the mountains beyond. Bunchrew House is a superb 17th Century Baronial Mansion sitting by the sea on the Beauly Firth. The House has 20 acres of magnificent lawns and woodlands; lovely public rooms with log fires and a restaurant with stunning views over the sea to the Black Isle and the mountains beyond.
If there’s ever a time to do the NC500, it’s this year. You’ll get all of the sights and experiences with beautiful beaches as a full-blown summer holiday, just without the COVID restrictions and hassle.
In saying this, it will be the busiest it’s ever been, so make sure to evaluate what type of experience you want and be sure to book far in advance. We especially recommend booking hotels, camping, activities, experiences, and restaurants far in advance to avoid disappointment.
Above all, we remind you to please be respectful of the residents who live within the towns of the featured NC500. Remember to pick up rubbish, keep noise to a minimum, respect parking restrictions, and have fun!