North Coast 500 Route Planner + Highlights, Map & Tips

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A 516 mile jaunt around the spectacular north coast of Scotland, the North Coast 500 is an iconic Scottish road trip. Taking in the glorious Scottish Highlands, breathtaking coastlines, lochs and historic towns along the route, this really is one of the world’s epic road trips.

Whether you want to admire the gorgeous beaches, spot wildlife, climb a few Munros, sample Scottish whiskey and haggis, learn about Scotland’s rich history, or just enjoy the drive, you’ll find all that and more along the North Coast 500 route.

In this ultimate North Coast 500 planning guide we share;

  • the route with a fully interactive map including recommended accommodation, campsites and all our highlights
  • getting there and vehicle hire options for cars, campervans and motorbikes
  • highlights and attractions to see on the way
  • ideas for activities and things to do around the route
  • recommended NC500 hotels, B&B’s and places to stay
  • recommended NC500 campsites along the route
  • the best seasons and times to drive the North Coast 500
  • information about driving in Scotland and the NC500 route
  • recommended North Coast 500 guided tours and day trips
  • tips to help you plan your own North Coast 500 itinerary
North Coast 500 route

What is the North Coast 500?

NC500 regions map

The North Coast 500, often abbreviated to NC500, is a 516 mile scenic tourist route through a number of administrative and historical counties and regions in northern Scotland including Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross.

Developed in 2014 by the North Highland Initiative, a non-profit organization established by Prince Charles in 2005, the North Coast 500 route was designed to promoted northern Scotland and the Highlands as a road trip destination, and bring investment and tourism income into the region. North Coast 500 Ltd is the official North Coast 500 marketing partner, providing online resources and putting local businesses in touch with visitors.

The NC500 road trip is not an actual single road or highway, although it is sometimes called “Scotland’s Route 66”, but is a series of existing roads that form a loop around the stunning Highlands, through rural villages and towns and along the beautiful coastlines of the country.

North Coast 500 Map

Starting and finishing in Inverness, the North Coast 500 route passes through five Scottish counties – Inverness-shire, Easter Ross, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, each with their own distinct landscapes and cultures.

Use our NC500 route planner, interactive map and highlights to work out where to visit and what to see and do along the route, and pick out what interests you the most.

How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.

Inverness-shire & the Black Isle

Both the start and finish point of your North Coast 500 itinerary, Inverness is one of Scotland’s seven cities and sits in the south of the Highlands, on the banks of the pretty River Ness. 

Beautifully planted with flowers and crowned by a fabulous castle, Inverness is a thriving and busy city with a rich variety of places to visit and things to do, both in the compact city itself and the surrounding area.

To the north, is the Black Isle peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the sea – Cromarty Firth to the north, Beauly Firth to the south, and Moray Firth to the east. It is thought that the Isle’s name is derived from the fact that, as snow does not lie in winter, the promontory looks black while the surrounding countryside is white.

Highlights

  • Follow the age old tradition of hunting the famous Loch Ness monster. Hire a boat or take a cruise and head out onto the water with a picnic and your camera. You might not see Nessie, but you’ll enjoy stunning scenery, clear air and space to unwind – the perfect start to your NC500 trip.
  • Head for the atmospheric Victorian Market and Inverness Old Town for all your Scottish souvenirs!
  • Visit the haunting battlefield of Culloden, site of the final and bloody confrontation of the Jacobite rising, and defeat of Charles Stuart’s army in 1745. You can find out more about this seminal time in the history of Scotland at the nearby Culloden Visitor Centre.
  • Admire the imposing, pink crenellated Inverness Castle, which sits high on the banks of the River Ness. Just one of the many Scottish castles in and around Inverness!
  • Take a hike up to Craig Phadrig, just above the city and on the Highland Pictish Trail. Once the stronghold of ancient Pictish kings, there are lovely forest walks and magnificent views of the Moray Firth.
  • Fans of the book and TV show Outlander can also visit filming sites and destinations in the region, including Clava Cairns, though to be the inspiration for Craigh Na Dun, and Castle Leod, which was Castle Leoch in the series. This highly rated Outlander day tour will take you to five different filming locations and inspirations for the books.
  • Go dolphin hunting on the Black Isle, where bottlenose dolphin sightings at close range are common. Take a wildlife boat tour from Cromarty, or watch them from the beach at Chanonry Point between Rosemarkie and Fortrose.
  • Known for its craft beers, the Black Isle Brewery near Munlochy can to brew up to 10,000 litres of beer a day, and you can visit to find out how it all works and try their organic brews.
  • Where to Stay

Inverness >> The Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel is just a three minute walk from Inverness center, and enjoys riverside views and an award winning restaurant.

Black Isle >> Old Drynie House B&B for its Victorian parkland setting, superb hospitality and delicious home-made breakfast.

Culloden >> Ardtower Caravan Park for its beautiful setting, award winning facilities and spacious hard-standing pitches.

Rosemarkie >> Fortrose Bay Campsite for its waterside position, fantastic views and excellent facilities.

Easter Ross

A small region yet packed with interest, Easter Ross is located north of Inverness and sea-bound by the Moray Firth to the east, the north-shore of the Cromarty Firth and the south Shore of the Dornoch Firth.

Lined with coastal villages offering fabulous views and plenty of sea life to watch out for, as well as Highland wilderness in the inland forestry areas, there’s much to appreciate here. Don’t rush through on your way north!

Highlights

  • Visit the Tarbat Discovery Centre in Portmahomack, and the pretty seaboard villages of Shandwick, Balintore and Hilton to learn about the Picts, a wild people in late Iron Age Scotland who prevented the Romans from conquering all of Britain by fiercly fighting and holding their territory.
  • Take a tour at the Dalmore Whisky Distillery in Alness. Considered one of the best luxury whisky brands in the world, The Dalmore whiskies sell for thousands of pounds. Find out what the fuss is about with a tour, and maybe a wee dram (but only if you’re not driving!).
  • Hike up to the huge Fyrish Monument for spectacular views across Cromarty Firth and the great hulk of Ben Wyvis mountain.
  • Visit the Touchstone Maze near Strathpeffer, made up of 81 different rock types from around Scotland and a great way to get an understanding of Scotland’s complex geological map.
  • Walk up to the magical Black Rock Gorge, an impressive one mile long, 40 meter deep gash in the rocks created during the Ice Age by the River Glass rushing down to the Cromarty Firth. This is a must stop for Harry Potter fans as the gorge was a filming location in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • Where to Stay

Portmahomack >> Caledonian House B&B for its beach front location, simple and unfussy decor and warm hospitality.

Evanton >> Kiltearn Guest House for its foreshore location, beautiful Vectorian building and Scottish charm.

Evanton >> Black Rock Caravan Park for its location close to the A9 North Coast 500 road, and excellent touring pitches and services.

Caithness

Home to John O’Groats and Dunnet Head, the most northerly village and northerly point respectively, Caithness is right at the top of the United Kingdom mainland. It is so far north that in favourable conditions, it’s possible to see the Northern Lights from here.

The vast open landscape, also known as the flow country, is rich in the archaeology of ancient times, and the coastline features soaring sea-stacks and towering headlands, home to puffins and other sea birds.  

Highlights

  • See the mysterious Hill O’Many Stanes at Lybster, where 200 thin stones were laid out in a radiating pattern over 4,000 years ago …and no-one really knows why.
  • Explore the Old Pulteney Distillery in Wick, with a tour and tasting of their signature single malt Scotch whisky, Old Pulteney, known as the maritime malt.
  • Discover the former Viking settlement of Wick, once known as the herring capital of Europe and now the principal town in the far north of the mainland. There are three castles to dicover nearby; the remains of the Castle of Old Wick which sits atop the edge of the cliffs about half a mile south of Wick Bay, and the dramatic 15th to 17th century ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, which rises dramatically from a needle-thin promontory.
  • Enjoy the sea air and a wondeful five mile hike from John o’Groats to Duncansby Head Lighthouse, the most north-easterly point on the British mainland, and continue along the spectacular coastal path to see the two dramatic 6,000 year old pointed sea stacks.
  • Visit the Castle of Mey, which was restored by the late Queen Mother when she bought it in 1952 and saved it from abandonment. Enjoy a fascinating glimpse into a castle that served as a holiday retreat for the royal family. With wonderful gardens, this is a truly beautiful place.
  • Explore the various and fascinating brochs on the route. A broch is an imposing stone tower and ancient dwelling, built from as early as 500BCE, and found only in Scotland. Dunbeath Broch and Nybster Broch are both excellent examples, and at the Caithness Broch Centre you can learn more.
  • Take (another) bracing walk in the wild and untamed landscape of Dunnet Head, in the RSPB Nature Reserve and the most northerly point in mainland Britain. If you’re lucky, you might see puffins in this noisy sea-bird nature reserve, especially if you visit during the breeding season, from late spring to early summer.
  • Where to Stay

Wick >> Breadalbane Suites for their town center location, large rooms and friendly hosts.

Dunnet >> Northern Sands Hotel for its excellent location, comfortable beds and full Scottish breakfast.

Brough >> Windhaven Cafe, Camping and B&B – the most northerly campsite on the UK mainland – for its superb cliff top location, seal viwing point and warm Scottish hospitality.

Dunnet >> Dunnet Bay Caravan and Motorhome Club Site for its enviable position, sublime views and long beach walks. 

Sutherland

One of the last great wilderness’ of Europe, a large chunk of the NC500 route passes through this raw and beautiful county. 

Sutherland actually stretches across the Highlands of Scotland, from east coast to west, so you’ll pass through it twice! With the sea always on your right, the west coast on this part of the route is unspoilt and diverse, with huge sandy beaches and the rugged and aptly named Cape Wrath cliffs. 

For many, us included, this is a favourite part of the route, for the spectacular scenery and its rich natural history.

Highlights

  • Spend a day in Dornoch, a beautiful historic town in the east coast of Sutherland which overlooks the firth of the same name. The town is well worth a wee wander for its 13th century cathedral, old goal and Dornoch Castle, which is a former bishop’s palace, and is now home to the Dornoch Castle Hotel.
  • Head inland to the RSPB Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve, a large rolling area of peatland and the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe, which is home to a rich variety of wildlife.
  • Explore Strathanver Museum, just outside Bettyhill, which tells the history of the area and is the start point for the Strathanver Trail.
  • Admire the lofty grace of Dunrobin Castle, historic home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland, which dates from around 1275.
  • Head into the cliffs at Smoo Cave, which has one one of the largest entrances to any sea cave in Britain at 15m high, and is complete with its own waterfall too.
  • Pop into Balnakeil Craft Village, where you’ll find local artists creating chocolate, paintings & prints, ceramics, woodwork, glass work and other unique crafts.
  • Enjoy the bracing sea air of the raw and wild Cape Wrath, a site of Special Scientific Interest and the most north-westerly point of mainland Scotland. Only accessible by ferry or minibus, this really is a remote spot and well worth the effort it takes to get there!
  • Hike to Sandwood Bay Beach, for the incredible sight of the Am Buachaille sea stack, a remnant of when the Highlands and North America were connected, millions of years ago.
  • Visit the North West Highlands UNESCO Global Geopark, which contains geology and a landscape of world-class quality, significance and importance. It’s a wonderful place to learn about the 3,000 million year old geological history of one of the most sparsely populated corners of Europe.
  • Explore Stoer Head, a few miles north of the picturesque village of Lochinver. You’ll find beautiful views across islands and inland coves, as well as the striking white Stoer Lighthouse and the fabulous Old Man of Stoer, a 60m high Torridonian sandstone sea stack.
  • Achmelvich Beach is one of the area’s most stunning beaches, with white sands and clear turquoise waters. It’s a magnet for water-based activities such as windsurfing, kayaking and paddle boarding.
  • Where to Stay

Torrisdale >> Borgie Lodge Hotel for its wildlife filled gardens, Scottish hospitality and super comfortable beds.

Lochinver >> Inver Lodge for its wonderful sea views, award winning restaurant and tradtional Scottish decor.

Durness >> Sango Sands Oasis Campsite for its stunning cliff top position, nearby beaches and fantastic facilities.

Clachtoll >> Clachtoll Beach Campsite for it’s beachside location, great facilities and laid-back family run vibe.

Wester Ross

Wester Ross is an area of breathtaking landscapes – think ancient mossy glens, Caledonian forests full of firs, towering mountain peaks and gorgeous beaches. With iconic roads and dramatic backdrops, driving through Wester Ross is an adventure, and a highlight for many NC500 visitors.

From bagging a Munro to whale watching, exploring castles and gorgeous gardens, there is plenty to keep you busy in this beautiful part of Scotland. 

Highlights

  • Very possibly the best 9 hole golf course in Scotland, Gairloch has stunning views across to the Isle of Skye and Western Isles and a mountain backdrop, just to complete the 360 degree vista! Gairloch Golf Club welcomes non-members – we suggest booking your tee time in advance.
  • Go whale watching from Gairloch. You might also see dolphins, sharks and porpoises, as well as seals, otters, puffins and perhaps even the elusive white-tailed eagle. The best time to see whales on the west coast of Scotland is from mid June to late September.
  • Visit the Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve where you can marvel at the deep chasm that cuts through the Highland wilderness and watch as the River Droma thunders over a series of waterfalls, before the grand finale of the the huge 45 meter Falls of Measach.
  • Get off the beaten path to Mellon Udrigle Beach, by taking the single track road to the car park in the tiny settlement of the same name, and then the boardwalk to the beach. Fine silver sands backed by gentle dunes slope gently into the crystal clear waters of Gruinard Bay, which are all shades of blue, green and turquoise.
  • Explore the lush, tropical oasis of Inverewe Garden, perched high on a peninsula at the edge of Loch Ewe and favoured with a gulf stream climate. This world-famous historic garden is one of Scotland’s most popular botanical attractions and is surrounded by estates managed for conservation.
  • Visit the UNESCO Biosphere Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve and explore the woodlands which are home to 350 year old Scots Pines, remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest that once stood here.
  • Climb Beinn Eighe, one of the Torridon’s best Munros (Scottish mountains over 914m), of which there are 37 on the NC500. The views of the Torridon Hills are simply stunning from the summit.
  • Drive the legendary Applecross Pass, one of the best and highest roads in Scotland. Bealach na Bà (or Pass of the Cattle) is a narrow slip of a road, with hairpin sharp bends, steep gradients and spectacular views.
  • Where to Stay

Gairloch >> Shieldaig Lodge Hotel for its lochside location, country house hotel vibe and gorgeous bedrooms.

Toscaig >> Applecross B&B for its wonderful sea views, award winning restaurant and tradtional Scottish decor.

Poolewe >> Inverewe Gardens Poolewe Camping and Caravanning Club Site for its beautiful landscaping, good facilities and incredible sunsets.

Kinlochewe >> Kinlochewe Caravan Club Site for its fantastic location, excellent facilities, and peaceful nature.

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North Coast 500 Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to drive the NC500?

Spring

Late spring is a great time for planning a road trip to Scotland. The countryside comes alive with wild flowers and baby animals as the warmer weather beats back winter, and summer visitors have yet to arrive. It will be cool though, especially in the evenings, so pack layers and a waterproof.

Summer 

With summer averages of around 20° celsius (68° fahrenheit), the summer months are one of the best times for touring Scotland. The downside is that popular routes, attractions and North Coast 500 hotels will be at their busiest, so a road trip of Scotland in summer will require a little more planning and you will need to book in advance.

July and August are the worst months for the infamous biting midges, especially if you’re planning on visiting the west coast, where they are generally at their worst. Their bites range from being mildly itchy to causing an allergic reaction, so make sure to pack, and change into, long sleeves and trousers before dusk, use a midge veil or hat, and a good brand of insect repellent.

Autumn 

A wonderful time for a road trip to Scotland, the autumn colours are some of the most dramatic in the world and much of the tourist traffic will have departed, leaving the roads empty. 

Winter 

Plan your NC500 road trip during the colder months for winter sporting opportunities, dramatic scenery and the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights, or ‘Mirrie Dancers’ as they are sometimes called in Scotland. As a rough guide there are an average of 15-20 snow days a year in the country, which can rise to over 100 snow days in the Scottish Highlands, so some roads may be closed.

How can I avoid the crowds?

The North Coast 500 has done such a great job or promoting itself and the region that the roads and villages along the route can get very busy in the height of summer. Since the pandemic restrictions have lifted in Scotland, the NC500 has seen more visitors than ever before, and local communities have expressed growing unease about over-tourism and the way the surrounding landscapes are being affected.

To avoid the crowds, and at the same time ease pressure on local services and facilities and help protect the precious landscape, follow our tips;

  • Visit during the shoulder seasons – April and May or late September and October. There will still be other tourists around, but not at the levels you’ll see in June, July and August.
  • Head off early in the mornings. If you start your days driving by around 9am, you will miss the peak times when the roads are busiest.
  • Whether you stop at NC500 hotels, take a tent to camp, sleep in your campervan, or just stop along the route for a picnic, always follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and leave no trace. The code helps to protect the fragile flora and fauna of this beautiful country.
  • Head for off the beaten path places which are close to the route but not actually on it. Borgie, Nairn, Altnaharra, Cape Wrath (only accessible by boat or minibus), Portmahomack and the Forsinard Flows RSPB Nature Reserve are all worth exploring and don’t see the numbers that places located on the route do.
  • Visit local museums in villages around the route. Many are run by volunteers who have a wealth of local knowledge that they love to share, and many are (sadly) often empty, meaning you get the place to yourselves.
  • Head inland to the glorious lochs and mountains of the Highlands for a spot of hiking, or even to tackle one of those Munroes!

How do I get to the start point in Inverness?

Inverness Airport is just a 20 minute drive from Inverness city centre. Flying in and out of Inverness is the best option if you decide to drive the whole circular route, and there are regular flights from London to Inverness with easyJet from London Gatwick and Luton, and with British Airways from London Heathrow.

You can also get a direct train from London King’s Cross to Inverness. The journey takes around nine hours on a day time route, and seventeen hours if you travel on the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston.

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What about hiring a car, campervan or motorbike?

Car hire is readily available from both Inverness airport and train station. We always use Rentalcars.com to book hire cars in the UK as they offer the most competitive rates due to their purchasing power. You don’t need any special type of vehicle for the NC500, a regular car is fine.

If you fancy doing the route on a motorbike, check out NC500 Moto Experience, a motorbike hire company based in Inverness who provide self-guided touring with motorbike rental and riding equipment to allow you to venture north and experience the NC500 on two wheels. You must have a valid motorbike licence and demonstrate you have had regular riding experience.

Exploring the North Coast 500 by campervan or motorhome is a wonderful way to explore this special part of Scotland. If you do plan to do the route in a campervan or motorhome, then we would recommend Highland Auto Campers for campervan rental and North500 for motorhome hire from Inverness.

If you’re starting your motorhome NC500 trip in London or Edinburgh, then Spaceship Rentals have lots of options for motorhome renatal from their depots in these cities.

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motorhome Bealach na Ba North Coast 500 route map

What accommodation options do I have?

The beauty of the North Coast 500 is that you can be totally flexible when planning your itinerary. Stay for just one night, or base yourself for longer where there’s lots going on.

Our recommended accommodation ranges from 5 star hotels to simple B&B’s and holiday cottages, and there is great choice all along the route. Popular hotels, B&B’s and apartments tend to book up months in advance, so factor this in when planning.

A great budget option is to plan a North Coast 500 camping itinerary, and stay on campsites with a tent, or find sites which offer sleeping huts or glamping options, if you don’t have your own tent. Some sites will require you to take your own sleeping bag, but otherwise, most facilities are provided.

Travelling in a self contained vehicle like a motorhome or campervan opens up lots of options regarding where to stay. Before you go off grid in your van, make sure you fully understand the rules and regulations of wild camping in Scotland, which are different to the rest of the UK.

Is the North Coast 500 dog friendly?

Lots of people, especially those travelling from around the UK to Scotland, like to take their dogs on holidays with them – and what better way to enjoy the route than with your faithful friend by your side?

The North Coast 500 has miles of open space for good dog walks. Whether it’s along sandy beaches, up mountains or across deserted moorland and glens, you’ll find the perfect spot.

All of our recommended North Coast 500 campsites allow dogs on leades or leashes, indeed most do along the route. Shore Caravan Park in Achmelvich is the only site we know that does not accept dogs, due to surrounding croft land.

Most hotels and B&B’s along the route will also allow dogs, but you may have to book a pet friendly room. Do double check first as there may be an extra cost or restrictions.

Make sure you understand the rules about dog walking in Scotland, which are covered in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

How long does it take to drive the North Coast 500?

That depends! The route is 516 miles, so at a stately average of 40mph it will take around 13 hours. But there are many parts of the route where you’ll be driving more slowly, and you’ll also need to take into account stopping time each day – we all need to eat and use the loo!

We suggest a seven day North Coast 500 itinerary as the absolute minimum, with a 14 day NC500 itinerary being the sweet spot to ensure you see all the highlights and don’t need rush the journey. A three week North Coast 500 itinerary would allow more time for exploring off the beaten path, hiking and really immersing yourself in the route.

If you don’t have that amount of time, pick out a section of the route, depending on your likes and interests. For us, the best and most scenic part of the route was Sutherland, where we experienced the real wilderness of Scotland’s west coast, with its huge beaches, rock stacks and bottle green clear seas.

Do I need to do the route anti-clockwise?

Nope. Because the route is a loop starting and finishing in Inverness, you can go in whichever direction you prefer. Our NC500 planner and highlights go anti-clockwise because that’s how we drove it.

What do I need to know about driving in Scotland safely?

Remember to drive on the left during your Scotland trip!

If you’re driving a car along the route, some experience would be good. Lots of the roads are narrow single track lanes with passing places, and if you meet a bus or large vehicle, you’ll be expected to reverse if the passing place is on your side of the road. If you can do this without panicking and driving onto the machair (fertile low-lying grassy plain which is very specific to this part of Scotland), then you’ll be fine!

Large parts of the Scottish Highlands surrounding the NC500 have unfenced livestock which include sheep, cattle, goats, and horses. It’s quite common to see animals, especially sheep and cattle, on the road or grazing right next to the road. Although they don’t seem phased by moving vehicles, be alert and keep your eyes peeled.

Always stick to the speed limit. Many of the NC500 roads are narrow and pass through villages and small settlements. Every year there are reports of super cars driving at high speed through communities – don’t be that person!

If you’re driving a larger vehicle like a motorhome, a little bit more experience would be helpful. Reversing along single track roads and manouvering around tight corners and narrow lanes can be challenging. You must feel comfortable reversing the vehicle correctly and safely.

Motorhomes should not drive in convoy, as this can cause obstructions and grid lock on narrow lanes and tracks. Even when there are passing places, they are only designed for one or two small vehicles and a large motorhome can take up the whole space, meaning your mates behind you are still blocking the track.

If your vehicle is larger than a VW campervan, then alternative motorhome routes are available and signed at several points along the NC500. You should not attempt to drive the Bealach Na Ba Applecross pass, but take the A832 instead, or the B869 Drumbeg Road, where you should take the alternative A894.

If your planning a North Coast 500 road trip that’s longer than a few weeks and you’re going to be using your own vehicle, you may want to consider a service before you go, and breakdown cover is probably a good idea.

What do I need to drive in Scotland?

Whether you’re road tripping the NC 500 in a car, camper or motorbike, make sure you’ve got all your documents handy and your spare tyre is in good condition. There is limited call phone signal in some area – it may be easier to print important documents before leaving Inverness, rather than risk having no 4g along the route!

  • You require a valid driving license.
  • Drivers from non-EU countries may require an International Driving Permit. The general rule is that if your licence is not in English, then an IDP will be required. Check with your hire company or embassy if you’re in doubt.
  • If you’re not a British citizen, you should carry your passport or ID card at all times as you road trip the North Coast 500.
  • You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle. If you’re hiring a vehicle this is all taken care of by the rental company.
  • Your car must be considered roadworthy in the country in which it is registered.
  • Your headlights must be adapted for driving on the right if you’re vehicle is registered outside the UK.
  • Unlike France, the UK does not have laws that require you to carry certain equipment in your car, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Being prepared in the event of an accident or a break down is invaluable. Ideally you should carry a reflective jacket, a warning triangle, a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher, key safety equipment which should be provided by the hire company.

Can I take a North Coast 500 guided tour?

Absolutely. If you prefer not to drive yourself, the best guided tour of the NC500 is this highly reviewed three day small group tour from Inverness, run by Rabbie’s.

You’ll get to see a lot of the route as you head for Ullapool on the west coast, including the stunning landscapes the route is famous for, a castle and stately home, and even a Scotch whisky distillery!

If you only have a day or two, there are a few day trips from Inverness which explore parts of the route. Each of these day tours explores different places on the North Coast 500 route;

  • John O’Groats and the Far North Tour – visit the most northerly point on the British mainland and see Loch Fleet, Dunrobin Castle and enjoy the stunning scenery of Easter Ross.
  • Torridon, Applecross, & Eilean Donan Castle – a journey through the ancient wilderness of Scotland on a day trip to Torridon, Applecross and Eilean Donan Castle. Discover picture-perfect villages, and delve deep into the gory history of a legendary Scottish fortress.
  • Northwest Highlands Private Tour with Hike – explore a range of stunning landscapes on a full-day tour through the Scottish Highlands. Experience huge glacial corries, ancient ice age caves, dark ravines, and iconic mountains.

Scotland Travel Tips

  • English is the main language spoken in Scotland. You will hear the Scottish brogue accent as you travel, which has been voted the sexiest accent in the UK!
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  • To enter the UK and Scotland, a valid passport is required. You may also need a visa to visit the UK, you can find out whether you do here.
  • Scotland has reciprocal healthcare agreements with the EU and with some non-EU countries, you can find a list here. We recommend True Traveller to cover you should repatriation to your home country be required.
  • The currency in Scotland is pound sterling £ and pence. 
  • ATM’s are usually called cash points in Scotland. They are widely available at supermarkets, garages and outside all banks. 
  • Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa and Mastercard being the most common.
  • Save money and use the free wifi that is usually available in hotels and campsites. Buy a travel hotspot with built in SIM for your trip and stay connected wherever you travel in Scotland.
  • Tipping in Scotland is welcomed, but not required. In restaurants and larger cafes aim to give around 10% if you’ve received good service. Sometimes a service charge will be added to your bill, in which case you should not leave a tip. It is common to tip taxi drivers by rounding up to the nearest pound, but not waiting staff, although there may be a tip jar.
  • Scotland has a low violent crime rate and lower petty theft rate than many European countries, you should still be vigilant in crowds where pickpockets tend to operate. In an emergency, the number for police, fire and ambulance is 999.

Scotland Packing Tips

  • Pack layers to be ready for the changeable Scottish weather, and keep one in the car for sudden changes (or if one of you prefers a colder car (Phil) than the other (me)!
  • Bring at least one warm top and one lightweight long sleeve top for spring, summer and fall visits, as the evenings can get chilly and there may be the odd colder day.
  • Pack a pair of lightweight long trousers for the evenings, when it’s cooler but also when the bugs come out!
  • Winter visitors should also bring proper cold weather gear and thermals – it can get bitterly cold, especially in the Highlands.
  • Make sure to bring a waterproof jacket even in summer.
  • Trainers make a good day to day footwear option for this trip. You need to be comfy on sand, cobbles, moorland and pavements all on the same day!
  • A good pair of walking boots or shoes.
  • Visiting in summer? Bring sunscreen and a hat – it can get surprisingly hot!
  • Remember your polarised sunglasses for driving – if you do the route anti-clockwise, you’ll be heading into the sun for much of the trip.
  • Technical gear that washes easily and dries quickly is a great option if you’re planning on hiking and moving accommodation frequently.
  • Don’t forget an easy to manage day bag, such as a ruck sack or day sack.
  • Pack insect repellent like Jungle Formula or Avon Skin So Soft are good midge repellents.
  • A midge veil or hat is required if you’re prone to being bitten.
  • Scotland operates on 230v electricity and uses three pin plugs. Pack a universal adapter with surge protection like this one.

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