Image: Unsplash / Moritz Jaeger
Scotland has a huge range of breathtakingly stunning drives, perhaps the most famous of which is the North Coast 500. Visit Scotland has an excellent guide to Scottish Road Trips to help with further inspiration and planning.
What makes it unmissable?
Where do we start? The sandy beaches are a huge factor - there are so many, they’re all pristine, amazing colours and they are rarely busy even in peak season. You’ll find yourself saying “that’s my favourite beach so far”, only for it to be surpassed moments later. The wildlife is another huge draw, with otters, seals and seabirds all over and the possibility of seeing whales and dolphins if you’re lucky!
How long do I need?
Technically, you can drive the whole NC500 in two days (or even one if you don’t sleep!), but where’s the fun in that? The draw of self-driving the route is the ability to stop whenever you feel like it and take in the amazing views, so it’s not somewhere to rush through. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the roads are not all dual- or even single-carriageway - large stretches are single-track so you will have to keep pulling in, and there may be slow vehicles such as tractors and large campervans.
We recommend taking at least 4 days, and ideally longer, to properly enjoy the route and the sights along the way.
Who is it suitable for?
Family road-trips, couples road-trips, groups of friends - there’s something for everyone!
What’s the best time of year to go?
One thing about Scotland is that you can never guarantee the weather, but the good news is that the scenery on your NC500 (and, well, anywhere really!) road-trip will be just as stunning and atmospheric in all weathers.
We have visited the north coast in November and enjoyed glorious sunshine and clear skies, whilst our first full drive of the NC500 was in July with maximum daily temperatures of 10-12 degrees and quite a bit of rain.
So we recommend you don’t get too hung up on the time of year when planning your visit - the point is that you need to be prepared for anything - there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes! One thing to note is you may need to be more self-sufficient while driving in winter, as some of the more minor stops along your route may not be open outside the peak season.
What is there to see & do along the way?
The scenery is probably the biggest draw of the NC500 - with this being a coastal route there are numerous beautiful beaches (most with no one on them!), cliffs and natural rock formations to enjoy. The mountainous backdrop adds drama and we can guarantee you’ll never be bored - this isn’t just trundling along the motorway, this is driving at its very best!
There are also myriad castles, distilleries and pretty towns and villages for you to stop by on the way if the mood takes you, and plenty of activities and excursions to keep you entertained. Our favourites include the Golden Eagle Zip Line (near Durness) and Hebridean Whale Cruises (departing from Gairloch, April-October), and we really enjoyed visiting the independent shops, studios and cafes at Balnakeil Craft Village
Where can I stay?
The NC500 is a popular route and can be busy in the peak season (June, July and August). There are plenty of accommodation options from budget to luxury, but the best ones will go quickly! Advance planning is key, and using a firm like The Tartan Road to help you with selection and booking of accommodation can pay dividends and give you peace of mind that you’ll have somewhere friendly and welcoming to rest your head at the end of a long day of exploring.
How can I visit?
You can start the NC500 from anywhere, but the usual approach is to begin in Inverness. It’s possible to fly into Inverness airport from within and outside the UK, and you can pick up a hire car at the airport.
We can help!
If you’d like to try the NC 500 or one of Scotland’s many other incredible road trips, we can help! Drop us an enquiry and we’ll do the rest.