Drive the North Coast 500
Scotland’s Answer to Route 66
With lockdown measures easing up, we’re turning our attention to the North Coast 500 (or NC500) route, Scotland’s answer to the USA’s Route 66.
Enjoying a road trip around this iconic gateway to the Highlands is the perfect holiday, especially in one of our motorhomes for hire.
This quaint route offers dramatic scenery, from mountains and lakes to wildlife and stunning Scottish beaches, plus plenty of historic buildings and points of interest along the way.
What is North Coast 500?
The NC500 is a stunning 830-kilometre scenic route around the north coast of Scotland. It starts and ends at Inverness Castle, showcasing many of the Highlands’ hidden treasures.
Inaugurated in 2015, the North Coast 500 takes you up to the UK’s northernmost point, Dunnet Head. The concept for the route was launched by the Tourism Project board of the North Highland Initiative, which sought to boost tourism and local economies.
Although Inverness is the ‘official’ starting point for the NC500, many holidaymakers choose to rent a camper in Edinburgh then enjoy the 3-hour drive through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, with comfort stops at Pitlochry or Aviemore.
What can you expect to see/find on your road trip?
On the North Coast 500, you’re guaranteed to see plenty of lochs, historic castles and gorgeous wildlife, as well as enjoy delicious food, drinks and homebaked goods from local village shops — the rocky road cake from the wee shop at Torridon is a must-try!
There’s so much to do along the way, so this road trip is great for couples, families and groups of friends. If you like photography, you’ll be spoilt for choice with some of the most beautiful landscapes and waterfalls in Europe.
If it’s an adventure you’re looking for, then why not try kayaking at Gairloch Canoe and Kayak Centre, or for the real thrill-seekers, the Golden Eagle zip line at Durness takes you 37 meters high with views of the Atlantic Ocean up to speeds of 40 mph. It’s an excellent experience for the kids, open from 10am ‘til 6pm with no booking required.
The Best Places to Visit on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
The Scottish Highlands has many hidden gems that you will love discovering, so take your time to see everything. It’s impossible to talk about all the beautiful sights and locations in detail, so here are some that you don’t want to miss out on.
You can travel up the east or west coast first, it doesn’t make a difference — though we’d suggest starting west coast side as you’ll be immersed in nature straight away.
You won’t want to just stick to the route itself. You can veer off the beaten path and spend some time in a local village for a day; Ullapool is lovely and their famous fish and chips make a perfect supper on the beach.
If you decide to start the NC500 in Inverness, what better chance to visit Loch Ness? This large and deep freshwater loch has a surface area of 56 square kilometres and is famous worldwide for its connection with Nessie; many people flock there to try and see the monster, which was first brought to attention in 1933.
Urquhart Castle is temporarily closed due to current circumstances, but the surrounding landscapes more than makeup for it.
Thomas Telford Bridge at Invermoriston is also a recommended stop. It was built by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, who designed many of the country’s infrastructure, such as bridges, harbours and tunnels. This particular bridge was completed in 1813, crosses the river Moriston and attracts many visitors every year.
If you decide to travel along the A87, you’ll come to Applecross, a Highland village well-known for the spectacular drive. The village’s name is around 1,300 years old and is locally known as ‘the street’. In Applecross, you’ll find large camping and caravanning areas, as well as the famous Applecross Inn, which is always bustling with locals — it’s a great place to enjoy a crisp pint while watching the sunset over the loch.
You will love Wester Ross, a county characterised by impressive landscapes, striking mountains, beautiful hill lochs and stunning beaches. The county is known for its staggering beauty and scenic spots, such as Loch Maree, Glen Docherty and the Bealach na Bà (a winding single track road that takes you up through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula).
In 2016, Wester Ross became a Biosphere Reserve. Other beautiful locations you will want to visit include Liathach, a mountain in the Torridon Hills that stands at 1,055 metres.
A little bit off route is the Black Isle Peninsula, well known for great food and beers, biking and spotting dolphins. You can also hike through the woodlands near the town of Rosemarkie to find the stunning waterfalls at Fairy Glen.
Sutherland has many things to see and do, both on and off the beaten track. This region offers gorgeous sights of the sea, unspoilt nature, historic sites and picturesque harbours. You’ll just love the white sandy beach of Balnakeil Bay, where you can take a moment to breathe in the sea air.
Just a short 7-minute journey from Balnakeil Beach, you’ll want to stop off at Smoo Cave. The impressive cave boasts one of the largest entrances to any sea cave in Britain at 50 ft high and is floodlit inside. There is a rugged walkway up and around the landmark; just make sure you’ve had breakfast as there’s plenty of steps!
When you reach John O’Groats, you can look forward to dramatic coastal views and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can catch a ferry to Orkney for the day; Ferries run daily throughout May and September. The Orkney Islands are one of the best places to spot Orca in Scotland, so when you’re making the trip across be sure to keep an eye out for wild orca pods.
You’ll also find many other points of interest, like Cairn Liath, a fantastic example of a broch, a type of fortification that only exists in Scotland. The RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve is another unmissable spot with its many peat bogs, mountains and wildlife. The beautiful Dunrobin Castle, a stately home in Sutherland, should also be part of your NC500 adventure.
On the eastern part of the NC500, Caithness has many archaeological remnants, stunning coastline features and colonies of sea birds. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is a unique-looking ruin perched on cliff edges, with ongoing work trying to save it from coastal erosion. It dates back to the 15th century and is a sight to be seen.
When you go through Easter Ross, you’ll want to make the most of its history and shoreline views; you should also take this chance to visit at least one of the whiskey distilleries in the area. There are also golf courses, if you’re interested in a bit of sport, many arts and crafts shops to explore and, of course, amazing trails and treks to soak in nature.
Benefits of Making the Trip in a Motorhome
With campervan hire in Edinburgh, you’ll be able to make the most of NC500 and its beauty. You can easily venture off the NC500 route to explore the surrounding areas or take day trips without hiring a car for the day.
We have various motorhomes on offer for smaller and larger groups, each kitted out for comfort and luxury. Many of our motorhomes are equipped with amenities like TVs, bike racks and kitchens, with everything you need for your holiday.
With thousands of people choosing to drive this scenic route, why struggle to find accommodation? When planning your trip, if you opt for a motorhome, you don’t have to worry about being unable to book a room and can simply go wherever you please.
You don’t have to be concerned about where to eat either, as there are plenty of local village restaurants and pubs where you can enjoy authentic and fresh cuisine. If you wish to cook something yourself, there’s plenty of farm shops, delis and bakeries, or you can visit independent shops or supermarkets for fresh ingredients.
If you’re interested in discovering the beautiful North Coast 500 by motorhome, don’t hesitate to contact us on 07720 260596 or browse our website to learn more about the fantastic motorhome models you can hire.