Are you looking for a road trip adventure in the Scottish Highlands?
Look no further than the NC500, a 500-mile road trip around the Northern Highlands that offers breathtaking scenery, historic landmarks, and a chance to immerse yourself in Scottish culture.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to the NC500, provide tips for planning your trip, highlight must-see attractions, suggest outdoor activities to enjoy along the way, and offer tips for a successful road trip.
Why not sit back in luxury and let us take you on a Magical tour of the Highlands with your own driver/guide. if yo
What is the NC500?
The NC500 is a circular route that starts and ends in Inverness, covering 516 miles of beautiful Scottish countryside. The route takes in the stunning coastal scenery of the North Coast, the rugged mountains of the West Coast, and the historic landmarks and culture of the Northern Highlands.
The route was launched in 2015 as a way to promote tourism in the Highlands, and it has become increasingly popular among visitors to Scotland. It is a great way to see some of the most beautiful and unique parts of Scotland.
Planning Your NC500 Road Trip
The best time to travel the NC500 is during the warmer months, from May to September. However, if you prefer quieter roads and cheaper accommodation, consider traveling in the quieter months. The Scottish Highlands are truly Beautiful at any time of year. Please note that many of the Historical sites and attractions close for the winter season, so it’s worthwhile checking your “must see sites” when you plan your itinerary.
When planning your route, consider the must-see attractions, such as Dunrobin Castle, Smoo Caves, Loch Ness, Bealach na Bà, Inverewe Garden and others listed below. It’s also worth researching accommodation and planning your stops to ensure that you have enough time to see everything you want to.
Some do the trip staying in a camper van or their tent on a camp site, others prefer to have a little more luxury on their tour of the highlands and opt for a Hotel, Guest House or Air B&B / Holiday Cottage.
Make sure to carefully plan out your accommodation, the route gets extremely busy in the summer months and there is often not enough accommodation at peak times.
It’s important to note that certain activities or locations may require permits or permissions, such as fishing or parking your campervan overnight. Be sure to research any necessary permits before setting out on your journey and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access code.
Highlights of the NC500
Dunrobin Castle is a historic castle with beautiful gardens and falconry displays. Smoo Cave is a unique cave with a waterfall and underground lake. Loch Ness is a famous lake rumored to have a monster and surrounded by scenic views and historic sites. Bealach na Bà is a challenging mountain pass with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Inverewe Garden is a botanical garden with a range of plants from around the world. Handa Island is a remote island with stunning coastal scenery and birdwatching opportunities.
Each of these attractions offers unique features and historical significance, and we recommend that you take your time to explore each one fully.
Tips for a Successful NC500 Road Trip
Pack for various weather conditions, as the Scottish weather can be unpredictable.
Plan for driving on single-track roads, which are common along the NC500 and require some caution and patience.
Be respectful of local wildlife and communities, and follow Leave No Trace principles.
Follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code
Check weather conditions and road closures before setting out on your journey.
Drive carefully on narrow roads and be aware of other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Make sure to pull in if you are slowing traffic and pull in to allow oncoming traffic to pass on single track roads.
The NC500 is a fantastic way to explore the beauty of the Northern Scottish Highlands. It offers breathtaking scenery, historic landmarks, and a chance to take in many areas the Highlands has to offer.
20 great places to go on the NC500
Visit Inverness: Known as the capital of the Highlands, Inverness is a great starting point for the NC500. It is a vibrant city with plenty of attractions, including the Inverness Castle (Closed until 2024), Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, Fort George and much more
Visit The Black Isle: This peninsula is home to some amazing beaches and It is also known for its wildlife, including dolphins and seals. Take a pop down to Chanory Point 1 hour after low tide (Feb – Sep) for the best chance of seeing the Dolphins close to the shore.
Rogie Falls: These waterfalls are located in the Black Isle and offer a scenic spot for a picnic or a walk. The walk from the car park is a light walk and possible for most.
Hebridean Whale Cruises – Hebridean Whale Cruises, Pier Road, Gairloch, Scotland, IV21 2BQ. – Call : +441445 712458. Open April and “Scotland’s number 1 Whale Boat”
Ullapool: This picturesque fishing village is a great place to stop and explore. It is also a hub for outdoor activities, including hiking and kayaking. A good place to stop for lunch. If venturing off the NC500 track you can catch a ferry from here to Stornoway. Interestingly for those interested in Whales and Dolphins, over 350 animals were spotted in a survey on one single crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway last year.
Knockan Crag: This geological site offers stunning views of the surrounding landscapes. It is also home to several walking trails.
Smoo Cave: This sea cave is located near Durness and offers a unique opportunity to explore underground waterfalls and caverns.
Cape Wrath: This is the most north-westerly point of mainland Britain and can only be reached by foot or by boat. It offers stunning views of the surrounding sea and landscapes.
Sandwood Bay: This secluded beach is one of the most beautiful on the NC500. It can only be reached by foot, but the walk is well worth it.
Lochinver: This village is known for its seafood, including lobster and langoustines. It is also a great place to stop and take in the stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.
Achmelvich Bay: This beach is one of the most popular on the NC500. It offers crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches.
Clachtoll Beach: This beach is another stunning spot on the NC500. It offers great views of the surrounding mountains and is a popular spot for camping.
Stoer Lighthouse: This lighthouse offers great views of the surrounding sea and landscapes. It is also a great spot for wildlife watching.
Ardvreck Castle: This ruined castle is located on the shores of Loch Assynt and offers a great spot for history lovers.
Falls of Shin: These waterfalls are located near Lairg and are a great spot for wildlife watching. They are also a popular spot for salmon fishing. This is often a good spot for watching the Salmon jumping up the falls during Salmon season.
Dunrobin Castle: This fairytale castle is located near Golspie and offers a great spot for history lovers. It is also home to a falconry display, beautiful gardens and spectacular views out to sea.
Dornoch: This town is known for its sandy beaches and golf courses. It is also a great spot for exploring the surrounding countryside.
Glenmorangie Distillery: This distillery is located near Tain and offers tours and tastings of their famous whisky.
Cromarty: This historic town is a great spot for exploring the surrounding countryside. It is also home to several galleries and museums. Fish for Mackerel off the pier (during season) or head out on a sea adventure with one of the local firms.
Chanonry Point: This peninsula is one of the best places to spot dolphins on the NC500. It is also a popular spot for bird watching.
Cawdor Castle: This castle is located slightly off the NC500 route near Nairn but offers a great spot for history lovers. It is also home to beautiful gardens and a pitch and putt golf course.
Nature Reserves on the NC500 Route
We have put together a list of some of the best nature reserves, SSSIs and locations of interest to nature lovers along the NC500 route:
Assynt – Assynt is a rugged and wild landscape of mountains, lochs and glens. The area is rich in wildlife, with red deer, golden eagles and otters among the creatures that call it home.
Beinn Eighe – Beinn Eighe is Scotland’s oldest national nature reserve, and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. The reserve is home to a number of rare and endangered species, including the pine marten and the wildcat.
Cairngorms National Park – Just outside of the route and south of Inverness, The Cairngorms National Park is home to some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife, including red deer, ptarmigan, capercaillie and the elusive Scottish wildcat. Perhaps schedule a stop in Aviemore if you are heading south on your return leg of your NC500 tour. Aviemore has lots to offer all year round.
Cape Wrath – Cape Wrath is the most north-westerly point on the British mainland, and is home to a wide range of birdlife, including fulmars, razorbills and guillemots.
Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape – The Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape is a partnership project that aims to protect and enhance the natural beauty and biodiversity of the area.
Corrieshalloch Gorge – Corrieshalloch Gorge is a spectacular natural feature, with a 46-metre-deep gorge and a dramatic suspension bridge over the River Droma. New visitor Centre opening 2023.
Handa Island – Handa Island is a nature reserve located off the coast of Sutherland. The island is home to a wide range of birdlife, including puffins, guillemots and razorbills.
Inverpolly National Nature Reserve – Inverpolly is a wild and rugged landscape of lochs and mountains, home to a diverse range of wildlife, including red deer, golden eagles and pine martens.
Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve – Loch Fleet is a tidal basin and estuary, home to a wide range of birdlife, including ospreys, oystercatchers and redshanks.
RSPB Forsinard Flows – The RSPB Forsinard Flows is a nature reserve in the Flow Country, one of Europe’s last remaining wilderness areas. The reserve is home to a wide range of birdlife, including hen harriers, merlins and curlews.
Smoo Cave – Smoo Cave is a spectacular natural feature, with a large sea cave and a freshwater cave. The cave is home to a number of species of bat.
Stac Pollaidh – Stac Pollaidh is a distinctive mountain in Assynt, with a distinctive ridge and a summit of 612 metres. The mountain is home to a range of wildlife, including red deer, mountain hares and golden eagles.
The Bone Caves – The Bone Caves are a series of limestone caves in Assynt, where the remains of prehistoric animals have been found. You can read more about the walk to the bone caves and other great hikes on the NC500 over at Walk Highlands
The Flow Country – The Flow Country is one of Europe’s last remaining wilderness areas, home to a wide range of wildlife, including golden eagles, hen harriers and red-throated divers.
The Summer Isles – The Summer Isles are a group of small islands off the coast of Wester Ross, home to a wide range of birdlife, including puffins, guillemots and razorbills.
Torridon – Torridon is a rugged and wild landscape of mountains, lochs and glens, home to a diverse range of wildlife. A great place to go hiking, nature spotting or for those with an interest in geology.
The NC500 and the surrounding areas have so much more to offer and lots of spectacular scenery, amazing adventures and fun to be had along the way.
We hope you enjoy your trip to The NC500 and the Highlands.
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