There is so much to see on the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands – we spent just over a week road tripping around and we only scratched the surface! In any case, we’d like to share a few of our favourite spots with you. For reference, the direction of travel we went was counterclockwise from the east to west coast, and that is reflected in the order of this post.
1. Duncansby Stacks
Duncansby Stacks is a stunning set of sea stacks in Caithness and is the most northeasterly part of mainland Britain. The Great Stack is over 60 metres high. From the car park, it is a short walk to the closest viewpoint, but you can also spend some time walking around to get different vantage points. We lucked out with a lovely sunrise while we were in the area so got the beautiful golden hour glow!
2. John o’ Groats
Really close to Duncansby Stacks is John o’ Groats, the most northerly town on mainland Britain. It is also the start (or end) of the End to End journey from John o’ Groats to Land’s End in southwest England. It is very clearly a tourist trap town but it does have very nice colourful houses and a harbour.
3. Ceannabeinne Beach
There are a number of lovely beaches along the NC500 route but we singled this beach out because there is a car park at the top of the hill which overlooks the beach. On the one night where we didn’t have a campsite booked, we ended up parking our motorhome there to stay overnight. Many others did the same and some also did some proper wild camping by pitching their tent near the beach.
4. Smoo Cave
This is an amazing combined sea cave and freshwater cave in Durness, complete with a waterfall inside! Pre-Covid, you could take a boat ride into the cave, but this is not available at the moment.
There is also a great walk up the hill and around the cave if you wish to do so.
Perhaps one of the blessings in disguise when it comes to Covid is that everyone queued up nicely to take photos of the waterfall, allowing me to set up my tripod and take a long exposure shot! Pre-Covid, it might’ve been shoulder to shoulder with phones and cameras waving in the air to try to take a photo.
5. The scenic route from Lochinver to Loch Bad a’ Ghaill
We used Lochinver and Loch Bad a’ Ghaill as guideposts for when you look this up on Google Maps. We were staying in Achmelvich and heading south to Ullapool that day, and we decided that we would take the longer but more scenic route, and it didn’t disappoint! It just so happened that it was an extremely sunny day so the scenery just popped!
Ullapool is a wee village in Ross and Cromarty with only 1,500 residents, but it is one of the largest towns in the area. The drive into Ullapool from the north is very nice, especially on a sunny day. It is a cute little village to either stay a night or two or to stop for lunch. It is also the perfect place to stock up on food as between Thurso (on the northeast) and Ullapool (on the west), grocery stores are basically non-existent!
7. Glen Docherty viewpoint
The Glen Docherty viewpoint is deemed one of the most iconic views in the Scottish Highlands, and for good reason! The glen (valley) was shaped by glaciation from around 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago.
8. Wild camping in Applecross
This is not something we did ourselves but wish we had as we passed by! Deer are known to frequent the Applecross area, so if it works with your itinerary, take a night to wild camp in the area and you may come across some deer! It is simply a very rural and peaceful area.
9. Bealach na Ba
The Bealach na Ba road is arguably the most scenic road on the entire NC500 route but it is also very curvy and mountainous. Make sure you are well-versed in driving on single track roads before you attempt this drive! The clouds were extremely low when we were there so we didn’t actually see the road, but it did make for a more exciting ride!
There are so many places that we didn’t mention, but a few other spots that we stopped by include:
- Ruthven Barracks (not on the NC500 route but on the way north to Inverness)
- Chanonry Point (a viewing spot for dolphins)
- Dunrobin Castle
- Dunnet Beach
- Strathy Beach
- Loch Eriboll
- Sango Bay
- Kylesku Bridge (though we weren’t very amazed considering the hype over this bridge)
- Ardvreck Castle
- Ardheslaig (where there is an iconic house with a red roof)
Have you checked out our YouTube video of the NC500 yet? Make sure you do!
We hope you enjoyed reading a bit about the places to see on the NC500 route! Where would you like to go the most? Is there anywhere else you’d add? Let us know in the comments!