A Brief Guide To The North Coast 500

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What is the North Coast 500? 

Put simply, the North Coast 500 is a 500-mile route (516 to be exact) along Scotland’s northern coast. The route begins and ends in Inverness. The NC500 is being aptly named as “Scotland’s Route 66” and is known to be one of the top coastal and scenic road trips in the world.

How many days should I do the drive?

We recommend a minimum of 7 days doing this road trip. Most itineraries suggest 5 to 7 days. We did it in 6 days and honestly felt that it could’ve been done with an extra day or two. 

Should I drive clockwise or anti-clockwise?

We did ours clockwise, from Inverness heading west. Some travelers prefer to do it anti-clockwise because the best parts of the route are in Wester Ross. So our answer to this question would be: the decision is entirely up to you.

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When is the best time of the year to do the NC500?

The North Coast 500 Guidebook by Charles Tait says that May and June are the driest, while July to September are the sunniest. Locals advised us not to come on August, its peak season. We did the route end of May/beginning of June and indeed we had the perfect summer/spring weather with a lot of daylight until 10 pm.

Do I need to book anything?

YES! The bulk of reservations you’ll need to do is accommodation as you’ll be staying in a different area every night. This is where the research part comes in so you can make the most of your time in the Highlands. As a gift, you can get £25 OFF your first AirBnb booking.

Additionally if you don't own a car, your choice of transport also matters.  We've come across travelers driving campervans, bicycles, and motorcycles - you can look for car hire options here. It's important to take caution if you're driving a large vehicle especially on narrow parts of the drive. We drove a Mini convertible which was just right for tight spaces and numerous passing places and was nimble on winding roads.

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How should I plan my trip?

Planning the North Coast 500 involves research, setting a budget, deciding how many days you intend to do the route, looking into accommodation, choosing your set of wheels, and listing down the places you want to see and things you want to do. Phew. We made sure our trip included walking and hiking so we researched a few trails on Walk Highlands. We also purchased The North Coast 500 Guide Book by Charles Tait which was very helpful in outlining our itinerary.

Note that in some parts of the route mobile signal will be very poor. It helps to carry a physical map and a mobile map you can create on Google Maps that can be accessed offline. We brought a copy of the North Coast 500 map and a Navigator Scotland for a road atlas of Scotland.

Other useful resources: North Coast 500 Official Website | NC500 Facebook Group | Visit Scotland 

Read our other NC500 posts: Full Route Itinerary |

What’s to see and do along the route?

Quite a lot! Don’t be misled if you think from Point A to Point B is only a three hour drive, you’ll soon realise you’ve spent a whole morning having only driven ten miles. Along the road you’ll find castles and ruins, farms of sheep, highland cows, rivers, lochs (lakes), glens (valleys), beaches, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque villages. The gorgeous landscapes and wildlife are quite endless. There are also museums, distilleries, and breweries along the way. What’s amazing about the North Coast 500 is the route itself is the itinerary. 

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Is this a family-friendly drive? 

The route caters to everyone and the amount of things to see and do are enjoyable for a family. Imagine picnics on the beach or walking trails that lead to a waterfall or a castle by the cliff! Note that for road safety you cannot travel in convoy due to the number of passing places capable of accommodating only one vehicle. 

Should we spend our honeymoon driving the NC500?

We thought you’d never ask! If you guys are the type of couple who admire the outdoors and love an adventure, then this trip is for you. The stunning landscape views are undeniably romantic, every corner a sweet spot for a celebrating couple. Castle hotels are at your disposal should you want to spend some luxury time in the Highlands and even fine dining restaurants, tea rooms, and distilleries for the whisky lovers. Check out the Luxury Itinerary sample on the NC500 website for a few tips. 

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PLAN YOUR NORTH COAST 500 TRIP WITH THE HELP OF OUR POSTS BELOW!