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The NC500 is a scenic road trip route through the Scottish Highlands. In 500 miles (805 kms), or 516, to be precise, the road hugs the coastline, weaves through mountain ranges, crosses small towns and passes historical sites. We embarked on our road trip in June 2023 and instantly knew this drive would top our list of highlights from Scotland.

5 Day Road Trip on the NC500 - Scotland






This itinerary starts in Inverness and embarks on the NC500 in an anticlockwise direction.

We recommend arriving in Inverness the day before and exploring the city that afternoon. This will give you more time on the road on day one.

Take the A9 north out of Inverness, and in just over an hour, you will reach Dunrobin Castle. This popular tourist attraction is the largest great house in the Northern Highlands. Visitors can explore 18 rooms, the garden and the museum. They also have a tearoom, gift shop and falconry displays throughout the day.

Tickets to Dunrobin Castle cost £14 for adults. The castle and gardens welcome visitors from April to October. In the peak season, the site opens from 10 am to 5 pm, but best to double-check their website before visiting.

After exploring the castle, continue north for half an hour to The River Bothy. This cute teahouse is the perfect stop for morning tea or lunch. They serve hot drinks, tasty meals, and a range of homemade goods that make the bothy smell delightful.

Another 30 minutes north will bring you to the Whaligoe Steps. Descend the 365 steps to the peaceful harbour below. Enjoy the calm beneath the towering cliffs before making the climb back up. At the top, you can also walk around to the opposite side, which gives a lovely view of the staircases you just conquered.

From Whaligoe, it is only a 10-minute drive to the town of Wick. This former Viking settlement is a great place to grab lunch if you haven’t already or simply explore the town. Be sure to check out the Wick Bridge and the shortest street in the world, Ebenezer Place.

Not far from the town are the ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. This once-grand building is located on the cliffside, with great views out to sea. Despite some of the buildings being covered in scaffolding, the ruins are still amazing to see and even more fun to explor.

Access to the castle is free and only a short walk across a field from Noss Head car park.


These picturesque camping pods are on a peaceful property 20 minutes from Wick. The owners have decked out these simple camping pods to include a comfortable bed, TV, basic kitchenette, table and heaters. The bathroom is in a separate block, only a few meters away. It includes the toilet, sink and shower, all very clean and private, with basic amenities provided.

Duncansby Stacks - Best Places to stop on the NC500, Scottish Highlands



Begin the day with a short, 15-minute drive north to the Duncansby Stacks. These large sea stacks are a short walk from the Duncansby Lighthouse on the dramatic coastline of Duncansby Head. The views down the coastline are spectacular.

The lighthouse car park is free and the viewpoint for the stacks is just under a mile (1.6 km) across the grassy headland.

After the stacks, head to John O’Groats harbour. Here you’ll find cafes, shops, the visitor’s centre and tour operators for ferries out to the islands. Don’t forget to take the obligatory photo at the popular John O’Groats signpost before leaving.

Top NC500 destinations - Annie's Bakery - Highland Cow Tart

Continue driving along the A836 for 10 minutes, then take a left turn onto the country roads leading to Annie’s Bakery. This is a perfect spot for morning tea. They have a full menu and a selection of fresh-baked bread, pastries, sausage rolls, pies, desserts, hot drinks and their signature masterpiece, the highland cow tarts.

Annie’s Bakery is only open from 10 am to 2 pm Wednesday, Thursday Friday and Sunday.

After morning tea, head to yet another spectacular coastline at Dunnet Head. This is also a popular birdwatching and whale-watching spot. Down the road from Dunnet Head is the Dunnet Bay Distillery. They offer tours, or you can visit the shop and grab some of their signature spirits to try later.

From Dunnet Head, drive west for 1 hour, then turn at Strathy towards Strathy Point Lighthouse. This destination is on private property, but signs note visitors are permitted to pass through. Due to this setting, the headland is usually much quieter than similar locations on the NC500. There is also a cute miniature lighthouse at the trail's end.

The walk to the lighthouse takes 10-15 minutes through farmland There will be livestock, mostly sheep, but you may also encounter a very muscular bull.

The next section of the drive is very windy and narrow at times, but it is also incredibly scenic. There are many valleys, mountains, lakes and lookouts to keep you occupied on the 1.5-hour journey to Durness. Just before the town is Smoo Cave. You can walk into the mouth of the cave and the first cavern for free. To go any further, you will need to join a boat tour. These guided tours cost £10, payable in cash, and run until 5 pm in peak season.

Finish the day in Durness, where you can explore the Balnekeil Craft Village before checking in to your accommodation.


We found very few available options in the area when we visited. Due to this, we went a bit above our price range, but we really enjoyed our stay. This is a 2-bedroom guesthouse with a kitchen, living space, bathroom, main bedroom and bunkbed room. There is also a sauna for an extra cost. There was no phone service here, but the host provided a huge DVD selection with options to suit every taste.



On day three, d south out of Durness on the A838. This will eventually turn into the A984 as it snakes along the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. In just under 1.5 hours, you will reach the turnoff to the B869.

If you leave Durness early, most shops won't be open. The first cafe we found open was just before the B869 in Unapool. It's called Rock Stop Café and Exhibition Centre. They serve drip coffee, tea and a few breakfast items. You can also browse the exhibition while you wait.
Scenic Drive in the Scottish Highlands - NC500

The B869, also known as the Drumbeg Loop, is a scenic road that weaves along the coastline and through Scottish woodlands. Much of the drive is a narrow, single-track road, so expect to go slow and pull over a lot.

When the B869 reaches the A837, ignore the NC500 sign and turn right instead. This brings you to the town of Lochinver; a great place to stretch your legs, but most importantly, to visit Lochinver Larder. This restaurant is known for their delicious, award-winning pies, but they also have a range of meals, hot and cold beverages and a courtyard on the river.

After lunch, rejoin the NC500, travelling inland on the A837. 15 minutes down the road, you will arrive at Loch Assynt. Here you can explore the ruins of Ardvreck Castle and Calda House.

Continuing south, take the turn off at Ledmore Junction to the A835, then take another right-hand turn a Drumrunie towards Loch Lurgainn. In 30 minutes, you will reach the start of the trail to Stac Pollaidh. This hike takes you to a rocky summit, providing 360-degree views of the incredibly scenic landscape.

The hike takes 2-2.5 hours. The trail is well-marked and maintained, with a steady incline, and a bit of rock scrambling to the summit. The parking lot is free but the nearest public toilets are 15 minutes away in Achiltibuie.

Once you’ve completed the hike, drive the final 25 minutes into the town of Ullapool.


This is a bedroom in a family home with a private bathroom external to the room. It is one of two Airbnbs inside the house. Everything is spotless and cosy, with all the basic amenities you need for a short stay and a few breakfast items. The host meets you on arrival and is incredibly welcoming and kind.



We dedicated the fourth day to hiking. If you do not enjoy hiking or you'd prefer to spend your time differently on this road trip, skip ahead to day five.
An Teallach - Best hikes on the NC500 road trip

Scotland boasts some of the most incredible mountain ranges on mainland UK. If you want to takle a trail on the NC500, An Teallach is one of the best. Along this hike, you will traverse ridges, bag two Munros, and enjoy 360-degrees of epic views.

There are multiple trails to choose from, varying in length and difficulty. You may also find yourself jumping between different routes along the way to reach gorgeous viewpoints, take shortcuts, or avoid the grade 3 scramble for a slightly easier trek to the top.

There are multiple trails but most are only marked by cairns, so we recommend downloading the hike you plan to do on the AllTrails app. You can utilise the offline GPS to track your movement and navigate. We love using AllTrails, especially while travelling and hiking in less familiar areas.


We stayed in a different Airbnb in Badachro this night, but we wish we had returned to the place in Ullapool as we preferred that Airbnb and the town had more amenities. However, this does add to the drive time on day five.



Drive south of Ullapool to the village of Shieldaig. This quaint town is located on Loch Shieldaig and has a beautiful waterfront. There are a few cafes and a sweet little honesty box with fresh homemade goods. Across the water, you can see Shieldaig Island, covered in Scots pine. This island is owned by the National Trust and is a conservation area for White-Tailed Eagles.

Just after Shieldaig, take a right turn and follow the coastline towards Applecross. Stop at a few of the lookouts and beaches to enjoy the scenery, but before you reach the town, stop first at the Applecross Walled Garden. Enjoy a delicious lunch and refreshing drink, explore the colourful gardens and say hello to the Highland Cows.

The Applecross Walled Garden is very popular. We were fortunate to get the last table for lunch before guests were turned away. We recommend making a reservation if you don’t want to miss out. You can enjoy the gardens without stopping for lunch. Parking and access is free.

After lunch, head into the main town of Applecross. There are plenty of options for food here as well, with cafes, restaurants and bars offering dining right on the waterfront. Then head out of town on the Applecross Pass. This pass winds up into the mountains to the very popular scenic road known as Bealach na Bà. Several hairpin turns on a single-track road bring you down into the valley and out to Loch Kishorn.

There is a small pullover area just before you begin the descent down Bealach na Bà. This is a perfect lookout point to see and capture the famous road before making the journey down.

Once you’ve completed the scenic drive, drive the last 30 minutes of the road trip to the town of Lochcarron.


This is a room and ensuite in a B&B. The host, who also lives on the property, is very welcoming. The room is comfortable, clean and spacious. The shared spaces in the lounge and dining have views of the water across their beautiful garden. It is a short walk and an even shorter drive to the main streets of town, with a few shops and restaurants. The host also cooks a delicious Scottish breakfast for you in the morning.



Our adventures on the NC500 ended in Lochcarron to continue south to the nearby Isle of Skye as we embarked on a bigger UK road trip. Check out our Top Things To Do on the Isle of Skye.  

To complete the entire loop of the NC500, you can either drive the final section from Lochcarron to Inverness at the end of day five or add an extra day to the itinerary. This drive takes 1.5 hours.


We completed these five days on the NC500 as part of a much bigger UK road trip. We started and ended the trip in Edinburgh, which is also where we hired our car. We chose Hertz firstly because they had a competitive rate at the time and secondly, they are a reputable company we've had great experiences with. We hired a manual 2wd that was in great condition.


When planning our travel destinations, we pin our bucket list of sites to see and recommended places to eat and drink on Google Maps. We are then never lost for ideas when travelling, and can easily share these lists for our friends and family to use as well.

Click here to see our Google Maps for the 5-Day NC500 Itinerary.

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