Take A Journey Through Scotland’s Beauty With The NC500 Road Trip
Spanning an impressive 516 miles, Scotland’s North Coast 500 also known as the NC500 or Scotland’s Route 66 lies on the northern coast of the country and draws in tourists from all over the world to experience the beauty of the Scottish highlands have to offer.
With so many stunning sights to take in along this iconic road trip, it can be intimidating if you’re planning to take on the NC500, so being experts on the roads, we at The Mansfield Group have put together this list of unmissable locations for the journey.
Starting in the capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness, the NC500 route is usually taken as a complete circular road meaning you’ll finish this journey right where you started it, having taken in countless impressive sites John O’Groats, Ullapool and so many more locations.
Falls Of Shin
Travelling anticlockwise around the Scotland North Coast 500, as our guide will take you, the Falls Of Shin are tucked into the Eastern Coast of northern Scotland and although they may not be the tallest waterfalls you’ll find they are still breathtaking to observe and produce a fascinating sight of jumping salmon, a natural phenomenon that occurs throughout the summer months.
With a small cafe near the falls too, you’ll find yourself refreshed and ready for the next part of your journey after you initially set off from Inverness along this Scottish driving route.
Beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Scotland however along the eastern coast you’ll find Dornoch Beach, a stretch of golden sands that to the naked eye appear to be endless. Giving you vast views of open seas and tranquil sands this beach is the perfect place to relax and take a stroll from the bustle of everyday life.
Travelling just a short distance inland from the beach, you’ll stumble into the town centre of Dornoch itself which is home to several cafes and warming pubs for you to grab a refreshment before setting off again.
For its size, it’s odd how much of a hidden gem the Whaligoe steps actually are, with no real signage pointing to them not many tourists some across the marvel of this sight. Believed to date back to the late 18th-century these 300 stone steps are surrounded by 250ft stone cliffs and lead down to the old storage harbour that used to be home to over 20 fishing boats.
Proceeding to the northern coast of this Scottish driving route, the NC500, the Duncansby stacks are an incredible must-see sight. Being warned down by lively water and harsh winds over thousands of years the cliff head has separated into hugely distinct towers, the tallest of which stands 60m above sea level.
Due to this dangerous weather, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Duncansby Lighthouse was built to guide boats through the perilous waters known locally as Hell’s Mouth. Although being made automated in 1997 this lighthouse still stands and is operational to this day and brings true man-made beauty to the harshness of nature that this area represents.
Drawing thousands of visitors every year, the John O’ Groats Signpost is famous in its own right and luckily sits upon the northern coast route of the NC500. As the endpoint of the 874 mile UK trail from Lands End to John O’Groats people flock to this site all the time to capture a picture of the ‘end of the world’.
Although it may be busy here, we recommend taking a moment to take in just where you are standing at the utmost peak of the mainland UK, a point that people hundreds of years ago could only dream of what lies beyond.
Taking a step away from your car for a while, Coldbackie beach is another hidden gem along the Scottish coastline being concealed from the view of any roads by sand dunes. These beautiful white sands and crystal blue waters are a perfect stop off for a moment of seclusion away from the world.
Although we do advise caution when heading down to the beach as it can be quite the tricky climb especially if the ground is wet underfoot.
A stop for the true explorers amongst us, allowing visitors to journey through history dating back to the first Viking settlers in the UK. Smoo Cave lies just outside of the town of Durness and can be accessed 24/7 through its huge 50ft limestone opening, leading you into the dark history of the cave such as when it was used to dispose of 18 bodies in the 17th century by the infamous Donald McMurdo.
Being a true part of Scottish history, we put this down as one of the top stops possible along the NC500 road trip. Offering true teaching moments about how the Scottish coast came to be from continental drift away from North America to how the Vikings helped shape the country’s culture after landing here.
Ullapool is a picturesque fishing town that sits surrounded by the mountains of the Scottish Highlands that holds evidence of human settlements as old as 2,500 years old with an old fort system viewable just north of the harbour itself.
With plenty of shops within the town, Ullapool is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir from your NC500 journey as it is getting closer to the end, you’re bound to find something in this beautiful and historic harbour town that will bring you a memory of the vast journey for years to come.
You may even find yourself a place to stay in one of the local hotels or pubs where you can settle in for the night and get to know the locals, taking in all the local culture possible.
Bealach na Ba Pass
Perhaps one of the most famous stretches of road within the UK, Bealach na Ba Pass is the third highest road in Scotland going from sea level to 626 meters high. First constructed through the Applecross peninsula in 1822 to transport cattle to markets in central Scotland the road is a must when completing Scotland’s North Coast 500, not only holding history but a unique drive leading to a spectacular view of the Isle of Skye.
Unfortunately, vehicles over 16ft aren’t able to make the journey through Bealach na Ba due to the nature of the roads turns, although many try to make it each year we strongly advise finding another route around if you are in a larger vehicle.
Completing The North Coast 500
After passing through Bealach na Ba you’ll find yourself in the small town of Applecross, a perfect stop off before the final stretch of the NC500 where you can stretch your legs and take a trip to the local high street or maybe even the local pub to stay the night before your journey back round to Inverness.
The NC500 is definitely one of the longest road trips you can take in the UK and certainly the longest of all the Scottish driving routes, lasting anywhere from 5 to 10 days to complete the full circuit so make sure you’re prepared before setting off with everything you’ll need along the journey and that your vehicle of choice is ready and able to complete the entire road trip.
If you do find yourself getting into some car trouble, you can give our team a call on 0870 600 2444 and we’ll do all we can to get you moving again ensuring you’re able to complete the NC500 with no further issues and you don’t find yourself heading home early.