So you want to do the North Coast 500?
I don’t blame you.
Well, in this post I’m going to take you through every single place I visited on my 6 day road trip in the hope that it helps you plan yours.
If you’d just like to know all the places I stayed, you can check that out here.
6 Day North Coast 500 Itinerary
North Coast 500 – Day 1
Fort Augustus to Gairloch
As we left it quite late to book, Inverness – the traditional start of the North Coast 500 – was pretty booked up and so we decided to start 50 minutes away in Fort Augustus which meant we could also sneak in a trip to spot the Loch Ness monster as well.
Check out of Fort Augustus B&B
We stayed at Monk’s Retreat B&B which you unfortunately can’t book at the moment, but Loch Ness Guest House comes highly rated too.
Following a cracking breakfast (I bloody love B&Bs), we got into our car and headed straight to Loch Ness.
The search for Nessie at Loch Ness
We jumped on a 1 hour tour with Jacobite Cruises which we had to book beforehand and cost us £17 each. We did not see Nessie (gutted) but we did have fun.
History of the Highlands at Culloden
Next, we visited the battlefied where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to a tragic end which gave us a great understanding of the history of the highlands. The exhibition at Culloden Battlefield is well done and entrance will cost you £11 each, or free if you’re a National Trust member. You can also walk around the battlefield for free!
Lunch in Inverness
Just 300m down the road from Inverness Castle, the official start of the North Coast 500, we stopped off for a quick bite at Rendezvous Cafe. It was cheap, cheerful and played a bagpipe version of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’.
Officially start the North Coast 500!
Fed and watered, we finally began the North Coast 500 road trip and within minutes were blown away by the stunning scenery and the near empty roads. Our first stop off with the Glen Docherty Viewpoint which offers one of the most iconic views across the highlands. We then doubled back on ourselves so that we could attempt our next challenge…
Battle the Bealch na Bà
Notoriously difficult, the Bealch na Bà is infamous single track road where things can get a bit tricky if you meet an oncoming car… Especially if it’s a motorhome! Not recommended for first time drivers or bulky vehicles but if you’re anything like James, you’ll love the challenge.
Celebrate with a shandy in Applecross
Applecross – the perfect place to celebrate the fact you made it through the Bealch na Bà in one piece! We grabbed a quick half and tucked into some fish and chips at the Applecross Inn.
Make many, many stops to take photos
Whilst it’s technically faster to go back the way you came, we decided to keep following the coast from Applecross and we are so glad that we did. The sun came out and it was some of the most stunning scenery we’ve ever come across. We passed through Lonbain, Fearnmore, Ardheslaig, Sheildag and Torridon.
North Coast 500 - Day 2
Gairloch to Ullapool
I like to call this a day of beaches. Honestly, I was blown away by how many beautiful – and most DESERTED – beaches we passed this day!
In the vlog, I also share how you could get yourself a campervan for just £1 a day!
Visit your first beach
Just 10 minutes down the road we hit our first beach. Parking at Sands Caravan and Camping Park, we walked a few minutes over the dunes to reach Big Sand Beach which was stunning!
Get ready for some more amazing scenery
Back on the road, we headed back on ourselves and continued driving east around the coast. We once again found ourselves stopping the car so often to take in the magnificent views. This was taken around Drumchork.
Stop for lunch at Gruinard Bay
Feeling very smug that we’d already sorted lunch, we decamped to the desolate Gruinard Beach to tuck into our sandwiches.
The water was so clear!!
Check in at Ullapool B&B
After Gruinard Bay we slowly made our way to our next stopover location, Ullapool, to get our key and drop off our bags. We stayed at the Foinaven B&B which was super comfy and a 15 minute walk into the centre of Ullapool (more on that later on).
Off to one of Scotland’s best beaches
Given our early check in, we decided to visit Achmelvich Beach which is a little off the beaten track but boy are we glad that we made that 56 minute trip! It is hands down the most beautiful beach I’ve ever encountered and I still can’t believe how blue the water was. A must visit! There’s also a campsite here – and a fish and chips shop too!
A walk down to Rhue Lighthouse
On our way back to Ullapool we stopped off at Rhue Lighthouse which is apparently a great spot for watching the sunset. But, given that we went in the middle of the summer where the sun sets very late, we were gasping for a pint and so just stopped off en route to the pub.
The Seafood Shack for dinner
Back in Ullapool’s warm embrace, we headed to an outdoor food truck called, The Seafood Shack, for an amazing dinner of mackerel pâté, smoked trout salad and a tempura haddock wrap. It was EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD.
North Coast 500 – Day 3
Ullapool to Talmine (via Durness!)
Day 3 was all about action and adventure – oh, and a nice beach too. It’s hard to say no when they’re just there.
Check out of Foinaven B&B
We got served Ullapool smoked salmon at this B&B for breakfast – how fancy. But with an early kick out time (as seems to be the case with all B&Bs) it wasn’t long until we were back on the road.
Load up on essentials
Whilst it’s not quite the tourist hotspot, the Tesco in Ullapool is one of the last big supermarkets you’re going to come across for a while so if you need to stock up – do it now! We did, and we’re glad for it. We also stopped off at West Coast Deli to score some coffees and an ‘Ullapool Bridie’. It’s a pasty with steak mine and onions and it’s bloody delish.
Visit some castle ruins
Our first stop of the day was to Ardvreck Castle which dates back to the 16th century. It started raining as we arrived so this is a good as time as any to remind you to pack for all weathers when visiting the Scottish Highlands – even in summer!
Take a photo at Kylesku Bridge
The perfect spot to stretch your legs and take a photo of the epic Kylesku Bridge. And, if you’re a saddo like James, you can ask your travel partner to film you driving back across it!
Eat chocolate and shop at Balnakeil Craft Village
Though we’d already glimpsed Durness’ award winning beach, we turned left and first headed to Balnakeil Craft Village for some lunch. We ate at The Whale Tale but there’s also other crafts to check out here, as well as the famous Cocoa Mountain for chocolate treats for friends, family and most importantly, yourself.
Take a walk on Sangomore Beach
Yep, it’s award winning for a reason – it’s blimmin’ huge and it’s blimmin’ lovely. What’s more, it was totally empty when we arrived mid afternoon.
Grab a hard hat and go caving
Next, we travelled a mile up the road to Smoo Cave where we paid £6 each for a 20 minute tour. This involved wearing a hard hat, sitting in an inflatable boat on top of piranha infested waters and scrabbling about in back caves looking at stalactites so it was pretty damn cool, yeah.
A quick adrenaline burst before dinner
If a cave tour wasn’t exciting enough, we then decided to hurl ourselves hundreds of feet up over Ceannabeinne Beach with Golden Eagle Zip Line. It cost £12 each which is quite spendy considering it lasted about a minute, but it was worth it for the rush and the views!
Dinner with real knives and forks
Up to this point we’d been mostly living off sandwiches and soups at small cafes so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the The Tongue Hotel restaurant. I definitely recommend the langoustines!
Time to check into a glamping pod in Talmine
I booked this place because 1) Durness was all booked up and 2) the views looked INSANE. Therefore, it was a shame that we had really bad fog all evening! However, I loved the pod all the same – it was cute and cosy and had everything you could possibly need for a short stay. I found it on Airbnb and if you’re new, you can get up to £40 off your first booking here.
North Coast 500 – Day 4
Talmine to Wick (via John o'Groats!)
On Day 4 we finally reached John o’Groats – a popular place for tourists thanks to it being one end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points on the mainland. It’s 876 miles from Land’s End in Cornwall! We then started our exploration of the east coast.
Stop off for a quick bite
With a big day ahead, we quickly realised that the coco pops wouldn’t keep us full for long so we stopped off at Bettyhill Cafe for a bacon bap which has since reopened as Clachan Cafe. You could also try stopping off at The Store Cafe and stock up on some goodies from their shop whilst you’re there!
Visit a local museum
As we made our way back to the car, we spotted the Strathnaver Museum behind the cafe! The museum is lovingly ran by the local community and has a project all about the Mackay clan so if you’ve got links, this place is for you. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the museum have decided to remain closed for the duration of 2020 but hope to be back open in 2021.
Restock or get your wifi fill in Thurso
In the grey weather, Thurso didn’t quite have the same charm as other towns we’d stopped off at but it’s a great place to stock up at Tesco Superstore. They also have lots of local shops as well as the usual high street stores, and a few cafes with decent wifi too. We stopped off at Cafe Cardosi to send some emails and grab a cuppa.
Try out some local gin
Next, we drove to Dunnet Bay Distillery, home of Rock Rose gin! They do a daily tour and gin tastings from £15 per person but make sure you book in advance! Otherwise there’s a shop selling all the gin and if you’re lucky like us, you can try a small sample of the gin for yourself.
Pose for a photo at John o’Groats
Surely a tick on anyone’s checklist when they’re roaming the area? Whilst it was grey and windy when we arrived, it did mean that there weren’t many others around!
Eat a sandwich as big as your face
Yep, you read that right. After our little photoshoot, we decided to have lunch at The Storehouse cafe where we ordered the soup and a sandwich deal. At £8.50, we thought it was pretty pricey until it arrived and the sarnie was the size of James’ head. If you head here and order this, please PLEASE let me know on Instagram or Twitter if they’re still this big or if there was just a very generous chef in that day!
Visit the actual tip of the country
John o’Groats may be the name you know but it’s Duncansby Head which is actually the most northeasterly part of the British mainland. And what a beautiful place it was! Check out the lighthouse and walk along the coast to seek out the Duncansby Stacks, looking out for some puffins on the way!
Check into your B&B
If you’ve got time, check out Sinclair’s Bay and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe on your drive down but we decided to keep going as we had evening plans in Wick. We found this very cute, one bedroom B&B on Airbnb just down the road from Wick and what can I say, don’t be put off by the fact that the first picture is of the owners and their dog!! Lisa was the friendliest host in the world and you can tell she takes real pride in giving you the best service ever for a great value price. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get money off your first booking here.
Head to the pub in Wick
There’s a Heritage Centre and even a distillery, but we ended up heading straight to the pub to watch the footy. This is not a normal activity for us but England were playing in the World Cup and we obviously had a death sentence by deciding to go and support them in a Scottish pub… Ha! Fortunately, England lost so the punters were happy, and we were a couple of drinks in by this point and so pretty happy too
North Coast 500 – Day 5
Wick to Dornoch
Day 5 was all about CASTLES – we even ended up staying in one in the gorgeous town of Dornoch.
Check out of Cosy Croft B&B
Saying goodbye to our Lisa and her B&B was sad – she was the best host ever and you can bet that she put on a cracking spread before we left! All the cereals in the world and an amazing full Scottish breakfast, complete with haggis!
Visit your first castle of the day
As we’d missed it on our way down, we headed 20 minutes north of Wick to check out Castle Sinclair Girnigoe which comprises of two castle ruins from the 15th and 17th century.
Get your steps in
The Whaligoe Steps is a man-made stairway of 365 steps that descend down to what was one a landing place for fishing boats. This was one of my favourite places we visited – the views were absolutely stunning and made up for the steep climb at the end!
Now for another castle!
There are a fair few castles on this coastline but for our next stop, we headed to Dunrobin Castle which is like something out of a Wes Anderson movie. We timed it perfectly to watch their falconry show in the incredible gardens. It’s £11 to enter but it is HUGE and proper interesting – we felt it was more than worth the money.
Check in to… another castle!!
Since it was our last night on the North Coast 500, we decided to go FANCY and stay at Dornoch Castle Hotel which is known for its extensive whiskey bar!
Explore the seaside resort of Dornoch
For those who claim that the west coast is where the beauty is at, I think they must forget about the town of Dornoch – it’s gorgeous!! Cute shops, cafes, restaurants, a golf course, a very fancy hotel and even a beach. There’s loads to do and see.
Tuck into a delicious meal
There’s plenty of pubs with the usual fare but we managed to get the very last table (sat outside with the cars) at Luigi and boy are we glad we did. The food was amazing and I’d definitely recommend you book a table if you want to eat here.
North Coast 500 – Day 6
Dornoch to Inverness
Day 6 – our final day on the road! And whilst it’s only a 56 minute drive from Dornoch to Inverness, there was still lots to see and do.
Check out of your castle stay
After a solid spread at Dornoch Castle Hotel, we got back on the road to start our final day of exploration.
Get back to nature
Rogie Falls has several good forest walks and you may even be able to spot some salmon at its waterfall!
Learn about Scottish whiskey on a tour
Now, there are loads of different distilleries you can visit on the North Coast 500. We chose Glen Ord Distillery as it was just off our route, had next day availability and cost a respectable £15 each including a tutored tasting.
Explore the starting place of the North Coast 500
We whizzed through Inverness at the start of our journey so it was the perfect time to take a stroll around the city and have a late lunch.
Finish the NC500!
As Inverness Castle is technically the start of the road trip, it’s here we ended it too. What an amazing road trip!
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