Tackling the North Coast 500 is something that's been on all of our UK staycation bucket lists for years now. Ever since Covid when we couldn't leave the UK even if we wanted to, taking a road trip along the breathtaking North Coast 500 has become more and more popular. In this blog, we're going to unpack all you need to know about planning a stress-free road trip along this iconic route including:

  • The best North Coast 500 accommodations
  • The most beautiful beaches
  • Food and drink recommendations
  • Must-see stops

So let's dive in!

Our Ultimate Guide to the North Coast 500

What is the North Coast 500?

a map of the north coast 500 route
The North Coast 500 is often dubbed as Scotland's answer to America's Route 66, spans a whopping 500 miles around the northern coast of Scotland. Picture-perfect landscapes, rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and charming villages await you along this unforgettable journey. From the quaint fishing villages of the East Coast to the dramatic vistas of the west, every twist and turn of the North Coast 500 is filled with surprises and breathtaking views.

How long does it take to drive the North Coast 500?

a sign along the north coast 500
Most adventurers opt for a leisurely 5 to 7-day journey to fully soak in the breathtaking scenery and explore charming stops along the way. However, if you're short on time, you could feasibly tackle it in 3 to 4 days with a more brisk approach. Whether you choose to savour every moment or zip through, the North Coast 500 promises an unforgettable experience amidst Scotland's stunning landscapes.

Can you cycle or run the North Coast 500?

Believe it or not, you can actually cycle or run the North Coast 500 but it's no easy feat! The Scottish Highlands provides its own set of challenges like steep inclines and variable weather conditions but it does offer an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in nature and test one's physical limits. If you do plan to cycle or run this famous route, make sure you do some serious preparation and pre-planning.

What is the best North Coast 500 route?

Achmelvich beach on the NC500
Although the beauty of going on a UK road trip is having the freedom to create your own route and itinerary, the most popular NC500 route starts in Inverness and goes anti-clockwise. This direction allows for a gradual introduction to the route's scenic highlights including:

  • The Black Isle
  • The rugged Wester Ross coastline
  • Picturesque Applecross
  • John o' Groats

That said, there's no shortage of breathtaking detours and alternative NC500 routes to explore, ensuring that each journey is unique and memorable.

The Best North Coast 500 beaches

one of the best north coast 500 beaches is durness beach
Although Scotland is not the most obvious beach destination, it actually boasts several stunning golden beaches with many lining the infamous NC500 route:

  • Durness Beach: Located in the village of Durness, Durness Beach stands out as one of the most breathtaking spots along the NC500 route. With its pristine sands and azure waters, this beach offers a slice of paradise amidst the rugged Scottish coastline. Accessible just a short stroll from the village, it's an ideal spot for sunbathing, beachcombing, and enjoying the scenic beauty of the North Coast 500.
  • Achmelvich Beach: Nestled near the village of Achmelvich, Achmelvich Beach enchants visitors with its golden sands and turquoise waters. Easily accessible by road, this picturesque beach is perfect for swimming, picnicking, and soaking up the sun. Its tranquil atmosphere and stunning vistas make it a must-visit destination along the NC500.
  • Clashnessie Beach: For a more secluded escape, Clashnessie Beach offers a rugged coastline and dramatic cliffs. Located near the village of Clashnessie, this hidden gem can be reached via a short trail from the nearby parking area. Its remote location adds to its allure, providing visitors with a sense of serenity and solitude amidst the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
  • Sandwood Bay: Tucked away along the remote coastline of Sutherland, Sandwood Bay is a true wilderness paradise. Accessible only by a scenic hike from the hamlet of Blairmore, this beach rewards intrepid travellers with breathtaking vistas and pristine sands. Despite its remote location, Sandwood Bay remains one of the NC500's most coveted destinations, offering a glimpse into the untamed beauty of Scotland's coastal landscapes.

These are only a few of the incredible NC500 beaches, so when you spot one as you cruise along be sure to make a pit-stop to wander the shores and even take a dip in the water if you're brave enough to handle to crisp temperatures.

The Best Restaurants on the North Coast 500

Taking in all that breathtaking Scottish scenery is bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, there are a few hidden gems lining the NC500 where you can sample fresh Scottish food without having to pay a fortune. Check out our recommendations that will help you avoid the tourist traps:

1. The Applecross Inn

the applecross inn is one of the best places to eat on the north coast 500
Nestled in the picturesque village of Applecross, The Applecross Inn is renowned for its fresh seafood dishes and stunning views of the surrounding mountains and coastline. From locally caught lobster and crab to hearty fish and chips, this much loved Applecross inn offers a true taste of Scotland's coastal cuisine.

2. Black Isle Brewery Bar

Whether you fancy a good feed before setting off on your epic road trip across the Scottish Highlands or for when you come back, the Black Isle Brewery in Inverness is a must-visit for beer enthusiasts and foodies alike. Sample over 100 craft beers from all over the world or 26 of its own beers brewed on site, pair your pint with a delicious wood-fired pizza made from the freshest ingredients.

3. Castle Tavern

In the capital of the Highlands, Inverness, the Castle Tavern is a beloved local Inverness restaurant known for its traditional Scottish fare and warm hospitality. From delcious haggis neeps and tatties to hearty stews and pies, the menu showcases the best of Scotland's culinary heritage. Wash it all down with a pint of local ale or a dram of whisky for the ultimate Scottish dining experience.

4. Storehouse of Foulis

storehouse foulis is one of the best places to eat on the NC500Set on the shores of the Cromarty Firth, the Storehouse of Foulis offers panoramic views and a menu featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Whether you're craving freshly baked pastries for breakfast or a hearty seafood platter for dinner, this charming restaurant has something to satisfy every palate. After your meal, make sure you check out the food hall to pick up local produce that you can snack on along your trip.

5. Seafood Shack

the seafood shack in ullapool is one of the best restaurants along the NC500
Tucked away in the fishing village of Ullapool, the Seafood Shack is a hidden gem known for its fresh-off-the-boat seafood dishes. From succulent scallops and juicy langoustines to crispy fish tacos and seafood chowder, everything on the menu is prepared to perfection and served with a side of stunning waterfront views.

6. Greens at the Courthouse Dornoch

eat at greens courthouse on the north coast 500
Our next top NC500 restaurant is Greens Restaurant in Dornoch which is beloved among locals and visitors alike for its innovative cuisine and welcoming atmosphere. Founded in 1849, this established Scottish restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients, the chefs create seasonal dishes that celebrate the flavours of the Scottish Highlands and you can tuck into afternoon tea, lunch and dinner. You can also choose from a large selection of wines and craft beers to help you kick back and relax after your day exploring.

7. Cheese N Toasted - Smoo Cave

eat at cheese n toasted smoo cave
For the Durness part of your NC500 road trop, head to Cheese N Toasted - Smoo Cave. Nestled next to one of the UK's most haunted places, this cheap and cheerful food truck serves up delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade soups, all enjoyed amidst the stunning natural beauty of the Scottish coast. It's the perfect pit stop for hungry travelers exploring the NC500.

The Best NC500 Hotels

In between times cruising down the NC500, you're going to want to relax at a comfortable hotel. Here are our recommendations for the 10 best hotels along the NC500.

1. Park Hotel

Nestled amidst the rugged beauty of Thurso, Park Hotel offers a warm and welcoming retreat for NC500 road trippers. With comfortable accommodations and a convenient location, it's an ideal base for exploring the wonders of the NC500 like the Caithness Horizons, Dunnet Bay Beach and Dunnet Bay Distillery.

2. The Clachan Bed and Breakfast

For a cosy and intimate stay along the NC500, The Clachan Bed and Breakfast offers a comfortable and convenient stay in Wick. Nestled in a picturesque setting, guests can enjoy comfortable rooms, free internet, flat-screen TVs and tuck into a delicious full Scottish breakfast in the morning.

3. Dornoch Castle Hotel

Nestled in the charming town of Dornoch, this castle hotel offers cosy rooms, a renowned whisky bar, and a fine dining restaurant. It's a popular choice for travellers seeking a blend of luxury and Scottish hospitality.

4. Kingsmills Hotel

Located in Inverness, the Kingsmills Hotel offers modern amenities, spacious rooms, and a tranquil setting amidst lush gardens. Guests can unwind in the spa, dine at the on-site restaurants, or explore nearby attractions like Loch Ness.

5. The Royal Golf Hotel

dornoch golf hotel is one of the best north coast 500 hotels
Overlooking the Dornoch Firth, The Royal Golf Hotel offers elegant accommodations and access to the Royal Dornoch Golf Club - a must-visit for anyone seeking an authentic golf experience in the country that created it. With its scenic location and warm hospitality, the Royal Golf Hotel is a favourite among golf enthusiasts and nature lovers alike thanks to its close proximity to Dornoch Beach (less than a mile). When staying at the hotel, make sure to venture out to local attractions like Dunrobin Castle and Dornoch Cathedral where Madonna and Guy Ritchie got married!

6. Coul House Hotel

Set amidst tranquil woodland near Contin, Coul House Hotel exudes charm and character. Within 5 minutes, you can find yourself at Rogie Falls and Blackmuir Wood making this NC500 hotel a must-stay for any nature lovers.

7. Links House at Royal Dornoch

This luxury boutique hotel in Dornoch offers elegant rooms, fine dining, and access to the renowned Royal Dornoch Golf Club. Guests can indulge in spa treatments, enjoy afternoon tea, or explore the nearby beaches and historic sites.

8. Bettyhill Hotel

one of the best places to stay on the north coast 500 is the bettyhill hotel
Perched on the shores of Bettyhill near Thurso, staying at this charming NC500 hotel plants you only 11 minutes from Farr Beach. Guests can unwind in cosy rooms, enjoy free parking and tuck into delicious meals at the on-site (and dog-friendly) restaurant.

Will you head out on the North Coast 500?

With our comprehensive guide to the North Coast 500, we hope you're now armed with all the essential tips you need for embarking on this epic road trip. From choosing the best accommodations along the way to discovering hidden beaches and savouring delicious local cuisine, we've unpacked everything to ensure your journey along Scotland's iconic route is stress-free and unforgettable. So, fuel up your car, polish your hill-walking boots or oil your bike, pack your bags, and get ready to hit the road for an adventure of a lifetime on the North Coast 500!

Give the best travel gift with our hotel vouchers

a hotel gift certificate for hotels along the north coast 500
If you're looking for a personalised gift for someone heading out on the North Coast 500, look no further than our hotel vouchers. With a hotel voucher, your gift recipient can easily redeem it online for accommodation that suits their preferences along the route. Whether it's a cosy bed and breakfast, a charming Highland inn, or a luxurious Scottish hotel, our hotel vouchers offer the flexibility and convenience they need to enhance their NC500 experience (and save them some pennies). Whether it's for a birthday, wedding or as a thank you gift, give the gift of choice and comfort and ensure they have a memorable stay at every stop along their journey with Hotelgift.