The North Coast 500 (NC500) is Scotland’s answer to the legendary Route 66 and prolific Wild Atlantic Way. Measuring at just over 500 miles, this meandering route snakes along the Highland’s rugged coastline bringing together ancient castles, serene lochs and glistening beaches.
The northern Highlands is one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. If you’re planning a visit to Scotland this year, why not take the road less travelled? Taking the NC500 route helps you to discover everything the Highlands has to offer.
With so much to see and do, we asked Claire from the North Highland Initiative to tell us the top 10 reasons to drive the NC500, so you can ensure you include them in your NC500 route planning.
1. Explore stunning Scottish beaches and mountains
If the NC500 was a menu, then its top seller, sitting gloriously in the forefront, would be the scenery. Initiating an appetite for adventure and discovery, just a quick flick through the North Coast 500’s Facebook album has your mouth watering for more.
The beauty of the NC500 is unquestionable. From the inspiring fairy-tale castle of Dunrobin, perched on the edge of the east coast, to the sandy gold tones of the remote Sandwood Bay, the NC500 has it all.
2. Eat Scottish delicacies along the North Coast 500
Don’t let the media fool you – it’s not all deep-fried Mars bars and Irn Bru in Scotland. With the Michelin-starred restaurant The Albannach in Lochinver, as well as dozen of AA Rosette restaurants, the Highland’s certainly has fine dining covered.
Pop by the Kishorn Seafood Bar to discover authentic, freshly caught seafood served in a kitsch hut on the shores of Loch Kishorn, or marvel in the delights of Lochinver Larder’s homemade – and locally famous – pies.
3. Where to do a Whisky Tasting along the North Coast 500
There’s also the option to sample some of Britain’s northern-most gin at Dunnet Bay Distillery which creates the flavourful yet fruity Rock Rose gin.
4. Where to spot wildlife along the North Coast 500
Dolphins? Check! Puffins? Check! Seals? Check! Deer? Check! Haggis? Not that we know of…
Explore the authentic outdoors with one of the many tour operators that take you directly to the habitats of dolphins, seals, puffins and more along the coastline of the NC500.
Visitors can also check out Handa Island, which is home to dozens of guillemots, razorbills and great skua and of course, not forgetting the Highland’s very own Heilan’ Coo’s and sheep who like to roam around the route.
5. Explore fascinating Scottish history along the North Coast 500
Behind every castle is a story, and aren’t they fascinating? Discover what happened to the Clans of Sinclair at Girnigoe Castle by exploring the ancient ruins on the outskirts of Wick.
Or how about the 365 man-made steps that fisherwomen used to climb every day to deliver fish during the booming 1800’s in Caithness?
Visitors to the route can delve in to Highland history by visiting the many heritage centres, which are sprinkled along the NC500. Here, you can learn all about the Highland way of life through the past few centuries.
6. Try some adrenaline-pumping activities along the North Coast 500
Fancy scrambling a gorge or mountain-biking over some of the most challenging bike trails in the UK? You can do all of that and more along the NC500. Home to one of the biggest surfing destinations – Thurso East – why not learn how to ride a wave with the local instructor?
Or if golf is more your thing, then the Royal Dornoch Golf Club is calling your name! This world famous links course is perfect for any aspiring golfer.
7. Get the craic with locals and maybe even toss a caber!
If you are traveling during the months of May and September you will also be lucky enough to enjoy the famous Highland Games and local gala parades that occur in the main towns and villages on Saturdays!
Guided walk along Faraid HeadIf you have a little one, or even a couple of temperamental teens, don’t be put off! There’s something for everyone along the route to keep both parents and children entertained.
Many attractions and activities offer cheaper rates for young people and places like Ewe Canoe can take the whole family out on a great kayaking adventure for the day. There is also the Black Isle Wildlife Park which is a great family-friendly activity for the afternoon.
9. See the Northern Lights along the North Coat 500
We can’t guarantee anything, but did you know the North of Scotland is one of the best places in the world to spot the Northern Lights. More prominent from September on, the dark skies above the Highlands are luminous with magical auroras. Photographers can often be seen scrambling outdoors to catch a glimpse of those enthralling dark sky displays!
10. Make unforgettable memories along the North Coast 500
If there is one reason to do the North Coast 500 – it is to create memories. Camp and watch the sun set over Dunnet Head on the extreme edge of Europe. Bottle your own Scottish Malt in a whisky distillery. Explore the depths of Britain’s largest sea cave. Climb a munro. Dance at a traditional Ceilidh. And of course, enjoy every single mile of it.
Claire Farquhar is the Communications & Project Manager for the North Highland Initiative (NHI). Currently on the Tourism Project Board for NHI, Claire has a great passion for the development of her local area, having been brought up in Wick, Caithness on the North East coast.