Scotland is famous for whiskey, left-hand traffic and rainy weather. Thats already three conditions that make it for many travellers an uninviting destination for a driving holiday. BUT there is a route that changes everything — the NC500
Before we go into details — there are a few more flaws that need mentioning: for example you might loose your phone and GPS signals while en route. You better carry an old fashion map with you.
Most accommodations along the route are not exactly luxurious (but really cosy) unless you do a really good research. And sometimes Scottish food can be an "interesting experience" to say the least.
Also Scotlands reputation when it comes to the weather is not the best. To most people the season for a trip the Scottish Highlands seems short and only July and August seem to make sense.
The truth is — there is nothing wrong with a bit of rain in Scotland — it is part of the charm and sometimes even a welcome cool down from the hot European summers in the south. During the course of a driving tour in Scotland normally travellers experience it all anyway: sunshine, clouds and a bit of rain.
Actually coming here during the low season during April / May and September / October can pay off by delivering an even more unique travel experience with less cars and caravans on the road. Should you plan for the winter be warmed, most accommodation opportunities and business will be closed during the cold season.
Whenever you plan to travel the NC500, always choose your travel company wisely. There will be stretches of road without another soul for hours.
Now that we have all that expectations managed, travellers will have the best time driving in Scotland. Once on the road, Scotlands magic kicks in and forgotten are all those imperfections. Especially because of a very special route that can easily keep up with the Pacific Highways in California, United States or the Great Ocean Road in Australia:
You won’t find Scotland’s North Coast 500 Route (NC500) on a map — it is not an actual road. It is a scenic driving route that has been designed to bring visitors to the most rural regions of the Scottish Highlands.
Since it was introduced in 2014 it became a major success and tourism in the area has increased.
The full ultra-scenic 516 Miles of the NC500 goes along the northern coast of Scotland and showcases the natural beauty of the region. It can be comfortably driven over the duration of two days with an overnight half way.
Motivated petrol-heads coming here only to drive might doing the many scenic roads of the North Coast 500 Route within a single day. Vacationers with relaxation on their mind probably would want to give it some extra time and plan in some golfing, fishing or a nice hike.
We recommend driving the route clockwise to always drive directly alongside the coast. Inverness is with 50.000 inhabitants by far the biggest city on the NC500. Otherwise expect lots of small villages and rural areas along the route surrounded by unspoiled nature with lakes, rivers and some forest.
The most famous rugged coastline and beaches of Scotland feel like the extraordinary frame for all this beauty. Besides hordes of sheep, Scotland will surprise you with its rich wildlife. You can discover deer, squirrels, seabirds and sea mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals.
For those who want more driving start and finish your tour in Edinburgh and use Inverness as your base to drive the NC500 loop. For the best driving experience skip any roads north of Unnapool. The Kylesku Bridge is a good marker where to turn around before the road gets narrow and bad build quality.
Expect lots of small villages and rural areas along the route surrounded by unspoiled nature with lakes, rivers and some forest. The most famous rugged coastline and beaches of Scotland feel like the extraordinary frame for all this beauty.
Besides hordes of sheep, Scotland will surprise you with its rich wildlife. You can discover deers, squirrels, seabirds and sea mammals such as dolphins, whales and seals.
Countless viewpoints along the route will give you an overdose of scenic photo opportunities flanked by many heritage sights like castles, museums and whiskey distilleries. Of course whiskey is a big no on a driving tour, so the distilleries hand outs nice little tasting samples to enjoy at your hotel.
Of course whiskey is a BIG NO on a driving tour. Distilleries hand out nice little tasting samples to enjoy once arriving at your hotel in front of the fireplace.
Visiting all attractions along the NC500 would take to much time – but we highly recommend to visit Scotland’s most famous manmade sight: Eilean Donan Castle.
Don’t head onto the North Coast 500 Route without pre-arranging accommodation along the route. Especially during July and August, Scotland is popular and because the route is relatively new there is simply not enough lodging in the area.
Some accommodations include half-board with breakfast and dinner in their room rate. Expect fresh, rustic, home-style meals and tasty seafood.
Not everyone knows - in Scotland like everywhere else on the island driving on the left side of the road is the law. It usually takes an hour to get used to it and not to tackle roundabouts from the wrong side. Relatively quickly you will gain confidence if you not already know how to drive on the left.
There are a few narrow stretched along the NC500 Route, that often become single-track. The designated passing places are there to give each other way. No matter how much you want to capture the landscape and how tempting the incredible view might be, don’t use the passing places as parking spots. What is important to understand about doing the full NC500 the following:
The route should be done clockwise - to follow the coastline on the outside lane to get the best views.
The best stretch is the west coast with wide roads and incredibly nice scenery.
The northern tip of the NC500 gets narrow; even turns into a single track road with passing places from time to time.
Completing the loop along the east coast is more or less straight highway all the way down to Inverness.
There is only one decent hotel on the west coast of the NC500, everything further north would be Inn style accommodation.
Bealach Na Ba Pass or simple “the road to Applecross” is a pretty narrow and windy stretch of road and that has been the only way to reach the village of Applecross for decades.
Beyond all stretches of the entire 500 Miles this part is by far the most difficult and steepest stretch of the official NC500 route. Skip it if you are a nervous driver.
Attempts driving this road in an RV or as an inexperienced driver might end with a shut down of the road.
Instead a British car seem the correct choice — how about the Jaguar F Type R Coupe? For whatever car you decide we recommend never go below half a tank. Gas stations can sometimes be many miles apart from each other.
We recommend to tour for at least four days to fully take in the beauty of this place. Start point should be Edinburgh - the town is an attraction on its own.
Coming from London you don't even need to fly, the train is the better alternative. From London's Kings Cross Station and the famous Platform 9 3/4 board the Hogwarts Express. Allow your imagination a little fun to carry you to Edinburgh’s Waverly Station. Once arrived make the most of the day — we recommend a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia sitting in Edinburgh's port.