The North Coast 500 is a circular Scotland route that starts and ends in Inverness. It’s approximately 500 miles (about 800 kilometers) long and has the Scottish Highlands’ most astonishing landscape.
Road Trip on the North Coast 500
We really like road trips, so we were looking forward to doing this route. The route itself is interesting because you travel through the Scottish Highlands and you can see spectacular landscapes and places.
In addition, the type of road requires you to drive relatively slowly because it is two-way and quite narrow, sometimes even a single-track road.
Occasionally you come across small spaces on either side to let the one in front of you pass.
How Many Days do You Need to Spend on North Coast 500?
Planning your NC500 adventure? The NC500 is the ultimate road trip in Scotland. You can rent a car for a few days and enjoy this awesome country.
You can make this road trip for at least five o more days. Also, you can do as we do and visit the Isle of Skye as a side trip. And spend a day or two on this fantastic island.
Prepare yourself for rainy times, lovely rainbows, and amazing sunsets (when the rain goes away). Read the article and discover the best places to visit in the Scottish Highlands.”
North Coast 500 First Stretch
Inverness: The Capital of the Highlands
The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre
We started the North coast 500 in Inverness. We had walked around the city the previous afternoon and had already seen much of it.
Still, we were looking forward to visiting the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre to see how the famous Kilt (Scottish skirts) are made and learn a little more about this culture and its customs.
As today’s stretch of North coast 500 is short, about 80 miles that come to be about 130 kilometers, we knew we had plenty of time, and we could take advantage of the early hours of the morning to visit some sights, first the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre.
We saw a video highlighting the kilt as a garment that has been present in many historical moments, especially logically at times in UK history.
Then we could see an exhibition of the different lattices or patterns of the fabric, each lattice is its own and characteristic of a clan, and all clan members wear this same design or pattern.
I found it most interesting to see two craftsmen still working in this craft, weaving this type of garment by hand.
After this visit, we started this stretch of the North Coast 500 towards the isle of Skye.
Just a few kilometers away from Inverness, you can visit the Culloden Battlefield.
It was the place of the last battle on British soil in 1746, which finally finished the clan regime and helped Scotland to become a nation.
Now it’s a vast field where you can feel the history all around. You can also learn more about the battle and the history of this special place in the Visitors Center.
Cairngorms National Park
Located near Inverness, around an hour’s drive away, it’s really worth a day trip. It’s one of two of Scotland’s National Parks and has approximately 4500 km2.
Being there, you will feel nature surrounding you, breathe the clean air and fully relax.
If you’re fond of adventure and sports, you will also find a lot to do: snowsports, hiking, climbing, cycling, or even kayaking and rafting! Or just some short walks in nature and continue with your road trip 🙂
Visit Beauly Priory
This abbey is in ruins, like many in Scotland. But it’s an interesting visit because it’s part of the UK’s national heritage and is located in a small charming village.
It was founded in 1230 by order of monks called Valliscaulians. The name comes from a French order called Val-des-Choux, which means valley of cabbages.
It is preserved on a miraculous footing, and it is also very curious how some tombstones are inside the church grounds that were already used as a cemetery.
So it was actually a sign of wealth to be buried in this place.
Strathpeffer and Castle Leod
We didn’t have much time to spend, so we followed our stretch of the North Coast 500 towards Strathpeffer to see Castle Leod, which is owned by the McLeod clan.
I was looking forward to seeing everything about the McLeod clan because it inevitably reminds me of the Immortals movie I liked so much 31 years ago.
The castle is beautiful, especially since the environment is very well cared for. It’s not particularly big or flashy, but it’s a castle where people still live.
And this is because the Mackenzie family still lives there.
These waterfalls are not very large or flowing, but they are unique because the salmon spawns higher than the course of this river and can be seen jumping trying to trace the current.
There are informative posters about the life cycle of salmon; make sure you don’t miss them. If you go during the fishing season, see the fishermen with all the tools ready to get into the water.
Which, by the way, is at a shallow temperature.
Otherwise, you can do as we did and enjoy the enclave for a while. You can get there easily; there are different walks, one shorter than the other.
We planned to lunch at The Carron Restaurant (45 miles from Strathpeffer). A family restaurant run by a lovely couple, John and Claire.
The enclave is enviable in a quiet and sincerely desirable place on the shore of Loch Carron. We ate very well; all homemade and super good quality.
They have their own whiskey museum, and you can’t miss their desserts.
It’s noticeable that we are in a region where personal treatment is the norm and where everyone knows each other. John recommended that we go to visit Joanna’s Attadale Gardens.
Without thinking twice, we went to have a lovely time with her as she explained the history of the gardens and that of her family, intimately related, of course.
Eilean Donan Castle
I was looking forward to visiting this awesome castle. I had already seen it in pictures and some posts about Scotland and wanted to see it in person.
Normally when you generate too many expectations about doing something or seeing something, usually when you get to do it or see it, the expectations are generated to make the impression that one gets less than expected.
As has happened to me a few times, I have tried not to generate high expectations so I am not disappointed.
Still, in this case, I had very high expectations; luckily, the expectations were met this time. So this is a special place.
Probably, the first thing you think is: It’s crowded, and the ticket is expensive. And it’s a castle, like many others you’ve seen before.
The difference between this castle and others is the environment, location, beautiful landscape, and ease with which one can imagine how things were in the twelfth century in these lands.
We visited it inside, but I didn’t appreciate anything very different from other castles as I told you.
My enjoyment was when I went to the opposite shore and watched it for a while, and I started to take pictures, like the one you can see.
I was thrilled with the visit and with the photos. A place that I will never forget and to which I will try to return even once again.
It’s a shiel where the Battle of Glen Shiel, between the British government forces and the alliance of Jacobites and Spaniards, took place in 1719.
If you’re traveling by car, it is really worth taking the opportunity to see it, as the views are excellent, with the road passing among 1000 meters of peaks covered with green forests. It is possible to hike, take a pony ride, sail, or go fishing.
Plockton is a picturesque fishing village that lives up to the image we have of these Scottish villages. The village is the row of houses you see on the shore; pretty picturesque and super quiet.
We got out of the car, and instinctively both went to the pier to take pictures of the house on the shore.
The tide is at its lowest point, so many small boats and sailboats are placidly perched on the sand.
An anchor reminds us that we are in water territory and that although we can spend some time exploring and taking some photos, sooner or later, we will have to leave there.
There was no one on the street, no noise, except for the wind and the one who makes a sheep near us. We only saw one person all the time we were there.
Kyle of Lochalsh
This town is probably the last one that you pass before entering the Isle of Skye (or the first one if you’re leaving the Isle behind ;))
It is famous for its castles, salmon, people that speak Gaelic (and their amiability), and, just like Plockton, spectacular views of nature.
The Railway Museum, located at the railway station, possesses a collection of old trains, one of which is the original Orient Express!
The only way to cross the Skye Bridge is by taking the A87, which passes through Kyle of Lochalsh. The railway station has direct trains to and from Inverness.
Isle of Skye
This small, misty Island offers a vast amount of things to do. Everybody will find something special about everything, from historical spots or whisky distilleries to outdoor sports and Gaelic culture.
Check below the most recommended places to visit on the Isle of Skye!
The Bridge connects the Mainland (Kyle of Lochalsh) with the Island of Skye (Kyleakin). It was built in 1995 and finished with the ferry connection.
The total length is 2,4 km (1,5 miles), and it’s free of charge for everyone.
This is a must while visiting the Isle of Skye! Located at the bottom of the Black Cuillins near Glenbrittle, you can find those crystal clear blue pools on the River Brittle.
If you’re an adventurer, you can try to do some “wild swimming” in their freezing water or just take some pictures as the scenery is breathtaking.
The hiking path is of medium difficulty; it is around 2,5 km long and takes 40 minutes with no stops.
Old Man of Storr
The Old Men of Storr is a rock on the peak of Trotternish ridge that can be seen from far away.
It’s the most popular hiking route on the Isle of Skye and is normally quite busy. But, I assure you, worth the effort, because the views from there are spectacular.
It’s located north of the Island, and the departure point to visit it is by the main road from Portree (the island’s main town) to Staffin.
The route is of medium difficulty, it’s 3,8 km long, and it should take around 1h15min of walking. The best season to do it is in the summer months, as on rainy days it can get misty, and the views won’t be the same.
Near Staffin, there is a famous viewpoint on the Trotternish Peninsula to see the Kilt Rock and the Mealt Falls. You will stand on a huge cliff and see how the water goes down to the sea.
It’s awe-inspiring (to be honest, all of the natural spots I saw on the Isle of Skye were impressive!) and worth visiting. It’s a mandatory photo stop on your road trip!
For dinosaur fans, there is also a footprint that reminds us of all the history that those terrains saw. In Staffin, you can visit the Dinosaur Museum.
This Castle and its Gardens were home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years!
It is located on the Island’s west coast, right at the shore. The best time to visit is in the Spring or Summer when the gardens are full of flowers.
You can visit it with a guided tour or by yourself, take a walk through the gardens, take a boat trip to get to know the local seal colony, and eat at the restaurant. Don’t miss it; you will enjoy it and learn much about Scottish history. Check here the ticket prices.
Loch Ness Route
If you have more days to spend in Scotland, you could opt to drive a different route and add a few more places that are not on the main one. Starting from Inverness, you can go south and drive along the shores of Loch Ness to know better the lake and the surroundings.
Going down to Fort William, you will have the opportunity to pass through the places I gathered below and then go to Mallaig to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye.
Being a Harry Potter fan, you can’t miss the Jacobite steam train trip from Fort William to Mallaig to see the dramatic landscapes from the movies!
It’s a ruined castle at the shore of Loch Ness. It was one of the crucial places during the Scottish independence wars in the 14th century. Now, it is one of the most frequently visited castles in Scotland.
Maybe while visiting it, you’ll spot the elusive monster of Ness Lake, Nessie? 😉
At the bottom of Loch Ness, you will arrive at Fort Augustus, a small town famous for the 60-mile-long Caledonian Canal. The Scottish architect Thomas Telford designed the Canal in the early 19th century.
It has scenic views of the Lake, the Canal Visitor Center, the Clansman Centre (weaponry, fascinating to learn about historical weapons), and a glassblowing shop, where you can see how it’s made live!
Another must-visit place on the route is Fort William. Wondering where to start your visit? In a whisky distillery! The original one opened in 1825, so it’s worth visiting to know more about the history and the process.
Maybe the most important place is The Highland Museum. You can learn about the Clans, the Jacobite Cause, and Bonnie Prince Charlie there.
Also, another interesting spot is Neptune’s Staircase, a series of 8 lochs that lift boats up to 20 meters and allow them to pass the Caledonian Canal.
Of course, Fort William is surrounded by nature, so take advantage of it and explore it. You can climb Ben Nevis and visit Glen Nevis or The Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.
Glen Coe is formed by an ancient super volcano, and it includes some of the most beautiful mountain ranges, like Buachaille Etive Mòr and the Three Sisters.
Apart from its picturesque beauty and stunning nature, it also witnessed important events during the Scottish clan history.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you can’t miss this magical place, as it was the scenery for Hagrid’s hat! The hat was removed after the filming, but the views remained the same.
And if you prefer James Bond, you will also recognize the views from the Skyfall movie.
By the way, remember to wear good trekking shoes for your hiking tours!
This is the bridge Hogwart’s Express crosses from London to the School. We saw it so many times on the big screen that we couldn’t resist approaching it in real life!
During the warm season, the Jacobite steam train crosses it like in the movies, and you can take the trip onboard. Take this tour from Inverness to feel like the young wizard.
Where to Sleep
We finished our first day of the route North coast 500 for Scotland on the Isle of Skye.
We slept right there in Kyleakyn. Please note that you have to book in advance, all hotels and hostels were complete when we went, not a free room, luckily we took the tent. In other words,
You will have to sleep in the car if you go in high season with no BnB reservation.
Recommendation: book your accommodation in advance, especially if you are traveling in the high season.
You get ready to visit the Isle of Skye the next day. It’s not on the North Coast 500 itself, but it’s a side trip that won’t disappoint you, I assure you.
How to Get There, and How to Travel to the Highlands?
Inverness is very well connected with the main cities in the United Kingdom. It can be reached by train, bus, or plane.
- By public transport: Inverness has a train station in the city center and a bus station nearby. Few bus lines are operating there, and the Scottish Citylink is a premium one.
Check this site to search for the best connexions.
- By plane: the airport of Inverness is located only 20 minutes away from the city. International flight operators arrive there, so it’s the best option if you travel from another country. Search your flight here!
- By car: for us, it’s the most comfortable way to visit Scotland as we can plan our trip the way we want. If you arrive by plane, rent a car at the airport.
Plan Your Trip to Scotland
- 50 things to see and do in Edinburgh
- 1 day on the Isle of Skye
- 5 days on the North Coast 500
- 1 day in Aberdeen
- 1 day at the Highland Games
- Scotland’s most beautiful castles
- Outlander Filming locations in Scotland
- Inverness and Loch Ness
Last Updated on 3 October, 2023 by Veronica
Disclosure: Some of the links on this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.