The NC500 is a circular touring route which weaves along the wildly scenic Scottish coastline from Inverness. As you travel through it, you’ll realise that it’s not only a route through some of the most beautiful natural places in Britain; it’s also a striking journey through history. The route passes by weather-beaten castles, lonely battlefields, ancient cairns and numerous reminders of the Highland Clearance of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
We recommend that you plan your route ahead and book your accommodation to make sure you get the most from your trip. Our NC500 pocket map is perfect for planning and carrying in your glovebox or bag.
Now, here are 10 must-visit places along the popular North Coast 500 route:
Straddling the River Ness in a strategic position at the head of the Great Glen, bustling Inverness is Britain’s northernmost city and one of is smallest. It is dominated by its pink sandstone castle, the official starting point of the NC500, whose north tower affords far-reaching views of the route and beyond. Make sure you also visit Loch Ness and see if you can spot the legendary monster!
2. Dunrobin Castle and Gardens
Dunrobin Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, is the largest house in the Highlands. In 1846, the Sutherlands employed Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, to transform the castle into a French-style chateau, together with gardens inspired by Versailles. Both castle and gardens are open to visitors.
3. Rogie Falls
These falls on the Black Water river are particularly striking after heavy rain. Follow the footpath from the car park to the viewing platform where, from July to September, you may see the Atlantic salmon attempting to leap up the falls to their spawning ground.
4. Sandwood Bay
The northwesternmost tip of Scotland boasts some of the country’s best wild beaches. Among the very best is the mile-long strand of Sandwood Bay, with its white sands, dunes, rocky cliffs and old sea stack. This beach can only be reached by a 4 and a half mile walk across a bleak moorland track from the sign off the road at Balchrick.
5. Dunnet Head
This untamed peninsula is the most northerly point on the British mainland. The headland forms part of an extensive RSPB reserve, which makes it home to teeming numbers of seabirds including puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes.
6. Cape Wrath
Remote Cape Wrath is mainland Britain’s most northwesterly point, and it can only be reached by vehicle through a 10-minute crossing on the Cape Wrath Ferry, from Keoldale Pier south of Durness, followed by a 1-hour ride on the Cape Wrath Mini Bus. The views over the sea from the cape are spectacular though – you will be able to see all the way to the distant islands of the Hebrides and Orkney.
7. Duncansby Head and John o’Groats
Duncansby Head is the northeasternmost point in mainland Britain. The headland’s highlights lie along the signed path heading off to the right just before the lighthouse, which crosses the dramatic sea cleft of the Geo of Sclaites and continues to provide amazing views of the cliffs and Stacks of Duncansby with their huge seabird colonies. Nearby John o’Groats is the most northerly village of mainland Britain and the start/end point of the long-distance walk or cycle ride to Land’s End.
8. Smoo Cave
With its entrance standing at 50 feet high and 130 feet wide, the approach to this natural sea cave, set in the limestone cliffs east of Durness, is impressive. Inside, a wooden walkway leads to a second cavern, where a waterfall cascades into a deep lake. Along the way you will learn about the geology of the caves, as well as some fascinating legends of witchcraft, murder and smuggling linked to them.
9. Summer Isles
These are a group of around twenty small islands off the beautiful, remote Coigach Peninsula. With their splendid scenery including sea caves, rock formations and sandy beaches, they are best explored by sea on a cruise from Achiltibuie or you can explore under your own steam by kayak.
Here, on 16 April 1746, the last great battle to be fought on British soil saw the rallied Highland clansmen of Prince Charles Edward Stuart face the mighty forces of the Duke of Cumberland. The sense of tragedy at this lonely site remains palpable today – the lines of the advancing troops and the positions of the clans, buried where they fell, marked out across the moor. The excellent visitor centre describes the course of events and the aftermath of the battle which saw the Highlands changed forever.
Planning a trip to the NC500? Discover everything this area has to offer with our fully updated Collins Pocket Map, only £3.99.
This map includes main tourist attractions located and described, essential travel information and an index to places of interest and place names.