Things to do and see on the North Coast 500

The distinctive Liathach mountain rises from Glen Torridon in the Torridon Hills of the West Highlands of Scotland.

In the North Coast 500, Scotland now has one of the best road trip routes in the world. But before you load up on travel snacks and hit the highway, make sure you build the ultimate NC 500 itinerary with this list of great places to visit.

The North Coast 500 route

Beginning and ending in Inverness, the NC 500 loops around the spectacular northern coastline of Scotland, through the regions of Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-shire.

There aren’t any rules on this road trip – from Inverness you can choose to head west towards Applecross, or north towards Wick and John o’ Groats. Whichever way you go, the main roads soon give way to winding tracks, country lanes and spectacular Highland hill climbs, and there are lots of detours you can take along the way, to help you make your own discoveries.

North Coast 500 highlights

Whether you drive, cycle or even walk the 500 miles of this epic road, make sure you leave plenty of time to soak up all the sights along the way. From historic properties to coastal hikes, there’s always something worth stopping for right around the bend.

Outdoor adventures

The National Trust for Scotland manages some of Scotland’s most dramatic and wild landscapes. Torridon, which you’ll pass through on your way north from Applecross, is a dream destination for anyone who likes the outdoors. You can lace up your boots and bag a Munro (there are five here), take a kayak out onto the open seas, or hit the trails for a spot of mountain biking. There are also tranquil lochside walks, where you might be lucky enough to spot otters. During the summer, our ranger team run a series of guided walks to the famous open-air church, offering wonderful views of Upper Loch Torridon and the surrounding mountains.

Find out more about our guided walks

Another wild and windswept Trust property close to the NC 500 is the Falls of Glomach. A short detour on the route west from Inverness takes you to Morvich, and from there you can hike your way up to where the water crashes 113m from the top of the falls to the bottom with a thunderous roar.

You’ll need serious stamina and the right equipment, as the walk takes 6 hours there and back through remote countryside – but it’s worth it.

A view of Kintail from the top of the Falls of Glomach
Falls of Glomach

Anyone looking to spot some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife should mark Inverewe on their map. Not only does this heritage garden tell the amazing story of a plant-collecting family and let you see some exotic species up close, but there’s a good chance you might see all of Scotland wildlife ‘Big 5’ – red squirrels, red deers, otters, seals, and golden eagles – on the wider estate.

From sea to sky: the Big 5 at Inverewe

Find out more
Inverewe garden on a sunny day

Great Highland Walks

Corrieshalloch Gorge is on the NC 500 route between Ullapool and Poolewe. It’s home to a few short trails that are suitable for all ages. Paths wind through the pristine wooded gorge, taking you across the Victorian suspension bridge where you can gaze down at the rushing waterfalls. It’s a National Nature Reserve too, so you’ll see lots of wildlife on your strolls.

Steep tree-lined gorge with a waterfall running down the centre.
Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve

The picturesque village of Plockton on the Balmacara Estate makes a super pit stop on the west coast. Wander around the quiet harbour to see seals among the sailboats, or plot a course through woods, moorland and coastal paths to get a full picture of this lovely area.

Wooden rowing boats are hauled up on the sandy beach in the bay in front of Plockton. The street faces the harbour and is lined with white cottages, with woodland rising behind.
Plockton village in the Highlands

Culloden is just 5 miles east of Inverness, making it the perfect first or final stop on your trip. The site of the famous Jacobite battle is best explored on foot, with routes marked between the battlefield, memorials and historic buildings, allowing you to soak up the atmosphere of this poignant place.

Brilliant Beaches

One of the most impressive thing about northern Scotland is the beaches. All around the coast you’ll find sheltered stretches of soft white sand – perfect for strolling, surfing, swimming and walking the dog!

One of our favourite beaches along the NC 500 is Balnakeil Beach, near Durness. For most of the year this curved bay is deserted, so chances are when you come down over the dunes and onto the beach you’ll have it all to yourself. If the sun’s shining, why not roll out the picnic blanket and spend the whole day there?

Big Sand Beach and Achmelvich Bay are not to be missed either. Achmelvich is near Lochinver and great for both sunbathers and active adventurers – in the summer months people flock here to windsurf, kayak, water-ski and hike. Big Sand, meanwhile, is further south, close to Gairloch. With beautiful big dunes providing shelter from the wind, views over to Skye and Torridon, and stunning Hebridean sunsets, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a day of driving.

The beach of the peninsula Balnakeil

Historic Castles

There are some fine historic properties north of Inverness, and Dunrobin Castle is perhaps the finest of them all! Sitting just south of Brora on the north-eastern coast, it’s the most northerly of Scotland’s great country houses, with a 700-year-old history as the home of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland, a whopping 189 different rooms, views over the Moray Firth, and acres of immaculate landscaped gardens.

Another spectacular castle you should add to your list is Brodie Castle, which is perfect for families. Not very far from Inverness, it’s a short detour from the main NC 500 route, but has all sorts of things to see and do, including hundreds of varieties of daffodils, an adventure playground, a priceless art collection, and our very special Playful Garden (complete with giant bunny sculpture).

Also worth visiting are the ruins of Ardvreck Castle on the banks of Loch Assynt (between Ullapool and Ledbeg), which dates back to the 16th century and was originally the home of the Macleod clan. The Castle of Mey near John o’ Groats, was a favourite of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, perhaps because of its magnificent views over the Pentland Firth towards the Orkney Islands.

Of course, if all this isn’t enough for one trip, you can always search our properties to find extra places you don’t want to miss. Here’s to the open road!

An exterior view of Brodie Castle on a sunny day, seen from the gravel drive in front.

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