North Coast 500

We created this "North Coast 500" itinerary long before anyone ever coined the slogan “NC500”.

In fact, we originally called it the "North Highlands Tour", but we have to admit that NC500 is a catchier title.

Our directions take you from Inverness on a clockwise tour around the scenic highlights of Scotland’s North coast. And, if your schedule allows, you can also add in a visit to the fascinating archaeological sites of Orkney.

We do this route in a Clockwise direction because most tourists do it in the other direction, so the traffic is a bit lighter if you go Clockwise.

Allow a minimum of 5 days to drive this tour route.
The guide contains extra day trip suggestions for extending the tour to 15+ days.

PLEASE NOTE: The Guides come in the format of PDF files. After payment, you will receive an automated email that enables you to access your Scotland Tour Itinerary.

North Coast 500

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Tour Stats :

Guide Updated - 4 February 2024

Core Route Mileage:

Approximately 400 miles / 640 Km

Tour Duration:

5 to 15 Days

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Tour Summary

  • Arrive in Inverness -

    We provide a stopover guide that covers attractions, scenic spots, activities and restaurants in Inverness and the surrounding areas. 

    If you arrive early in Inverness, you may wish to follow our guide for a driving route around the Black Isle where you can discover the charming 18th century village of Cromarty and embark on dolphin spotting boat trips.

    Stopover in Inverness area

  • Inverness to Gairloch -

    We suggest a route that starts by swinging you past Loch Ness with opportunities for visits to Urquhart Castle and the “Nessie” attractions.

    As you travel between Loch Ness and Gairloch, you can stop at a Victorian Spa village to sample the mineral waters, cross an impressive cascade on a bouncy wire bridge, picnic by the shores of our favourite loch, explore some of the best beaches in Scotland and enjoy a pint in a charismatic old inn with a great sea view.

    Your day ends in Mike’s favourite place, Gairloch, which is surrounded by the spectacular mountain scenery of Wester Ross.

    Driving Distance: ~92 miles

    Stopover in the Gairloch / Laide area

  • Gairloch Day trips -

    Gairloch is arguably one of the most beautiful corners of Scotland for beaches and wilderness scenery. We propose a choice of day trips with a relaxed pace.

    • Taking it Easy, Our suggestions for a relaxed day of scenic walks, horse riding, exploring beaches, or visiting the famous Inverewe Botanic Gardens, where sub tropical plants thrive in the mild climate created by a sheltered bay and the Gulf Stream’s warmth.
    • Glen Torridon and Applecross - We propose a route through scenery that we think is the best in Scotland, Glen Torridon! This is magnificent country for hill walking and we guide you to a variety of paths for different levels of exertion. After a hike, you might be ready for something to eat so we recommend some great restaurants in surprising locations. If you really want to explore away from the “beaten track”, you can extend the day with a drive around the remote Applecross Peninsula using a road that was only completed in 1975!
    • Gone Fishing, The guide supplies details of how to contact a local fisherman to arrange a trip on his boat. You can help him pull up lobster pots and learn about the history of the area from someone whose family has lived here for three centuries.

    Stopover in the Gairloch / Laide Area

  • Gairloch to Ullapool / Lochinver -

    Head up the North West coast through magnificent Highland scenery to the active fishing village of Ullapool. Along the route you can explore great beaches and test your courage by crossing a 200 feet deep gorge on a bouncy little foot bridge.

    When you get to Ullapool, you can watch the fishing boat activity in the harbour and then sample the delicious fresh catch in an award winning fish & chip shop. The village is a vibrant place with several good restaurants and range of pubs where you'll find live music and entertainment most nights of the week.

    If you wish to extend the day, you can follow our directions for a back road drive to Lochinver that takes you past the distinctive peaks of Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Canisp. These mountains emerge like rocky icebergs from the wild moorland of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. This is an area of true wilderness and we recommend some hikes of varying degrees of exertion.

    Driving Distance: ~55 miles

    Stopover in Ullapool or Lochinver

  • Ullapool to Thurso -

    This is a drive through a truly untamed landscape where nature rules and you can drive for miles without seeing a house. There aren’t many man-made attractions along this route, but this is compensated for by the geology which has created dramatic mountains, rugged coastlines and some glorious sandy bays.

    A “must see” is the impressive cavern at Smoo Cave. It is possible to take guided walks into the caves, but to do this you first need to take a small boat ride.

    From Durness, you travel east along the northern coast of Scotland and the landscape becomes gradually flatter as you approach Thurso. This region suffered terribly during the Highland Clearances when whole communities were destroyed to make way for sheep farming. There are several good museums that tell the story of the people that once lived here.

    The drive ends in Thurso, but you could catch an evening ferry to Orkney and we have supplied details of the various ferry services available.

    Driving Distance: ~140 miles

    Stopover in Thurso / Orkney

  • Explore Orkney -

    From Thurso, you have the option of taking the ferry crossing to the Orkney Islands and we have provided a guide that gives you all the information you need for planning a stay on these islands. The guide includes suggestions for 4 day trips to explore the Orkney Mainland and the smaller islands of Hoy and Rousay.

    We guide you to all the famous sites of Orkney (Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, Skara Brae, Italian Chapel, Old Man of Hoy), plus lots of quieter attractions that the are missed by the mainstream tourist trail.

    As always, we recommend walks, picnic spots, the best value attractions and restaurants.

    Stopover on the Orkney Islands

    • Alternative - Orkney as a Day Trip – If you don't have time to stay a few nights on Orkney you have the option of a day trip visit. The guide provides details of a recommended organised day trip that takes you around the best tourist attractions without the hassle of taking your car. PLEASE NOTE: This day trip service is not running in 2024.

  • Thurso to Inverness -

    From Thurso, we guide you across empty moorlands to the North Sea where you turn southwards to follow a road that hugs a coastline of rugged windswept cliffs. The route is punctuated by austere little villages perched above rocky inlets that once sheltered fleets of fishing boats.

    Highlights along the route are Dunrobin Castle, the ornate home of the Dukes of Sutherland, the opportunity for a whisky tasting at Glenmorangie Distillery and a wander around the picturesque village of Dornoch with its charming little cathedral and famous golf course.

    On the last leg to Inverness, we propose a choice of routes that let you choose between visits to a pretty Victorian spa town where you can sample the mineral waters, OR a short ferry crossing to the Black Isle where you may see some wild dolphins in the Cromarty Firth.

    Driving Distance: ~112 miles

    Stopover in Inverness area

  • Day Trips from Inverness -

    Inverness is a great touring base for exploring the Highlands and we supply you with directions for a range of day trips:

    • Moray Coast - A historical tour of Moray with its historical attractions and scenic coastline. This day trip features the highlights of Culloden, Clava Cairns, Cawdor Castle and Elgin Cathedral.
    • Glen Affric - A scenic drive into Glen Affric where you can see the last remains of the Ancient Caledonian Forest. This route includes options to explore a Neolithic burial chamber, a hidden Clan graveyard and a 150 foot high waterfall in a lovely woodland setting.
    • Loch Ness – We guide you past Loch Ness on the drive to Gairloch, but this day trip does a complete circular tour of the loch with time to take a cruise, visit the “Nessie” exhibitions and wander the ruins of Urquhart castle.

    Stopover in Inverness area

Tour Gallery


To help you book the best places to stay, we offer a guide to Recommended Accommodation along the route of this tour.

We personally visit all the accommodation featured in the guides and only select places where we would wish to stay ourselves. Read More...

When you "Checkout", you will have the option to buy the Accommodation Guide.

Preview Accommodation Guide

Car Hire - How to Save Money

When you buy a Secret Scotland Tour Itinerary you will receive a Discount Code that gets you a 10% reduction on the cost of Car Hire from Arnold Clark Rental.

Simply use the Secret Scotland code when you book via the Arnold Clark website and your car hire discount will automatically apply.


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