North Coast 500
The Scenic Route To Northern Scotland
The North Coast 500, or “Scotland’s Route 66”, is an iconic touring route through the Scottish highlands, beginning and ending at Inverness Castle, a property overlooking the River Ness with a rich medieval history.
The route then runs through the counties of Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. In 2015 this route was named in the “Top 5 Coastal Routes in the World” by Now Travel Magazine, due to its truly jaw dropping scenery that can’t be found anywhere else in Europe.
An opportunity to tap into the untouched potential of the Scottish highlands was identified by the Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative. They brought the concept of the North Coast 500 to the table in March 2015, proposing a plan to advertise a scenic route through the Northern highland counties. A chance to unite the tourism sector, with unique opportunities for businesses along the route ensured the plans went underway as soon as backing was confirmed from Visit Scotland, and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.
North Coast 500 Iconic Landmarks
Chanonry Point, Black Isle
On a cliff face overlooking Moray Firth is Chanonry Point. From here, watch the resident dolphin population play in the frothing waters beneath you. This is an extended peninsula attached to the Black Isle, situated between Rosemarkie and Fortrose. Visitors comment on the joy these cheerful creatures evoke in passers-by, and they can be even more closely examined in summer on boat trip tours.
Stac Pollaidh, Wester Ross
Stac Pollaidh may only be a gentle hill walk, but that doesn’t take away from the breathtaking scenery (literally!) and incredible sense of achievement that reach you at the top. The ridge provides views as far as the eye can see across Assynt.
Although this is only one of the mountains popular with visitors along North Coast 500, it is one accessible for most people, being just a short walk of low level difficulty.
Bealach Na Ba, Wester Ross
This winding, twisting track ascends a challenging 2053 ft peak and boasts incredible views at every turn. As a drive, it is not for the faint hearted, so nervous drivers and large vehicles have the option to take another (safer) route.
It is the longest ascending road in the UK, at roughly 8 km, however many visitors say this is the highlight of their North Coast 500 route since the scenery is simply unbeatable!
Ardvreck Castle, Sutherland
Close to the banks of Loch Ness is Ardvreck Castle in Sutherland, a crumbling ruin surrounded by rolling green hills and the sparkling waters of Loch Assynt.
The opportunity to see an ancient Scottish castle, and immerse oneself in the history is too good to miss and a popular stop with visitors doing the North Coast 500.
Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland
Another castle, but with utterly unique architecture in the style of a French Chateau. Unlike the ruins of Ardvreck Castle, Dunrobin has housed people since the 1300s, even acting as a war hospital in World War One.
It is a fabulous stop for photo, and the nearby town of Durness was in fact a common holiday destination for Beatles star John Lennon!
Balnakeil Beach, Sutherland
Balnakeil Beach fulfills all ideals that a coastline could. Not only are there waves to catch, but also stretches of seemingly untouched sand and quaint surroundings. Of all the gorgeous highland beaches, this is most famous for its serene white sands.
It even has sand dunes layered up at the back of it with cows grazing on any spare grass! Be sure to head here for a unique beach experience.
Smoo Cave, Sutherland
Near to Balnakeil Beach is the town of Durness, famous for Smoo Cave - a mystical limestone sea cave at Scotland’s Northern tip. The caves boast ancient geology that fram winding passageways. Inner landmarks include a powerful, cascading waterfall and the staggering 50 ft entrance.
Many travellers say this is a must, and again include it in their top places to visit along the North Coast 500.
Am Buachille Sea Stack, Sutherland
This awe-inspiring site sits beyond the coastline of Sandwood Bay, framed by scaling cliffs and beautiful beaches. Although these are a significant trek from the mainland, the gorgeous views once you have arrived are simply unbeatable.
Visitors say the sounds of the crashing waves and smell of the sea air really wake you up to your surroundings to appreciate the beauty of where you are.
Brims Ness, Caithness
Attention surfers! Here lies another spot to catch some waves, and what better place to do it that facing onto dramatic cliffs, rolling hills and misty beaches.
Other watersports such as kayaking or sailing are available, with easy parking by the nearby farmland or even right on the point if you’re lucky enough!
Surfing, kayaking and other watersports are not the only attraction of North Coast 500 for sporting enthusiasts. The route is regarded as an endurance challenge for cyclists brave enough to take it on!
The current record is held by former professional cyclist and commonwealth games medallist James McCallum. He completed the 516 mile route in 31 hours 23 minutes on 18 June 2016, beating the initial record holder by more than 6 hours!
The route flows along the beautiful Scottish coastline, drawing on its glistening turquoise beaches, haunting castles and picturesque lochs to encapture travellers. In a neat round trip you will see the best of Scotland, delicious food (especially the seafood), and true Scottish hospitality.
You’ll meet all sorts should you complete this trip - drivers, cyclists, locals and visitors, all enticed by the rich wildlife and panoramic scenery that will spoil you for choice!
People travel internationally to tick off this road trip and its unique landscapes, so if you wish to see Scotland in a completely new light, be sure to do the North Coast 500.