The NC500 is Scotland's greatest road trip, and with this 10-day self-drive itinerary, you'll complete the full loop, reaching the northernmost tip of mainland Great Britain. When you're not soaking up the wild, untamed landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, you might be stomping through the halls of great castles, learning about the Jacobite uprising at real battlefields, or enjoying a dram or two at a top distillery. This 10-day trip combines the best of Scotland into a fun self-drive adventure.


  • Make scenic stops in the Highlands while driving along the North Coast 500
  • Take a distillery tour and taste rare Scottish single-malt whiskies
  • Join an intrepid wildlife safari in Cairngorms National Park
  • Visit 13th-century Blair Castle, the base for Europe's only private army

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Edinburgh, Old Town Walking Tour Edinburgh
Day 2 Drive to Stirling, Visit Bannockburn Battlefield & The Kelpies Stirling
Day 3 Visit Stirling Castle & William Wallace Monument, Deanston Distillery Tour Stirling
Day 4 Drive to Inverness via the Scottish Crannog Centre Inverness
Day 5 Drive to John O'Groats via Dunrobin Castle, Thurso Walking Tour John O'Groats
Day 6 Drive to Lochinver via Durness, Smoo Cave Tours Lochinver
Day 7 Explore Beaches, Wildlife Spotting Boat Tour, Drive to Gairloch Gairloch
Day 8 Drive to Inverness via Applecross & Culloden, Visit the Clava Cairns Inverness
Day 9 Drive to Pitlochry via Cairngorms National Park, Wildlife Safari Tour Pitlochry
Day 10 Drive to Edinburgh via Blair Atholl Castle, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Edinburgh, Old Town Walking Tour

Take a tour of Scotland's capital upon arrival

Welcome to Scotland! You've landed in Edinburgh, a captivating historic and modern city known for its festivals, thriving arts scene, and friendly locals. On arrival, take a taxi to your hotel. En route, you might catch a glimpse of the majestic Edinburgh Castle, sitting atop an ancient volcanic hill and overlooking the Old and New Town centers. Drop your bags, refresh, and lace up your walking shoes.

This afternoon you'll soak up the best of the Scottish capital's Old Town with a two-hour history tour that details the most interesting stories. You'll hear about warlocks, witches, local battles and uprisings, public executions, and a few peculiar local traditions still practiced to this day. Prepare to visit a haunted medieval graveyard, hidden alleyways, wynds, and courts as you wind across the old cobbled streets. It will come as no surprise that this city has produced or inspired so many great writers, including Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelly, and J.K. Rowling!

Day 2: Drive to Stirling, Visit Bannockburn Battlefield & The Kelpies

The Kelpies
Check out the horse sculptures, each of which contains around 18,000 pieces

After breakfast, collect your rental car and drive an hour north of Edinburgh. Stirling is a city with a long history of kings, queens, and battles. In town, you'll find the finest concentration of medieval buildings in Scotland. On the edge of town, make a visit to the Bannockburn Battlefield, where Scottish leader Robert the Bruce defeated the English in a key clash during the Wars of Scottish Independence. The visitor center uses 3D technology to bring this thrilling chapter of Scottish history to life, and there's even an interactive element so you can command a medieval battle.

After, drive 20 minutes south to visit The Kelpies in Falkirk, a colossal art installation by Andy Scott. According to Scottish folklore, kelpies are horse-like water spirits that are said to have the strength and endurance of 100 horses. The Kelpies are said to haunt lochs and apparently appear as victims, enticing people to ride them before taking them down to a watery grave. The 100-foot-high (30 m) statues are an ode to the horse-powered heritage of central Scotland. Return to Stirling and check into your accommodation for the next two nights.

Day 3: Visit Stirling Castle & William Wallace Monument, Deanston Distillery Tour

Stirling Drone pic
Learn how Mary Queen of Scots was crowned at Stirling Castle in 1542

Today you'll walk through one of the most significant castles in Scottish history. Stirling Castle is where the Great Siege took place in 1304, when Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, besieged the fortress. Instead of starving the occupants to surrender, he commanded his troops to attack the castle, and after four months of brutality, Stirling was theirs. Wander up to the rocky aerie and explore the Royal Palace, Chapel Royal, and Regimental Museum. Take in the views over Stirling's cobbled main street and countryside.

Then, visit the National Wallace Monument. This famous landmark commemorates the life of the patriot and martyr Sir William Wallace and overlooks the scene of his greatest victory at the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge. After, it's time for a taste of Scottish whisky! Join a tour at Deanston Distillery and sip your way through the core range of whisky, comparing the local liquor with samples from their sister distilleries in the Highlands and on the Scottish islands. You'll experience rare and hard-to-find whiskies, so take a taxi—or ask for "driver drams" to enjoy later.

Day 4: Drive to Inverness via the Scottish Crannog Centre

The Scottish Crannog Centre
Visit the Scottish Crannog Centre and learn about the lives of Crannog dwellers
Plan your trip to Scotland
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

It's a big day on the road today as you make the 3.5-hour drive to Inverness, the gateway to the North Coast 500 (NC500). En route, make a stop at the Scottish Crannog Centre, a museum at the banks of Loch Tay. Discover the lives of the Crannog dwellers, who lived on the loch some 2,500 years ago. Take a guided tour through the museum to see artifacts and interactive demonstrations of ancient crafts and technologies. Step back to the Iron Age as you gain a glimpse into prehistoric life.

After, return to the road and lap your way up the western edge of Cairngorms National Park. Soon you'll arrive in Inverness, a city rich with historical sites such as the Inverness Castle, perched on a hill overlooking the River Ness. This afternoon you could seek out a show at the Eden Court Theatre or visit a local art gallery. Go hiking in Glen Affric, or visit the legendary Loch Ness to spot the famous Loch Ness Monster, or "Nessie." End the day with a hearty Scottish meal at a cozy local pub, finishing with a dram of whisky.

Day 5: Drive to John O'Groats via Dunrobin Castle, Thurso Walking Tour

Inverness to John O'Groats
Stop to walk around untamed scenery while driving the NC500

The NC500 is Scotland's ultimate road trip, a scenic route of just over 500 miles (800 km) that takes in coastal scenes, white sandy beaches, rugged mountains, and quaint fishing villages. Today is all about the drive, taking you from Inverness to John O'Groats, a drive of just over 2.5 hours. Detour to Cromarty Firth, a narrow sea inlet where you can watch seals basking on the rocks, or Chanonry Point to spot local dolphins. Pause at the Black Isle Brewery for a refreshing organic ale, or detour to one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, the Glen Ord Distillery.

You can also pop out to the small fishing village of Portmahomack and visit the Tarbat Discovery Centre to see the only Pictish monastic site found in Scotland to date. Continue north to historic Dornoch, which has world-class golf and white sandy beaches. Halfway you'll reach Dunbrobin Castle, a hidden gem with 189 rooms and gardens that contain more than 1,600 plant varieties. It's one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses, dating back to the early 1300s.

Late in the afternoon, explore the mainland's most northern town, Thurso, and learn about its rich Viking heritage, history, and culture. Your local guide will share the great stories and legends as you meander through the quaint streets, hearing about what life was like in a bygone era—and discovering what the vibrant town of Thurso is like today.

Day 6: Drive to Lochinver via Durness, Smoo Cave Tours

Sango Bay beach at Durness
Take a walk around Sango Bay in Durness, considered to be one of Scotland's most beautiful beaches

Today you'll continue along the great NC500, where it's more about the journey than the destination. On today's route to Lochinver, you'll cross along the northern coast, by the villages of Mey (and its famous castle), Bettyhill, Tongue, and Durness, before heading south through Scourie and Achmelvich. While the total drive is only 150 miles (240 km), it'll take around 4.5 hours as you wind through this remote, dramatic, and untamed part of Scotland—just make sure to watch out for rogue sheep and Highland cows!

If you have time, pop out to Dunnet Head—the most northerly point of mainland Britain—where the wild sea cliffs and coastal grasslands are home to puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, and kittiwakes. Then in Durness, you'll take a short tour of Smoo Cave, an active cave that has taken millions of years to form underground. Your home for the evening, Lochinver, is a beautiful harbor town. Take a quiet in the Culag Woods, or watch the potters at work at the Highland Stoneware Pottery

Day 7: Explore Beaches, Wildlife Spotting Boat Tour, Drive to Gairloch

Achmelvich Beach
Enjoy the pristine white sands of Achmelvich Beach

After breakfast, set off for a mini beach adventure close to Lochinver. Just 20 minutes away, Clachtoll Beach is famous for its dunes, white sand, and blue water. If you can brave the chilly water, bring a snorkel and dive into the vivid sea! Nearby, Achmelvich Beach is just as beautiful and the perfect spot to lay a towel and read. If you're keen to get active, you can take a two-hour hike between the two.

This afternoon board a special vessel for a 90-minute wildlife spotting tour. Get up close with Scotland's wilder side on a scenic trip where you'll view the seals basking on the rocks around the islands of Soyea, Clete, and Loch Roe. If it's summer, you'll sail by the beaches and bays to view Split Rock and Stoer Lighthouse. Along the way, you'll hopefully see porpoises, dolphins, minke whales, gannets, cormorants, and much more. Continue on the NC500 and end the day in Gairloch, a scenic gem of Wester Ross with views to Raasay, Skye, and the Western Isles. 

Day 8: Drive to Inverness via Applecross & Culloden, Visit the Clava Cairns

Gairloch's scenery
Wake up to calm and peaceful scenes like this in Gairloch

Today you'll take a long, scenic six-hour journey back to Inverness. Keep following winding coastal backroads to the Applecross Pass, an infamous single-track road with switchbacks that quickly climbs 2,000 feet (600 m). Pause for a seafood lunch in Applecross and hear tales from the locals. Then if you're brave enough, the pass will be the perfect climax to your North Coast 500 road trip. But be warned, it's a challenging, technical drive. 

Finally, continue to Culloden Battlefield, the site of the final Jacobite Rising, the last pitched battle fought on British soil. On 16 April 1746, supporters gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland's government troops. In less than an hour, around 1,300 men were slain–more than 1,250 of them Jacobites. The visitor center has interactive exhibits and artifacts. After, visit the nearby Clava Cairns, an ancient cemetery thought to be 4,000 years old. This sacred place provides many clues to the beliefs of Bronze Age society. Then, you're only a 20-minute drive from Inverness.

Day 9: Drive to Pitlochry via Cairngorms National Park, Wildlife Safari Tour

Cairngorms National Park Wildlife tour with a specialist
Hike through heather-clad moorlands in Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park offers some of the best wildlife diversity in the United Kingdom. This morning you'll drive into the park for a half-day wildlife safari. Explore expansive heather-clad moorlands, pass through towering Caledonian pine forests, admire imposing peaks, and see pristine lochs from the back of a 4WD Land Rover Discovery. Your knowledgeable guide will seek out wildlife, including red deer, golden eagles, and ospreys, and some light walking may be involved. Admire the remote beauty of the Cairngorms and see the conservation efforts to preserve Scotland's natural heritage.

After your safari adventure, continue to the quaint Victorian town of Pitlochry. Take a walk down the charming main street, find a late lunch, and stretch your legs. Then, Queen's View just outside Pitlochry, which overlooks Loch Tummel, and on a good day, you can see the mountains of Glen Coe in the distance. Return to town and make a reservation at a local restaurant to make the most of your final evening in Scotland.

Day 10: Drive to Edinburgh via Blair Atholl Castle, Depart

Blair Atholl Castle
Learn how the current Duke of Blair Castle has the only private army in Europe

It's your final day in Scotland, so squeeze in one final castle tour. The Atholl family has called Blair Castle home for over seven centuries, and today you'll explore the fine 18th-century interiors and Scots Baronial architecture. After wandering the grand halls, venture out into the 9-acre (3.6 ha) gardens, where you'll find an extensive wooded grove, a ruined Kirk, a red deer park, and a Gothic folly. Admire Highland cows grazing in nearby fields and look for native red squirrels and peacocks.

Finally, just back in the car one last time for the 90-minute drive to Edinburgh. Arrive at the airport with enough time to drop off your rental car ahead of your flight home or next destination. Safe travels!

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Map of Scotland North Coast 500 Road Trip - 10 Days
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