Tick off Scotland's greatest road trip—the NC500—with this epic eight-day self-drive itinerary. You'll drive the full loop, soaking up pristine white beaches, wild Highlands landscapes, incredible castles, and a dram or two of whisky. Touch the northernmost tip of mainland Great Britain, learn about the Jacobite uprising, and embark on an intrepid wildlife safari as you explore Scotland's wilder side.


  • Make scenic stops in the Highlands while driving along the North Coast 500
  • Visit one of the most significant castles in Scottish history, Stirling Castle
  • Join an intrepid 4WD 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, Drive to Stirling, Visit Bannockburn & The Kelpies Stirling
Day 2 Explore Sterling Castle, Drive to Inverness via Crannog Centre Inverness
Day 3 Drive to John o' Groats via Dunrobin Castle, Thurso Walking Tour John o' Groats
Day 4 Drive to Lochinver via Durness, Smoo Cave Tours Lochinver
Day 5 Explore Beaches, Wildlife Spotting Boat Tour, Drive to Gairloch Gairloch
Day 6 Drive to Inverness via Applecross & Culloden, Visit the Clava Cairns Inverness
Day 7 Drive to Pitlochry via Cairngorms National Park, Wildlife Safari Tour Pitlochry
Day 8 Drive to Edinburgh via Blair Atholl Castle, Depart   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Edinburgh, Drive to Stirling, Visit Bannockburn & The Kelpies

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

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, collect your rental car and drive an hour north to Stirling, a city with a long history of kings, queens, and battles. 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.

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 night.

Day 2: Explore Stirling Castle, Drive to Inverness via Crannog Centre

Stirling Drone pic
Mary Queen of Scots spent much of her life at Stirling Castle and was crowned here in 1542

This morning 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. Wander up to the rocky aerie and explore the Royal Palace, Chapel Royal, and Regimental Museum. After, 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.

Grab a quick lunch in town, then hit the road for Inverness, the gateway to the North Coast 500 (NC500). Along the 2.5-hour drive, stop at the Scottish Crannog Centre on the banks of Loch Tay to discover the lives of the Crannog dwellers, who lived on the loch some 2,500 years ago. Step back to the Iron Age as you gain a glimpse into prehistoric life. Return to the road and lap your way up the western edge of Cairngorms National Park to Inverness, a city rich with historical sites. End the day with a hearty Scottish meal at a cozy local pub, finishing with a dram of local whisky.

Day 3: 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 could 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 for world-class golf and white sandy beaches. Halfway, you'll reach the 1300s-built Dunbrobin Castle, a hidden gem with 189 rooms and gardens and more than 1,600 plant varieties. Late in the afternoon, explore the mainland's most northern town, Thurso, and learn about its rich Viking heritage, history, and culture with a local guide who will share the great stories and legends.

Plan your trip to Scotland
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: Drive to Lochinver via Durness, Smoo Cave Tours

Take a walk around Sango Bay in 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 stroll in the Culag Woods, or watch the potters at work at the Highland Stoneware Pottery

Day 5: Explore Beaches, Wildlife Spotting Boat Tour, Drive to Gairloch

Achmelvich Beach
Scotland's NC500 hides pristine white sandy beaches, including 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 6: Drive to Inverness via Applecross & Culloden, Visit the Clava Cairns

Gairloch's scenery
Wake up to calm and peaceful scenes like this in Gairloch on your final morning on the NC500

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 infamous 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 7: Drive to Pitlochry via Cairngorms National Park, Wildlife Safari Tour

Cairngorms National Park Wildlife tour with a specialist
Explore the wild beauty of Cairngorms National Park today with an off-road wildlife adventure

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 Land Rover. 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 8: 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 (church), 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 - 8 Days
Map of Scotland North Coast 500 Road Trip - 8 Days